Steven Van Zandt Picks 5 Favorites – Billboard

Steven Van Zandt knew Ronnie Spector, who died on January 12 at the age of 78, for more than 40 years. But even before they met, his music was an integral part of his life. As the leader of the Ronettes, Spector’s dynamic, powerful delivery and instantly recognizable vibrato imprinted his soul.

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More than a decade after the Ronettes’ heyday, Van Zandt produced a handful of records featuring Spector, sparking a friendship that lasted until his death. Their work in the mid-1970s, as she came out of her divorce from producer Phil Spector and tried to find her place in the musical world, helped her out of retirement.

“She never changed through all her adversity,” says Van Zandt Billboard. “She was just an eternal 16-year-old teenager. I’d met her on and off for the past 40 years, and she never changed. She always had that kind of bubbly optimism, no matter how bad things got. got weird.

Van Zandt says there are approximately 35 songs performed by Spector at all stages of his career in rotation on The Underground Garage, the SiriusXM radio station created and hosted by Van Zandt. On Saturday, his salute to Spector will start running on the station.

For Billboard, he narrowed down his favorites to five, re-examining why the tunes meant so much to him. His only regret? That the pair didn’t make a full album together. “I was happy to know her and proud to know her, but really honored to work with her,” he says. “I wish we had done more.”

1. “I Wonder”, The Ronettes (1964)

It was, I think, the third composition of Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich and Phil Spector after “Be My Baby” and “Baby, I Love You”. There are easily 10 or 12 classics I could choose from The Ronettes, but “I Wonder” is just one of my favorites. As for the Ronettes stuff, I don’t know if I could really necessarily tell one from the other. They are just phenomenal and fantastic compositions, productions and arrangements. … It’s hard to analyze [her voice]. It was more powerful than you expected. She was a little girl, really. And it was a little more powerful than you expected. She had this particular vibrato that was unique to her. You can hear how many people have been influenced by it.

2. “(The Best Part of) Breakin’ Up”, The Ronettes (1964)

It’s still Phil Spector, but with [co-writers] Pete Andreoli and Vince Poncia. So that was a small change. …She just does what all great singers do, which is you make the audience believe you wrote this song, you lived this song, this song is completely autobiographical, straight from your soul to the vinyl. … Only great singers have this ability to convince you. You feel like you’re peeking into a 16-year-old girl’s room and she’s staring out the window. This obviously automatically carries an innocence which is quite natural, but [she] sort of [had] the sophistication of being able to sing the songs in a way that is truly above [her] age. It’s an interesting combination.

3. “You Mean So Much To Me”, Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes with Ronnie Spector (1976)

It’s extremely important because it was a song [written by Bruce Springsteen] which brought him out of retirement after the legendary toxic marriage. She basically quit by then and lost her confidence and really felt like she would never get back on stage. So it was a very important transition record. [Producing her] was a nervous moment. [Laughs] You can’t help but feel a little responsible at this point. You are not just dealing with a friend, but you are dealing with history. It was my first time dealing with someone who was already famous, you know?

4. “Say Goodbye to Hollywood”, Ronnie Spector & The E Street Band (1977)

I definitely cheat. [Laughs] It was an extraordinarily important record. This eventually gave him the rest of his confidence back. And from there, she would get back on stage and stay on stage after that. But it was also a very important time for the E Street Band, which was struggling at the time. [Bruce Springsteen was barred from recording during a legal battle with his ex-manager and couldn’t work with or pay his band.] Steve Popovich was one of my best friends. He’s the one who signed the Jukes and he said, “Let’s do a session with the E Street Band. He had just started Cleveland International Records and he said, “I have the perfect Billy Joel song. It was a tribute to Ronnie and the Ronettes and Spector. It was a marriage literally made in heaven. It was only the second album I produced and I’m very proud of it. You feel the weight of history and you want to live up to it.

5. “Baby, Please Don’t Go”, Ronnie Spector and The E Street Band (1977)

It was the B-side to “Say Goodbye to Hollywood.” I wrote it for her, which was pretty personal at the time. [Van Zandt and Spector were in a relationship.] A kind of extra excitement at the idea of ​​her singing a song that I wrote. It is an additional motivation and inspiration. I was talking to Jeff Barry about it last night – he’ll be on our special – knowing that voice is going to make your song really affect you and you have to rise to that occasion and you have to bring your A-game and you do it. [When she first heard it,] it was a moment that was special. Yes, we had our moments.

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