Photo by Gilles Petard/Redferns
30 Songs That Use Hal Blaine's Iconic "Be My Baby" Beat
Hal Blaine, the legendary session drummer who died last Tuesday at age 90, can lay claim to many records, literally: he played on more than six thousand singles, including 150 that hit the top ten in the U.S. and 40 that reached the top. It’s no wonder that he was the backbone of a cavalcade of musicians known as the Wrecking Crew. Last year he received a Lifetime Achievement GRAMMY, and he got to work with some of the biggest stars in music history: Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, the Beach Boys.
But his contribution to musical history will inarguably be the four-beat phrase his drums introduced to the pop lexicon: dum…dum-dum…psh. That’s the opening beat to the Ronettes' classic girl-group single "Be My Baby" in 1963, and has gone on to become one of the most beloved and widely imitated beats in rock and pop, up there with the Bo Diddley beat. Below are a mere 30 of some of the most memorable uses of Blaine’s signature drum figure, but there are dozens more.
Jan & Dean, "Dead Man's Curve" (1964)
Before "Leader of the Pack," there was this 1964 single that also concerned a fatal crash, and its tense, busy drums vary the "Be My Baby" sound with more anxious fills akin to Keith Moon or the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows" — over a year before either existed.
The Beach Boys, "Don't Worry Baby" (1964)
The sweet, haunted "Don’t Worry Baby" is what happens when one of music’s most beloved geniuses tries to do his own version of "Be My Baby" because he believes it’s the greatest pop song ever made. He doesn’t nick the beat exactly — in 1964, Brian Wilson was a little too square and straightforward for true rhythmic herky-jerk — but he does include the real deal at the very beginning, before taking it, and American pop, somewhere else entirely.
The Four Seasons, "Rag Doll" (1964)
Frankie Valli's 1964 chart-topper may have well been the first big hit to capitalize on Hal Blaine's booming signature, and you can hear how fresh the beat still sounds behind that multilayered vocal swirl and twinkling glockenspiel. Too bad the lyrics are kind of pathetic; Valli basically sings about his crush on a girl who’s too poor for his parents to approve.
The Shangri-Las, "Leader of the Pack" (1964)
Released just a year after "Be My Baby" itself, the Shangri-Las’ fellow classic number-one hit proceeds directly from its source by cutting the snare drum so the tension never gets relieved, a fitting treatment for a teen melodrama in which the motorcycle-driving title crush meets his tragic end.
Badfinger, "Baby Blue" (1971)
One of the first post-Beatles groups, even signing to the Fab Four's own Apple label, Badfinger were more adept at pantomiming legendary pop moves than most, making this beat an easy inclusion to their arsenal.
Billy Joel, "Say Goodbye to Hollywood" (1976)
Megastar and self-identified "melody freak" Joel would go on to do a whole retro tribute to the Four Seasons, Motown and others with 1983's An Innocent Man, but that doesn’t mean he was gonna wait seven years to lob his own "Be My Baby" homage at the charts.
Meat Loaf, "You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth" (1977)
Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman's bestselling theater-rock hybrid is mostly remember for taking Springsteen to Broadway four decades before the Boss had the idea, but the Ronettes' earthy, celestial sound is as crucial to E Street as Bob Dylan was, and it’s no surprise that the biggest post-Born to Run album dabbled in their classic beat either.
Hall & Oates, "The Last Time" (1978)
The biggest blue-eyed soul act of all-time were pop virtuosos, of course they were gonna take the "Be My Baby" backbeat for a spin.
The Clash, "The Card Cheat" (1980)
Perhaps the least punk-sounding tune on London Calling, "The Card Cheat" announces its regal grandeur with — what else? — the beat of a pop classic, here refitted for grand piano and even horns.
The Jesus and Mary Chain, "Just Like Honey" (1985)
You could say the Jesus and Mary Chain's overwhelmingly distorted college radio hit repopularized the "Be My Baby" beat's legend entirely, for a new audience of musicians and fans discovering indie and alternative about to be born. But JAMC also loved the beat so much, their cult-hit debut Psychocandy even used it in a second song, "Sowing Seeds."
Depeche Mode, "A Question of Lust" (1986)
A year after the Jesus and Mary Chain made the "Be My Baby" beat cool again to a whole new generation, even the dour princes of synth-pop had to dive in with this clanging 1986 ballad.
Pet Shop Boys, "King's Cross" (1987)
Following in the footsteps of Depeche Mode, the poster boys for percolating synth-pop found away to bring Hal Blaine into the computer age with the airy, hymnlike closer from their 1987 sophomore album, Actually.
The Go-Betweens, "Hope Then Strife" (1987)
It’s telling how many artists utilized the "Be My Baby" beat for an album’s big finish, in this case, the classic Tallulah from Australia’s headiest alternative band, who give Blaine’s beat one of its most elegant treatments, thanks to Amanda Brown's gorgeous oboe.
The Magnetic Fields, "Candy" (1992)
As with a large chunk of auteurs on this list, Stephin Merritt is a songwriter who functions as a human pop database, whether he’s inverting clichés invented by Irving Berlin or indulging in deadpan homage, which he and his then-lead singer Susan Amway did on one of the earliest Magnetic Fields albums with this gender-twisted pill of sugar.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs, "Our Time" (2001)
When Karen O, Nick Zinner, and Brian Chase needed something humungous to close out their opening salvo to the world, what could be more memorable than the melody of "Crimson And Clover" grafted onto the "Be My Baby" drums? Mission accomplished.
Sleater-Kinney, "Oh!" (2002)
Sleater-Kinney’s idea of classic girl-group pop is, of course, much faster and louder than the originals. But you might not even notice that One Beat’s poppiest track, “Oh!” has sped up the “Be My Baby” rhythm into this nervy screwdriver.
The Raveonettes, "Little Animal" (2003)
The most sexually explicit tune in the Raveonettes’ considerably “Be My Baby”-influenced catalogue (Ronnie Spector herself even appeared on 2005’s Pretty in Black) hinges on a line that rhymes with “I guess it’s just my luck” and was their first to actually use the Ronettes’ beat itself, smack in the middle of an entire album composed in the key of B flat major.
Johnny Boy, "You Are the Generation That Bought More Shoes And You Get What You Deserve" (2004)
This beloved 2004 indie-pop single sounds exactly like one of those contemporaneous dozen-member collectives like I’m From Barcelona or Los Campesinos! except their huge, Spector-esque sound was the work of just two members. And any self-respecting Wall of Sound worshippers are gonna steal from "Be My Baby."
Jens Lekman, "A Higher Power" (2004)
The closing tune on the wry Swedish indie-pop powerhouse’s debut snips the snare from the Ronettes’ template to give boom to a relentless string section and a lyric about two protagonists that make out with plastic bags over their heads until they pass out.
Bat for Lashes, "What’s A Girl To Do?" (2006)
Natasha Khan’s debut single is one of the best-ever uses of Hal Blaine’s magical pound, giving it elements rarely associated with the beat, like an eerie harpsichord and a minor-key chord progression. And the Donnie Darko-tinged video of synchronized bike-riding is even better.
The Shins, "Phantom Limb" (2007)
By the Shins’ third album, Wincing the Night Away, James Mercer was giving his dense and knotty melodies-within-melodies more room to breathe, and the slowed, spacious setting was just perfect for a first single that deployed a tambourine-heavy variation on the world’s most famous beat.
Jay Reatard, "An Ugly Death" (2008)
The late Jay Lindsey wrote songs as tight and propulsive as the best punk with a pile of shambolic hooks that even the best pop isn’t always completely stuffed with, and this Farfisa-crazy 2008 single tips its hat to Hal Blaine before perfectly exemplifying both.
Deerhunter, "Vox Humana" (2008)
One of the least pop-oriented bands on this list, Deerhunter is still a perfect match for a beat that leaves such cavernous air open to fill with hazy instrumental smoke and wispy vocals, in this case Bradford Cox’s monologue operating like a "My Boyfriend’s Back" that stretches out the spoken intro to three minutes.
God Help The Girl, "Perfection As A Hipster" (2009)
If contemporary users of the "Be My Baby" beat have anything in common, it’s that they’re usually pop nerds with one foot in not nostalgia itself but an internalized old-time aesthetic. So you get the fuzzy girl-group pop of the Raveonettes and a surfy variation by Best Coast, and this Belle & Sebastian side project all dusting off classic sounds from long before their late-2000s emergences. The only surprise here is that Stuart Murdoch didn’t use it sooner.
Best Coast, "I Want To" (2010)
Bethany Cosentino’s excellent 2010 debut Crazy for You is soaked in splashy reverb that suits its gorgeous throwback ambitions. Though the molasses-paced "I Want To" is its only track that actually swipes the "Be My Baby" rhythm, you’ll swear you remembered at least six others that did, too, in true Jesus and Mary Chain fashion.
Lykke Li, "Sadness Is a Blessing" (2011)
Swedish electro-pop phenom Lykke Li went back much further for this massively Spectorian single that culminates in one perfect, silly encapsulation of her attitude: "Sadness is my boyfriend / Oh sadness, I’m your girl."
Lady Gaga, "Hair" (2011)
Our reigning pop encyclopedia’s take showcases the drum line's strength as a part rather than the sum of a song’s beat, building from the stop-start tension of "Be My Baby" in the song’s intro to an EDM floor-filler of a chorus and some of the last recorded sax-playing ever by Springsteen’s longtime right-hand big man Clarence Clemons.
Car Seat Headrest, "My Boy" (2011/2018)
In 2011 (and again in 2018), Will Toledo recorded (and rerecorded) his fan-favorite song cycle Twin Fantasy with what else but the biggest beat imaginable to open it up?
Alice Bag, "He's So Sorry" (2016)
Turning one of the more disturbing girl-group tropes on its head, L.A. punk legend Alice Bag released this 2016 song to highlight the domestic violence in famous songs like "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)" and "Johnny Get Angry," and she even donned a retro get-up in the video amid disturbing scenes of abuse. Using the "Be My Baby" beat was only natural for a song that ties Phil Spector's best and worst legacies together.
Lana Del Rey feat. The Weeknd, "Lust for Life" (2017)
As with Best Coast or the Raveonettes, it’s somewhat amazing that retro-pop revivalist Lana Del Rey hasn't used Hal Blaine’s signature beat more often, though it’s just too perfect for a song pretty much literally about climbing the Hollywood sign.