Be my baby? Not.
Such is the sentiment of a New York state appeals court, which has tossed a $3 million verdict the Ronettes won in a lawsuit battle with famed producer Phil Spector.
The '60s girl group, responsible for such oldies-radio classics as "By My Baby" and "Walking in the Rain," had claimed Spector cheated the three members out of royalties and license fees involving their hit tunes.
A five-judge panel of the state Court of Appeals said it was "sympathetic" with the "plight" of lead singer Ronnie Greenfield (aka Ronnie Spector, ex-missus of Phil), sister Estelle Bennett and cousin Nedra Talley Ross.
Nevertheless, in a unanimous decision, the court ruled the contract the Ronettes signed with Spector back in 1963 was still binding and afforded him the right to license the group's music for films, commercials and compilation discs without entitling them to residuals.
"The best evidence of what parties to a written agreement intend is what they say in their writing," wrote Judge Victoria Graffeo in the opinion, which essentially puts an end to a bitter 14-year legal dispute between the performers and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame producer who masterminded their sound.
"The court is sending a clear signal that we're a system of law that regards contracts as things that have to be followed," Spector's lawyer, Andrew Bart, told the New York Daily News.
The group had sued Spector back in 1988, claiming he made a fortune by selling "Be My Baby" to the producers of the Dirty Dancing soundtrack, as well as the group's other staples for use in Levi jeans and American Express ads. A lower-court jury eventually agreed, awarding the $3 million prize. Spector appealed and won.
However, it wasn't a total defeat for the songbirds. The panel sent the case back to a lower court to refigure how much royalties the Ronettes are due in terms of rights to compilations and reissues of their songs. The judgment could still result in the Ronettes getting a "reasonable sum of money," says the group's lawyer, Ira Greenberg, though it won't be anywhere near the $3 million they just lost.
"It's being sent to the lower court to recalculate damages," said Greenberg. "It remains to be seen how that's going to come out."
Spector paid out a onetime lump payment of $14,482 to the group when they signed the contract.
As it stands now, the Ronettes probably won't get too much more, as their royalties are fixed at 3 percent, a far cry from the 50 percent artists typically make on reissued tunes recorded in the early 1960s.
Meanwhile, Ronnie Greenfield will receive additional money because the court found the agreement she signed with Spector as part of their divorce settlement in the mid-'70s did not mean she had given up her rights to future royalties.
"We're obviously very much pleased that the court of appeal rejected Spector's arguments Ronnie had given up all her rights in the divorce, and that was a very substantial victory," added Greenberg. "On the other hand?[the ruling is] an unfortunate outcome for recording artists of the era."
In all, the group recorded 28 songs from 1963 to 1967 and became known for being part of Spector's hallmark "Wall of Sound."