2011 marks the 50th anniversary of Phil Spector’s Phillies Records label, and in celebration Phil Spector Records/Legacy is releasing four collections of some of the best recordings from the Spector catalogue: Wall of Sound: The Very Best of Phil Spector, 1961-1966, The Sound of Love: The Very Best of Darlene Love, Da Doo Ron Ron: The Very Best of the Crystals and Be My Baby: The Very Best of the Ronettes. And while all of these albums have some great music, music that will stir the cockles of those of us old enough to remember The Peppermint Lounge and the Fox Theater in Brooklyn, Cousin Brucie and Alan Freed, for many of us it is the Ronettes and their two classic songs that will evoke the fondest memories. It is not that the others didn’t have their hits; they did, but there is something special about “Be My Baby” and “Baby, I Love You” that gets all of us singing along whenever some oldies deejay queues them up on the turntable.
There were a lot of girl groups back in the ’60s, many of them fine singers. What made the Ronettes special was not so much that their voices were so much better than the others, but rather that when they sang, they sang directly to us — at least to the young men among us. They wanted us to be their baby. We were the baby they loved. Here were these three exotic beauties, dressed to kill, and they wanted us; even with our layers of baby fat and faces filled with acne, they wanted us to take them by the hand to “Paradise.” What young teenager could resist? These were girls who knew what they wanted, and what they wanted was us. The Ronettes were a dream come true.
The story of the group has often been told. Sisters Estelle and Veronica Bennett and their cousin, Nedra Talley, had been singing together under the name of The Darling Sisters when they were discovered by Murray the K, who used them as dancers for his shows at the Brooklyn Fox. They were making the rounds as background singers when a mis-dialed phone call accidentally connected them through to Phil Spector, who had heard of them and asked if they were interested in doing background vocals. Later it seemed that Spector really only wanted Veronica as a solo vocalist, but her mother insisted they were a group, and the rest as they say is ‘theirstory.’
This new collection has 18 songs: nine from the Phillies album, Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes, Featuring Veronica, four from Phil Spector Wall of Sound, Vol. 5: Rare Masters, Vols. 1 and 2, four Phillies singles and one single recorded for A & M. Two tracks, “Why Don’t They Let Us Fall in Love” and “So Young,” are Ronnie’s solos. Besides the classics “Be My Baby” and “Baby, I Love You,” the album includes other such favorites as “Paradise,” “Walking in the Rain,” “(The Best Part of) Breaking Up,” and “I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine.” On the tracks that feature the trademark Spector sound wall, Ronnie’s voice rises above the mass with a richness that resonates with power. On other tracks she simply soars.
But it is perhaps in resurrecting some of the lesser known tracks for an audience that more than likely has never heard them that the album makes its most important contribution. We all know the classics, but even we old timers have probably forgotten these other gems, if we ever heard them in the first place. Songs like “Do I Love You?,” “Everything Under the Sun,” “When I Saw You,” “You Came, You Saw, You Conquered,” and “I Can Hear Music” have infectious hooks that take you right back to a time when everything seemed simpler and the world was colored rose.
This may well be nostalgia talking, and if you think that you have to be celebrating your own 50th anniversary to feel this way about these songs, you may well be right. Or just maybe these are the kinds of songs and the Ronettes are the kinds of singers that can surely stand the test of time. It may be wishful thinking, but I would hope they must be. The Ronettes, along with Phil Spector (in spite of what happened to him later) made some of the best music of the ’60s, and most of it, if not all, is here on this album. It is music that will last another 50 years, and will still take you to Paradise.