Apr 10

The FT Top 100 Tracks Of All Time: 17: The Ronettes – Be My Baby

FT7 comments • 907 views

Be My Baby always existed. Clearly to me it always existed, it is ten years older than me. But there is something about Be My Baby which feels like it always existed, its has the primal chord, the ur-drumbeat, that wall of sound and in the heart of it Ronnie Spector’s hics, tics and wonderfully strident voice. You get the feeling they could have shut down pop music then and there and called it a good job well done, and a plenty of people would have said fair enough.

(By the way I love that London Records reissue sleeve: way to go to miss the point).

This perceived perfection is the problem with Be My Baby. Not that it is too good. But in marrying Spector’s production to this wonderful mid-tempo stompathon it unwittingly gave us the template for “proper pop”. You know, the pop that never really existed, the pop that people are always talking about when they are sniffy about S Club 7*. Brian Wilson loved Be My Baby so much he wrote Don’t Worry Baby as some sort of drug whacked out response (there is nothing in Be My Baby that suggests Ronnie or indeed the Ronettes, were particularly worried, though with Phil Spector in the background perhaps they should have). So perhaps we can imagine a world where Be My Baby never existed, and how different it would be?

Well Mean Streets and Dirty Dancing would be down a key song each. Don’t Worry Baby would be off any Wilson / Beach Boy touring repetoire. And The Rubettes and the Raveonettes probably wouldn’t exist – thus Luke Haines would have had to riff on something else to make a creepy commentary on the state of pop. But part of me wonders if this hole in the musical canon would be skirted around forever, as the ultimate idea of a wonderful record that we cannot quite attain. In avoiding such a great record because it makes ours or other efforts look lame in comparison are we not just throwing Be My Baby out with the bathwater?

We do not need to imagine the world without Be My Baby. Instead use it as the base of some sort of half-arsed ontological argument being rehashed for the pop era; doesn’t the existence of a record like Be My Baby imply the possibility or existence of even better records? This very list suggests the existence of sixteen better ones (though there are plenty of caveats to be taken with that statement). The Ronettes and Phil Spector didn’t just get lightning in a bottle with Be My Baby, they kept trying and often got close. Others ploughing a similar furrow equally get close. And others go all over the place to chase the ideal. I hope we don’t attain it. Because the truth is, as great as it is, Be My Baby has never given me goosebumps. Because it always existed. Perhaps we need flaws, we need the near misses, to prove we are fallible. Be My Baby is not a template to get there, but other routes are constantly available. But while we wait, watch Ronnie and the girls come as close as you should come to perfection. But :

*This argument has weakened considerably of late! Hence S Club 7.


  1. 1
    jeff w on 13 Apr 2010 #

    “Tedesco and Pitman”! I need to hear this B-side. Best title ever, though I assume it’s not describing a meeting of the Jewish-Italian composer and the East Midlands rapper.

  2. 2
    Andrew Hickey on 13 Apr 2010 #

    Tedesco and Pitman is an instrumental, named after two of the “Wrecking Crew” who played on pretty much every LA session of the time (Tommy Tedesco was a jazz guitarist and played on everything from the first few Zappa albums to Pet Sounds to the theme to MASH). Bill Pitman was generally fourth-call Wrecking Crew guitarist (after Tedesco, Barney Kessel and Glen Campbell).

  3. 3
    swanstep on 14 Apr 2010 #

    Not sure I follow the line of reasoning in this piece. BMB is v.v. good. What’s the problem supposed to be? Apparently it’s left people too (i) awestruck, (ii) imitative, (iii) credulous about the idea that there was once a pop golden age when every record was this good, (iv) impatient with subsequent failure/flaws?

    To all this I kind of go ‘Really?’ Pop music seems to me to be genuinely protean and real young people’s music so that the idea of there ever being sustained anxiety induced by any prior achievement, let alone by BMB in particular (or Phil Spector or whatever), just seems odd. Pop music thrives on knowing almost nothing about what came before it. It’s not like classical or jazz where composers and players tend to be eggheads of one sort of another, who really feel Bach or Coltrane looking over their shoulders, shaking index fingers and saying “Uh uh ah. I already tried that! You’re just imitatin’.”

    Or maybe I’ve misunderstood what was being said…

  4. 4
    wichita lineman on 17 Apr 2010 #

    Re 3: Maybe it depends on when you came of of pop age? The idea of ‘perfect pop’ or ‘pure pop’, of which BMB is the often quoted acme, derived from Who Put The Bomp and like minded fanzines in the 70s (when, at least in 75/76, there was precious little truly great pop) and was generally accepted by my peers in the mid 80s when ‘young people’ (the kind who smacked me in the face for not wearing a suit and tie on the weekend) were into Phil Collins and T’Pau.

    We are living in pretty enlightened times.

    Having said THAT, how can it be a “pop that never really existed”? I can name several dozen other songs from this era – The Cookies’ I Never Dreamed as my exhibit ‘a’ – which are of similar class and greater emotional heft. This is the Brill Building, and Hit Factory pop generally, at its best. It did exist. And still does, only not in quite such hothouse conditions, and with with mostly less worthwhile results.

    A pedant notes: that’s a contemporary French sleeve, not a re-issue.

  5. 5
    swanstep on 17 Apr 2010 #

    @ 4, wichita. Wasn’t there plenty of nify pop around in 1976 with Queen, Abba, Fleetwood Mac, stevie wonder, etc.?

    I do agree with you, however, that that Brill Building pop era was a perfectly real period of superlative achievement (I think we’ve discussed some of the cookies stuff and some lesley gore stuff before for example). It remains one of the ground zeros for pop just the way that motown does, and wherever we want to locate the Beatles and George Martin does.

    I just don’t see that the existence of those mighty predecessors really leads to any serious ‘anxiety of influence’. I loved that bat for lashes record (‘What’s a girl to do’) of a few years back which drew in equal measure on BMB, jane birkin, kate bush, and then donnie darko for the vid. (genius). And the clever people who produce and write for rihanna, beyonce, girls aloud, for etc. are well aware of where they borrow from the past. But they also know that the main teen/tween audience for pop lives in the bubble of the present and is much diverted by flashy surface tricks. I do personally wish that some contemporary producers would ease up on the loudness/compression of their records – showing my age, I really miss the *soft* bits of things like Wuthering Heights or Fleetwwod Mac’s Dreams: the experience of leaning in to the radio to hear something is kind of gone. But if you’re 12, I’m sure what’s on the radio these days all just sounds fresh and fab and explosive.

  6. 6
    Tom on 9 Jul 2010 #

    This fella in the Guardian seems to have been reading your piece Pete!


  7. 7
    Pete Baran on 9 Jul 2010 #

    Notebooks out PLAGARISTS!

    (You do manage to make a point I completely missed above re that drumbeat so fair enough).

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