Do I Love You? - the Ronettes
As I have mentioned elsewhere, my father was a corrosion engineer for an oil company in the island state of Bahrain, just off Saudi Arabia, and consequently did not visit the UK until I was 7 years old. It was strange to be in a country which everyone around you, your parents, your sisters, regards as familiar and home while you are in an alien place. For me, the UK was Worthing, specifically 18 Warwick Place, Worthing, my grandmother's small house at the end of a cul-de-sac just off the A259, with a low, six foot pebble wall at one end and a newspaper and sweet shop at the corner at the other. We were forbidden to go beyond either, but I did, under the influence of the kids who spent much of the time next door at number 19, the home of Mrs White.
My grandmother (definitely Grandmother, not Granny), is in my memory an austere woman, very upright both in nature and posture, but I am told she was was warm and friendly, and not nearly as strict as I recall. Perhaps my recollections of her are coloured by the fact that in the room where I slept there was a large painting of her posing with her first baby, my Uncle Alf, in her arms. In the very Victorian painting, she is looking straight to camera, as it were, and her eyes followed you about the room which terrified me and caused me trouble sleeping.
She was one of the comparatively few women to have a degree from a university; she graduated before the First World War before marrying my grandfather, a jeweller, and that, presumably was that, career-wise. This may have been why she forbade the watching of ITV in her house. Which left us with just one channel, BBC. The tv was in the "parlour", a cosy room with a sofa and armchairs next to the kitchen which in turn opened onto the back garden.
Next door, however, at Mrs White's, was ITV. Mrs White was an old, spry, white-haired woman who was a cross between the old woman who lived in a shoe and Mad Madam Mim, a combination of early hippy and working-class savant. Her house was constantly teeming with children whose relationship with her was to me a mystery. They all called her "Nan" and I presume she looked after them while their parents were working, - an early, unofficial, cash in hand, one-person childcare centre - and at number 19 place just about anything went, everyone was welcome and they all pitched in. On Saturday nights I occasionally managed to slip next door to watch a programme called "Thank Your Lucky Stars", escaping from my Grandmother's prescribed "Black and White Minstrels", "Juke Box Jury" and "Dixon of Dock Green". Nowadays, it seems incredible to realise that when the Beatles arrived on the scene, there was almost nowhere on the two British tv channels to see pop music performed. What did get through on the BBC were Cliff Richard, Elvis Presley movies, and the occasional Beatles special - they were a phenomenon after all -, but that was about it. Even on the radio - just the three main BBC stations - there was precious little pop music. I remember scouring the Radio Times for programmes that might have decent pop records, such as "Housewives Choice" and "Three Way Family Favourites" (don't ask), and the must-listen of the week, Sunday afternoon's "Pick of the Pops" which actually played the whole top ten! Otherwise there was only the essential 100% pop of Radio Luxembourg, which could only be heard on a tranny down the bottom of the garden out of earshot from grown-ups.
So when, crammed with a dozen or so other breathless children into Mrs White's front room, I first saw the Ronettes singing "Be My Baby" on "Thank Your Lucky Stars" it was a mind blowing experience. There were these three amazing looking women, with bouffant hair-dos, in tight white dresses singing this imperious song (see photograph of them above on "Thank Your Lucky Stars"). Looking back, I guess there were shocks that I may not have been so obviously conscious of then - they were black, (at least recognisably not white despite the best efforts of the tv make-up department to Caucasianise them for black and white tv), and they were women! - in those days the pop I'd seen on UK tv was almost entirely male and white beat groups or the occasional white female solo singer. And then there was the combined poise and power of the performance, the incredible sense of excitement evoked by the Phil Spector arrangement, the Wrecking Crew's playing and the vocals themselves, headed with strength and style, by Ronnie Spector.
It made a massive impression on me, and, I'm sure, many other kids my age across the country. "Do I Love You?" wasn't such a big hit as "Be My Baby" but it's got many of the things that jolted my soul that evening, especially the subtle build-up of the intro before the spine tingling moment when Ronnie starts singing. Play it as loud as you can from the start. It's get up on the table time, do it for Ronnie, do it for Mrs White, do it for yourself. It'll feel good.