Q & A on the Girl Groups



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Q & A

Hi, I'm Chuck Mallory, editor of Girl-Groups.com. For some time fans of this page have been asking for a Q&A page, and here it is! I'll update this from time to time as new questions come in.

Q: Why is the term "doo-lang" used for the girl-group era?

A: That's truly the name for the sound. While sometimes the term "the Wall of Sound" is used, that term only applies to Phil Spector's productions of adding layers of instruments and vocals on a single song. The best aural example of that is probably "River Deep, Mountain High" by Ike & Tina Turner (and the Ikettes ). The song isn't the best song from Phil Spector, but it's the most "Wall of Sound"-ing song I know.

Tina Turner
"Doo-Lang" is a broader term and the Wall of Sound is a subset of Doo-Lang. Doo-Lang is derived from the term "Doo Wop," which describes the male group sound of the 1950s. Doo-Lang was best described by Gillian Gaar in the 1992 book She's a Rebel: The History of Women in Rock & Roll: "...the vocal harmonizing of doo-wop with a bright, uptempo backbeat..."

Q: Why do you limit the girl-group era from 1960-1966? There were groups like the Bobbettes and the Chantels in the 1950s, and the Supremes had hits until 1969. Also, later there were girl groups like the Honey Cone and the Bangles.

A: I feel that 1960-1966 was truly the "girl group era," since those are the only years that so many girl groups dominated the charts. Even later groups that were very popular, such as the Bangles, Go-Gos and Destiny's Child, were girl groups as a minority in the vast array of groups that were famous in their era.

The BeatlettesThe Beatlettes

Most music historians mark 1960 or at least 1961 as the genuine start of the girl-group era. Through 1960, girl-group sounds started to take hold, and the release of the Shirelles ' "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" in December 1960 opened the floodgates for girl groups. More than 800 girl groups have been documented as releasing songs from 1960 through 1966.

The "end" of the era is not as easily defined, but 1966 seems like the logical last year of the era. The British sound was already pushing girl groups off the charts, and by 1967, the hippie sound and free love music of the San Francisco Haight-Ashbury scene was quickly moving in. Yes, the Supremes did have hits later (and most girl-group fans would say they were the number one girl group for their longevity and number of hits), as did a handful of others, but it wasn't the "girl group era" after 1966.

Q: Why do you have people like Karen Carpenter, Olivia Newton-John, Laura Nyro, Gladys Knight and the Pips, the Three Degrees, and other 1970s artists on your list?

Laura Nyro
Sheet music, Laura Nyro's 1966 "Wedding Bell Blues"

A: The website list of girl groups only includes those who released girl-group songs (or soloists with the girl-group sound) from 1960-1966. Yes, some of them were famous later and perhaps were known for a different type of music. More information on Karen Carpenter's and Olivia Newton-John's girl-group sound is on this website at Karen and Olivia and the Girl-Group Sound. Laura Nyro was better known as a songwriter, and is associated with the 1970s, but her first single was the girl-group-style song Wedding Bell Blues, released in September 1966 but not a hit until the Fifth Dimension recorded it in 1970. Nyro later covered girl-group songs, acknowledging their influence on her sound.

While all the groups listed released a song by 1966, some were virtually unknown until they had a big hit much later--Gladys Knight and the Pips is a classic example.

Q: Who do you think was the best group of the girl-group era? The best songwriter?

The Blossoms
The Blossoms

A: In my opinion, the best group was the Blossoms, though they weren't nearly as famous as many of the groups. Lead singer Darlene Love's strong vocals and professional know-how still make an impact: she's on Broadway now.

The best song? Hard to say. I believe each songwriter had his or her special moment when it all clicked. Jimmy Clanton wrote a perfect girl-group song in the 1950s called "Goodbye to Love"--but nobody heard it until the Carpenters released it as a single in the 1970s. Chip Taylor and Al Gorgoni were incredibly inventive for their time, perhaps best known for Evie Sands' "I Can't Let Go," a complicated, intelligent melody for the 1960s, but got little recognition.

Some would say Carole King, especially because she wrote "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," but her songwriter stardom was truly in the 1970s with her "Tapestry" album. For a multiple-song writer of the girl-group era, I feel that Ellie Greenwich trumps them all. Officially she is listed as "co-author" of many songs with her then-husband Jeff Barry, and no doubt he did contribute significantly. Phil Spector also has a co-author credit on many of her songs, but reportedly he listed himself this way because he was the producer. I feel that Ellie Greenwich probably wrote most of those songs herself. What songs am I talking about? "Da Doo Ron Ron," "Chapel of Love," "Be My Baby." And there are many others. Need I say more?




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Q: How come some of the girl groups remained famous, and others fell into obscurity?

A: Most girl groups consisted of teenage girls who didn't necessarily have singing career ambitions, were shocked and glad to be part of the music scene, and who were duped into bad contracts, poor royalties, and unfair conditions. Indeed, a surprising number of girl-group stars who'd had a hit still were thinking about landing a man, getting married, and settling down. The "singing thing" was just like high school--a fun but passing thing.

That doesn't dismiss their credit, though. Some critics say it was the songwriters and producers who made the girl groups what they were, and the group members were interchangeable or dispensable otherwise. I don't feel this is true. In many cases, the unique vocal quality of the lead singer or captivating way a group could harmonize made them distinct. And, regardless of the girl-group members' ambitions, they had the right to fair dealings for the money they generated. Their songs made many middle-aged producers and songwriters rich, while the band members themselves ended up with virtually nothing in the way of money and certainly no control over their careers.

As for longevity, even a hit record didn't assure a group's long-term success. Some groups had producers behind them so strongly that they couldn't have avoided fame--the Supremes are a perfect example. Berry Gordy continued to crank out singles from them even though they had so many flops they were earlier called the "no-hit Supremes" in Motown. Phil Spector had a romantic interest in (and later married) Ronnie Bennett, so the Ronettes had a better chance than most.

Q: During 1960-1966, were the girl groups referred to as "the girl groups"?

A: Ironically, no. Like many other rock terms, this came into vogue to categorize something that happened in the past. Many people do not like the term, including Mary Weiss, former lead singer of the Shangri-las. The reason is the focus on "girl." The reason the term came about is that it was a phenomenon. While there had been all-girl groups before, such as the Andrews Sisters, the early 1960s saw a movement of rock groups consisting entirely of women. In the early 1960s, people wouldn't have lumped a group like the Supremes with the Shangri-las, because their sounds and styles were so different.

Q: It's interesting that these days there is a group called Cake, and yet I remember a girl-group called The Cake. Do you know anything about them?


Cake

A: They were actually called "the Cake," perhaps a humorous takeoff of the then-popular group, the Cookies ("Chains," "Don't Say Nothin' Bad About My Baby"). They wrote their own music, sang a cappella and two members of the band were recently involved in a film about Jimi Hendrix to be released next year. According to member Eleanor Barooshian, Rev-Ola Records will be releasing both of their Decca LPs on CD in the near future. Member Barbara Morillo is currently working on a new a cappella CD with 80s rock star Patti Smyth.

Q. Why do you list some groups with mostly men as "girl groups"?

A. Some groups had a female lead singer, backed by male singers, and had the same doo-lang sound as the girl-groups. That's why they're considered officially part of the 1960-66 girl-group sound. Among these are groups like Ruby & the Romantics ("Our Day Will Come"), the Ad-Libs ("Boy From New York City"), the Orlons ("Don't Hang Up"), and the Essex ("Easier Said Than Done"). Even some duos, like Paul and Paula, had a distinct "girl group sound" and the female voice often dominated.


Q: There were plenty of "garage bands" in the 1960s, who played a sort of ragged rock and often started in their own garage. Were there any girl bands like this?

A: Some cite Goldie & the Gingerbreads, who played their own instruments--a rare and even shocking thing for that time. But one true garage band was Daughters of Eve in Chicago. Formed in 1965, the drummer, Debi Pomeroy came up with the band's name. Their first manager was her father, a hip Lutheran minister. They were known for flashy outfits and toured with Rufus Thomas ("Walkin' Her Dog"), and Neil Diamond. They were more well-known in Chicago in 1967-68, after the girl-group era, but did record a Phil Spectoresque song, "Help Me Boy" on USA Records. Their music was heavy on bass, driving guitar, and tough vocal harmonies. The group disbanded in 1968.

Have a question?

Chuck Mallory is a former book reviewer for the Kansas City Star and has been published in several magazines. Have a question? Send it to: Question for Q&A...
. Not all questions can be included in this column, and please remember to use a search engine to look for an answer first.

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