Sixty years ago, Ronnie Spector and Darlene Love were the reigning queens of New York pop. Both commandeered the charts (with the Ronettes and initially the Crystals, respectively), both had gloriously strong, emotive voices, and both were produced by the late Phil Spector. Over time, they each broke with Spector and, despite some creative lulls, carried on. The two legends remained in touch, performing together for the last time at a 2016 Rainforest Fund benefit at New York’s Carnegie Hall. With TV news reports of Spector’s death in the background, Love spoke with Rolling Stone about her history with Spector.
I loved being around Ronnie. She was a delight. She would always crack you up. This is really heartbreaking. This is getting close to home.
I met Ronnie in the early Sixties. She hadn’t started recording for Phil yet. I had already recorded [the Crystals’] “He’s a Rebel” with him. We did a Christmas show in Brooklyn with Murray the K, and the Ronettes were actually the dancing girls for the show. When Ronnie found out I was there, she knew all about me. She said she wanted to record with Phil Spector because she knew he could get her a hit record. She felt that he could make her be successful on record. And a year or so later, she was in California recording for Phil. She made her way all the way from here [New York] to California.
She was this little bitty thing; she reminded me of a little Barbie doll. She was just so beautiful. But from the beginning, she had a strong voice. I always thought her as sounding like Frankie Lymon of the Teenagers. But she didn’t try to sound like him. That’s just the way she was, which was amazing. She was rock and roll, the way she sang and moved onstage. We used to call the Ronettes “the nasty girls,” and we were the “good girls”!
“Be My Baby” is my favorite song by the Ronettes. That and “Walking in the Rain.” “Be My Baby” will be around when our great-grand-children are still on Earth. It’s all the in the way she sang it and interpreted it. We didn’t have demos to learn those songs. They were just offered to us. Phil taught her the melody, and then she just did it. Even that it was her only hit, that voice will always ring in your ear because of her distinctive sound.
We used to call the Ronettes “the nasty girls,” and we were the “good girls”!
Our lives were almost parallel with Phil. My life with him was about business, but she had to deal with him as a husband and a record producer. He had her under contract and was married to her. She had a struggle getting away from him. When she was on top, Phil didn’t want her to travel or meet the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. He tried to stop her from being that person.
Her break from him was more difficult than mine. We talked a lot during that time she was married to Phil. Nothing too deep, but just so I could give her some nuggets about life, like “Make the best of it. Do what you have to do.”
That song with Eddie Money [“Take Me Home Tonight”] brought her career right back to life again. It just goes to show you that you can turn your life around again. You can come back as strong as you want to. Who would have thought that that song would be a hit for her? It was his song! When I heard it, I said, “That sounds just like Ronnie.” And it was Ronnie! That says it all. When you have that kind of voice, when people know your voice, you have really made it.
It was always a thrill to know she was out there doing her thing. Even in the later years of her life, she could still belt out those songs. She used to say to me, “I want to be on stage my whole life. There’s nothing I’d rather do than sing on stage.”
And I believed that. She wanted to be a singer and she wanted to be a star, more than anybody I’ve ever known. And that’s what she ended up becoming. She went after it and she didn’t let anybody stop her from doing it. Her legacy is that if you want something bad enough, you can have it.