John Lennon’s cover of The Ronettes song ‘Be My Baby’ was a love letter to Yoko Ono
John Lennon and Yoko Ono endured a brief separation around 1973 and, because of it, The Beatle’s rarely heard cover of The Ronettes iconic hit ‘Be My Baby’ acts as a pleading love letter.
Recorded late in 1973 as part of the Rock ‘N’ Roll sessions for Lennon’s covers album with infamous producer Phil Spector, the track remained a rarely heard bootleg for many years until it was finally released as part of The Beatles singer’s solo Anthology box set back in 1998.
Lennon’s effort may well be one of many, many covers of the 1963 hit written by Spector, Ellie Greenwich, and Jeff Barry, but none sound quite like this. Much of that was down to Phil Spector picking up on a new arrangement of The Ronettes song ‘Baby I Love You’ from pop icon Cher.
The iconic singer slowed down the track and changed the entire meaning of the song. It was an inspired move and saw Spector encourage Lennon to pursue a similar tactic, slowing down ‘To Know Her Is To Love Her’, ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’, ‘Bony Moronie’, ‘You Can’t Catch Me’ and ‘Since My Baby Left Me’. Yet none of those songs landed quite as heavily as Lennon’s cover of ‘Be My Baby’.
The pace of the song, destined to litter every wedding disco from here to eternity, is dramatically reduced and the sentiment of the song is radically changed. The fire of teenage passion which rages in the heart of the original is firmly replaced by the flickering hope of acceptance in Lennon’s.
With the benefit of hindsight, we are able to hear the anguish and the pleading in Lennon’s vocal performance. It’s an impassioned vocal which is almost unmatched in the singer’s repertoire and supported by the Wall of Sound backing Spector so often put on his sessions, it feels an anthemic cathartic release.
The decision to not put the cover of ‘Be My Baby’ on the original release of Rock ‘N’ Roll feels a strange one. In it, John Lennon reveals his naked vulnerability and his unstoppable need for the love of Yoko Ono.