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Bev, Efficient 1960s
The Sound, the Songs, the Style...
by Chuck Mallory
Whether it's the catchy hooks of the Angels' "My Boyfriend's Back" or the sweet sentimentality of the Dixie Cups' "Chapel of Love," or the dulcet tones of the classic "My Guy" by Mary Wells, the girl group sound of the early 1960s marks an important influence in rock and roll and a defining image of American culture.
The girl-group sound came to the fore in 1958-60, when the payola scandal broke the back of raw male rock dominated by Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard.
"MAYBE" THE STARTMusic historians generally agree that the release of "Maybe" by the Chantels in 1958 and its immediate success marked the official beginning of the girl-group sound. But what drove it into the commercial mainstream was in early 1961, when the Shirelles had two hits in the Top Ten--"Will You Love Me Tomorrow" (the first song by an all-girl group to ever hit Billboard's number one spot) and "Dedicated to the One I Love."
The flood of artists is reflected in the list of 750-plus names on this site, an attempt to compile to names of all the bands and solo singers who comprised the girl-group sound of the early 1960s. The sound did not emanate from one place or songwriter. Though the producers and songwriters at New York's Brill Building were certainly the core of the sound, it came from Detroit, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and other places in the U.S.
It was a democratic era for rock music. In the Brill Building, there were 165 music business offices, and aspiring songwriters and singers often drifted from one office to another, without appointments, trying to peddle their songs. The sound ruled. Some of the songs were considered so "hot," that producers released the demo recording as the record--a feat unthinkable today. If you had a good sound, you got a shot, even if you were a nobody. And many of the records spiraled up the charts with no promotion.
Some of the girl groups became well-known at dizzying speed. In 1963, struggling nobodies called the Ronettes were performing at the tiny Riptide Club in Wildwood, New Jersey, when their release, "Be My Baby," was issued. Three weeks later, their song had moved from #90 to #20 on the national charts, they were stars, and finally finished their engagement at the Riptide Club.
GURLFRIEND!Interestingly, many of the girl groups were teenagers themselves when their songs became famous. Almost all of them were black, though that was not known to many fans at the time. Some had grown up singing gospel music in church. Ronnie Spector laments in her autobiography, Be My Baby, that she didn't have the "full, church-trained voice" as did many of the other girl-group lead singers. Some of the teen girls wrote their own songs, though occasionally these were credited to producers.
Partially because of the concern that America's teens would like the songs better if they didn't know the singers' color, many girl groups were virtually anonymous except for their recordings. Some of the girls didn't care. They made more money in session recordings and staying home, rather than touring. Also, without magazine publicity, producers were free to interchange girls for touring or to record something new.
(OVER)LAP DANCERSThe overlap was incredible. For instance, Ellie Greenwich, the most prominent girl-group songwriter and co-producer, used backup singers and released songs under the names The Raindrops, The Popsicles, Regina and the Redheads, Doreen and the Tammys and Ellie Gee and the Jets. The girls in the Jelly Beans girls-and-guy combo were the same girls who were in the Butterflys. The Four Jewels were the same group as the Impalas. The Chic-Lets were merely the Darlettes performing with Patti Lace and the Petticoats.
The big hit "by" the Crystals, "Da Doo Ron Ron," was actually by the Blossoms! Producer Phil Spector and the Crystals were not getting along at the time, so while he was in L.A., he paid the Blossoms studio-session rates to do the song. Both the Crystals and Blossoms were surprised to see the song released as by the Crystals, especially since it was such a big hit.
"One Fine Day" by the Chiffons was a recording by Little Eva (of "The Locomotion") in which the vocals were stripped off, with the Chiffons singing over the instrumentals.
The Cookies, not to be confused with the Cupcakes or the Cake!
And, in an astonishing burst of productivity, it is believed that all of these songs were recorded by the same group of girl singers: "Good Good Lovin" by the Cinderellas, "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" by Bach's Lunch, "Pied Piper" by the Cupcakes, "Make the Night a Little Longer" by the Palisades and "One Wonderful Night" by the Honeybees.
BOYS!A few of the "girl groups" were a mixture of boys and girls. A classic example is the Orlons, who recorded "Wah-Watusi" and "Don't Hang Up." Since their songs had a bass male backup, usually just a "doo-wop" or "she-lang" type of contribution, producers figured the songs would be more popular, because in homes across the U.S., teen boys would be able to sing along with the girls.
The Essex really broke the mold, with three guys and one girl, but are still considered a "girl group." Anita Humes' strong voice led the songs, and the three male backup singers backed it up with 50s-style harmony. Thank "The Few, the Proud" for this contribution to rock music--all the members of the group were Marines. Sometimes the men wore their uniforms in live performances.
Some all-male groups had a girl-group sound. Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers are a perfect example. However, we can't include the all-male groups who had the sound. We have to draw the line somewhere!
Because so many themes were concurrent, lyrics were often very similar. In fact, four different girl-group songs, from the Spandells, the Secrets, Bettye Swann, and Terri Stevens, all had the exact same title: "The Boy Next Door."
Who cared? With a Coke in hand and a record on the turntable, you could twist the day away in your capri pants and admire your beehive hairdo.
NOVELTY TIMEThough there was little promotion for most girl groups, and so many of them were one-hit wonders, it is amazing that so much attention was devoted to the "novelty" aspect of the groups. Those few groups who performed live sought out the distinctive characteristic to make their mark. The Essex, of course, had the three Marines. But even all-girl groups could have a bigger or wilder beehive hairdo, or ultra-pink satin skirts, or an "image" that was renowned.
The Shangri-Las might have been the first successful girl group in that regard. Because they were white and had big hits, their picture appeared much more in public than all-black girl groups. Their bad-girl image, with go-go boots and songs like "Leader of the Pack," and "You Can't Go Home Anymore" (an incredibly sad song about "Mama" dying after her teen girl ran away) added to the allure. They wore black leather jackets and skin tight pants. Lead singer Mary Weiss, with her long hair and sultry frown, looked like she was from the bad side of town. Their image campaign was so successful that one newspaper called the hit "Leader of the Pack" a "death disc" that shocked teens. Some radio stations wouldn't play the song.
There were worse songs, though. The Whyte Boots' semi-hit, "Nightmare," was about one girl killing another in a gang fight! Many other songs (such as "I Want That Boy" by Sadina, or the many songs about girls cat-fighting over a boy) had randy themes for the time, the product of middle-aged male producers writing suggestive songs for cute teenage girls.