The death of Ronnie Spector this week reminded me of one of my earliest memories of “musical significance”.
I grew up in the town where my mum’s family were from, and my dad’s family lived much further away in the north. My brother and my mum and dad and me would go to see them on epic journeys that involved early starts and a lot of driving as well as trip on a ferry across a big old river. These grand days out were good fun if a little lengthy, and we’d sometimes be joined by my aunty if she fancied a day out too.
Little me would get quite tired long before we’d even set off back and would often have to be persuaded to “be good” on the homeward journey. My mum always relied on everyone being a kept in good spirits in order to keep the peace, so there were word games to play and songs to sing rather than being told off whilst dadda got the driving out of the way. These were the days before seat belts were law and being little old boys me and my brother would sometimes sit together on the front seat which seems unthinkably dangerous today.
I remember one trip home we were driving back in the dark and we were all getting along great. My aunty was there chatting away with my mum, we had done the ferry crossing, my brother wasn’t winding me up and I was tired enough to just chill without falling asleep. I remember my dad had the radio on. He was an area sales manager and always had really cool cars, and I can recall the glow of the dashboard lights and the back light of the car radio as we sped home.
We were probably listening to Radio 2 on long wave and across the ether old songs were drifting past. One of them was “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes and I remember being captivated by the way it sounded. In the safety of my dad’s car on the dark journey home with my family around me I was enveloped in the optimistic longing of Ronnie Spector’s voice.
The sound, the sheer sound of how she sang was spellbinding. She sounded kind of sad…but not upset and it stirred something strange in me that I hadn’t really felt before. This sad sounding singing accompanied by big dramatic music seemed very important, and it seemed to me that this was the sound of how she felt. It was the sound of emotions.
I had an older sister, and she had a boyfriend and my mum had told me the reason she liked her boyfriend so much and why she never left his side when he came to visit and why he sometimes made her sad and why they didn’t want little old me pestering them was because she “doted” on him. Doting it seems was a special kind of liking – was this how doting sounded? I knew girls at school, and I knew I liked some of them, and I think hearing that music that I knew for the first time in my life that one day I wanted a girl to like me the way the singer sounded. One day…I wanted to be somebody’s baby.
Back then it was the sound of Ronnie Spector’s voice that fascinated me; it still does of course, but I can remember thinking just how good it sounded in my dad’s car coming through the radio on that dark journey home. It definitely set a blueprint for having music on whilst I travel, and I still love a good old fading AM signal when I’m thundering along tarmac behind the throb of an engine.
At the time I couldn’t have been more than seven years old, and besides the sound of it all the opening words would have been simple enough for me to understand –
“The night we met I knew I needed you so”
– and all these years later they don’t seem any less meaningful in spite of their simplicity.
The vocabulary of the lyrics may seem unadorned and almost plain, but their economy of meaning leaves all that space for the tapestry of emotion that comes from the delivery.
I could go on and analyse each line but I honestly think the first line sets the tone for the rest of the song.
Now, maybe the “so” was just there to fill out the opening line for it to rhyme with the subsequent “never let you go”.
But it’s a piquant “so”..the two little letters that you put after you tell someone you love them…to let you them know that you “love them so much“.
It’s a “so” of emphasis, a “so” of pleading to be understood, a “so” of giving someone your all, a “so” of vulnerability at the point of confessing your deepest feelings for someone…who could just brush them off and walk away…
All of that is beyond what my seven year old self could understand, but that song planted a seed of romance and a serious love of music somewhere deep in me, and regardless of whether it was just-a-so-to-rhyme-with-go, or whoever Ronnie wanted to be her baby, and whether they let her down or swept her off her feet…well the night we met, Ronnie and me, in my dad’s car driving in the dark when I was about seven, that night I did know I needed music and romance “so”, and I hope I’ll never let that feeling go.
Rest in peace Ronnie, and thank you for that song.