The Beatles meet the Ronettes and romantic clinches ensue in this excerpt from Craig Brown’s brilliant book about the Fab Four
In January 1964 the Ronettes came to London to headline their first British tour, supported by a local group, the Rolling Stones.
On their first night a party was thrown for them by the Radio Luxembourg disc jockey Tony Hall at his home in Green Street, Mayfair, just down the road from where George and Ringo were living.
John, George and Ringo were already there when the Ronettes came in.
The Ronettes were aware of the fame of the Beatles – since their arrival they had heard of little else – but had still not heard their music. For their part, the three Beatles were mustard-keen on the Ronettes, with their lusty, yearning voices and shapely bodies.
As the Ronettes entered, John, George and Ringo made a beeline for them, and showered them with praise. ‘You’ve got the greatest voice,’ George told Ronnie Bennett, the lead singer. ‘We loved it the first time we heard you.’ Generally thrifty with his compliments, John was similarly effusive. ‘Fuckin’ great,’ he said.
‘They kept telling us how much they loved our long black hair, and how our whole look blew them away,’ remembered Ronnie. ‘And we weren’t exactly having a bad time ourselves.’
They all started dancing to records by the Ronettes – ‘Be My Baby’, ‘Baby, I Love You’, ‘I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus’.
Over the course of the evening the three girls enjoyed teaching the Beatles the latest dance moves from America: the Pony, the Jerk, the Nitty-Gritty. Usually a reluctant dancer, John proved eager for tuition from Ronnie.
‘Every time we’d start to dance, John would come over and say, “I don’t know if I’ve got this one yet, Ronnie. I may need some extra instruction.” It didn’t take me long to figure out that he liked me.
At the same time, George was making it clear that he was similarly taken with Ronnie’s elder sister, Estelle. ‘We were young and in a foreign country, so we decided to forget our boyfriends back home and have some fun,’ recalled Ronnie, whose highly-strung boyfriend, the record producer Phil Spector, was safely back in America.
As the night wore on, George and Estelle disappeared from the dance floor, and Ronnie agreed to let John take her on a tour of the house. She was impressed: ‘There were antique vases and fine art in every room.’
Upstairs, John began trying all the door handles. It dawned on Ronnie that he was after a hidey-hole. ‘John finally found one door open, so we walked in, but it was so dark we didn’t even notice that George and Estelle were already in there, sitting on the bed. “Oops! Sorry guys!” I said.’
They eventually found an empty room. Together they sat on a window seat, gazing out over a view of ‘this fairy-tale land of lights and towers that seemed to go on forever’ as the mood became more intimate.
‘What’s all this like for you?’ asked Ronnie.
‘Well, there’s a draught, and this window seat is killing my bum.’
‘That’s not what I meant. I mean being famous.’
‘Oh, I see. Serious stuff. I’ll need a smoke for this, then.’
They talked about fame. John remembered sitting in cafés with the other Beatles, fantasising about the future.
‘We’d sit there with our jam butties and tea, saying, “When we get our record contract, everything’s going to change. We’ll have limousines and chauffeurs, and we’ll never have to eat another jam butty as long as we live!” Then we got our record contract, and you know what’s ’appened?’
‘Nothing really changed?’
‘Nope. Turns out we were right – everything did change. We got our limousines and our drivers, and now we’ve gone right off jam butties. If I even think of them I want to heave up.’
All this talk made Ronnie wonder whether John was ‘one of these heavy brain people, just like Phil’. She could also tell that John liked her ‘for more than just my voice. When he leaned over and started kissing me, I have to admit he made me forget about Phil [Spector] for a few seconds.’
Extract from One Two Three Four: The Beatles In Time by Craig Brown (Harper Collins). Buy a copy here.
Craig Brown is a special guest on A Drink with the Idler on Thursday 3 June. Register here.