“Be My Baby” is a song written by Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich and Phil Spector. It was first recorded and released by American girl group The Ronettes as a single in August 1963 and later placed on their 1964 debut LP Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes featuring Veronica. Spector produced their elaborately layered recording in what is now largely considered the ultimate embodiment of his Wall of Sound production formula.
It is considered one of the best songs of the 1960s by Pitchfork Media, NME and Time. In 2004, the song was ranked 22 by Rolling Stone in its list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and described as a “Rosetta stone for studio pioneers such as the Beatles and Brian Wilson,” a notion supported by AllMusic who writes, “No less an authority than Brian Wilson has declared ‘Be My Baby’ the greatest pop record ever made—no arguments here.” In 1999, it was inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame, and in 2006, the Library of Congress honored the Ronettes’ version by adding it to the United States National Recording Registry. Billboard named the song #1 on their list of 100 Greatest Girl Group Songs of All Time.
The song was composed by the trio of Phil Spector, Jeff Barry, and Ellie Greenwich. It features I – ii – V7 and I – vi – IV – V chord progressions.
“Be My Baby” was recorded in July 1963 at Gold Star Studios in Los Angeles. Spector recorded a range of instruments including guitars, saxophones, multiple pianos, and horns with innovative studio mixing and over-dubbing. Spector described his production method as “a Wagnerian approach to rock & roll”, which became known as the wall of sound. “Be My Baby” was one of the first times Phil Spector used a full orchestra in his recording. The drums were played by Hal Blaine. The Blossoms, led by Darlene Love, and Sonny and Cher were part of the group of guests that provided additional backup vocals. Guitars on the session were played by Tommy Tedesco and Bill Pitman, after whom the instrumental “Tedesco and Pitman” on the B-side of the single was named.
The song was arranged by Spector regular Jack Nitzsche and engineered by Larry Levine. Ronnie Spector is the only Ronette to appear on the record.
Ronnie Spector – lead and backing vocals
Additional musicians and production staff
Louis Blackburn – trombone
Hal Blaine – drums
Sonny Bono – backing vocals
Frank Capp – percussion
Cher – backing vocals
Al De Lory – keyboards
Steve Douglas – saxophone
Ellie Greenwich – backing vocals
Carol Kaye – bass
Darlene Love – backing vocals
Fanita James – backing vocals
Jay Migliori – saxophone
Gracia Nitzsche – backing vocals
Bill Pitman – guitar
Ray Pohlman – bass guitar
Don Randi – piano
Leon Russell – keyboards
Bobby Sheen – backing vocals
Tommy Tedesco – guitar
Nino Tempo – backing vocals
“Be My Baby” was the first Ronettes song produced by Phil Spector released on his label, Philles Records. The group had already recorded a track by Greenwich and Barry called “Why Don’t They Let Us Fall in Love”, but this was held back in favor of “Be My Baby”. The song reached #2 on the U.S. Billboard Pop Singles Chart and #4 on the UK’s Record Retailer. It also peaked at number four on the R&B chart. The single sold more than two million copies in 1963. In her autobiography, lead vocalist Ronnie Spector relates that she was on tour with Joey Dee and the Starlighters when “Be My Baby” was introduced by Dick Clark on American Bandstand as the “Record of the Century.”
Barbara Cane, vice president and general manager of writer-publisher relations for the songwriters’ agency BMI, estimated that the song has been played in 3.9 million feature presentations on radio and television since 1963. “That means it’s been played for the equivalent of 17 years back to back.”
The song is invoked in Eddie Money’s 1986 song “Take Me Home Tonight”, in which Ronnie Spector replies to “Just like Ronnie sang…” with “Be my little baby”.
Many artists have mimicked Hal Blaine’s opening drum phrase including:
The Four Seasons (“Rag Doll”)
Carpenters (“Only Yesterday”)
Billy Joel (“Say Goodbye to Hollywood”)
The Jesus and Mary Chain (“Just Like Honey”)
The Magnetic Fields (“Candy”)
Elvis Costello (“This Town”, “No Dancing”)
Meat Loaf (“You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth”)
Marc Shaiman / Scott Wittman (“Good Morning Baltimore”, from Hairspray)
Amy Winehouse (“Back to Black”)
Manic Street Preachers (“Everything Must Go”)
Camera Obscura (“Eighties Fan”)
Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys developed a fervent obsession with the song, leading Spector to quip: “I’d like to have a nickel for every joint he smoked trying to figure out how I got the ‘Be My Baby’ sound.” Wilson told The New York Times in 2013 that he has listened to the song more than 1,000 times. Wilson explains his reaction to hearing the record for the first time:
I was in my car with my girlfriend and we were driving around… When all of a sudden this guy Wink Martindale—a disc jockey—he goes, “All right! Here we go with ‘Be My Baby’ by the Ronettes.” It started playing … All of a sudden it got into this part—”be my, be my baby”—and I said “What is—what?! Whoa whoa!” I pulled over to the side of the street of the curb and went, “…My God! …Wait a minute! …No way!” I was flipping out. I really did flip out. Balls-out totally freaked out when I heard. … In a way it wasn’t like having your mind blown, it was like having your mind revamped. It’s like, once you’ve heard that record, you’re a fan forever.
The song ultimately revamped Wilson’s songwriting and creative aspirations. Wilson considers his “Don’t Worry Baby” to be the male answer to “Be My Baby”. At one point, he instructed Beach Boys engineer Stephen Desper to create a tape loop consisting only of the song’s chorus, listening to it for several hours in what Desper saw as “some kind of a trance”. Wilson’s daughter Carnie stated that during her childhood: “I woke up every morning to boom boom-boom pow! Boom boom-boom pow! Every day.” Brian Wilson eventually did a cover of the song with the Beach Boys in July 1980 and later in 2000 on his solo album Live at the Roxy Theatre.
1970 – Andy Kim released a single version that reached #17 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #24 on the U.S. adult contemporary chart.
1973 John Lennon recorded during the Rock ‘N’ Roll album sessions. This recording was not included in the final mix but released on the 1998 box set John Lennon Anthology
1977 Shaun Cassidy covered the song, which was released in Germany and reached #39. It was included on his eponymous debut album.
1980 – The Beach Boys (unreleased)
1981 – Mike Love, Looking Back With Love
2000 – Brian Wilson, Live at the Roxy Theatre
2012 – Leslie Grace covered the song in bachata for her eponymous album. Her version peaked at #8 on the Billboard Hot Latin Songs and #6 on the Tropical Songs chart.