Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Kick kick kick snare, repeat: 15 songs that borrow the drum intro from “Be My Baby”

Illustration for article titled Kick kick kick snare, repeat: 15 songs that borrow the drum intro from “Be My Baby”

1. The Jesus And Mary Chain, “Just Like Honey”/ “Sowing Seeds”
As part of the session-musician collective known as the Wrecking Crew, drummer Hal Blaine left his imprint on pop music—sometimes physically, as is the case of the sheet music and concert venues marked by his customized rubber stamp: “Hal Blaine Strikes Again.” (Backed by the Wrecking Crew for “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’,” Nancy Sinatra even joked that she had Blaine’s stamp tattooed somewhere on her person.) But even if the dozens of hits that Blaine played on were lost to history, his most crucial contribution to the pop canon would remain: the booming intro to The Ronettes’ 1963 single “Be My Baby.” For three beats of a bass drum followed by a snap of snare and tambourine, the pattern has proven wildly versatile. The song’s shuffling Wall Of Sound arrangement represents the hazy nostalgia of Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” and The Clash’s “The Card Cheat,” and receives stylistic reinterpretations like those of the Melvins’ “Creepy Smell” or Co La’s “Wanna Say Faux.” But it takes true Phil Spector obsessives like The Jesus And Mary Chain’s Jim and William Reid to lift Blaine’s beat wholesale and make it the band’s own. The pattern may be often imitated and frequently duplicated, but “Just Like Honey”—the leadoff track of the JAMC’s first LP, Psychocandy—gives it a state-of-the-art update for 1985, before baptizing the thing in sheets of noise-pop feedback. It’s the bold opening salvo of a bold debut, one that kicked off the ensuing shoegaze movement’s own fetish for Spector-like excess—and one that has Blaine’s influence stamped all over it, down to the “Be My Baby”-recycling 10th track, “Sowing Seeds.”

2. Billy Joel, “Say Goodbye To Hollywood”
The best-known version of Billy Joel’s “Say Goodbye To Hollywood” lets the applause of a Milwaukee audience bleed over drummer Liberty DeVitto and his approximation of Hal Blaine. But in the studio version featured on 1981’s Songs In The Attic, which preceded the live cut, DeVitto can be heard in isolation, giving the same introduction to Joel’s Turnstiles that Bobby Gillespie would give to Psychocandy nine years later. It’s a symbolic solo spot, featuring the first notes to be played by a member of Joel’s longtime backing band to be heard on a Billy Joel recording. Joel composed the song as a tribute to “Be My Baby” and The Ronettes, pitching his voice out of its natural range to more closely mimic the vocals of lead Ronette Ronnie Spector. Spector herself would cover the song eventually, though it takes the backing musicians—some New Jersey kids calling themselves The E Street Band—a while to get to the beat that bonds “Say Goodbye To Hollywood” to “Be My Baby.”

3. Deerhunter, “Vox Humana”
A curious artifact of a recording industry plagued by Internet leaks, Deerhunter’s Weird Era Cont. was hastily prepared by the band as a gift to fans who actually waited to purchase 2008’s Microcastle. The gift then made its way to the web (in unfinished form) when frontman Bradford Cox accidentally shared access to a personal Mediafire account. On the blog that led to that inadvertent leak, Cox previously listed “Be My Baby” among the songs considered for a proposed covers EP, which could explain the Blaine-by-way-of-JAMC homage of Weird Era Cont.’s “Vox Humana,” with an intro that reverberates like Psychocandy before giving way to chattering, girl-group-friendly keyboards. The prolific Cox has never been one to shy away from his influences, and “Vox Humana” winks at its appropriation with Cox’s ghostly spoken-word vocals punctuated midstream-of-consciousness by the word “photocopied.”

4. Wavves, “When Will You Come”
Wavves isn’t known for being an “original” band, per se, but for “When Will You Come,” the group put its 2010s spin on the “Be My Baby” aesthetic. Opening with that kick-snare-repeat intro, the track slowly moves into a verse-chorus-verse exchange between Nathan Williams and a duet partner who’s either an unidentified female singer or a pitch-shifted version of Williams’ own voice. Making the homage even stronger, the track is chockablock with chiming sleigh bells and jangly tambourines, just like the song from which its intro is pilfered.

5. Bat For Lashes, “What’s A Girl To Do?”
There’s nothing sentimental about how Bat For Lashes incorporates the “Be My Baby” drum intro on its first hit, “What’s A Girl To Do?” It’s an ominous homage, in fact. There’s two terse repetitions of the rhythmic pattern—punctuated at the end both times with an especially crisp tambourine—and then the percussion disappears and is replaced by haunted-mansion harpsichord and Natasha Khan’s distressed vocals. As if to underscore the creepiness of the song, the “Be My Baby” intro pattern appears again and again throughout, serving as a menacing rattle in Khan’s psyche as she frets about how to best end a relationship that’s gone south.


6. Camera Obscura, “Eighties Fan”
Produced by an inveterate borrower—Belle And Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch—“Eighties Fan” introduced Camera Obscura with a musical allusion in which a Murdoch-led group wouldn’t indulge for another eight years. The single establishes the group’s bookish, record-collecting bona fides from the start, giving Hal Blaine’s gift to the pop world twice the spotlight time it receives at the start of “Be My Baby.” As if to acknowledge that all indie-pop nods to the girl-group era ran through Glasgow in the 2000s, the song’s other rhythmic touchstone is the brushed snare shuffle Richard Colburn brought to early Belle And Sebastian recordings, marking the track one part Phil Spector and one part “Seymour Stein.”

7. God Help The Girl, “Perfection As A Hipster”
In the rare instance of another Glaswegian indie-pop act setting the course for Belle And Sebastian, Colburn himself would try his hands and feet at the “Be My Baby” intro during Belle And Sebastian’s turn as surrogate Wrecking Crew on Murdoch’s multimedia opus, God Help The Girl. The Northern-soul opera pushes aside its Motown pretensions for “Perfection As A Hipster,” a swooning, Philles-indebted turning point at which the story’s protagonist, Eve, has a strange encounter with a fashionable smoothie voiced by The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon. The verses of “Perfection As A Hipster” adopt the rhythmic pulse of the song’s opening measures, calling the quick-crush subject matter of “Be My Baby” to mind as Hannon’s character falls head over heels for Eve—before discovering the troubles hidden behind her fluttering eyelashes.


8. The Johnny Boy, “You Are The Generation That Bought More Shoes And You Get What You Deserve”
Amplified by music blogging’s early Best New Music gold rush, the buzz generated by “You Are The Generation That Bought More Shoes And You Get What You Deserve” proved impossible to replicate by the time the run-on sentence of a breakout single headlined 2006’s Johnny Boy [Wild Kingdom]. But while the track doomed the duo of Lolly Hayes and Andrew “Davo” Davitt to one-download-wonder status, it sounds downright prescient nearly a decade after its release. Not quite the Go! Team-style pastiche it was positioned as in 2004, the epic choruses of “You Are The Generation” now play like Arcade Fire on a Back To Mono bender—a look at the post-Funeral era’s approach to Wall Of Sound density heralded by the “Be My Baby” intro. The band wouldn’t have the same legs as its inspiration, but the influence of “You Are The Generation” would echo like that rattle of snare and tambourine.


9. Roky Erickson & The Aliens, “I Walked With A Zombie”
Roky Erickson’s acknowledged influences run along pretty obvious lines—Buddy Holly, Bob Dylan, old bluesmen—but it’s no surprise that a man notorious for playing multiple televisions and radios at once might have picked up a Wall Of Sound influence or two. The erstwhile 13th Floor Elevators frontman kicks off ”I Walked With A Zombie” with the storied “Be My Baby” intro. From there, the beat settles into a much simpler shuffle than The Ronettes’ classic, leaving room for Erickson’s hypnotically repetitive vocal variations on the title and the mournful guitar lines to shine. Like the Val Lewton-produced horror classic that inspired the song and shares its name, “I Walked With A Zombie” is atmospheric and moody and not really like anything else of its era, proving that even when Erickson was borrowing iconic elements from other songs, he was still doing something all his own.

10. The Pipettes, “Sex”
Mimicking the look and sound of 1960s close-harmony girl groups is the whole shtick of U.K. group The Pipettes, which turns to a Ronettes’ reference to add some irony to a cheeky song about a woman whose sex life proves to be a disappointment. The upbeat percussion contrasts with the lyrics, which offer a less idealized view of young romance as they outline the differences between the male and female points of view of the situation. The man wants to stop talking so they can try something new, the woman wants him to shut up and get to the sex because he’s boring when he rambles. The titular noun never appears in the lyrics, and the speaker seems far more interested in the sleep that comes after sexual obligation rather than the actual deed. It’s a song about what happens after “Be My Baby,” when the man has been won and the physical relationship turns out to be a dud.

11. Au Revoir Simone, “A Violent Yet Flammable World”
Whereas The Pipettes and the group’s personal Phil Spector, Monster Bobby, made a splash by dressing 21st-century cheekiness in polka dots and headbands, the three members of Au Revoir Simone take the opposite approach, draping the themes and vocal harmonies of classic girl groups in the sounds of the future. The future as played on a vintage Korg, at least: “A Violent Yet Flammable World” gives a moony synthpop makeover to the yearning of The Ronettes and their ilk, a debt signaled by a drum-machine facsimile of the “Be My Baby” preamble. Considering Hal Blaine’s on-the-record opinions of programmable beats, “A Violent Yet Flammable World” appropriation of the beat engages in its own form of irreverence—and that’s before the song mutates the pop hallmark into a glitched-out flutter.

12. The Ladybug Transistor, “Windy”
Many bands have appropriated the “Be My Baby” beat in a way that’s subtle, subversive, or even sarcastic. But in the case of The Ladybug Transistor, the nod is entirely, sincerely on the nose. The outfit’s 1997 song “Windy” opens with the spot-on approximation of Blaine’s distinctive bass-and-snare stutter, but from there, The Ladybug Transistor keeps it going. Wistful and lush, “Windy” winds up sounding far different from anything The Ronettes ever did, bearing more of a resemblance to ’60s baroque-pop acts like The Left Banke—but it’s a testament to the beat’s primal universality that it works just as well here, giving heartbreak a heartbeat.


13. Hefner, “The Weight Of The Stars”
This British indie-pop outfit could be cheeky and witty. Case in point: its name. Accordingly, there’s a little more than straight-up sunshine—make that starshine—pouring out of “The Weight Of The Stars.” The song depicts an encounter with a woman that leads to a bedroom, some regrets, and the rejection of said regrets. Kicking it all off with the “Be My Baby” beat sets the tone for unrequited, melancholy longing—but more than that, it introduces the expectation of innocence and romance to come, which Hefner frontman Darren Hayman flips on its head by waxing romantically, and all too knowingly, after the fact.

14. Misfits, “Resurrection”
It’s fitting that the song “Resurrection” appears on American Psycho, the 1997 album that marked the unholy reanimation of horror-punk progenitor the Misfits (sans original frontman Glenn Danzig, but still). But the title takes on extra meaning after factoring in the inclusion of Hal Blaine’s ubiquitous Ronettes’ rhythm the opening seconds of “Resurrection.” It shouldn’t come as that big of a surprise, though; even in its Danzig-era heyday, the Misfits paid sacrilegious homage to ’60s pop and rockabilly. After a measure of the beat runs its course, though, the band tears off its mask and starts slaying.

15. Joey Ramone, “Party Line”
The Ramones famously and fatefully recorded with Phil Spector for the band’s 1980 album End Of The Century. It was meant to be a comeback for Spector and a commercial breakthrough for the Ramones, and wound up being neither. But it wasn’t for a lack of aesthetic chemistry. In spite of the interpersonal difficulties involved in the album’s production, singer Joey Ramone got along well with Spector, who was one of his musical heroes—and the album even includes a cover of The Ronettes’ “Baby, I Love You.” No wonder, then, that Ramone would return to that wellspring for “Party Line.” The song appears on his posthumous solo album …Ya Know?, and it begins with one of the most faithful reiterations of the “Be My Baby” beat ever put to record. The rest of the song follows suit—especially when guest singer Holly Beth Vincent shows up to lend her Ronnie Spector-like coo to the mix.

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