Wednesday, January 12, 2022

The Late Great Ronnie Spector

Ronnie Spector, best known as the lead singer of The Ronettes, died today, Wednesday, January 12 2022, at the age 78 after a short battle with cancer.

Ronnie Spector was born Veronica Bennett on August 10 1943 in New York City. Her mother was of African American/Cherokee descent and her father was Irish American. Young Ronnie, along with her sister Estelle and their cousin Nedra Talley, would go to their grandmother's house on Saturday where much of their time was spent singing. It as in 1957 that she formed her own girl group, consisting of Estelle, Nedra, and their other cousins Diane and Elaine. Eventually a male cousin, Ira, was added to the group. The group performed at a Wednesday amateur night at the Apollo Theatre, at which Ira was to be the lead singer. When he failed to sing, it was Ronnie who took over the lead vocals.

Following that amateur night at the Apollo, Ira, Diane, and Elaine left the group. The remaining members (Ronnie, Estelle, and Nedra) started taking singing lessons The three of them performed at sock hops and bar mitzvahs. Under the name Ronnie and the Relatives, they were eventually signed to Colpix Records. The label issued the singles "I Want a Boy" and "I'm Gonna Quit While I'm Ahead," neither of which charted. Renamed The Ronettes, their next single was a cover of The Rays "Silhouettes." Both it and a reissue of "I'm Gonna Quit While I'm Ahead" failed to chart.

Unhappy with Colpix, it was Estelle who got in touch with producer Phil Spector. The Ronettes auditioned for Spector. Initially he wanted to sign only Ronnie, but Ronnie's mother made it clear that he had to sign the whole group or there would be no deal. Regardless, The Ronette recorded the single "Chubby Danny D"/"Why Don't They Let Us Fall in Love," which was released under Ronnie's given name "Veronica." It failed to chart. The Ronettes would record more songs for Phil Spector, including covers of "The Twist", "The Wah-Watusi," and "Mashed Potato Time," but the songs were credited to another one of Spector's groups, The Crystals.

It was finally in July 1963 that The Ronettes recorded the song "Be My Baby." The song proved not only to be their first hit, but their biggest hit ever. It reached no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It would be followed by the hits "Baby, I Love You," "(The Best Part of) Breakin' Up," "Do I Love You?," and "Walking in the Rain." They were also featured on the classic Christmas album A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records, performing the songs "Frosty the Snowman," "Sleigh Ride," and .    "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus."

Unfortunately, by early 1965 The Ronettes' fortunes had begun to change. Their single "Born to Be Together" only reached no. 52 on the Billboard Hot 100. Their next few singles performed even more poorly. It was then in 1967 that The Ronettes broke up.

In 1969 Ronnie Spector recorded "You Came, You Saw, You Conquered," which was released on A&M Records and credited to The Ronettes Featuring the Voice of Veronica, even though none of the other Ronettes appeared on the record. It was in 1971 that Ronnie Spector recorded the song "Try Some, Buy Some," which was written by George Harrison and released on The Beatles' label Apple Records. It was in 1972 that Ronnie Spector, who had married Phil Spector in 1968, left him after years of abuse. Unfortunately, in the 1974 settlement between the two she gave up all of her future record earnings. It would not be until the Nineties that Ronnie Spector was able to receive $1 million in royalties from Phil Spector after years of legal battles.

It was in 1973 that  Ronnie Spector formed a new version of The Ronettes, with two new members. They recorded as Ronnie and The Ronettes. They released two singles ("Lover Lover" and "I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine") on Buddah Records, neither of which charted. By 1975 Ronnie Spector had returned to being a solo act and over the next few years released the singles "You'd Be Good for Me," "Paradise," "Say Goodbye to Hollywood," "It's a Heartache," and "Darlin'." 

In 1976 she sang a duet with Southside Johnny on Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes' song"You Mean So Much to Me." In 1980 her first solo album, Siren, was released. In 1986 she sang on Eddie Money's single "Take Me Home Tonight." In 1987 her second solo album, Unfinished Business, was released. It was in 1988 that she began performing Ronnie Spector's Christmas Party each Christmas season at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in New York City. In 1999 her EP She Talks to Rainbows was released. It was produced by Joey Ramone and Daniel Rey. She released two more EPs (Something's Gonna Happen in 2003 and Best Christmas Ever in 2010) and two more albums The Last of the Rock Stars and English Heart. English Heart proved to be a hit, reaching no 6 on the Billboard Top Heatseekers Chart. Ronnie Spector also sang backing vocals on The Raveonettes' song "Ode to LA" from their album 2005 Pretty in Black.

The word "legend" is sometimes overused, but it is certainly appropriate to call Ronnie Spector a legend.  She had an incredible voice, absolutely powerful and one of a kind. She could convey joy, sorrow, and every emotion in between with ease. With The Ronettes she also changed girl groups forever. While previous girl groups tended to be nearly virginal, The Ronettes were open in their sex appeal. As Ronnie Spector said in her memoir, Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts, and Madness, "We weren't afraid to be hot. That was our gimmick." Ultimately, Ronnie Spector and The Ronettes would have a lasting impact on future music artists. Artists from The Ramones to The Raveonettes to Amy Winehouse were all influenced by them. Ronnie Spector's success on the charts may have been short-lived, but their impact on music will last forever.


Hal said...

More than a few reasons to like the late great Eddie Money, but one very big one was his success at convincing Ms. Spector to come out of retirement and sing with him on "Take Me Home Tonight". She unretired for good after that.

Evil Woman Blues said...

Interesting take on the sex appeal angle. I never considered her an "edgy" vixen a la Tina Turner. Her appearance was less pure black and more of a mixed race type of attraction, which is what she was. There was a huge amount of racial stereotyping and pure racism in that era. The Ronettes were not a Motown product and that is reflected in their music. I always compared them to the Supremes. Ross was more assertive in her singing style and Ronnie was much more reserved and shy. I think that appealed more to the white audience who did not find her threatening. I would be curious to know the racial makeup of her customers compared to The Shirelles, Supremes, and other black female groups of the era.