by Kevin Burton
The story of a stunned Brian Wilson pulling over to the side of the road makes me smile every time.
Wilson is the driving force behind the Beach Boys. He was stopped in his and his car’s tracks, by the sheer brilliance of something coming from the radio that he just could not ignore.
It was “Be My Baby,” by the Ronettes, the first in a long line of “Wall of Sound” records produced by the talented but infamous Phil Spector.
Now Wilson is the creator of “Good Vibrations” and “God Only Knows” among other iconic Beach Boys hits. Be he calls “Be My Baby,” his greatest inspiration, and the “greatest record ever produced.”
“I felt like I wanted to try to do something as good as that song and I never did,” Wilson told the New York Times in 2013.
What Wilson didn’t know as he sat by the side of the road in rapt attention was that there was a big mistake on the song.
Drummer Hal Blaine said he was supposed to have hit the snare drum on the second and fourth beats, but he dropped a stick.
So what we got was three beats on the base drum and the explosion of snare on the four. He obviously recovered his stick in time to hit the snare on the four.
“Being the faker I was in those days, I left the mistake in and it became: ‘Bum-ba-bum-BOOM!’ Soon, everyone wanted that beat,” Blaine said.
“This is one of those rare cases in which an artist isn’t being hyperbolic about the influence of their own work,” wrote Natalie
Weiner on www.billboard.com. “Everyone did want the beat.”
The pattern has many imitators. For me it starts with Billy Joel on “Say Goodbye To Hollywood.”
“Be My Baby,” was number two on the Hot 100 for three weeks in October 1963, blocked from the top by “Sugar Shack,” by Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs. But the song’s influence was much more enduring than even its record sales and radio play.
BBC reporter Clare Thorp writes that in her 1990 memoir, “Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts and Madness,” Spector says John Lennon asked her to sing a little bit of Be My Baby into his ear. When she did in Spector’s words, Lennon “almost passed out.”
But Thorp’s favorite Be My Baby story involved a trip to the ladies’ room.
“When 19-year-old Ronnie was in the studio to record the song, she quietly took herself away from producer Phil Spector and a room packed with musicians and went to the ladies’ bathroom to practice her vocals. It was there that Be My Baby’s famous ‘whoa-ohs’ and ‘oh-oh-oh-ohs’ were born,” Thorp writes.
“People talk about how great the echo chamber was at Gold Star [studios], but they never heard the sound in that ladies’ room,” Spector wrote in her memoir.
“Like all the best pop music, Be My Baby is simple – but only on the surface,” thorp writes.
“It has layers – not just musically, thanks to Phil Spector’s lush orchestral arrangements or vocally, with Ronnie’s yearning vocals underpinned by a honeyed chorus of backing singers – but emotionally too.”
“For every line that captures the excitement of a new crush (‘The night we met I knew I needed you so’), there’s another that hints at how suffocating love can be (‘And if I had the chance I’d, never let you go’),” Thorp writes.
“Other lyrics sound simultaneously romantic and ominous: ‘I’ll make you happy baby, just wait and see. Oh since the day I saw you, I have been waiting for you.’
“It’s a song about desperately wanting someone to love you and all the ways that can make you crazy. “I’ll make you so proud of me,” pleads Ronnie, not knowing then just how dark her own relationship with the song’s producer would later turn,” Thorp writes.
Ronnie would eventually have to flee Phil Spector and his suffocating, controlling jealousy.
“Spector, a notorious taskmaster, insisted on 42 runthroughs by the band before he finally hit record. Ronnie’s vocals were the final brick in his Wall of Sound,” Thorp writes.
The song was included on the “Dirty Dancing” soundtrack. More importantly it’s the song that played when David and Maddie finally got together on “Moonlighting.”
So all love for the song and its lead singer. Happy birthday to you Ronnie Spector, 78 years young today.