Stevie Van Zandt Celebrates Ronnie Spector as a ‘Magical Voice Transporting Us Back to Our Own Innocence’

Variety asked Stevie Van Zandt, who grew up adoring Ronnie Spector and eventually came to work with her, for his thoughts on the legendary singer, who died Wednesday at 78. He writes: 

It was “Mean Streets” that finally drove it home.

It had been 10 years since “Be My Baby” was a hit, but Marty Scorsese placing it where he did in that film made it timeless. And coming out of those big movie speakers made it indelible!

I was 12 when it went to No. 2 in the summer of ‘63. I always associate the Girl Group records with summer. Puberty always takes place in the summer. That’s some kind of rule, isn’t it?

The Chantels, the Shirelles, the Crystals, Chiffons, Shangri-Las, Cookies, Jelly Beans, Marvelettes.

But the Ronettes stood out. Their beehive hair. Mascara. Slit skirts. Their mixed race would make them extra exotic. Her sister and cousin were good support, but it was all about Ronnie.

That face. It was different.

Mysterious.

We thought it was the combination of Black blood mixed with white blood with the secret ingredient of Latina, but it turned out to be Cherokee.

“Be My Baby,” “Baby I Love You,” “Walking in the Rain,” “I Wonder,” “You Baby” stood out even before the blasting movie speakers reawakened your libido.

I had assumed Phil Spector’s “Wall Of Sound” was always there in his records. After I produced “Introducing Darlene Love,” I wanted to also produce a new live show for Darlene, so I went back and studied the early Crystals records, and only then realized the really epic orchestral tsunami didn’t hit until “Be My Baby.”

It wasn’t until he fell in love.

And he was determined, with a little help from co-writers Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, to make sure everybody else in the world fell in love with her too.

It was right after Marty screened “Mean Streets” for Bruce and me that I began my first album production for Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. I was talking with my engineer Jimmy Iovine about having a guest or two on the album, and he suggested Ronnie.

“You know Ronnie Spector?” I whispered incredulously.

And sure enough, the next day, there she was.

She hadn’t changed much in spite of surviving one of the world’s worst toxic marriages.

Somehow, she had managed to keep that bubbly, irrepressible, positive energy that had been inspiring audiences since she danced at the Peppermint Lounge for Murray the K.

We had her duet with Johnny on a song Bruce had written, and she began to shake off the depressing thoughts of an early retirement. Her new confidence got a final boost when we recorded her with the E Street Band for a single on my friend Steve Popovich’s Cleveland International Records.

After that, she never looked back.

She would return to the stage and make new records with everybody from Keith Richards to Joey Ramone — and have an actual hit with Eddie Money introducing her to a whole new generation.

She began to realize it wasn’t just the Spector records that people loved.

It was her.

Her eternal teenage innocence.

That magical voice that for those two and a half minutes never failed to transport us back to our own long-forgotten innocence, giving us hope and making the world a better place.

And it always will.

 

In addition to being a founding member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, Stevie Van Zandt records and performs as a solo artist and with his band Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul. In 1985 he formed Artists United Against Apartheid and wrote “Sun City,” a song featuring over 50  artists protesting the apartheid system. Van Zandt co-starred in all seven seasons of “The Sopranos” and starred in, co-wrote, executive-produced and served as music supervisor for Netflix’s “Lilyhammer.” His radio show “Little Steven’s Underground Garage” is internationally syndicated, and he created and produces SiriusXM’s Underground Garage and Outlaw Country channels. Van Zandt’s memoir, “Unrequited Infatuations,” released last fall, became a New York Times bestseller.

 

 

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