Ronnie Spector may have been the quintessential 1960s poster girl, what with her Wall of Sound-posing, mascara-wearing, beehive-donning glory, but the singer — who died on Wednesday of cancer at age 78 — had an even more recognizable voice. Spector’s quavering vibrato and streetwise romanticism defined the sound of a decade, and traveled far beyond.
Spector will always be linked with the man who made her his muse: producer, songwriter and one-time husband Phil Spector, who was convicted of a 2003 murder and died in prison almost exactly a year ago. She was signed to Spector’s Phillies Records and saw multiple hits by Ronnie and The Ronettes from 1963 to 1966, which rank high in pop’s firmament.
The Ronnie Spector song cannon, however, doesn’t end there. Here are 10 of her finest musical moments:
The Ronettes – “Be My Baby” (1963)
A shining example of the Wall of Sound production, the Jeff Barry/Ellie Greenwich/Phil Spector composition truly comes alive when Spector’s strong and sultry vocals soundtrack one of music’s finest come-ons. “The night we met I knew I needed you so / And if I had the chance, I’d … never let you go.” Simply perfection.
The Ronettes – “Walking in the Rain” (1964)
A thunder clap and the thrum of the Wrecking Crew can’t compare with Ronnie Spector’s ever-so-slightly nasal lover’s plea of “I want him, I need him,” or her supple ‘whoa-a-oh-aoh,” that slides slowly into the chorus penned by Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil and Phil Spector’s. That she could wrangle drama out of a not-so-catchy refrain is how Ronnie alone makes this tune epic.
The Ronettes – “What’d I Say” (1964)
In the hands of Ronnie and The Ronettes, Ray Charles’ R&B classic elevates its Latin rhythmic feel for something lighter, which, in turn gives Spector an entrée for a gender switch (“Hey daddy, don’t you treat me wrong”) and a sexy, come-hither plea.
The Ronettes – “You Came, You Saw, You Conquered” (1969)
This is a tricky one. This A&M Records track’s credit may read “The Ronettes Featuring the Voice of Veronica,” but there is no mistaking Ronnie Spector’s voice. In fact, clearer and devoid of effects, she sounds blunt, cutting and very New York as she curtly croons, “I didn’t have a care or worry / I wasn’t in the slightest hurry.” Plus, Ronnie takes full advantage of an aching chorus, something melancholy, jazzy and cosmopolitan as penned by Phil with Toni Wine and Irwin Levine.
Ronnie Spector – “Try Some, Buy Some/Tandoori Chicken” (1971)
During Phil Spector’s brief time as head of A&R at Apple Records, the producer recorded Ronnie singing the George Harrison-composed “Try Some, Buy Some,” a flutteringly angelic song whose multi-tracked mandolins could pass for an Italian film soundtrack of its time. Ronnie’s vocal is haunting and endearingly unique in her canon — a shame, then, that the song didn’t chart. But, Harrison and Spector wound up using the same backing track for George’s version of the song on Harrison’s “Living in the Material World,” album. As for the goofy “Tandoori Chicken,” it was penned by Harrison and Phil Spector, and Ronnie rolls it with humor and rockabilly swagger.
Ronnie Spector and the E Street Band – “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” (1977)
If you ever wondered what the meeting of East Coast icons Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen and Ronnie Spector would sound like at their operatic best, look no further than Ronnie’s grand Wall of Sound-inspired take on the the Joel classic.
Ronnie Spector – “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” (1980)
You can’t get any more sympathetic a producer for Ronnie Spector than Genya Raven, herself a girl group alum as the frontwoman of Goldie & the Gingerbreads. For Ronnie Spector’s streetwise punk-ish 1980 album “Siren,” Raven puts the singer front and center of the Ramones’ keenest, most theatrical melodies. Cocky, cool and underproduced (take that, Phil!), the combination of Dee Dee, Joey, Genya and Ronnie in one studio makes for an undeniable team.
Ronnie Spector – “Settin’ the Woods on Fire” (1980)
A steaming Greg Allen-Ralph Fuentes cut with backing by the Diamond Dupree Band and many live handclaps, this track is neo-Southern boogie rock at its best. Jim Dandy and Black Oak Arkansas could not have hoped for more.
Eddie Money & Ronnie Spector – “Take Me Home Tonight” (1986)
The Ronnie Spector 1980s renaissance kicked into high gear with ex-cop-turned-radio staple Eddie Money taking the lead. Spector acted as the second vocalist, but her part — cooing “be my little baby” in her distinct tenor — made the throwback homage an instant hit. Money responds to the familiar chorus with his own lyrical nod, “just like Ronnie sang,” and later repaid the favor as the second voice on Spector’s 1987 single, “Who Can Sleep.”
Ronnie Spector – “I’d Much Rather Be With the Girls” (2016)
Taken from “English Heart,” her tribute to the British bands that she and the Ronettes came up with during the Swinging ’60s — and her final full solo album — Spector is thrilling and cocksure taking on the ringing pop of Keith Richards and Andrew Loog Oldham. She sings about preferring to be with girls, but it’s Ronnie Spector herself who sounds tougher than the bad boys who penned the tune.
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