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

Amy Winehouse, Beehives and “Tears Dry On Their Own”

Last time I wrote about Ed Sheerin and of his success at this year’s Grammy awards. Back in 2008 it was Amy Winehouse who swept the board at the awards winning a total of six. Sadly just over three years later she was dead.

When writing earlier this year about David Bowie’s sad passing, and all the media outpouring it caused, I had momentarily forgotten what a massive news story it had been when poor Amy was found dead, at home, on a July afternoon in 2011. It was no big shock however as we had seen her life played out over the years on television and in the newspapers. After the massive success of her album “Back to Black”, her life seemed to descend into chaos – Don’t want to go into the detail here but she did appear to have serious addiction issues, relationship issues, an eating disorder and so it goes on. Were we all partly to blame? The press and paparazzi couldn’t seem to get enough of her and although her family seemed to be really supportive, in some ways they seemed to add to the feeding frenzy.

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I had seen Amy on television many times over the previous few years as she started out as a soulful, jazz-influenced singer who did really well with her first album “Frank”. For “Back to Black” however she had morphed into a 21st century version of a 1960s, American girl-group member (think Ronnie Ronette with tatoos and piercings). Every time we saw her, the beehive had got bigger and the eye make-up even more extreme but sadly, she also seemed to be getting thinner and more erratic in her behaviour. I remember watching the 2008 BRIT awards with great trepidation as she was due to perform Valerie with Mark Ronson. It actually went well but she did look “unworldly” and kept pulling at her short skirt and hair throughout the performance. We all hoped that she would get the help she so obviously needed as her talent was immense, and she had so much more to give.

My favourite song from Back to Black was Tears Dry On Their Own. Watching the video again however just reminds me of the chaotic and extreme world she seemed to be living in at that time which ultimately proved just too much for her.

Tears Dry On Their Own by Amy Winehouse:

It was at the end of 2009 that we moved our entire record collection to our new Apple Mac computer. All the CDs and downloads were now in one place which was great as personal playlists of favourites could be compiled by each member of the family. My playlists generally included an Amy Winehouse track and invariably it was this song. Very sad when you listen to it now knowing that she died aged only 27. I have written a lot about icons who have passed away since starting this blog but none were young like poor Amy and I have a feeling that for some, it is only a matter of good luck that they got through their “crazy period” intact. Wasn’t to be the case for this talented lady – RIP Amy.

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Tears Dry On Their Own Lyrics
(Song by Amy Winehouse)

All I can ever be to you
Is the darkness that we knew,
And this regret I’ve got accustomed to.
Once it was so right,
When we were at our high,
Waiting for you in the hotel at night.

I knew I hadn’t met my match,
But every moment we could snatch,
I don’t know why I got so attached.
It’s my responsibility,
And you don’t owe nothing to me,
But to walk away I have no capacity.

He walks away,
The sun goes down,
He takes the day
But I’m grown,
And in your way,
In this blue shade
My tears dry on their own.

I don’t understand
Why do I stress a man
When there’s so many bigger things at hand.
We coulda never had it all,
We had to hit a wall,
So this is inevitable withdrawal.

Even if I stop wanting you,

A perspective pushes through,
I’ll be some next man’s other woman soon.
I shouldn’t play myself again,

I should just be my own best friend,
Not fuck myself in the head with stupid men.

So we are history,
Your shadow covers me
The sky above,
A blaze.

I wish I could say no regrets,
And no emotional debts,
‘Cause as we kiss goodbye the sun sets

So we are history,
The shadow covers me,
The sky above,
A blaze that only lovers see,