Do me a favour. Dig out a copy of Be My Baby by The Ronettes.
The ideal would be a 7 inch single but I appreciate for most of you the format and the kit to play it on are either up in a loft or forever out of reach. Streaming services are fine. Look, here, I’ll even do the work for you.
All I’m asking is that you listen to the first two bars. Six seconds.
Three hits on a kick drum. One double-handed crack of the snare. And again. There it is. To my mind, the most important drum beat in history.
Sure, there are other contenders. Gregory Coleman’s Amen Break, without which hip-hop would be a very different animal. The insistent pounding of the four-on-the-floor that grounds virtually all dance music. The straight-up one-two bass-snare boom-bap that drives rock and pop. Whatever the hell it is Ringo Starr does.
But God’s Heartbeat? That’s something else. It’s a signifier. A standard raised, streaming out in a sudden warm breeze. The drumbeat that tells a goddamn story.
Route back to Be My Baby. Martin Scorsese understood the mythic resonance at the heart of that beat. That’s why he used it to kick off his breakthrough picture, Mean Streets. I mean just look at this and tell me you don’t want to know more…
There’s something inherently dramatic about God’s Heartbeat. A sense of anticipation. Of tension. I think it’s that tiny breath of space between the bass kicks and that huge whack of the snare. The syncopation of it all. It doesn’t fit the pulse of a metronome. God’s Heartbeat is not a march. It’s a strut. Try walking to it. You’ll find your head nodding, your shoulders working.
So where did it come from? Well, the obvious answer would be lunatic genius Phil Spector, the man behind the Wall Of Sound. Spector was many things––wig aficionado, gun nut (lest we forget, this is the guy that pulled a gun on the goddamn Ramones) but he was no drummer.
We must therefore lay flowers at the grave of Hal Blaine who sadly died in March this year, whose place on the drum stool of the crack session team known as The Wrecking Crew puts him dead centre at the pulse of an extraordinary chunk of the greatest music ever recorded. For we ordinary mortals, the creation of a cultural milestone like the Be My Baby beat would be an unreachable milestone. For Hal, it was just another day on the job. Crazy Phil needs a beat? Fine. Chew on this.
Boom. Boomboom. Crack.
History made in two bars, six seconds, eight hits on a simple studio drum kit.
There is a glorious Spotify playlist that explores all aspects of Hal’s moment of inspiration that sadly labours under the uninspiring title kick. kick-kick. snare. That is, however, the only unfortunate thing about it. Dive in and swim through favourites like the Manics’ Everything Must Go or Johnny Boy’s glorious You Are The Generation That Bought More Shoes And You Get What You Deserve.
But start with Be My Baby. And give thanks for Hal Blaine, throwing punches at Phil Spector. Three to the gut and one hard cross to the jaw.