Thursday, September 6, 2007

YOU DON'T OWN ME: The Uprising of the 1960s GIRL GROUPS

...with World-Spanning Music Player!
(Part 1 of 2)


The Ronettes.

now brings you the actual, all-inclusive history of Rock'n'Soul music, with Music Players.

Music Player Checklist

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*(This Player is limited to the first 200 songs.
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This Music Player covers the initial rise of GIRL GROUP vocal sounds from its origins in the '50s through its global range in the 1960s, in chronological order.

> Part 2:
SHE'S A REBEL: Decades Of Songs Influenced By The GIRL GROUPS


I'm Not Just one Of Your Little Toys:
Girls grouped

"Girl Groups" often means girls grouped together because they are girls. It's nice for alliteration but not illumination.

It's too often a quiet dismissal, trivializing 'female pop' as teenage trash, disposable in critics' minds by comparison to the British Invasion or Garage Rock. But in truth those musics wouldn't exist like they do without this music. And the girls grouped were really a vast range of vocal stylings, genre sounds, age groups, and national origins. It's high time to commend that range and how crucial it has been to the evolution of Rock.

Here, we'll use the term Girl Group as an appreciation of a general sonic movement and how female artists shone within it. This is to dismiss the misuse of the term, which treats them as little girls not Rock enough for the boys club, or as sexy dolls fronting machine pop. And this is to disrupt the shopworn cartoon narrative that continually strobes that limited view into the mainstream, instead replacing it with a clarified respect for these equally valuable sonic pioneers.

(The far-more expansive history of WOMEN OF ROCK, with Music Players, will be posted separately.)

Beside every man there's a woman doing the same things. She just always gets less credit or pay. Remember, the Blues first burned bright on international turntables because of the breakthrough success of Bessie Smith. Women then belted out Swing, herded the Honky Tonks, and were rockin' fillies like the rockabillies. During those times of constrictive attitudes, record producers treated their works like novelty records while raking in the money it brought them. Because women were often less-recorded, it makes their presence and impact seem spotty in the early years of Rock'n'Roll. (Lack of representation ensures lack of recognition). But they were there, always. As that first wave of rockers fell apart from bad luck, treachery, and dumb moves, the early '60s was an open playing field.> In that gulf the women finally got some attention. The age of the Girl Groups took full bloom, flourishing like a hothouse.

First, think about the age range of this material. There were handclap pop songs for early teeners at pajama parties; there were romance dreams for the prom girls; there were more wary and intimate songs for the young college women; and there were adult songs, declarative of identity or experience. This was real coming-of-age music for the biggest generation of females the world had ever seen.

(But heart music is heart music, which is why it inspired everyone from The Beatles to Blondie, from The New York Dolls to La Luz, for decades to come.)

Secondly, it wasn't simply bouffant belles relayed in quartets cheerleading for marital bliss. Within this general vocal pop tradition, there were the soulful shoo-wop sisters, the dreamscape girls, the drama divas, the biker chicks, the party poppers, the dance dolls, the brassy Brits, the soulstress soloists, and -completely neglected by history- the girls from the garage. Along the way (as heard on the Music Player) you could enjoy bossa novas, country soul, rockabilly, surf, Beat Girls, folk, and psychedelia. Being that women make up over half of the world, the pop scope was international, with diverse scenes in the UK, France, Italy, Singapore, Mexico, and more.

R: Carole King, Gerry Goffin, and Paul Simon.

Also, this wasn't all social engineering from male popsmiths in the Brill building. True, the key positions of the era were held by men; record execs, label owners, managers, most writers and producers, club owners, DJs. But women first began making huge inroads into the industry precisely because of this music. Carole King, Cynthia Weil, and Ellie Greenwich each wrote as many hit classics as practically anyone combined.

Let's not forget Motown writers Valerie Simpson, Pam Sawyer, or Sylvia Moy (who also produced many hits). Syreeta Wright started as receptionist at Motown, then co-wrote many of Stevie's hits, and broke through with hits of her own. Chris Clark seemed an unlikely Motown star, being a six-foot blond, but she went from being receptionist to the immortal "Love's Gone Bad", to an Oscar for co-writing the LADY SINGS THE BLUES film, to being a Motown vice president for video. In the current century, it became fact that women outsold men in every genre they performed in. This is the latest legacy of the doors the ladies kicked opened with this music. In heels, no less!

Phil Spector; Jimmy Page.

Separating sound by ideas of race never works, so the same applies to gender.> It takes everybody to make every thing. Just as varied complexions from myriad cultural traditions helped co-create Soul music, so men from every outlook collaborated with their sisters to create these songs.

Certain ones had an indelible effect. The perilous Phil Spector used his 'wall of sound' to surround his wife Ronnie's group, The Ronettes, in epic anthems to love consummated or lost. (Ahem.) Shadow Morton was another production wizard setting new standards with his dramatic work for The Shangri-La's. Burt Bacharach, with his lyricists Hal David and Carole Bayer Sager, wrote nearly baroque arrangements for chanteuses like Dionne Warwick and Sandie Shaw to shine in. Berry Gordy assembled the pop-soul factory of Motown, whose sound and roster influenced absolutely everyone. John Barry's spy themes and brassy horns were another perennial spectre in many of these songs. And quite a few of the kicking rockers by these songbirds (Lulu, Brenda Lee, Jackie DeShannon, Vashti Bunyan) were fueled by young session guitarist Jimmy Page.

The support was there, but it was the girls who stood facefront for the future.

I'll Keep On Holding On:
The women take the spotlight

The Gold Standard:
The Supremes.

Culture is an intersection of ideas in collusion and sometimes collision.

The 'Girl Group' sound evolved out of all the harmony groups that preceded it: The Boswell Sisters (the '30s) and the Andrews Sisters (the '40s); the barbershop quartets, classical chorales, and church choirs; the gospel groups like The Swan Silvertones who led into the secular doo wop of The Mills Brothers and The Ravens; the bebop vocalese of Ella Fitzgerald and Lambert, Hendricks, And Ross; and especially the elaborate strings and production behind mature torch singers like Cole, Sinatra, Washington, Bennett, and Cooke. Shake all this up with Rock'n'Roll, Soul, and headstrong youth and you get a heady concoction.

Girl Group music is some of the best-produced pop music ever recorded. The post-War torch song era created a pool of crack session musicians working under classically trained arrangers in state-of-the-art studios in New York and Los Angeles. From the simplest dance song to the grandest heartbreak ballad, the craft in these songs is impeccable and timeless. There is a directly relayed throughline from the lush '50s concept albums of Sinatra and Fitzgerald, through the string-scapes behind Girl Group and Motown, onward into Rock's maturation with the Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper albums, and beyond.

Truly, Girl Group isn't a box, it is a landscape. Girl Group and Doo Wop are retroactive terms for diverse vocal musics that only serve to genderize limits on a reality too boundless for them. These pop confessionals moved all hips and hearts, made by singles and sets of every age, place, and angle. As the Music Player bears out, there were many facets glimmering in that spotlight.


Martha And The Vandellas with Dusty Springfield.

First up, let's hear it for 'the shoo-wop sisters'!

The only job they could expect in Detroit was as a maid or in a factory. Motown opened a new world for them to be in high society and have presence. The label was Soul but it had its eye on uptown and Vegas. There was a regal glam to all that sass and swoon. These tight pop melodies with their walloping rhythms galvanized early '60s youth, at home and abroad. Queens like Mary Wells, Martha Reeves And The Vandellas, Kim Weston, Brenda Hollaway, Tammi Terrell, and of course Diana Ross And The Supremes; songs like "Please Mister Postman", "Love Is Like a Heatwave", "Boys" ("Sha-shoo-bop, sha-sha-shoo-bop"), "Where Did Our Love Go?", and "Nowhere To Run".

They were matched by their New York sisters, who lived in similar working-class Euro, Afr-Am, and Puerto Rican boroughs with the same dreams. They were the doo wop corner girls now swinging a new modern pop. The songs they strutted had swing, swagger, laughter, and verve. Fingersnappers like The Shirelles, The Ronettes, The Cookies (who became The Rae-lettes, propelling Ray Charles), The Chiffons, and Little Eva; with classic songs like "One fine Day", "Boys", "Be My Baby", and "Give Him a Great Big Kiss".


The Caravelles; The Honey Ltd.

The 'dreamscape girls' were ethereal.

They were the angelic chorales that soothed the troubled soul from a world of radiant echo. They were the idealic self or spiritual other whose siren psalms promised transendence. Close your eyes and swoon to The Paris Sisters' "I Love How You Love Me", The Caravelles' "You Don't Have To Be A Baby To Cry", Les Intrigantes's "Sans Toi", the haunted folk of Vashti Bunyan's "Train Song", or anything at all by The Honey Ltd.


The Shangri-Las.

The 'drama divas' are bold and cinematic.

Orchestras with dazzling dynamics underscore their apocalyptic hopes and heartbreaks. The queen is the Shangri-Las' leader, Mary Weiss, in her haunted monologues, trembling in the stark spotlight. She turned the pop record into a vicarious confessional for raw and rapt youth in songs like "Past, Present, and Future" and the shattering "I Can Never Go Home Anymore". That poignant intimacy, with cinerama swells of sound, gets star billing in The Bitter Sweet's dizzying "What a Lonely Way To Start the Summertime", Dawn's neurotic "I'm Afraid They're All Talking About Me", Susan Rafey's softly sinister "The Big Hurt", and Timi Yuro' magesterial "The Love Of A Boy".

And first to throw the feminist fist are Dionne Warwick's ardent "Don't Make Me Over", and Lesley Gore's immortal declaration "You Don't Own Me".
[See also, Betty Everett's "S.P.C.L.G. (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Little Girls)".]


The 'biker chicks' were raucous, all street accents and gumsmack.

It was the original rebel grrrl, who knew about sex, bad guys, worse habits, seamy cities, and danger. And seemed to like all of them. The Crystals shaped it with "He's A Rebel", and The Ronettes crystalized it with their proud Puerto Rican sensuality and smirks. They coiffed their beehive hair perfect just so they could shake it loose in the heat of singing. The Shangri-Las single-handedly owned the genre with "Leader Of The Pack", and their hellion backstage ways; one exasperated rival called them foul-mouthed monsters, which they just laughed at.

The biker girls sneered at glam gowns and galas. They wanted life rough and wild. Check out The Whyte Boots with their tough stance and white whips, and their catastrophic "Nightmare". Or brave The Shangri-La's "Out In the Streets", The Girls' "Chico's Girl", The Ad Libs' "On The Corner", and the explicit threat of The Cookies' "Don't Say Nothin' (Bad About My Baby)".


"Shirley, Shirley bo Birley Bonana fanna fo Firley
Fee fy mo Mirley, Shirley!"

The 'party poppers' took the shoo-wop groove and broadened it from the block to the blowout.

It was now fun teen pop for the soiree, the zing in the shindig, the twist in the surfari, sprawling from gaiety to downright goofy. Kick your shoes off to "Surfin' Hootenanny" (with vocals by Darlene Love And The Blossoms), Little Eva's "The Loco-Motion", and Patti Labelle And Her Blue Belles' "I Sold My Heart To The Junkman".

The party really careens loopy with the manic Tammys' swirling and shrieking through "Egyptian Shumba"*, the jumprope handclaps of The Dixie Cups' "Iko Iko", the crazed organ bouncing The Coupons' "Turn Her Down", Donna Loren's surf with "The Cycle Set", the dizzying tongue-twist of "The Name Game" by Shirley Ellis, and The Gypsies' happy admonition to "Jerk It".

*At the "whoa-ah-oh"'s at 2:17, you can hear the precise moment The B-52's were born.

"Calling out around the world/
Are you ready for a brand new beat?"

The 'dance dolls' were the rhythm regals, getting you into the good groove.

They were the latest dance step or bumping sound. If the shoo-wops hopped the block and the party poppers kicked the sock hop, these ladies lit the niteclub and discotheque. Drop the stylus on The Velvelettes' cheeky "He Was Really Sayin' Something", where the lead sounds like she's both laughing and biting your earlobe. Or The Ikettes' sauntering "I'm Blue (The Gong Gong Song)", Martha And The Vandellas' ever-wonderful "Dancing In the Street", Val McKenna's funky "I Can't Believe What You Say", and Rita Pavone's piledriving "Il Geghege".

In France, the Yé-yé girls responded with France Gall's "Laisse Tomber Les Filles" (a.k.a, "Chick Habit"), Sylvie Vartan's "Ne Le Decois Pas" ("just like Putty in my hands/ uh huh!"), and Jacqueline Taieb's "On Roule A 160".


Shirley Bassey.

The 'brassy Brits' were the synthesis of the soul sisters and the drama divas, belting their own soul music on a theatrical scale.

Passion is borderless, and these UK women merged US soul, traditional ballading, and their own string-laden theatrical pop. (In truth, the classical strings that Spector and Gordy had so often borrowed, now coming full circle to its origins.) Their escalation from the drama divas brought in soundtrack scores, cabaret flourish, and haute couture. Much of this was personified in Shirley Bassey, whose fullthroated brass and supperclub zazz ramp-lified the spirit of Judy Garland; Shirley's gusto and power dynamizes epics like "Goldfinger" and "My Love Has Two Faces".

Their passionate smolder is klieg lights and shadows, bold and theatric. They are triumphant, bereft, and reflective in broad sweeps. Relish Sandy Shaw's "Girl Don't Come", Petula Clark's "Downtown", Lulu's "To Sir With Love", Vicki Carr's spy-twist "The Silencers", the lush ache of Cilla Black's "I've Been Wrong Before" (produced by George Martin), Nita Rossi's bombastic "Untrue, Unfaithful (That Was You)", Jackie Trent's operatic "Either Way I Lose", and US ex-pat P.P. Arnold's take on "The First Cut Is The Deepest".

Mina; Francoise Hardy.

The mindset of the early '60s was that adults made torch albums and teens made dance pop. But Girl Group and Motown bridged both. Globally, adult performers widened their repertoire to surf the young waves. From Italy with love came Mina's "So Che Mi Vuoi" (Lennon & McCartney's "It's For You"), Catherine Spaak's "Penso A Te" (scored by Ennio Morricone), and Ornella Vanoni's "Il Mio Posto Qual'E". More subtly, Chanson singers of France like Francoise Hardy gave us "Tous Les Garcons Et Les Filles". Conversely, pop teens like Helen Shapiro (England), Caterina Caselli (Italy), and Conchita Velasco (Spain) hinged from this vocal pop to become adult interpreters.


Aretha Franklin; Laura Nyro.

The 'soul-o'ists' were soul queens from major labels like Atlantic and Stax, and countless minor ones beloved on backwater jukeboxes.

Singular artistes with sister wit like Aretha Franklin and Erma Franklin, Dionne Warwick, mavericks Nina Simone and Laura Nyro, south african refugee Sharon Tandy, and british contessa Dusty Springfield. They were the wizened and often wounded heart of mature women. They knew who they were by now and what really mattered.

Reflect deeply with Bessie Banks' original version of "Go Now", Dusty's beautiful ache on "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself", Nina's reconjuring of "I Put a Spell On You", Aretha's nonplussed bliss on "Save Me", Erma's original of "Piece of My Heart", and Mitty Collier's earnest sweetness on "I Had a Talk With My Man" (which will choke you up on every listen).

Soul is for every soul, and here to testify is the country soul of Margaret Lewis' "Reconsider Me", Emma Reade's stirring "I Gotta Be With You", and Julie Driscoll's valorous cover of "The Flesh Failures (Let The Sun Shine In)".


The Luv'd Ones.

And the most unsung of all, the 'garage girls', the all-female bands who bashed out the beat with the best of them.

The Girl Groups inspired The Beatles who inspired groups of girls. The crayon history of Rock doesn't tell you that many '60s women worldwide took up the call to play modern Rock as full bands. (Lack of representation ensures lack of recognition). They were the slighted sisters of The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, and The Sonics.

(A more exhaustive post and Music Player of the garage grrrls will be posted separately.)

Folks like The Girls (the Sandoval sisters), The Liverbirds, Goldie And The Gingerbreads, Las Mosquitas (Mexico), The Fair Sect (New Zealand), The Womenfolk, The Luv'd Ones, The Ace Of Cups, The Daisy Chain, and The Feminine Complex saddled Beat, Garage, and Psychedelia sidelong. A wealth of their work is lately coming to light, bringing belated justice to these original punk priestesses. Bust out the fuzz with The Starlets' "You Don't Love Me", the proto-Garage of The Pleasure Seekers's "What A Way To Die", and Les Intrigantes' sunny cover of "Hello Goodbye" in French.

These are loose patterns to listen for on the Player that illuminate facets of the prism. But, as in everything, these all overlap and interweave. Within these musical angles lies a composite of the heart, voicing all the concerns and moods one could have. It gave a distinct and new voice to girls and boys everywhere. Besides the great harmonies and melodies, this emotive commonality is what has made these women's music so universal and its influence so eternal. And it resonates in all pop music to this day.


Read about and hear their disciples in Part 2:
SHE'S A REBEL: Decades Of Songs Influenced By The GIRL GROUPS

© Tym Stevens

See Also:

Part 2 (of 2):
- SHE'S A REBEL: Decades Of Songs Influenced By The GIRL GROUPS

-WOMEN OF ROCK: The 1950s
-WOMEN OF ROCK: The 1960s

-The Real History of Rock and Soul!: A Music Player Checklist

SHE'S A REBEL: Decades Of Songs Influenced By The GIRL GROUPS

...with World-Spanning Music Player!
(Part 2 of 2)


Ronnie's spectre:
Amy Winehouse.

now brings you the actual, all-inclusive history of Rock'n'Soul music, with Music Players.

Music Player Checklist

Spotify playlist title=
GIRL GROUPS: Disciples 1962-Today
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*(This Player is limited to the first 200 songs.
Hear the unlimited Playlist here.)

This Music Player covers the many songs directly influenced by the '60s GIRL GROUP sounds, across all music styles from 1962 to today, in chronological order.

Beat! Garage! Psychedelic!
Rock! Soul! Songwriter!
Punk! Funk! New Wave!
TripHop! Indie! World!

Part 1 (of 2):
YOU DON'T OWN ME: The Uprising of the 1960s GIRL GROUPS


Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?:
The legacy of the Girl Groups

"To live my life the way I want/
To say and do whatever I please."

From the beginning, it was the harmony and the rhythm.

During the first Rock'n'Roll years, Doo Wop led the congregation in the harmonies department. This was an outgrowth of gospel elder groups like The Dixie Hummingbirds and The Blind Boys Of Alabama, their dulcet rounds now sung by secular teens to woo dates. But just as essential were classical chorals, celtic folk ballads, romantic serenades, swing orchestra hits, torch songs, and scat-jazz mavericks for extending that palette.

Doo Wop isn't male, and there were plenty of does singing do-re-mi, too. Women sang with sisters (Shirley Gunter And The Queens, The Chordettes), with brothers (The Platters, Los Cinco Latinos), and around the world (Hermanas Navarro). At the time it was all thought of as vocal music (and Rock'n'Roll) made by and for everyone; the problem with retroactive genre terms like Doo Wop and Girl Group is that they are meant to distinguish music patterns, but only segregate the players by gender absolutes and miss the true interconnectivity of human culture. But it's all just humans making harmony with rhythm.

Diana Ross,
in designs by André Courrèges (1966).

Groups of girls like The Shirelles, The Chiffons, and The Blossoms swelled over into the early '60s while the original Rock'n'Roll treaded growing pains.> Their harmonic unity, now shifting from doo wop constraints into pure upbeat pop, stood out. These tight, punchy pop songs, with their youthful zest and bold choruses radiant through transistor radios, were more compressed and modern, with a sass and punch that the recent past had only predicted. This sound had its head in the sun with its feet square on the rhythm. At the same time, designers like Mary Quant and André Courrèges were revolutionizing fashion for the modern girl, with a Mod aesthetic now streamlined, bold, and free to move. A new generation of girls came into the future feeling regenerated. It was the Jet Age and this was their coming out music.

But music is the language of every heart and boys loved it, too. Girl Group sounds permeated every airwave, jukebox, dance, and ear, and moved everyone. What gets forgotten is that this vocal pop was just considered Rock'n'Roll and was reflected back accordingly, from the British Invasion onward. From the early '60s to today, in every variant of Rock around the world, those sounds have never stopped resounding.

This Music Player details how those specific Girl Group sounds -big productions, soulful dance, and choral harmonies- reverberate through all kinds of music directly to this day, in many surprising ways that challenge and expand the general narrative.

The Beatles with Mary Wells.

This sound had a bracing effect on The Beatles, who were as intoxicated with this new music as the older rockabilly of their heroes. They covered three of them on their debut 1963 album alone: The Cookies' "Chains", and The Shirelles' "Boys" and "Baby It's You". Soon they followed with The Marvelettes' "Please Mister Postman", The Donays' "Devil In His Heart", Peggy Lee's "Till There Was You" (via the 'The Music Man'), and the live BBC take on Little Eva's "Keep Your Hands Off My Baby".

They insisted on meeting The Supremes, who responded in kind with their own A Bit of Liverpool covers album. They wrote hit songs for compatriots like Cilla Black and Mary Hopkin, and asked Jackie DeShannon and The Ronettes to tour with them. The Shangri-Las' "Remember (Walking In the Sand)" may have had a profound effect on John; its heavy descending chords and echoed wash of harmonies bear a certain kinship to his later "I Want You (She's So Heavy)". Also, George signed Doris Troy ("Just One Look") and Ronnie Spector to Apple Records. This kind of affection came back to haunt him when he unconciously based "My Sweet Lord" on "He's So Fine" by The Chiffons, which became a legal migraine. When John and Paul broke as partners, they each went forward singing with their life partners, Yoko and Linda.

The Ronettes
with Phil Spector and George Harrison.

The British Invasion reflected America back to itself, often with loving covers that they hadn't heard in the first place. The Moody Blues broke through with Bessie Bank's "Go Now", The Hollies with Evie Sand's "I Can't Let Go", The Searchers with DeShannon's "Needles and Pins" and "When You Walk In the Room", and The Animals immortalized Nina Simone's "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood". The Yardbirds brought the fuzzy snarl to The Shirelles' "Putty In Your Hand". Manfred Mann chanted The Exciters' "Do-Wah-Diddy". Lesser known bands did great glosses as well, such as The Action's "I'll Keep On Holding On" (The Marvelettes).

Every singer loved a good song. So this went both ways, of course, with Dionne Warwick and Sandie Shaw covering "There's Always Something There To Remind Me" (Lou Johnson), The Shangri-Las sighing "He Cried" (Jay And The Americans), and Aretha Franklin swinging "Eleanor Rigby". Culture is conversation, not monologues or doctrine.

Globally, the Girl Group sounds immediately reverbed revamped by cover versions in the native tongues of Los Pekenikes (Spain), Sylvie Vartan and Ray Anthony (France), Helena Vondrackova (Czech), Equipe 84 (Italy), Las Mosquitas (Mexico), Les Bises (Canada), and patois of Laurel Aitken (Jamaica).

Girl Group, particularly in Phil Spector productions, had a grandiose sound and declarative heart; these full orchestras and fuller lungs breathed new bredth into Rock'n'Roll beyond tuff licks and swivel hips. And the vocal group sound became far more fluid with Brian Wilson's productions of The Beach Boys and The Honeys, whose love of The Ronettes' "Be My Baby" led to Spector-esque songs like "Don't Worry, Baby", "Help Me, Rhonda", "Then I Kissed Her" (The Crystals), "Darlin'", and Glen Campbell's "Guess I'm Dumb". And, by extension, albums like The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds and The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper turned that string-pop into progressive Rock.

Brian Wilson; Janis Joplin; Isaac Hayes.

The latter '60s retained the GG refrain within new contexts and outlooks, such as Janis Joplin offering up "Piece Of My Heart" (Erma Franklin), Vanilla Fudge expanding the hell out of "You Keep Me Hanging On" (The Supremes), and Isaac Hayes striding Dionne's "Walk On By" into a twelve minute orchestradelic opus.

By this point, the counterculture musical HAIR (1968) parodied the conventions of the girl groups genre: "Frank Mills" is a biker whose friend "resembles George Harrison of The Beatles" who rips off an adoring debutante; and "Black Boys/ White Boys" mocks the 'color line' with chocolate and peach soul sisters appraising each other's delectability. (Girl Group would get additional ribbing and respect in later musical productions like GREASE and HAIRSPRAY, and inspire fictional takes on The Supremes like DREAMGIRLS and SPARKLE.)

Aretha Franklin; HAIR original soundtrack; Carole King.

One Girl Group vet changed the music industry in the '70s with one album. Carole King, architect of so many GG classics like "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?", redefined herself as a singer-songwriter with her 1971 Tapestry album. Concurrent with the rise of early '70s feminism, it became one of the best-selling albums of all time. If Dylan had wanted to kill the Brill Building, he really just liberated them to become him. King's success as a troubadour solidified the industry clout of songwriter cohorts from Joni Mitchell to Patti Smith, Bette Midler to Helen Reddy, Carly Simon to Norah Jones, Tori Amos to Alicia Keyes. Meanwhile, her perverse inverse Laura Nyro was pushing the envelope into origami with her acrobatic chorales, alone and with Labelle, loosing kindred dissenters like Annette Peacock, Diamanda Galas, and Bjork.

Most hard-rocking 1970s jams were built on blues grooves with soul vocals. Many times they recovered GG-era songs they loved in this style. Smith amped up "Baby, It's You". Linda Ronstadt punched through with "You're No Good" (Betty Everett} and "Just One Look" (Doris Troy}. Bob Seger slipped the flip on "Come To Papa" (Koko Taylor's' "Come To Mama"). The Doobie Brothers turned soul sister covering "Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me A Little While)" by Motown's Kim Weston.

New York Dolls.

The biker chick and epic heartbreak persona of The Shangri-Las had mammoth impact still in the Glam era. The New York Dolls actually wanted to be them in a carnal tryst with The Stones, and their wardrobe and setlist proved it. They swiped the line "When I say I'm in love, you best believe I'm in luv, L-U-V!" for their "Looking For A Kiss", even enlisting George "Shadow" Morton to produce their first album.

Aerosmith furthered this adulation with their remarkably faithful cover of "Remember (Walking In the Sand)", while also subtly recalling "I Want You (She's So Heavy)". The Runaways rocked as hard as anyone, while -like Queen and Heart- still retaining excellent and accomplished harmonies; their Juvie jailbreak saga in "Dead End Justice" rings with Shangri-Las drama.

Joan Jett, Debbie Harry, David Johansen, Joey Ramone.

The first Punk single in England, The Damned's 1976 "New Rose", nicks its opening line "Is she really going out with him?" from The Shangri-Las' "Leader of the Pack", while Joe Jackson had his first hit expanding that same phrase into a new song. Blondie's debut album is steeped in beat rhythms and girl group harmonies. Their first single, "X-Offender", updates dream romance songs to the sordid realities of '76 Times Square, tongue firmly in cheek. They even covered "Out In the Streets" so well many think it's their song. The Ramones remembered Rock'n'Roll radio with "Baby, I Love You" (The Ronettes) and "Needles and Pins" (Jackie DeShannon). Nikki And The Corvettes, their sonic sisters, were full of biker chick sass in a whole new level of risque.

Punk and feminism likewise played games with the archetypes of Girl Group songs. Joan Jett gave it her all earnestly reciting the identity manifesto "You Don't Own Me" (Lesley Gore). But others mocked all the stock sentiments of teenage rapture and naive love as outdated, such as D-Day's "Too Young To Date" ('79), Suburban Lawns' "Gidget Goes To Hell" ('79), Hollie And The Italians' "Tell That Girl To Shut Up" ('81), and Josie Cotton's infamous send-up of stoic bikers, "Johnny, Are You Queer?" ('82).

The B-52's:
Fred Schneider, Ricky Wilson (kneeling), Keith Strickland, Kate Pierson, Cindy Wilson.

A bouffant hairdo was a called a 'B-52' in the southern US, which was probably as bulletproof as the plane from hairspray. The influence of mid-'60s pop, beat, soul, and girl party records on the Athens band The B-52's was astronomical. Their 'dance-or-dance-more' ethos was a deliberate tonic to the descending negativity that punk and postpunk were slipping into. Be fun, and unashamed! The glowing spirit of the girl group era strobes through "52 Girls", "Give Me Back My Man", "Love Shack", and their soused cover of "Downtown" (Petula Clark).

As the '80s re-embraced Motown, the jaunty beat of "You Can't Hurry Love" paraded through new songs by Iggy Pop, Elvis Costello, The Jam, Katrina And The Waves, and The Smiths. Motortown revved the circuits in Soft Cell's synthpop medley of "Tainted Love" (Gloria Jones) and "Where Did Our Love Go?" (The Supremes). In the same spirit, Naked Eyes covered Bacharach's "Always Something There To Remind Me".

Siblings are doing it for themselves:
Aretha Franklin, Annie Lennox, Dave Stewart.

UK soul artists crested anew throughout the New Wave years. Annie Lennox had broke through covering "I Only Want To Be With You" (Dusty Springfield) with The Tourists, and her Eurythmics work shimmered with shades of Dusty, Aretha, and Francoise. ABC, Culture Club, Sade, Simply Red, Bananarama, Paul Young, Alison Moyet of Yazoo/YAZ, and Andy Bell of Erasure, are among myriad next generation UK artists who were deeply rooted in the soulful pop of the '60s. Under the '80s synth sheen beat the heart of Motown and Memphis. This rolling tide continues on lately with Amy Winehouse, Adele, Duffy, Dionne Bromfield, and Alice Russell.

Phil Spector produced the Ramones' End Of The Century (1980), while his style haunts The Clash's "The Card Cheat" and Jesus And Mary Chain's "Just Like Honey". And would Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Art Of Noise, Public Enemy, and My Bloody Valentine ever have been as epic and densely-layered without the sonic example he set in motion with GG music?

The Girl Groups inspired The Beatles who inspired groups of girls. There were many female bands pounding out Beat music with gossamer harmonies in the '60s. In the mid '80s, a new wave of the Girls In The Garage cycled back with engines revving in The Visible Targets, The Go-Go's, The Bangles, The Pandoras, The Delmonas, and Les Calamites.

Besides Motown jaunt and Beat sunshine, Girl Group also encompassed angel girls with luminous harmonies in dense moodscapes. Elizabeth Fraser and Cocteau Twins now blendered this into a mesmerizing maelstrom of darkness and light, hinging toward Shoegaze and TripHop to follow.

Julee Cruise; esiurC eeluJ.

David Lynch lives in dreams, where events blur, meanings change, and mystery is life's breath. He revels in ethereal light and supple darkness. He also seems haunted by purity that has become a memory. The effect that girl group songs in the vein of "I Love How You Love Me" and "Dressed In Black", coupled with the spectral highs of The Everly Brothers and Roy Orbison, had on him seeded BLUE VELVET (1986) and flourished entirely in TWIN PEAKS (1990), thanks to the soundtracks of Angelo Badalamenti. With Julee Cruise he had his 'dreamscape girl', even literally spotlighting her as both a siren songbird and a biker chick on the town bar's stage. She is both a memory and a prophecy, intangible but palpable.

Portishead; Garbage; The's.

'60s drama divas like The Shangri-Las, Jackie Trent, and Shirley Bassey had shone lucent within thunderstorm orchestras. Big cinematic production with eerie female vocals returned in the mid-'90s with TripHop, a hybrid of John Barry scores, hiphop beats, and Cocteau ambience, with artists like Portishead, Garbage, Bjork, Mono, Hooverphonic, and Goldfrapp.

Spector production, dynamic confession, and dreamy chorales bewitched all people across all borders in the '60s, and -as borne out on this Music Player- continued to do so across every decade and style. It is just as vibrant today in the music that matters.

Radically eclectic artists share this influence in common, and have been happy to reflect it. You can clearly hear it in the selected tunes here: in the Garage of The White Stripes, The Raveonettes, The Gore Gore Girls, Hunx And His Punx, The Love Me Nots, and Bleached; in the Indie Pop of Cults, Girls, Sleigh Bells, Panda Bear, Dum Dum Girls, La Luz, Best Coast, and Diane Coffee; in the harmonies of Lady, Stooche, The Girls At Dawn, Janelle Monae, The She's, and Baby Shakes; and in the variant soul of Shelby Lynne, Amy Winehouse, Valerie June, Kelis, and Father John Misty.

The Raveonettes; The Love Me Nots; Latasha Lee.


Girl Groups aren't the history of the Women In Rock, they are more specifically a valuable facet within that vast prism.

Women have been a part of every permutation of Rock from the beginning, as eclectic and vital to its progressions as their brothers. (If any source tells you differently, they are lying or ignorant.)

Girl Group was a loose term generally appraising the female vocal pop of the early '60s and its highly dynamic production values. At its best it was meant as an appreciative term of respect. At its worst it is a genderist pigeonhole that reduces all female musicians to eyecandy making soft Pop apart from Rock. Depends on the clear insight or clouded projection of the viewer.

So Girl Group isn't Barbies miming dance tracks. Girl Group isn't pretty-twenties with a sell-by date. In the real world outside that sexist cartoon, women have been a thriving part of every movement of music, a sonic inspiration for everyone, and an exponential wave that can't be contained. All the myopic critics, robot radio, daft downloaders, and J-Pop factories in the world can't dam that ocean.

(A separate series of posts will cover the larger history of WOMEN OF ROCK, decade by decade, in every style from the '20s to today.)

This essay and Music Player instead focuses on the specific influence of the actual, original Girl Group sound on all who followed. It makes it clear that the success of the 'girls grouped' unleashed the floodgates of singer/songwriters, punk poets, soul sisters, and riot grrrls that followed, with its clear sonic influence still audibly inherent within. From the refurbished vocal combos like The Emotions, The Pointer Sisters, Labelle, and En Vogue; to funk fatales like Parlet and Brides Of Funkenstein, Tom Tom Club, Mary Jane Girls, and Peaches; (and, admittedly, to Mtv dance divas like Debbie Gibson, Tiffany, The Spice Girls, Britney Spears, TLC, and Destiny's Child that inherit the generic term Girl Group); to full-on garage grrrls like Fanny, NQB (Sweden), The Pandoras, Bikini Kill, The's, April March, The Husbands, and Bleached.

This is dedicated "To Her, With Love".

© Tym Stevens

See Also:

Part 1 (of 2):
-YOU DON'T OWN ME: The Uprising of the 1960s GIRL GROUPS

-WOMEN OF ROCK: The 1950s
-WOMEN OF ROCK: The 1960s

-The Real History of Rock and Soul!: A Music Player Checklist