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If asked, I’ll say that The Ronettes’ Be My Baby is very likely the greatest pop song ever recorded. Not only that, its use on the soundtrack of Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets is one of the finest uses of any track in the history of cinema.

I’m guessing you’ve already seen the film. Harvey Keitel as Charlie wakes up. He’s alone in a spartan looking room where a crucifix hangs on the wall. Outside a siren blares and an interior siren seems to blare in his head.

Harvey Keitel in Mean Streets

Anxious, he rises, examines his face in a mirror and then goes back to bed. Scorsese gives us three rapid jump-cuts of Charlie’s face and as his head crashes back down on his pillow, Hal Blaine’s celebrated drum beat kicks in – three thuds of a deep bass drum, then another single hit on the snare, bolstered by some handclaps. Enter the startling vibrato of Ronnie Spector, cooing the opening lines: ‘The night we met, I knew I needed you so / And if I had the chance, I’d never let you go.’

As she sings, we see some handheld and grainy 8mm home movie footage of what we can only guess were happier times. A dapper Charlie at a baptism, hanging around with some buddies, and smiling while talking to a priest. All still soundtracked by The Ronettes.

Even in an age of Shirelles, Supremes and Shangi Las, Be My Baby stands out as something very special.

In his biography Good Vibrations, Beach Boy Mike Love wrote of the effect Be My Baby had on bandleader Brian Wilson: ‘When we’d go to Brian’s house, he would play that song over and over again, comparing it to Einstein’s theory of relativity.’

‘I felt like I wanted to try to do something as good as that song and I never did,’ the man who wrote the music for California Girls, Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder) and Caroline, No later admitted to the New York Times. ‘I’ve stopped trying. It’s the greatest record ever produced. No one will ever top that one.’

He is likely right. There isn’t a single click of the castanets too few or too many. The record is perfection. I’d go as far to say that if you’re just embarking on a relationship and wondering whether to take things further, ask the person what they think about Be My Baby. If they don’t absolutely love it, forget them, make your excuses and say goodbye.

That’s the only relationship advice I’ll ever give on here.

Here’s some footage of The Ronettes, shot in 1964, in (very appropriately) Little Italy in NYC, the setting of Mean Streets – okay, much of the film was shot in L.A. doubling for the neighbourhood where the young Scorsese grew up.

On discovering that Hal Blaine had died last Monday, I immediately thought of Be My Baby and that iconic and much copied drumbeat, even though it’s estimated that over the course of his magnificent career he played on over 35,000 recordings, 40 of which made it to number one in America.

A version of Hal made an appearance in the Brian Wilson biopic Love & Mercy – a far better film incidentally than Bohemian Rhapsody – where, during a break from recording, he tells the young Brian Wilson: ‘You name them, we’ve played with them. Sinatra, Dean Martin, Elvis, Phil Spector, Sam Cooke. Everyone. And we all studied at goddam conservatories for Christ’s sake but you, you gotta know… you’re touched, kid. You’ve blown our minds.’

‘More than Phil Spector?’ Wilson asks sheepishly.

‘Phil Spector has got nothing on you,’ Blaine replies, smiling.

Brian’s ecstatic. Instantly buoyed for when he returns to work on the session.

Here’s some more Hal, although that’s not him on drums on this clip, but rather Dennis Wilson, who looks like he hasn’t fully recovered from too much partying the nightbefore. But it is Hal hitting those drumsticks. From Pet Sounds, this is God Only Knows:

On hearing of his death, Brian Wilson observed: ‘Hal taught me a lot, and he had so much to do with our success – he was the greatest drummer ever.’

Ronnie Spector, who once said that she felt like she’d gone to heaven when she first heard Blaine’s drumbeat on Be My Baby, also paid tribute to the man, thanking him on her Facebook page for ‘the magic he put on all our Ronettes recordings… and so many others throughout his incredible career ‘.

Hal Blaine (born Harold Simon Belsky): 5 February 1929 – 11 March 2019.