By MIKEL TOOMBS
My favorite girl-group song isn’t The Crystals’ “He’s a Rebel” or The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby,” or anything else found on the aptly titled LP “Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica,” music from the future Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees that was meant “for the gods and the girls’ bathroom” (Greil Marcus said that) and Martin Scorsese soundtracks, to boot.
Instead, it’s The Ronettes’ far more obscure “Keep on Dancing,” a B-side that fortunately can be found on the indispensible collection of the work of Wall of Sound producer and “Titan of Teen” (Tom Wolfe called him that) Phil Spector, “Back to Mono (1958-1969).” The four-CD set includes the album “A Christmas Gift for You (From Phil Spector),” but more on that later.
The Ronettes song shouldn’t be confused with the Gentrys hit “Keep on Dancing,” although it bears striking similarities to “Save the Last Dance for Me.” In The Drifters’ 1960 classic the singer (Ben E. King, happily still active) admonishes his date to “just remember who’s taking you home” and to observe the title condition.
By contrast, Ronettes lead singer Veronica Bennett doesn’t make this “Last” request, inviting a little hussy to spend as much energy as she wants on her man because “baby, he ain’t goin’ home with you”: “Keep on dancing, little girl/Around and around now, little girl,” she sings. “You’re only wasting time, he’s all mine/He loves me/Keep on dancing, little girl.”
Here is romantic confidence at its most disarmingly lyrical, even if Bennett, soon to become Ronnie Spector, doesn’t breathe her trademark pout (sigh). In its place is that wonderful moment when she shoehorns “He loves me” in where it doesn’t really fit; the last line becomes “keepondancing,littlegirl.”
Of course, romantic confidence often is misplaced, as Mrs. Spector soon found out. At least she made it out of the marriage alive, and went on to record with The Beatles (”Try Some, Buy Some”), the late Joey Ramone (”Bye Bye Baby”) and Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band.
Now, Ronnie Spector has made a holiday album (well, a five-song EP) of her own, “Best Christmas Ever,” released last month by Bad Girl Sounds (naturally) and The Orchard. (For the record, Darlene Love pretty much stole the show on “A Christmas Gift for You,” which was largely ignored on its initial release in the wake of the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.)
Her 2010 Christmas gift for you finds the “girl” sounding older but as charmingly Ronnie Spectoresque as ever (”whoa, oh, oh, oh, oh”); the inspirational “Light One Candle” is especially touching. And as a stocking stuffer of sorts, she performs tonight (Wednesday, Dec. 15) on “The Late Show With David Letterman.”
Mikel Toombs is a frequent contributor to Genestout.com. Read his recent story about New York trio The Narrative here.