Unmitigated cool never goes outta style. Ever. Especially when said cool comes from one of the originators. See then it's something at once insidious and divine, a thing in and of itself, unexplainable, indefinable and blessed beyond belief.
That kinda cool also tends to be highly emulated. And no one was perhaps more emulated throughout the Swingin' '60s than a dame named Ronnie Spector, front chick of The Ronettes. The beehives, the tight skirts, the black slashes of heavy eyeliner, all spoke bad girl in a time when there really wasn't such a thing. And Ronnie's gang set the stage for all the good female trouble to come.
After Ronnie hooked up and marryied Phil Spector back in '63, she and the Ronettes had a run of Top 40 hits which included "Be My Baby" and "Baby, I Love You," as well as a slate of Christmas classics that still get played to this day. But by the end of the decade their star had faded and Phil had pretty much lost his mind.
Ronnie chronicled those days in 2004's somewhat shocking (and widely cited) Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts, and Madness, or My Life as a Fabulous Ronette. And if you like Horatio Alger-like horror stories that are dipped in Hall of Fame-caliber glam, you may wanna pick it up. But beyond the stories was the voice, her voice, which was to AM radio what a shark-fin was to a Cadillac, the added edge that made one sit up and take notice.
It is a voice that was last captured in '99 by Joey Ramone when he produced She Talks to Rainbows. The 5-song EP, which was released by the uber hip Kill Rock Stars label, seemed to mark a resurgence in all things Ronnie. But it wouldn't be till 2006 that she came through with a follow-up, and even then only in the UK.
Three years later that follow-up has finally arrived stateside, and though Ronnie probably wouldn't wanna agree, it is well worth the long wait.
The LP's called Last of the Rock Stars and in many ways it finds Ronnie singing as if it were 1963 all over again. It certainly has a similar sass. And the strut is unmistakable. What's equally appealing is that the longplayer finds the legendary chanteuse backed by some of rock 'n' rolls most major players.
Of course Spector has always surrounded herself with an odd assortment of top notch musos. In addition to the above-mentioned productions, she's been backed by everyone from Leon Russell to Cher ("Baby, I Love You"), and she's teamed with the likes of Southside Johnny ("You Mean So Much To Me Baby") and Eddie Money ("Be My Baby"). Furthermore, her influence was such that both Billy Joel ("Say Goodbye to Hollywood") and Brian Wilson ("Don't Worry Baby") were inspired to write tributes to her.
In Last of the Rock Stars, things are tweaked even from all that. Yeah Yeah Yeah's guitarist Nick Zinner slings in for the album opening "Hey Sah Lo Ney;" Keith Richards (a self-professed long-time fan who inducted the Ronettes into the Hall of Fame back in '07) does his guitar thing on "All I Want," then duets for "Work Out Fine;" The Raveonettes (surely Ronettes disciples) back her play on "Ode to L.A.;" and "There Is An End," which is composed by Craig Fox of The Greenhornes with Patrick Keeler of the Raconteurs and Jack Lawrence of The Dead Weather, includes a cameo by none other than Patti Smith.
There's also a soulful reprise Johnny Thunders' immortal "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory" (off Rainbows), and a belting new version of Jimmie Rodgers' classic "It's Christmas Once Again" that's destined to join The Ronettes' "Sleigh Ride," "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa," and "Frosty the Snowman" on the holiday hit parade.
In a word, Last of the Rock Stars is a wonder. From the bitter bitchslap that is "Girl From the Ghetto" through the strident swing of "Work Out Fine," it's the sound of someone who really wasn't expected to last past the '70s let alone into the next century. Ronnie Spector is a survivor all right. And she's still got a voice that will echo well into many tomorrows. That we're around to hear it do so makes us almost as blessed as the lady herself. All we've gotta do is listen.
Ronnie Spector and the Ronettes perform Saturday November 21, 3pm as part of a Doo Wop Spectacular, also featuring The Marvelettes and The Crystals. Magic City Casino 450 NW 37th Avenue Miami Tickets are $25-$35. For more information call 888-56-MAGIC or log on to www.magiccitycasino.com