Fifty-three years ago today, one of my drum heroes went to work at Gold Star Studios in L.A. and played a beat that not only helped drive a song to the top of the charts (where it peaked at #2), but has subsequently proven that something as simple as a drumbeat can evoke an entire era.
The drummer was Hal Blaine, and the track was “Be My Baby,” which was credited to the Ronettes, although Ronnie Spector was the only member of the group to appear on the track. The song was written by Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, and Phil Spector, the last of whom of course was also the producer, reaching perhaps the apotheosis of his “Wall of Sound”.
There are plenty of amazing performances on the record, from Ronnie’s achingly yearning lead vocal to the work of the various other members of studio legends the Wrecking Crew. But for me, at least, it always comes back to those first four notes on Blaine’s kit. That opening measure is as irrevocably Blaine’s as the first four notes of Symphony #5 are Beethoven’s. I’ll have band practice tonight at the studio on campus, and we’ll rehearse a song we’ve been developing for a couple of weeks. When a question comes up about the chorus, Joseph (our keyboardist, who wrote this particular song) will say something about “And when the Spector beat comes in…”
And we’ll all know what he means. That beat can’t be played anymore — it can only be quoted.
So happy anniversary to “Be My Baby,” and thanks, Mr. Blaine. Everyone in rock and roll owes you.