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Music

How Ronnie Spector helped give The Jesus and Mary Chain their signature song

@TylerGolsen

When Ronnie Spector passed away in the early days of 2022, the world quickly took notice of how her influence extended beyond her relatively meagre output. The Ronettes only released a single album, 1964’s Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes featuring Veronica, enjoying roughly three years of contemporary success before breaking up in 1967.

Despite the short shelf life of the group, the mark that Spector made on music sent shockwaves through pop culture. The Ronettes helped legitimise the “girl group” archetype and were one of the last true successful acts of the form before rock and roll bands began to push them aside. Spector’s voice, fashion, and music had a domino effect, with everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Amy Winehouse taking inspiration. In terms of having the most impact in the least amount of time, only Cream or the Sex Pistols occupy the same legendary space.

It was in the unmatched power of ‘Be My Baby’ that Ronnie Spector’s name would forever be etched into music history. Beginning with the iconic drum intro laid down by session master Hal Blaine, ‘Be My Baby’ was the culmination of Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” technique, bringing in all different textures and instruments to create a tornado of hooks and harmony. At the centre of it all was Veronica Bennett, the future Ronnie Spector, who commanded the attention and somehow managed to put all the overwhelming noise around her into the background.

Nobody could possibly replicate that iconic vocal performance, so when artists wanted to pay tribute, they usually went with the opening drum beat instead. Acts as wildly varying as Manic Street Preachers, Camera Obscura, Car Seat Headrest, and Taylor Swift all borrowed the instantly recognisable opening blast, but only one act was able to reinterpret it into a signature song of their own design.

That would be The Jesus and Mary Chain, who used a slowed down and heavily reverberated version of ‘Be My Baby”s opening drumbeat for their most iconic composition, ‘Just Like Honey’. Played by future Primal Scream frontman Bobby Gillespie, the beat was at once an instant callback to The Ronettes classic track and a completely new frontier to explore fuzzy noise pop. A modest success when it was first released, ‘Just Like Honey’ became a pop culture touchstone all of its own when it was featured in the final minutes of Sofia Coppola’s movie Lost in Translation. These days, you’d be just as likely to find someone citing the opening drum beat to either song, but its origins still belong to Ronnie Spector.

This also works nicely if you find yourself playing a demented version of Six Degrees of Separation and a need to somehow connect Brian Wilson with Primal Scream. It goes like this: Brian Wilson hired Hal Blaine to play on Pet Sounds > Hal Blaine played the opening beat to ‘Be My Baby’ > the opening beat was used by Bobby Gillespie on ‘Just Like Honey’ with The Jesus and Mary Chain > Bobby Gillespie left The Jesus and Mary to continue playing in Primal Scream. What good is a niche reference if you can’t turn it into a demented game?