Flashback: Ronnie Spector and the E Street Band Cover Billy Joel

Flashback: Ronnie Spector and the E Street Band Cover Billy Joel


Ronnie Spector and the E Street Band recorded a cover of Billy Joel’s ‘Say Goodbye To Hollywood’ in 1977.

Ronnie Spector and the E Street Band recorded a cover of Billy Joel’s ‘Say Goodbye To Hollywood’ in 1977.

Billy Joel wrote 1976's "Say Goodbye To Hollywood" as a farewell to Los Angeles right before he moved back to his native New York. "I was really happy to get getting out of L.A.," he said. "The first year I was there, I was kind of seduced by the nice weather, the palm trees and the views from the Hollywood Hills, the Pacific Coast Highway and all that stuff. That wore off after about a year." Ronnie Spector's voice was echoing through his head through the writing process, and he even kicked off the song with the same drum intro as "Be My Baby."

At this exact same time, Billy Joel's Columbia Records label mate Bruce Springsteen was going through a difficult transition of his own. He was in the middle of a bitter lawsuit with his former manager Mike Appel and legally prohibited from entering a recording studio until the matter was resolved. He took the E Street Band on tour to help pay the mounting bills, but many of the members took side jobs on other albums, most notably Meat Loaf's Bat out of Hell, which featured drummer Max Weinberg and pianist Roy Bittan.

In January of 1977, Steve Van Zandt decided to take the entire E Street Band into CBS Studios in New York to help Ronnie Spector finally launch a solo career. "Say Goodbye to Hollywood" sounded like a Ronettes record, so he made the wise choice to have Ronnie herself cover it. "I didn’t do any shows for seven years and was so isolated," she said in 2013. "So when I came back with 'Say Goodbye to Hollywood,' I was so shocked that anyone cared. When I went to play at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, New Jersey in the Seventies, there's Bruce up onstage and Billy Joel sitting next to me. These people idolized me and I was saying, 'Me?'"

The single came out in the summer of 1977 with "Baby Please Don't Go" on the flip side, marking the first time the E Street got credit on any official recording. (Springsteen wouldn't credit them until his 1986 live box set.) It was Ronnie's first time stepping out of Phil Spector's shadow, albeit backed by a group that worshipped his production techniques. There was talk of a whole album, but Ronnie just couldn't commit at the time.

"It came at a time that was really difficult for me," she said in 1999. "I had to keep going back to Hollywood to visit the kids in foster homes while things were in a difficult state. Bruce would call and want me to come and finish a track, but I'd have to say I couldn't. I couldn't give 100 percent, so that's one of the reasons that there wasn't an album at that time. I'm pretty sure that Bruce would still have some other unreleased tracks. I can't really remember exactly."

The experience left a big mark on Steve Van Zandt and Bruce Springsteen, and three years later they teamed up with Gary U.S. Bonds, another one of their heroes from the early 1960s, and cut two albums with him that produced actual radio hits. They talked about starting a label devoted entirely to resurrecting the careers of their childhood idols, but they both got caught up in the whirlwind of the 1980s and didn't have the time.