5 Songs To Consider...By Ronnie Spector

Ronnie Spector/WikimediaCommons/Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

This week saw the death of iconic female vocalist, Ronnie Spector. Guest writer Ann Massey selects her top songs to commemorate the singing legend.

 How It Started In A Nutshell

Veronica Bennett, soon to become known as Ronnie, formed her group ‘The Ronettes’ with her sister and cousin at the end of the fifties. The family grew up in Washington Heights, New York, an eclectic neighbourhood with strong musical links dating back to the jazz era. This, together with her Irish/African/Cherokee heritage, meant that music was a natural choice for Ronnie.

The girl group soon came under the wing of record producer Phil Spector and his Wall of Sound. In fact Ronnie went on to marry the influential music man in 1968. Phil’s work with artists such as The Beatles opened so many doors for the talented Ronnie, with The Ronettes supporting The Beatles on tour and Ronnie going on to work with the likes of George Harrison, Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel – however while the door was opened by the industry big shot, it was Ronnie’s talent, skills in the recording studio and determinedness that got her firmly in the room on her own merits, especially after her torrid relationship with Phil Spector came to a dramatic end.

My selection are not necessarily the songs you would immediately think of, but more a recognition of the singer’s diversity and appeal. Sit back and enjoy Ronnie Spector and her own Wall of Sound.

 

Baby I Love You

 


Many people will  think of The Ramones for this one, although if the stories are true, they only recorded it because Phil Spector forced them to at gunpoint! It was first however, a hit for The Ronettes in the early sixties, but with a very different line up than you might think. Phil Spector manipulated the situation so that Ronnie was in the recording studio and the other two members of the ensemble were on the road with Dick Clark, so he could get the power sound he was after.

 If you think the vocal harmonies on this track were stronger than The Ronettes would usually portray, you would be right! Ronnie provided her solid lead vocals of course, however her backing singers were none other than Sonny & Cher and Darlene Love.

 So move over Joey Ramone, this one belongs to Ronnie!                

 

What’d I Say

 


A sexually aggressive, masculine offering from Ray Charles, this 1959 hit was covered on the album Presenting The Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica. An inspiring tune, it had a lot of influence on young musicians including The Beatles and has been covered by everyone from Elvis to Jerry Lee Lewis, so big shoes for a female vocal group to fill.

 Believed to be one of the first step overs from R&B to Soul, this song is a high octane, testosterone fuelled and gospel inspired number that spirals into promiscuity, so much so it was banned from many radio stations. This however, did not stop Ronnie from recording her cover with The Ronettes and we are left with a full on, gospel style harmonising, high energy soul burst with a hint of good old rock n roll.

 

Try Some, Buy Some

 


Written by George Harrison and produced by the Apple label, this is a prime example of Ronnie’s talents as a vocalist and performer. George had written the song as an ode to his enlightenment and reflects his journey to finding God. The song did not suit Ronnie Spector’s vocals, she did not understand its premise and did not feel it hit the mark.

 Undeterred, Harrison re-arranged it in a higher key and Ronnie went onto to make the record with a contrasting rockabilly style B side. What began as a personal, almost diary moment for George, with Ronnie’s vocals it became a haunting, harmonious and orchestral masterpiece that George himself was unable to re-create when he recorded it himself a while later.

 The song was an all-time favourite of David Bowie who recorded a cover himself in later years.

 

You Mean So Much To Me

 


When you think of New Jersey, you think of Bruce Springsteen, but before he hit the big time, the man of the hour was Southside Johnny. This duet with Ronnie Spector from 1976 was a part of his acclaimed debut album, written by Bruce and produced by fellow E Street band member, Steve Van Zandt, setting the pace for the Jersey Shore sound.

 With an upbeat tempo, big band style brass and piano, you can hear the fun and confidence in Ronnie’s voice, lending to the success of the track which she repeated on stage with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. It was a welcome break for Ronnie, during a time where she struggled with her career, feeling the music industry was viewing her as a has-been.

 

Ode To LA


Danish duo The Raveonettes very much make use of the Wall of Sound together with two part-harmonies, although with an edgier vibe, so Ronnie Spector was a natural choice to join them on their track from their album Pretty in Black from 2005.

With Sharin Foo opening up the lead vocals, Sune Rose Wagner harmonises as we are taken down memory lane to the Wall of Sound before being hit with the mighty vocal song bridge of Ronnie and complimenting harmonies.

 A melodic, simple underlay, with clear lyrics, powerful vocals and a solid nod to the heyday of The Ronettes, I can’t think of a better song to finish my commemoration of Ronnie Spector.

 

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