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Houston

In the fickle realm of pop, you don't always get a second chance. When your moment arrives, you've got to make it count.

Ronnie Spector made it count.

She was Ronnie Bennett when she met legendary record producer Phil Spector in 1963. Bennett had been performing with the Ronettes, but with Spector they found a song -- the song -- that showed exactly what Ronnie could do with her sultry, poignant voice.

It starts with near-ominous drum beats, exploding into Spector's trademark "wall of sound," capped by Ronnie's pleading vocals. The song, "Be My Baby," became one of the most recognizable hits of the '60s.

Ronnie Spector doesn't mind that 36 years after the record's release, she's still expected to perform the song whenever she appears live. "Most people don't even have that one record people can identify you with. But with me, they remember the Ronettes, Ronnie Spector, and the song. So I'm very lucky, actually."

For a time, "lucky" seemed to be the last thing Spector was. None of her own records came close to the success of "Be My Baby" (though her duet with Eddie Money, "Take Me Home Tonight," did go Top Five in 1986). A turbulent marriage to Phil Spector left Ronnie a physical and emotional wreck who drifted into alcoholism. But a year and a half ago she entered the recording studio with her old friend Joey Ramone. The resulting EP, She Talks To Rainbows, was released on UK label Creation earlier this year. Her choice for a US label is Olympia's Kill Rock Stars.

"I didn't want to go with a bigger record company," she explains. "They don't pay much attention to your records because you're like this oldies act. I like Kill Rock Stars. Slim Moon is his own person, truly independent, and he puts out music he believes should be heard. And he loves my voice, and he loves the EP."

She Talks To Rainbows taps into the melodic strengths of girl-group songs without sounding dated. Melancholy pervades each track, even ostensibly upbeat numbers like Brian Wilson's "Don't Worry Baby," written specifically for Spector. Spector also covers the Ramone-penned title track, and Johnny Thunders' "You Can't Put Your Arm Around a Memory." ("Johnny was at one of my shows 20 years ago," she says, "and every song I sang, he was crying!")

Spector plans to hit the road in September. "Bands and singers don't go out and learn how to perform live. Their label spends half a million dollars to create this image of the band, and you go see them live, and there's nothing happening. Stage performing, to me, is a dying art form. And I'm afraid with all this technology and stuff that people are going to wake up one day and not know what rock 'n' roll feels like. The energy, the sweat, the sex, the feeding off the audience, them feeding off of me, all that real stuff. As long as I can feel that, I know I'm alive."