Essentials: Phil Spector/Ronettes ‘Be My Baby’ Review

Phil Spector passed away on February 16, 2021 at the age of 81. He had been in ill health while confined to prison for the murder of Lana Clarkson. To mark his passing we are republishing a post from our archives.

“For Spector, the song and the recording were one thing, and they existed in his brain. When he went into the studio, it came out of him, like Minerva coming out of Jupiter‘s head.” – Jerry Wexler

Take one of the greatest instrumental openings of any rock song, add the sexy voice of Ronnie Bennett, the pop production skills of her future husband Phil, and you have one unforgettable record. It‘s the kind of track you only need to hear once to get you wanting more. This song is full of hooks. It stands up after 50 years. It will be listenable in another hundred years. What else could you want from music?

As great as this song was, it never made it to number 1. It did make it to number 2, beat out by that timeless classic “Sugar Shack” by Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs. Say what? Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys was so obsessed with “Be My Baby” that he bought 200 copies of the record and loaded his personal jukebox solely with this song. I like that – punch in A14 or B11 or C21 and you know your favorite song is coming right up.

Ronnie didn‘t have a great voice. There wasn‘t much range to it. But hey, Dylan doesn‘t have a great voice either, and look what he did with his vocal equipment. (Okay, okay, I hear the objections re Mr. Zimmerman. I‘ll be dealing with those later). Ronnie looked sexy, acted sexy, and sang sexy. She was the perfect vehicle for the musical talents of Spector, who was one of the most creative forces ever to make it to the top of American popular music.

Other songs talk about walking in the rain. Ronnie even sang a tune called “Walking In the Rain” a year or so later, but “Be My Baby” is the real deal: the recreation of a thunderstorm, with thunderclaps punctuated by pauses. The track was Spector‘s first production with a full orchestra string section, but no one remembers the strings. This song is all about the thunder, overlaid by the come on of Ronnie‘s voice. It was 1963. Phil Spector was 21 years old and had already produced some of his greatest recordings. What he did later in his marriage to Ronnie, and his subsequent obsession with guns, is troubling. His genius took a horrible path, but for the moment let’s consider the young producer in his unforgettable prime:

“David Susskind invited Phil Spector to The Open End television program one evening “to talk about the record business”. . . And Susskind sits there on his show reading one of Spector‘s songs out loud, no music, just reading the words, from the Top Sixty or whatever it is, “Fine Fine Boy” to show how banal rock and roll is. The song just keeps repeating “He‘s a fine fine boy”. So Spector starts drumming on the big coffee table there with the flat of his hands in time to Susskind‘s voice and says, “What you‘re missing is the beat.” Blam blam.” (From Tom Wolfe “The First Tycoon of Teen” in The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby)

“Be My Baby” opens one of the greatest films ever made: Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets. It sets the explosive atmosphere Phil Spector invented and confirms that musical genius knows no boundaries.
RIP Phil Spector.