In 1977, Bruce Springsteen was arrested in a bad lawsuit with his former manager, Mike Appel, and money was running out to pay the E Street band members. Springsteen was legally banned from the recording studio, and the band members were losing patience. As guitarist Steve Van Zandt recalls in his book Unrequited infatuation, at least three members—who had other options as session musicians—actually voted to split. But after Van Zandt persuaded his bandmates to postpone, His friend, CEO Steve Popovich, came up with a perfect solution, which included a new temporary standout woman for E Street: Ronnie Spector.
Spector, who was just recovering from semi-retirement – she worked with Van Zandt the year before on Johnny’s Southside debut, I do not want to go home, which he produced – was a musical hero for both Van Zandt and Springsteen. (Just take a look at the song “Born to Run,” which came straight from Ronettes’ Be My Baby.) “We all fell in love with that sound,” says Van Zandt. “That combination of innocence and a little sensuality and sexuality.” (Spector died on January 12 at the age of 78.)
Popovich came up with the idea to release a Ronnie Spector and E Street Band song covering Billy Joel’s “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” by Billy Joel, which Joel wrote as a tribute to Spector’s style, earning a decent pay for the band members in the process. Spector agreed, and they all went to CBS Studios, with Springsteen as a consultant.
“At a certain point, we realized she had changed the vibration of her voice,” Van Zandt recalls. “She’s changed her style quite a bit in the past years and so we kind of reminded her, ‘There’s this thing that she does, this really cool thing is vibrating sexy. And then we got what it takes.”
Van Zandt regrets not adding harmonies to the sound, which he believes will make it the single it deserves. “It was supposed to be a hit, that thing,” he says. Anyway, money from the song helped bridge the gap, E Street stayed together, and went on to have success. Darkness on the edge of the cityAnd the river, Born in the United States And all that followed, all thanks to the girl group idol.
Meanwhile, Spector and Van Zandt had a brief romance, in which he learned the extent of her struggle with alcoholism. She got up and went on tour with Southside Johnny, who also stopped drinking – and Spector continued to tour for the rest of her career. “We got her back on stage, and she stayed there for 45 years,” Van Zandt says. “Professional, what an honor to redeem her. And it was a very critical moment.