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The Ronettes

 

The Ronettes from 1962Veronica Bennett (later known as Ronnie Spector), her sister Estelle Bennett and cousin Nedra Talley became well known as the Ronettes, a great girl group from New York.  They began singing together as teenagers in Washington Heights, Manhattan.  They were taught to harmonize by their grandmother who entered them in a talent show as the Darling Sisters in 1959 and won.

The Ronettes first appeared in 1961 as dancers at Joey Dee's Peppermint Lounge on 45th Street in New York City.  The Ronettes then still known as the Darling Sisters were booked in Miami at Joey Dee's Peppermint Lounge where they were spotted by disc jockey Murray K.  They became known as Murray K's dancing girls for his Brooklyn Fox Shows.

The trio also were hired for Clay Cole's "Twist-o-rama" tour during this period.  Halikus was able to secure a record deal with Colpix through Stu Phillips. The group's first four singles had little success.   They released their first single, "I Want A Boy", during the summer of 1961, under their new Colpix given name, Ronnie and the Relatives. Their next single with Colpix had the girls listed as The Ronettes and was titled "I'm on a Wagon" but was never released. The same year, they released a song called "Good Girls" arranged by Bert Keyes, which showed their developing sound and growing maturity.   The girls also worked as backup singers for Bobby Rydell, Del Shannon, and Joey Dee.

In 1963 they came to the attention of producer Phil Spector, who was looking for a new girl group to assume The Crystals' mantle. He was taken with Ronnie's voice and style, and signed The Ronettes to his Philles label. Spector initially wanted to sign Ronnie Bennett as a solo artist, but when the three girls refused to be broken up, Spector signed them all.  The Ronettes started off as backup singers to other artists in Spector's stable, such as Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans and Darlene Love. As Spector's new protégées, they assumed the image of the first “bad girls of rock and roll,” with beehive hairdos, heavy eyeliner, and tight skirts. Their songs were addressed directly to their subjects, giving them a more seductive manner, using lyrics such as “I love you” instead of “I love him.”

Their first Philles single was "Be My Baby", co-written by Spector with Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, and arranged and produced by Spector. Phil Spector produced “Be My Baby” integrating castanets, maracas, and Hal Blaine drum work into his "Wall of Sound" technique.  It became a worldwide hit, reaching #2 on the U.S. pop chart, #4 on the R&B chart, and #4 on the UK chart and sold over 2 million copies. Brian Wilson, leader and songwriter of the Beach Boys, claims that “Be My Baby” is “my all-time favorite song. . . . . It blew my mind,” and wrote “Don’t Worry Baby” for the Ronettes as a tribute. Phil Spector rejected the offering, so the Beach Boys recorded it, and the song charted #24 on the US hot 100  In 1964 Spector began managing as well as producing the group. After "Be My Baby," none of The Ronettes’ other singles ever made it into the top 20 in the US,  but from September 1963 through December 1964, they placed five singles in the Top 40.

 Shindig appearance in 1965 singing "Be My Baby"

Their follow-up song, "Baby, I Love You", had an even denser arrangement, featuring Leon Russell on piano and backing vocals from Darlene Love and Cher, among others. It was slightly less successful, reaching #24 in the United States and #11 in the United Kingdom. On Phil Spector’s “A Christmas Gift for You” album, The Ronettes recorded “Sleigh Ride”, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” and “Frosty the Snowman."

Early in 1964 The Ronettes toured England with The Rolling Stones and were introduced to The Beatles. They continued to have hits with "The Best Part of Breaking Up" (#39 U.S., #43 UK), "Do I Love You?" (#34 U.S., #35 UK), and the Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil song "(Walking) In the Rain" (#23 U.S.), which won a Grammy for Best Sound Effects, the only Grammy Spector ever received. However, their album "Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes featuring Veronica" only reached #96, and other singles were less successful; musical tastes had moved beyond the girl group sound, and the Ronettes were unable to maintain their relevance. “I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine” was one of the final songs that Spector produced for the Ronettes and was never released, since his attention was turned to his productions for Tina Turner in 1966.  Spector was very possessive of The Ronettes, especially towards Ronnie. In 1966 when the Ronettes were set to open for the Beatles tour, Spector made Ronnie stay at home while a cousin took her place on the tour instead. Jeff Barry produced the last Ronettes song on the Philles label, “I Can Hear Music”. After the success of the Ike & Tina Turner song “River Deep-Mountain High”, Spector shut down the Philles label and the Ronettes disbanded.

The Ronettes' influence on music was significant. In addition to Wilson, Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen have both cited Ronnie Bennett as an influence.

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