The late Ronettes singer had one of the most distinctive voices in pop music – and her discography should be celebrated beyond her girl-group hits
Amid the jaw-dropping stories of horrific abuse in Ronnie Spector’s 1990 autobiography Be My Baby, there’s a fascinating passage about her singing voice. She says she felt cowed by the other female singers in Phil Spector’s stable of stars: she didn’t have the kind of big, gospel-trained voice that Darlene Love or Fanita James possessed. But the producer had singled her out for special treatment. Veronica Bennett, as she was then, had “exactly what he needed to fill the centre of this enormous sound”, she said. Phil Spector was famous for rounding up whoever was in the studio to sing backing vocals, but he demurred when Ronnie offered. You could see that as an early example of the controlling behaviour with which he made her life a misery after their marriage, but his explanation was pretty convincing: “Your voice is too distinctive – it comes right though.”
He was right. Phil Spector worked with a succession of fantastic singers – not just Love and James, but the Righteous Brothers, Tina Turner and LaLa Brooks of the Crystals – but none of them sounded like Ronnie, a state of affairs that makes a mockery of the notion that Phil Spector was the solitary artist at work on his records, his vocalists interchangeable puppets.