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Try Some, Buy Some: Ronnie Spector, August 10, 1943 – January 12, 2022

“This is a song that made me fall in love with the singer. Absolutely incredible, my heart went straight out to her. It was produced by Phil Spector. I may be wrong but I think it’s the last single that he ever made, because he was so depressed that it didn’t do anything, that nobody bought it. Which is quite ironic really, because the title was Try Some, Buy Some, and it’s by his ex-wife Ronnie Spector.” 

— David Bowie, BBC Radio 1 Star Special, 1979

In early 1963, Veronica Yvette Bennett, one third of Manhattan vocal trio The Ronettes, were cheesed off with Colpix Records and their lack of success, and depending on who you speak to, were either scheduled to sing background for a Phil Spector session, or phoned the famed producer and offered to audition for him personally.

Spector agreed and met the women soon after at Mira Sound Studios in New York City. Later, Spector told Ronnie that he had seen them at The Brooklyn Fox several times and was impressed with their performances.

At the audition, Spector was sitting at a piano, expectantly. When the group began singing Frankie Lymon’s doo-wop wonder Why Do Fools Fall In Love, he leapt up from his seat and shouted: “That‘s it! That’s it! That’s the voice I’ve been looking for!” 

Originally, he wanted to sign Ronnie as a solo act, until her mother told him either he signed the girls as a group or it was no deal. Guess what — soon the Ronettes were Spector’s prize pop clients — their masterpiece, and one of his, was Be My Baby, with one of the most yearning, tough yet tender vocals of all time, which also happened to be the debut recording session by a pre-knife Cher, who performed back-up vocals with the other Ronettes, Estelle and Nedra, and Sonny Bono.

With their towering black beehive hairdos, extravagant eye makeup and tight sheath dresses, the Ronettes brought a whiff of sex and danger to the wholesome girl-group genre of the early sxties. 

Then Phil married Ronnie and essentially locked her away from the world for over half a decade.

After their divorce in 1974, Ronnie Spector’s recording career was erratic, but her voice shone in any setting, from an E Street Band-backed tear through Billy Joel’s Say Goodbye To Hollywood to her elegiac, Joey Ramone-assisted version of Johnny Thunders’ You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory.

Curiously, Ronnie recalled that in 1976 she “knew and dated David Bowie a few times,” a period when The Thin White Duke was at his most pharmaceutically enhanced.

“I met him through May Pang, who was with John Lennon when he and Yoko broke up,” Spector explained. “She called me and said, ‘David is having a concert and he wants you to come.’ And I was like, ‘David who?’ [Laughs]. 

“So I went and when he was done, I was asked to go to his dressing room. He couldn’t get enough of me [laughs]. We went out to dinner a few times; he came over to my apartment a few times. He was so nice.”

“I remember one time at the Plaza, he’d brought me to a party but then disappeared. There were all these people with big diamonds on, and they were standing around this glass coffee table doing cocaine. It was amazing how they’re in his room yet he didn’t like them.”

In 2003, a now sober Dame recorded a slightly demoish sounding version of George Harrison’s Try Some, Buy Some, based on the original Ronnie Spector 45 from 1971 he particularly admired.* 

In 1990, Ronnie wrote an unvarnished autobiography, titled Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts, and Madness, in which she offers a damning description of her only Apple single and that its meaning was utterly lost on her: 

“Religion? Drugs? Sex? I was mystified. And the more George sang, the more mystified I got.” 

Bowie, in an interview with The Word, seemed a little clearer on its message:

“Now my connection to the song is about leaving a way of life behind me and finding something new. It’s overstated about most rock artists leaving drugs … But when I first heard the song in ’74 I was yet to go through my heavy drug period. And now it’s about the consolation of having kicked all that and turning your life around.”

Ronnie Spector, singer, born NY August 10, 1943, died CT January 12, 2022

Steve Pafford

*In a 1999 BowieNet web chat with Joey Ramone, Ronnie Spector told Paul Kinder of Bowie Wonderworld that “Yes, it’s true” that DB had written a song for her, for which no title has ever emerged. Then, later in the same session she said “I’d love for David to help me on my new coming album as part producer/writer. I think he has such a head for producing and recording.”

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