The Ronettes, “Sleigh Ride” and a Very Merry Christmas

Well after a bit of a slow start this year (I blame too much time spent in the very absorbing virtual world of late, and not enough time in the real world), I have now totally embraced Christmas. This therefore will have to be a very short post as unbelievably I still have to buy and deliver a few presents, and source the rest of the food to add to the embarrassment of calories that is the traditional Christmas lunch.

So far so good however and despite being up until 4am checking out darling daughter’s whereabouts (it was “Mad Friday” after all, so a bit of a worry), I am up and at it. Our lovely postman, who does go beyond the call in attempting to deliver some of the odd items that arrive in the mail (Mr WIAA being a sculptor an’ all), has already been tracked down and given his Christmas tip. Today I was in “weekend wear” but already this week he has seen me in “straight-out-of-the-shower wear”, “serious-business-woman wear” and “Christmas-jumper-themed wear”. He sees me in more guises than my husband but has become a bit of a friend, so was pleased to see he had his Santa hat on today – All the better to keep his ears warm on this cold morning.

Interestingly, the reason that robins are such a symbol of Christmas is because Victorian postmen wore a bright red uniform. The postmen in their red-breasted coats resembled the much-loved bird, the robin red-breast, earning them the nickname – Robins.

But I digress as this is supposed to be a music blog despite the fact I often stray into other territory. I think my favourite Christmas Album still has to be the one produced by Phil Spector in 1963 called “A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector” (originally released as A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records). Spector treated a series of Christmas standards to his trademark wall of sound treatment, and the selections feature the vocal performances of Spector’s regular artists during this period, Darlene Love, The Crystals, The Ronettes etc.

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Although I now have a copy of the digitally remastered version in CD format, the version I played to death in the early ’80s was the double album vinyl release, when the pink album was Phil’s Christmas one and the blue album was his Greatest Hits one (bit like the Beatles’ Red and Blue Greatest Hits albums). When my flatmates were playing synth-pop and new wave, here I was listening to the fab sounds of Phil Spector and his wall of sound, but then I’ve always been a bit out of kilter timeline-wise, which is why perhaps this year I am smitten by the music of 1967.

The Christmas album has grown in popularity over the years and is full of tracks that have became iconic seasonal songs. My favourite track is Sleigh Ride by The Ronettes where they feature their well-known “ring-a-ling-a-ling ding-dong-ding” background vocals. Their version also made use of the clip-clopping of the horses as well as the sound of a recorded horse whinnying, heard at the beginning and end of the song. It doesn’t get any more Christmassy than that.

Sleigh Ride by The Ronettes:

So, “What’s It All About?” – Christmas starts too early nowadays I feel, but now that Christmas Eve is here I am ready to embrace the excess that will follow over the next couple of days. My plan to help the homeless has been somewhat scuppered as I am reliably informed by those in the know, that they will be well-catered for locally this year, by the professionals who specialise in this kind of thing. It turns out however that the biggest social issue of the day, is loneliness amongst the elderly, so the best thing to do is to make sure that my 81-year-old mum and her little band of buddies at their very swish “retirement” complex, are kept entertained.

Merry Christmas to all my blogging buddies – I didn’t even know this place existed this time last year and in less than twelve months have made a good few like-minded friends of the virtual nature. I have long nagged my daughter and her friends to get out into the real world, and not spend all their time on their devices, but have now discovered myself that it does indeed have its place. Have a good one!

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The Ronettes at Christmas-time!

Sleigh Ride Lyrics
(Song by Leroy Anderson)

Just hear those sleigh bells jingling,
ring ting tingling too
Come on, it’s lovely weather
for a sleigh ride together with you,
Outside the snow is falling
and friends are calling “Yoo hoo,”
Come on, it’s lovely weather
for a sleigh ride together with you.

Giddy yap, giddy yap, giddy yap,
let’s go, Let’s look at the show,
We’re riding in a wonderland of snow.
Giddy yap, giddy yap, giddy yap,
it’s grand, Just holding your hand,
We’re gliding along with a song
of a wintry fairy land.

Our cheeks are nice and rosy
and comfy cosy are we
We’re snuggled up together
like two birds of a feather would be
Let’s take that road before us
and sing a chorus or two
Come on, it’s lovely weather
for a sleigh ride together with you.

There’s a birthday party
at the home of Farmer Gray
It’ll be the perfect ending a perfect day
We’ll be singing the songs
we love to sing without a single stop,
At the fireplace while we watch
the chestnuts pop. Pop! pop! pop!

There’s a happy feeling
nothing in the world can buy,
When they pass around the chocolate
and the pumpkin pie
It’ll nearly be like a picture print
by Currier and Ives
These wonderful things are the things
we remember all through our lives!
of a wintry fairy land

Our cheeks are nice and rosy
and comfy cosy are we
We’re snuggled up together
like two birds of a feather would be
Let’s take that road before us
and sing a chorus or two
Come on, it’s lovely weather
for a sleigh ride together with you.

The Ronettes, Phil Spector and “Be My Baby”

Following on from my last post when I wrote about Amy Winehouse’s album “Back to Black”, her image at that time was very much taken from the American girl groups of the early ’60s. The most famous and recognisable of these was probably The Ronettes of Be My Baby fame.

Be My Baby by The Ronettes:

Now I would be lying if I said that I remembered this song from 1963 when it was first released, but it is one of those songs you will have heard throughout your entire life, popping up on the radio and on film soundtracks. Phil Spector, who produced the record, was an innovator and in the early 60s created his now infamous “wall of sound” as a backdrop to the sultry vocals of singers like Veronica (Ronnie) Bennett of The Ronettes and Darlene Love. This new approach to recording included using whole string and horn sections, as well as guitars and drums. The use of echo chambers and multiple tracking was also involved which basically meant that the sound was re-recorded over a demo of the previous recording many times, building up the cacophony of sound that became his trademark.

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Phil Spector is one of only a few producers who became more famous than many of the artists he worked with and because the “wall of sound” was so clearly associated with him, he was able to release successful albums of his label’s greatest hits under his own name. I bought these two albums in the mid ’80s when they were re-released – Phil Spector’s Greatest Hits & Phil Spector’s Christmas Album. They are still a joy to listen to today and with so few new Christmas songs being released nowadays, his seasonal album has become a staple in our house around that time of year.

In 1987, a low-budget film called Dirty Dancing was released starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. Not ever expected to be a big hit, it has become one of the most well-loved films of all time and was the first movie to sell over a million copies on home video. As I have written elsewhere in the blog, adding the “music of the era” to a film soundtrack is a really effective tool and none more so than in the case of Dirty Dancing which was essentially a romantic drama, set in a 1963 holiday resort in the Catskill Mountains.

Be My Baby was used extensively as were other tracks from that year along with a whole load of new ones specially written for the movie. For some reason I didn’t see it when it first came out, but like most people my age, I have since bought the DVD and CD. I remember watching it with my daughter one Bank Holiday Monday and unlike when it came out in 1987, when I was in my late 20s, I felt real nostalgia for all those holiday experiences that Baby was going through. This has happened before when watching movies with my daughter – It seems that you have to be at least a generation removed to feel that emotion. At 27, I was neither young enough or old enough for that to happen. I would wager that the people who enjoyed that movie best when it came out, were either born circa 1970 (they could empathise) or 1950 (they could reflect nostalgically). Of course there are also all those people who would have enjoyed looking back at the music, fashions and social mores of that early sixties period but they would have been war babies and I don’t think that the film was aimed at that demographic when it came out.

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Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey partaking in some Dirty Dancing!

Wouldn’t be a blog post if I didn’t mention someone who had passed away and it is sad to think that the the vital, energetic, handsome Patrick Swayze (dancer Johnny Castle in the movie) is no longer with us. Jennifer Grey is still very much with us, however her appearance has changed so much since her days of playing Baby, that I now wouldn’t recognise her. Looking back, her nose was perhaps on the large side but after having it “done”, her film career was pretty much over. A case of perhaps best to have left well alone? Who knows but yet again I end with the familiar three letter acronym – RIP, Patrick.

Be My Baby Lyrics
(Song by Jeff Barry/Ellie Greenwich/Phil Spector)

The night we met I knew I needed you so
And if I had the chance I’d never let you go
So won’t you say you love me
I’ll make you so proud of me
We’ll make ’em turn their heads every place we go

So won’t you, please
(Be my, be my baby) Be my little baby
(My one and only baby) Say you’ll be my darlin’
(Be my, be my baby) Be my baby now
Wha-oh-oh-oh

I’ll make you happy, baby, just wait and see
For every kiss you give me, I’ll give you three
Oh, since the day I saw you
I have been waiting for you
You know I will adore you ’til eternity