Interview: Ronnie Spector - 'I don’t see any groups still to this day who made the ruckus and the greatness of The Beatles'

Interview: Ronnie Spector - 'I don’t see any groups still to this day who made the ruckus and the greatness of The Beatles'

credit: Evan Seplow

Spector on her new album, English Heart, being the object of John Lennon's affections and being embraced by punk

On her new covers album, English Heart, Ronnie Spector pays affectionate tribute to the 60s British Invasion bands who idolised her legendary girl group The Ronettes. It’s the latest chapter in a solo career that began after she escaped from her domineering husband and producer Phil Spector in the early 70s – a subject strictly off-limits in this interview.

This is obviously a very personal album. Was recording it an emotional experience?
When I sang [Bee Gees song] 'How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?' I had to stop the recording and go into the little bathroom there and cry. I was so emotional with that record because it’s like my life.

The British groups adored you, didn’t they?
I remember The Beatles coming to our record company party when we first went over there. It was amazing, because all they talked about was American music, but all we wanted to know about was English music.

What was it like being part of that world?
Those were the best times of my life. The Ronettes were at the peak of our career just before The Beatles came to America, and The Rolling Stones were our opening act. All these groups on tour with us, The Kinks, The Yardbirds, whoever it was, if somebody had a birthday you got a cake for them and soda. It was so innocent and fun and everybody loved the music – that’s why we were all there. There were no drugs involved, but everybody smoked cigarettes – you weren’t hip if you didn’t have a cigarette.

And the fan hysteria, was that overwhelming?
I remember going to see The Beatles at Shea Stadium in a Bentley, and if we hadn’t been in a Bentley I’d be dead. The kids screamed, 'There they are! The Ronettes! They’ll have The Beatles with ‘em, let’s go!' They shook the car, they were all around, and that night I thought I was dead. There was so much chaos. I don’t see any groups still to this day who made the ruckus and the greatness of The Beatles.

John Lennon had a crush on you. His feelings weren’t reciprocated?
I was seeing someone at the time as everybody knows, so I didn’t think of romance with John. I was so young, I just wanted to have fun. I remember John taking me to Carnaby Street because I wanted those English boots, we just had a ball. It was so exciting being a star, it was the beginning of everything for The Ronettes. And then … nothing.

Your career was sabotaged in the mid-60s when your producer refused to release several potential Ronettes hit singles. That must’ve been awful.
I was devastated. I just loved those songs, but things like 'Paradise', which was written by Harry Nilsson, I still sing in my show today.

How did it feel when the punks embraced you in the 70s?
I wasn’t in the business for seven years, so when I came back to New York and Joey Ramone wanted to meet me I thought, 'What? Who are these people?' But when I heard the Ramones, wow! I loved it. I didn’t think about punk, it’s all rock and roll to me. I was working in a gay club in New York and Johnny Thunders was in the audience, crying throughout my whole show.

Your sound and image have influenced many artists, Amy Winehouse among them. Where did it come from?
I guess it’s the way I was brought up in Spanish Harlem, we had every race in our neighbourhood. I’d look out of my grandmother’s window and I’d see the black girls with their cigarettes, then the Puerto Rican girls with their hair all teased up. I wanted to look like that.

English Heart is released on Fri 8 Apr via Caroline Records.

Ronnie Spector

Rock'n'roll and pop from the vocalist and former member of The Ronettes.

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