Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum

The Ronettes

Induction Year: 2007

Induction Category: Performer


Veronica “Ronnie” Spector (vocals; born August 10, 1943), Estelle Bennett (vocals; born July 22, 1941), Nedra Talley (vocals; born January 27, 1945)

Pair one of rock’s greatest voices (Ronnie Spector, born Veronica Bennett) with one of its greatest producers (), and memorable music was bound to result. That is exactly what happened when Veronica Bennett, along with her sister Estelle and cousin Nedra Talley, signed to Spector’s Philles label in 1963. From that point, the Ronettes quickly became the premier act of the girl-group era.

The three singers from New York’s Spanish Harlem neighborhood first made their mark as dancers at New York’s Peppermint Lounge during the twist era. They also toured with Joey Dee and the Starlighters (of “Peppermint Twist” fame). The Ronettes’ initial forays as recording artists yielded four singles that went nowhere. That changed when Spector took them under his wing. He provided them with top-drawer material (often from him in collaboration with fellow songwriters Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry), Los Angeles’ hottest session musicians and his inimitable golden touch in the studio. Ronnie’s voice, meanwhile, served as the vehicle for a string of timeless pop classics in Spector’s “Wall of Sound” style. Spector fell in love with Ronnie’s voice, and then with Ronnie herself, and “their courtship provided the raw material and the emotional spark behind many of the Ronettes’ recordings,” according to music writer David Hinckley.

For 16 golden months, from September 1963 through December 1964, the Ronettes placed five singles in the Top 40. These included the enduring girl-group classics “Be My Baby” (Number Two), “Baby I Love You” (Number 24) and “Walking in the Rain” (Number 23). These records were among ’s most monumental productions, all of them built around Ronnie’s tremulous, keening voice, which embodied the range of youthful, romantic yearnings from ecstasy to sadness. It didn’t hurt that the Ronettes were exotic, multiracial beauties whose black, beehive hairdos and thick mascara appealed to teenagers here and abroad. Boys wanted to be with them, girls wanted to be like them, and record buyers of both genders devoured their Spector-produced mini-operas.

One of the Ronettes’ biggest fans was Beach Boy Brian Wilson, who listened obsessively and repeatedly to “Be My Baby,” which he called “my all-time favorite song. . . . . It blew my mind.” Not far behind it, in terms of employing innovative production to heighten emotional depth, was “Baby I Love You,” which utilized a rousing chorus of overdubbed voices—including those of Cher and Darlene Love—to back up Ronnie’s captivating, siren-like lead vocal. These two singles made the Ronettes stars as 1963 dissolved into 1964, and, in England, the group toured with and befriended . More singles followed, but the Ronettes’ popularity tailed off after the charmed year of 1964. The trio’s final Spector-produced single—“Is This What I Get”/“Oh, I Love You”—missed the Top 40, and their last release for Philles, the Jeff Barry-produced “I Can Hear Music,” fared no better. The Ronettes broke up in 1966, but Ronnie herself remained romantically tied to Spector. The couple married in 1968 and divorced six years later.

Reemerging as a solo singer, Ronnie subsequently cut some extraordinary tracks with the E Street Band (“Say Goodbye to Hollywood”), Eddie Money (“Take Me Home Tonight,” a Top 10 hit) and the Bangles (“Dangerous”). She also released the solo albums Siren (1980) and Unfinished Business (1987). In 1990, she published her autobiography, Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts and Madness, or My Life As a Fabulous Ronette, which documented her troubled union with Spector. She’s remained an active performer, and, in 2006, she released her first album in 20 years, Last of the Rock Stars.

TIMELINE

August 10, 1943: Veronica Bennett (a.k.a. Ronnie Spector) of the Ronettes is born in New York City.

July 22, 1944: Estelle Bennett of the Ronettes is born in New York City.

January 27, 1946: Nedra Talley of the Ronettes is born in New York City.

1959: Renowned girl-group trio the Ronettes form in their native New York City.

1961: “I Want a Boy, the first single by the Ronettes – credited to “Ronnie and the Relatives” – is released on Colpix Records.

April 1962: “Silhouettes,” the first single credited to the Ronettes – and the second of four they’d release on the related Colpix and May labels before moving to ’s Philles imprint – is released.

July 1963: Having signed to ’s Philles label, the Ronettes begin sessions for “Be My Baby,” one of rock and roll’s greatest singles, in Los Angeles.

October 1963: “Be My Baby,” by the Ronettes, peaks at #2 on Billboard’s singles chart. It will reach #4 in Britain the following month.

December 1963: The seasonal classic A Christmas Gift for You - produced by and featuring the Ronettes, the Crystals and others - is released.

January 1964: “Baby, I Love You,” the Ronettes’ second single for producer ’s label, peaks at #24 in the U.S. A month later it will hit #11 in the U.K.

February 8, 1964: Having befriended on their first tour of Britain, the Ronettes are on hand to welcome the Fab Four to New York on their first trip to the U.S.

November 21, 1964: “Walking in the Rain,” by the Ronettes, becomes the girl group’s fifth single to enter the Top 40, where it will peak at #23.

1965: Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica enters Billboard’s album chart, where it will peak at #96.

September 1966: “I Can Hear Music,” the Ronettes’ last single for the Philles label, is released but fails to chart. The Ronettes disband shortly thereafter.

1968: and Veronica “Ronnie” Bennett, of the Ronettes, are married. They will separate in 1972 and divorce two years later.

1969: “You Came, You Saw, You Conquered” – a single credited to the Ronettes, Featuring Veronica – is released.

1971: Ronnie Spector releases “Try Some, Buy Some,” a single produced by husband , on ’ Apple label.

1977: Ronnie Spector cuts “Say Goodbye to Hollywood,” written by , produced by Steve Van Zant and backed by Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.

September 27, 1986: Ronnie Spector returns to the Top Forty for the first time since 1964 when Eddie Money’s “Take Me Home Tonight,” on which she sings, enters the chart, where it will peak at #4. It is her highest-charting single since “Be My Baby” reached #2 in 1963.

1990: Ronnie Spector’s tell-all autobiography, Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts and Madness, or My Life As a Fabulous Ronette, is published.

1992: The Best of the Ronettes, a long-overdue CD compendium, is released on ABKCO Records.

May 4, 2006: Last of the Rock Stars, Ronnie Spector’s first album in 20 years, is released on the High Coin label.

March 12, 2007: The Ronettes are inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at the 22nd annual induction dinner.

Essential Recordings

Be My Baby
Baby I Love You
Walking in the Rain
I Can Hear Music
Do I Love You?
(The Best Part of) Breaking Up
Say Goodbye to Hollywood
Born to Be Together
Is This What I Get for Loving You
I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine

Recommended Reading

“Ronnie Spector’s Rock Odyssey.”
Kurt Loder. Rolling Stone (October 16, 1980): 26.

“Ronnie Spector: For Every Kiss You Give Me, I’ll Give You Three.”
Chuck Miller. Goldmine (December 17, 1999): 15-20+.

He’s a Rebel: Phil Spector, Rock and Roll’s Legendary Producer
Marc Ribowsky. New York: Perseus, 2007.

Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts and Madness, or My Life As a Fabulous Ronette
Ronnie Spector and Vince Waldron. New York: Harmony Books, 1990.


The Beatles' Table Top Promotional Display for Parlophone Records, 1963

Photo by Design Photography
Collection of Peter J. Howard / ICE Magazine