Review Summary: Veronica Bennett's voice and Phil Spector's Wall of Sound production combine to create 1960's pop perfection.
The early 60's were a potent, transitional half-decade in the history of popular music. The original rock and roll pioneers of the previous decade were all gone, most notably those who died in a plane crash on February 3rd, 1959. Doo-wop was drawing to a close and giving way to the birth of classic soul. The girl group era had won a place on radio, and like the vocally layered doo-wop groups, the girl groups built their sound on a foundation of R&B and pop. The Shirelles' hit “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?”
jump-started the girl group genre, setting precedent for tracks like “He's So Fine,”
by The Chiffons, “Leader Of The Pack,”
by The Shangri-La's and “Be My Baby,”
by The Ronettes.
New York City girls Veronica (Ronnie) Bennett, sister Estelle and cousin Nedra Talley began a singing group in their teenage years. Success found them quite quickly and easily. They were a sharp act with a great lead voice, who's looks and style didn't hold them back. The height of their bee-hive hairdos could have been measured in feet and their heavy eye makeup width in inches. When Phil Spector discovered them in 1963, they were a rehearsed group with a look and sound that would attract attention. Spector had crafted a revolutionary production technique and now he had the voice he needed to go with it in Ronnie Bennett. All the pieces were in place for one of the greatest sounds of pop music history to take form.
The Best of The Ronettes - The Original Phil Spector Hits
opens with it's absolute best. “Be My Baby”
kicks into motion with one of the most definitive, grandiose drum intros to ever transmit radio airwaves; AM, FM or satellite. Ronnie's voice, barbed with seduction, resonates as she “whoa-oh-oh”'
s over Phil Spector's wall of sound. Using multiple musicians, several of each instrument, Spector created a rich, bombarding sound that translated perfectly to the mono broadcast of AM radio. A milestone in production and pop songwriting, “Be My Baby”
is an epic composition, so revered and widely played, it would become ingrained into the fabric of popular culture. The song is largely considered to be the best example of Spector's trademark “Wall of Sound”. Years after the spotlight has faded and moved on from The Ronettes or the production of Phil Spector, “Be My Baby”
endures as a staple of pop music and culture.
“Why Don't They Let Us Fall in Love?”
opens with a warm, bouncing bass melody, accented with hand claps and doo-wop era background vocals. Ronnie's voice cuts in and brings the already lively song to new life as she laments about the heartaches of young forbidden love. “Why do they say that / We're too young to go steady? / Don't they believe it / That I love you already?”
Youth and innocence were recurrent themes throughout many of the Ronettes' songs, which were in contrast to the sexy, bad girl image the girls portrayed. “I Wonder”
is a flowing lyrical performance by Veronica Bennett over a thumping, charged percussion, in which questions are raised about the kind of lover the future will bring. A powerful string arrangement highlights the grand exit refrain, bringing a third masterful composition to a close. “(The Best Part of) Breakin' Up”
has a post chorus drum and vocal interlude that imports Beach Boys style “ahh ahh ahh ahh”
's over a pounding, surf-stomp drum beat. “C'mon, baby / Don't say maybe / Ooo Eee, baby,”
Ronnie persuades. In the girl group era, a band would sometimes find a hit word and keep using it in different songs. The Chiffons had “fine” songs (“One Fine Day”, “He's So Fine”, “Love So Fine”
). The Marvellettes sang to their postman (“Please, Mr. Postman”, “Twistin Postman”
). The Ronettes liked the word “baby” (“Be My Baby,” “Baby, I Love You,” “You, Baby.”
and “When I Saw You”
are a pair of ballads, placed back to back after the fifth track in the collection. The former reflects the sound of the earlier standards era, while the latter favors the styling of the relatively modern doo-wop genre. While “So Young”
offers a triumphant vocal performance from Veronica Bennett, it drags early and lacks the kind of grabbing melodic hook found in their more contemporary songs. “Do I Love You?”
is the strongest Ronettes' single that isn't titled “Be My Baby.”
It's thick, Spectorized layering of instruments and background vocals create a powerful, driving backdrop for what is probably the most intense and emotionally mature vocal on the hits collection. When it reaches its second chorus and returns to the verse with “Oh, I swear I'm gonna get you / If it takes me all my life,”
the song and album reach their peak. “Do I Love You?”
contains all the soul and power of the greatest tracks ever released by the Motown label.
Throughout the remainder of the album, the quality level fluctuates. The first nine tracks are nearly all stellar. The second eight are of varied quality, with highlights including the Grammy Award winning production feat, “Walking In The Rain”
(Best Sound Effects), the sad and gloomy “I Wish I Never Saw The Sunshine,”
and the playful, beautifully dated “You Came, You Saw, You Conquered.”
A few tracks don't seem to meet the quality of the rest, including the galloping, frantic “How Does it Feel?”
, the continual buildup and mediocre payoff of “Born To Be Together,”
and the near-dreadful trip to the chorus of “Paradise.”
The seldom misses, however, do little to tarnish the charm and glow of this otherwise triumphant set of Spector produced tracks.
The majority of these tracks are immaculately produced, written and performed classics that did more to influence music than is commonly known. The Ronettes made fans of some of the greatest legends of rock and roll. Brian Wilson considers “Be My Baby”
to be “the most perfect pop record of all time”
. David Johansen professes he fashioned his New York Dolls as a cross between them and The Rolling Stones. Bruce Springsteen cites them as an influence. The Ramones covered “Baby, I Love You,”
with genuine Phil Spector production. And The Beatles were so infatuated with the Ronettes that they asked them to be openers on their American tour in 1966, two years after the Ronettes last had a hit. Ronnie would later sign and record on The Beatle's Apple Records, while Phil would go on to produce “Let It Be,” the final Beatles studio album. The Ronettes debut album, Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica
, has never been released on compact disk. The Best of the Ronettes – The Original Phil Spector Hits
is widely recognized as the finest Ronettes collection available since it's release in 1992. Their vinyl debut has become a pricey collectors item and a scarcity of quality Ronettes releases has also driven up the price of this Phil Spector compilation. The majority of their music isn't easily available for download. You have to want to hear this, and when you finally get to, you are rewarded for your efforts with the highest quality listening enjoyment.