Skip to content

The echo of an echo

Ronettes:Born to Be TogetherIt was during the sessions for John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” at New York’s Record Plant studio in October 1971 that Phil Spector showed me how he procured the characteristic string sound that hung like a silver mist over so many of his finest records. The secret, he said, was to send the signal to an echo chamber, and to use only the echo, not the primary signal, in the final mix. By robbing the strings of their attack, the trick lent his records, from the Paris Sisters onwards, an air of diaphanous romanticism. In some of them, too, it was used to counterpoint the ferocious pounding of a rhythm section that, by the mid-’60s, had grown to gargantuan proportions.

Nowhere was this more perfectly achieved than in the Ronettes’ “Born to Be Together”, to my mind the greatest of the recordings by the sisters Veronica and Estelle Bennett and their cousin Nedra Talley, even though it became the first of their Philles singles to fail to make the US Top 50 on its release in the summer of 1965. (In her autobiography, Ronnie Spector accuses Phil of failing to promote the group’s career because he did not want his wife-to-be to become too famous, although it seems just as likely that, after “Be My Baby”, “Baby I Love You”, “(The Best Part of) Breakin’ Up”, “Do I Love You” and “Walking in the Rain”, the public was growing a little weary of their distinctive sound.)

The song gives its name to the latest release in Ace Records’ invaluable Songwriter series: Born to Be Together: The Songs of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. Remastered here with greater warmth and richness than versions on the earlier ABKCO or Sony anthologies of Ronettes recordings (although not, of course, with the bite of the original US vinyl 45), it remains one of Spector’s unacknowledged masterpieces, particularly notable for the way the producer and his arranger, Jack Nitzsche, withhold the drums — probably Hal Blaine and Earl Palmer in tandem, by the sound of it — through the verses before bringing them crashing in for the chorus. Above their hammering, the strings sound simply celestial. Listen, too, for the way Ronnie applies her dramatic vibrato to the final syllable of each line — and, in the case of the climactic appearance of the word “together”, to the second and fourth syllables. That’s proper singing.

For this album, a second helping of Mann/Weil compositions to follow 2009’s Glitter and Gold, the compiler Mick Patrick also plunders the Spector archives for the Crystals’s “Uptown”, the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling” and Dion’s “Make the Woman Love Me”. I’m particularly grateful for Doris Day’s “Love Him” (destined to become “Love Her” in the hands of the Walker Brothers), Ruby and the Romantics’ charming “We’ll Love Again”, Dusty Springfield’s “I Wanna Make You Happy” (although I marginally prefer Margaret Mandolph’s version of this lovely Titelman/Weil song) and Len Barry’s “You Baby”. And just as Glitter and Gold reintroduced me to the Vogues’s glorious “Magic Town”, so the second volume provides a reminder of how much I always liked Slade’s “Shape of Things to Come”, a dynamic slice of quasi-psychedelic youthquake proto-punk produced in 1970 by Chas Chandler before the Black Country quartet started writing their own material and getting famous.

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Philby #

    The beauty of such pieces is that they send you hot-foot to your CDs and LPs to wallow in tracks long forgotten or neglected. I’m about to do exactly that with Born To Be Together. Small correction if I may: the Slade track was surely The Shape of Things to Come, not to be confused with Shapes of Things to Come as made famous by the Yardbirds and later Jeff Beck.

    March 15, 2013
  2. Thanks, Phil — and for the correction, too. Don’t you love the Slade guitarist’s (or session man’s) quote from the Supremes’ “Reflections”?

    March 15, 2013
  3. Philby #

    Now I’m correcting myself — how pedantic is that? The Yardbirds single was, of course, titled simply Shapes Of Things (without the To Come bit). See what you mean about the Reflections comparison. Cracking stuff. Wonder who did play it?

    March 15, 2013
  4. WKB #

    Speaking of Russ Titelman, this track has me had in it’s clutches, on an almost daily basis, for longer than is healthy:

    March 20, 2013
    • Some people love Lesley Gore’s version of this great song, while others prefer the Chiffons’ or Skeeter Davis’s. Myself, I’m permanently hooked on the one by the Inspirations, released on the Black Pearl label. Everything about it is perfect, particularly the reverb guitar and the echoed snare drum. Probably my favourite girl-group record. I’ve got it on a cheapo three-disc set called Chapel of Love and Other Girl Group Gems, compiled by Mick Patrick and Malcolm Baumgartner for Rollercoaster Records (a Sanctuary subsidiary) in 2002.

      March 21, 2013

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: