If it’s good enough for Baby then it is good enough for the rest of us.
Like most folks of my generation, my first introduction to The Ronettes came courtesy of the film and accompanying soundtrack to Dirty Dancing.* Regardless of how you might feel about the movie (and I think this largely depends on the age, emotional vulnerability, life experience, or capacity for over-the-top 80s sentimentality you are willing to endure (for the record, I have a rather high-threshold)), it definitely left its mark (for better or worse) on many people. For me, the indelible imprint was the timeless brilliance of The Ronettes.
Say what you will of the rather topsy-turvy and tragic life of Phil Spector, who produced The Ronettes songs and records; he unquestionably and dramatically changed the nature of American Popular music in a way few people other than musicians ever did. (John Hammond, Berry Gordy, George Martin, and Robert Moog are some of the others that come to mind.) With his trademark “Wall of Sound” brought to life by the genius of “The Wrecking Crew”** (a rotating collection of the finest session players of the day), Spector transformed pop music from simple and serene to an aural onslaught of masterful and varied tones. Of all the groups that Spector worked with, The Ronettes have always been near and dear to my heart because they evoke a sound and a sense of timeless joy. Sure, almost all the songs on this record are about love, break-ups, pining after a lover or the inevitable ups and downs of amorous entanglements, but they have the aura of promise and possibility. Is the genius of these songs contained in the lush, rich, near perfect orchestrations or Veronica Bennett’s (later Ronnie Spector) impassioned and angelic vocals or is it tied to nostalgia for a past when radio dominated or all of the above? For many these were the songs their parents danced, courted, and fell in love to or merely sat around basements spinning 78s and 45s while dreaming of tomorrow. While these songs don’t resonate in the same way for me (my parents courtship pre-dates The Ronettes by a couple of years), they do recall childhood and the movies of that era that were replete with songs of a similar ilk, a time when things finally started coming together and making sense. It reminds me of falling in love with music and movies and the memories of those days. And sure, it also reminds me that these songs and sentiments transcend and persist throughout time. Perhaps nowadays we’ve become a little more jaded? While The Ronettes believe that the best part of breaking up is when you are making up, two of this past year’s biggest hits are about never getting back together (ever) again (see Taylor Swift, she’s very emphatic) and the pain of breaking up and disappearing in the eyes of your former lover (see Gotye). But, something tells me that the ardor, yearning, and hopefulness of young and crazy love will not disappear. (Simply crack open some poetry from any era and any culture, you’ll find more than a fair share of verses about the heart.) Plus, I’m sure once T.Swift finds a new beau she’ll slap together a modern rendition of “Chapel of Love.” One can only hope.
Now forget everything I said and listen to wonder that is The Ronettes – Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica
(And in case you are a vinyl enthusiast, this was recently reissued on very nice 180 gram version. It sounds pristine and polished, just as it did in 1961.)
Plus, if you feel the need for more 60s female group nostalgia check out:
- The Crystals – Da Doo Ron Ron & Other Favorites,
- The Shangri-Las – Leader Of The Pack, or
- Girl Groups Of The 60’s (a pretty good compilation of some of the finest of the era)
an unabashed hopeless romantic,
*The Dirty Dancing soundtrack also featured Patrick Swayze’s venture into pop music with “She’s Like the Wind.” I think this piece of pop flotsam probably inspired and influenced Michael Bolton’s career more than he is willing to acknowledge. … put those claws away.
** Check out this book for more info about the Wrecking Crew.