Right On The Kickdrum

Goddamn that Hal Blaine. Thanks to his iconic “bum ba-bum BANG” opening to The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby,” generations of bands have used the motif to their own ends. What’s truly impressive is the variety of songs and bands that use the rhythm, and how they don’t all necessarily draw influence from the ’60s pop scene with the exception of that one element.

“Be My Baby” was, like most Phil Spector-produced material, recorded in Gold Star Studios with the legendary “Wall Of Sound” band. As innovative and influential as Spector’s signature production style was, it did eventually get a little samey. However, “Be My Baby” has endured, equally because of Blaine’s opening thumps and Ronnie Spector‘s distinctive vocal style.

In 1977, songwriter Jim Steinman, a devotee of classic pop music, channeled his bombastic muse through Marvin Lee “Meat Loaf” Aday, whose Bat Out Of Hell album meshed a number of over-the-top styles. Produced by fellow pop classicist Todd Rundgren, Bat Out Of Hell featured the “Be My Baby” beat in its first single, “You Took the Words Right Out Of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night).” Seeing how the album was a re-imagination of ’50s and ’60s pop themes (car crashes, unrequited love, euphemistically making love), drummer Max Weinberg‘s use of “Blaine’s beat” is both tasteful and reverent.

Jump ahead to Scotland, late 1985. Brothers Jim and William Reid are set to release their band’s debut album. The Jesus And Mary Chain‘s Psychocandy is another fusion record, amplifying the saccharin of Phil Spector to Velvet Underground-like volumes. It’s only fitting that the album begins with “Just Like Honey,” a three-chord dirge that, in turn, begins with Bobby Gillespie‘s over-compressed pulse. The Mary Chain drew a lot from Phil Spector, but they would eventually distance themselves from their own roots, and would never use the “Be My Baby” beat again.

Now that so many modern bands are patterning themselves after not only the work of Phil Spector but of his numerous followers, it’s no surprise that “Blaine’s beat” has showed up in countless indie pop tunes. From the clattering tambourine appended to it on Bat For Lashes‘ “What’s A Girl To Do?” to the faithful resurrection on The Shins‘ “Phantom Limb,” the “Be My Baby” beat has become part of a worldwide musical language. Other bands that have used the beat recently include The Raveonettes, The Pipettes, Girls, Delta Spirit and Camera Obscura. Though the bands that use the “Be My Baby” beat draw varying degrees of influence from Phil Spector’s era, their use of the beat shows the debt they owe to the music makers of yore.

Listen: the “Be My Baby” session, sans vocals


~ by E. on January 12, 2010.

One Response to “Right On The Kickdrum”

  1. Ah, Hal Blaine. Another underappreciated talent that every listener knows and every musician is indebted to.


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