The Last Of The Rock Stars
High Coin, 2006
REVIEW BY: Mark Millan
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/11/2009
Way back in the '60s, Phil Spector was considered to be a musical genius and a nutty eccentric who had a knack for taking almost any act he desired and producing hit records for them. Among his stable of wannabes and hangers on was a very talented group of singers, The Ronettes, consisting of sisters Veronica “Ronnie” and Estelle Bennet and their cousin Nedra Talley. Sometime in the early part of the decade, the line between singer and manager was crossed, and the developing relationship between Phil and Ronnie culminated in a strange marriage supposedly marred by Phil’s jealousy, paranoia and downright insanity.
At the height of their success, The Ronettes had a string of hit singles, including one of the greatest pop songs of all time, “Be My Baby.” That song made Ronnie Spector a star, and while the title of her latest album is slightly boastful, at one time she was undoubtedly one of the most popular and original female performers going around. However, with the likes of The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, and Tina Turner (among others) still going strong and having long ago surpassed Spector’s flagging career, in my opinion, the title lacks a certain credibility.
All that aside, The Last Of The Rock Stars is an awesome sounding record that is both a throwback to her glory days and a contemporary slow-burning rocker. She enlisted the help of Keith Richards and Patti Smith as well as assembled a stellar group of session players to bring these songs to life. The album is mainly made up of covers with a few new songs thrown into the mix and was recorded over a period of several years leading up to its release in 2006.
The album opens with the surprisingly heavy rocker “Never Gonna Be Your Baby” in which Ronnie snarls her way through a caustic lyric of a past relationship that “smells of crime” and “smacks of sin.” The majestic duo of “Ode To L.A.” and “All I Want” are a direct throwback to her glory days. The former features The Ravonettes and is the closest we get to the famous Wall Of Sound. The latter is one of my favorite tracks to be found here. It again has the ‘60s vibe running through it, no doubt due plenty of tambourine and reverb, and Ronnie channels her younger self for a great reading of the carefree lyric.
“Hey Sah lo Ney” (originally recorded by the cult mod outfit The Action) is covered with equal parts vigor and rock star cool. The retro sounds of “There Is An End” provide another highlight. This track features Patti Smith, who along with garage rockers The Greenhornes, deliver a wonderfully haunting track that Ronnie and Patti bring to life with breezy, soulful vocals. The Ike and Tina classic “Work Out Fine” is here presented as a duet with Keith Richards, and while it’s no match for the original, it is fun to hear their nicotine-laced voices intertwined as the misguided lovers.
“Here Today Gone Tomorrow” is the most experimental moment of the record. Its low-key approach harbors a serious groove and Ronnie’s mature, throaty delivery matches it lick for lick. The most curious inclusion here is the original version of “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory” from her previous album, 1999’s She Talks To Rainbows, produced by Joey Ramone. The decision to include the exact same version is odd indeed, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s a fantastic song and Ramone’s voice backing Ronnie’s is a wonderful sound.
“Girl From The Ghetto” finds Ronnie reflecting on her past glories over a poppy track complete with some blissful horns that’s in stark contrast to the rather fiery lyric “I hope your hell is filled with magazines / And on every page you see a big picture of me.” Next up is another highlight in the cosmic tones of “Won’t Stop Saying Goodbye.” The backing vocals are reminiscent of The Ronettes, and once again Ronnie offers a delightfully sweet reading of the lovey-dovey lyric.
The disc closes in style with Ronnie’s take on the Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers classic “Out In The Cold Again.” Although originally a Tin Pan Alley ballad, Lymon and the boys recorded the definitive version way back in 1957. Frankie Lymon was the young Veronica Bennet’s idol, and to this day she credits him with inspiring her to become a singer. Ronnie gives a beautiful reading of the song, and based on this track, I would certainly love to see her record a jazz album.
These days, Ronnie’s voice barely resembles that of the soaring vocals that enhanced songs like “Be My Baby” and “Baby I Love You,” but it’s still an effective weapon when matched with the right material. The Last Of The Rock Stars is a wonderful collection of songs by an expert interpreter, and I hope there’ll be more to come from Ronnie Spector in the future.