Ronnie Spector’s death has really hit hard. Even if she had never made any more music after the Ronettes, she’d still be a hall of famer. “Be My Baby” has to be in consideration for the title of greatest pop song of all time. Her voice, strong and sweet, sexy and smooth, is one of the most perfectly realized instruments in all of music history. I can’t possibly extol her virtues enough—she’s simply the best.
I’d heard plenty of Ronettes hits on the radio growing up in the late 1970s and 1980s, but Ronnie’s 1986 collaboration with Eddie Money, “Take Ne Home Tonight”—which was a career rebirth of sorts after her surviving the trauma of living with Phil Spector—was the first time my childhood-self really listened to that voice. I was the right age, eleven, and music was just becoming integral to my life. The combination of Eddie’s muscular, raspy tone with Ronnie’s smoky sensuality was almost too perfect for this world. When she breaks into the song, reprising/adapting “Be My Baby” for the MTV generation, it’s as if she’s announcing “I’m here, I never really left, and I’m never really going to leave.” Eddie pleads with her: he needs “a guardian angel,” and Ronnie is there to rescue him. And us.
The video was just as iconic as the song. Shot in black and white, Eddie onstage in an empty arena, emoting beautifully and twirling the microphone cord like Roger Daltrey, while Ronnie stamps out a cigarette with her high heel before sashaying her way towards the stage. Years Before Shakira told us “hips don’t lie”, Ronnie showed us first, shaking and shimmying, with that gorgeous voice like a siren’s call to all who needed to hear it. I certainly needed to hear it. Ronnie’s voice changed music, and it established for me at a young age the model for what I want from a singer. Since then, few have ever come close to matching her strengths.
Now she and Eddie are both gone. Apart and together, they each made a little magic while on this earth. We can’t ask for much more than that out of life.