Music Note:
Be True to Your Teletype
22 August 2018

ΒΆ Reading Ben Yagoda’s The B Side: The Death of Tin Pan Alley and the Rebirth of the Great American Song, I’m sort of thrilled to learn that Dennis Wilson (of The Beach Boys) had to pull his car over the first time he heard The Ronettes singing “Be My Baby” on the radio. I remember turning into a pillar of salt. (I was not in a car.)

Perusing my iTunes library (which consists mostly of CD recordings that I’ve uploaded to the computer), I discovered that “Be My Baby” was covered by The Essex, who turned me into an electric eel earlier in 1963 with their hit, “Easier Said Than Done.” Their version of “Be My Baby” adapts the song to their trademark teletype beat, and is leaner and cleaner. But the thrill isn’t there. You might almost say that Essex soloist Anita Humes, who I pictured at the time as a freckled, pigtailed blonde, wearing thick spectacles and possessed by teenaged hormones (she was nothing of the sort, of course), sounds too articulate. There’s something about the original that suggests a foggy coma, and Ronnie Spector sings as though no word in the lyric were any more important than another. That’s as it should be. “Be My Baby” is much closer to vocalese than it is to message songs. 

On the very next page of Yagoda’s top-notch survey, I’m astounded to read the Wilson thinks that he has never written a song as good. I’m not so sure. If you treat the words as vocalese, the madly underrated “Be True To Your School” is the obvious boy-song match.

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