Rock'n'Roll has always been shaped by everybody. So why do we even have to specify 'Women In Rock'?
Because presence defeats absence. You have to see something to know that it's there. When someone is kept out of sight, it's that much more crucial to shine the spotlight on them at every turn, until everyone finally recognizes who was there all along.
Women have been a part of every musical movement, but for decades the cartoon history of Rock has been told as select men and modes turning over. This simplistic outlook and biased exclusion is what demands the move toward fairer inclusion. It's long past time to see clearer and deeper. In truth, Rock'n'Roll is a fluid ocean, rotating noted waves on the surface but driven by less visable and complex currents beneath. The people excluded from the narrative have ridden every wave noticed on the surface as much as those select men, while helping shape all the much subtler currents powering them.
Inclusion comes when exclusion ends. These Music Players, and the insights into them which follow, spotlight the vast range of global women who shaped Rock in the 1960s and ushers them gratefully into the room.
The original Rock'n'Roll didn't end in the early '60s just because a handful of male heroes fell out,> and didn't return magically in 1964 from English guys. It actually kept rolling right on into the new decade uninterrupted with fresh tides. What's most important to remember about Soul, Girl Group, Doo Wop, and Surf is that they were all seen collectively as forms of young Pop, all heard as Rock'n'Roll, because they were.
Repression is static, progression is dynamic. AM radio was a stealth revolution, a forum for all music forms where any record won if it had 'a good beat and was easy to dance to'. Stealthily, those dance moves were swaying into a diverse movement, a jet-age generation sharing new outlooks and expressions beyond the stolid and the segregated. Where adults outside of it just noted fads and idols, the youth were swimming in rich new possibilities that would drive the decade.
Rock is polyglot; it morphed from many sources and kept on mutating exponentially.> In the early '60s, women from the original wave of Rock'n'Roll> kept cresting boldly forward, like Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Wanda Jackson, Janis Martin, and LaVern Baker. Even as Elvis, Jerry Lee, Buddy, Richard,, and Chuck were sidelined, their fire was clearly relayed in songs like the all-female band The Chantels' "Well, I Told You", The Charmaines' "Rockin' Old Man", and The Crystals' "All Grown Up".
The Shirelles; The Ronettes; The Shangri-Las.
If it seems odd that those famous Girl Groups were belting Rock'n'Roll, it proves the true point; Girl Group is another catchall limitation placed on women who were beyond its doll-toy boundaries. The Shirelles, The Cookies, and The Ronettes sang a range of melodies, and their streamlined pop and production punch molded the British Invasion. As did the soulful pop of Motown with the sass and class of The Marvelettes, Mary Wells, Martha And The Vandellas, Debbie Dean, The Supremes, and Chris Clark. Keeping it streets, The Shangri-Las, The Goodies, and The Whyte Boots covertly turned goodgirl and badgirl polarities inside out with their biker songs and dramatic confessionals.
Behind the curtain lay the songwriting wizardry of Ellie Greenwich, Cynthia Weil, and Carole King at the Brill Building, and Sylvia Moy, Janie Bradford, Syreeta Wright, and Valerie Simpson at Motown.
Soul is human experience writ passionate, and mature scribes like Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Fontella Bass, Timi Yuro, and Carla Thomas reinterpreted how to be a modern song interpreter outside of lounges and cabarets, setting the new standard to follow. The rollicking Ike And Tina Turner Revue also gave us bold soul sisters like The Ikettes ["I'm Blue (The Gong Song)"], The Mirettes, and P.P. Arnold. The James Brown Show would bestow us with hard-workin' women like Yvonne Fair, Sugar Pie DeSanto, and Tammy Montgomery (Tammi Terrell).
Chiyo Ishi And The Crescents;
Carol Kaye; Darlene Love.
Surf> rose past its initial wave in the sun to continue undulating for decades. Riding with it from the start were women like Kay Bell And The Tuffs' "(The Original) Surfer Stomp" (1961), Kathy Lynn And The Playboys' "Rock City", and guitarist Chiyo Ishi on The Crescents' "Pink Dominos". The great Carol Kaye played bass on all The Beach Boys and The Honeys productions. Twining some soul twist into the beach cookout were Dee Dee Sharpe, The Supremes, and The Orlons, while Darlene Love and The Blossoms sang Surf hits for Hal Blaine, Al Casey, and Duane Eddy.
“Protest against the rising tide of conformity.”
Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, 1963.
Folk was the rallying call for the young, compassionate, and aware. It harbingered a back-to-the-roots outlook that embraced rural roots musics like Gospel, Blues, and Country, and vitalized populist acts like Miram Makeba (South Africa), The Staple Singers (with Mavis), Malvina Reynolds (with her pleasantly scathing "Little Boxes"), Odetta, Nina Simone, Judy Collins, and the flexible Judy Henske. Troubadour activist Joan Baez gave Bob Dylan his entrée to the scene, while Native American activist Buffy Saint Marie penned classic songs famously covered like "Universal Soldier" (Donovan) and "Codine" (The Charletans SF).
The egalitarian outlook of the folk movement was reflected in pairings like Peter, Paul, And Mary, Ian And Sylvia, and Mimi And Richard Farina (and soon in the PsychFolk duos and bands).
Barbara Dane; Judy Roderick.
Folk ignited reappreciation of Blues elders like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Big Mama Thornton, Sippie Wallace, and Elizabeth Cotten, who toured on festival bills around the world. The healthy focus on rich traditions benefitted new artists like the soulful guitarists Barbara Lynn, Barbara Dane, and Judy Roderick, a generational hand-off of living cultural traditions that still continues. Singer Koko Taylor would bring gutbucket glory to rival Janis Joplin in the latter '60s.
Folk, Gospel, and Blues were also a refuge for female musicians to play their instruments with a little less of the pressures of the Pop world trying to domesticate or doll-ify them for mass consumption.
Les Surfs; Tina Y Tesa;
'50s Rock'n'Roll was immediately reflected globally, and even more so in the early '60s. All across Europe with Helen Shapiro and The Vernons Girls (England); Heidi Bruhl and Dany Mann (Germany); Hedika and Nicole Paquin (France); Les Surfs (Madagascar); Gelu, Tina Y Tesa, and Trio Juventud (Spain); and Laura Bordes And The Revolts (IndoRock from the Netherlands).
And across the Equator with Derrick And Patsy (Jamaica); Vianey Valdez and Angelica Maria (Mexico); Meire Pavão (Brazil); and T.N.T. (Uruguay).
And across all oceans with organist Cherry Wainer (South Africa); Betty McQuade, Toni McCann, and Dinah Lee (Australia); Ivor Fisher And The Satellites (New Zealand); and Kayoko Moriyama and Yukari Ito (Japan).
France Gall; Caterina Caselli.
In France, upbeat dance music was called Yé-yé, with ironic Lolitas like France Gall ["Laissez Tomber Les Filles" (a.k.a., "Chick Habit"], Beat divas like Sylvie Vartan, rockers like Jacqueline Taïeb, and moodier interpreters like Francoise Hardy and Marie Laforet. In Italy it was called Shake, with brash belters like Mina, Rita Pavone, Catherine Spaak, and Caterina Caselli. There were equivalent scenes in Spain and Japan.
(The danger of infantalizing anyone young and female into packaged doll groups that haunted Girl Group and Yé-yé has now hyper-escalated with J-Pop and K-Pop.)
The Supremes' "A Bit Of Liverpool" (1964).
The British Invasion wouldn't exist like it did without the inspiration of Girl Group songs, as proven by career-making covers of The Shirelles' "Boys" and "Chains" and "Putty In Your Hands", The Donays' "Devil In His Heart", The Exciters' "Do-Wah-Diddy", Nina Simone's "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood", Bessie Banks' "Go Now", and Goldie And The Gingerbreads' "Can't You Hear My Heartbeat?".
Conversely, the dialogue went both ways as the unprecedented success of The Beatles then inspired female artists. Their sound was reflected immediately by Jeannie And The Big Guys (England), Rod And Carolyn (England), The Beatle-Ettes, The Bootles, Die Sweetles (Germany), and Les Beatlettes (Canada). Ella Fitzgerald shocked her upscale set by enthusiastically swinging "Can't Buy Me Love". At Motown, Oma Heard resounded about her "Lifetime Man", and The Supremes' covers album A Bit Of Liverpool was served to a tee.
Motown made its big splash into England via a TV special by Dusty Springfield hosting label acts. Dusty led a home court of women equally vital to the range of the British Invasion, like Marianne Faithfull, Lulu, Sandie Shaw, and Cilla Black. Meanwhile, some of Jimmy Page's earliest session gigs were for Jackie DeShannon's "Dream Boy" and Brenda Lee's "Is It True?".
The most vital impact of The Beatles on women was not the screaming teens, but actually the scores of all-female bands that formed by their inspiration. Chided as novelties, under-recorded at every turn, mistreated like everything but the earnest musicians they were, these sweet punks were the future regardless of the mean and the clueless. They blasted out Beat, Freakbeat, FolkRock, and then Garage with all the gusto of their brothers. This went unheralded for decades until collectors and cratediggers brought them properly to light.
Goldie And The Gingerbreads;
The Daughters Of Eve; Dara Puspita.
The Girls In The Garage included The Liverbirds, The Pleasure Seekers (with Patti and Suzi Quatro), The Womenfolk, Goldie And The Gingerbreads, The Girls (the teenage Sandoval sisters), The Continental Co-Ets, The Belles (who turned the garage anthem "Gloria" into "Melvin"), The Clinger Sisters, The Bitter Sweets, Les Intrigantes (Canada), The Fair Sect (New Zealand), Las Mosquitas (Spain), Las Akelas (Spain), Dara Puspita (Indonesia), and The Luv'd Ones with the brilliant guitarist Char Vinnedge. (There are scores more of all-female bands unavailable on the Player. Learn about more here and here)
Weaselspeak phrases like "one of the few female..." should always raise a red flag. It doesn't mean women couldn't do a task, it's simply doublespeak glossing over how they were kept from doing it. When historians say "rare", it really means they are just unaware. Women had been playing instruments well since they were invented; the trick is being acknowledged doing it. In the '50s, the relentless crush to domesticate women didn't curtail Rockers like Sister Rosetta and Wanda, or Jazzers like Vi Redd and Dorothy Ashby, or all-female bands like The Rhythm Ranch Girls and Las Mary Jets (Mexico), or The Mary Kay Trio (guitarist from Hawaii), from giving it their all. But if you're under-recorded or un-archived, you disappear as if you were never there.
And sometimes you can vanish in plain sight. Quite a few '60s male bands included female players, even as management tried to push them out or forward. Drummers like Jan Errico (first The Vejtables and then The Mojo Men) and Karen Carpenter (The Carpenters) were made the frontperson instead, visable now more for their allure instead of for their skills.
Fortunately, some artists rebelled the other way. Bo Diddley dueled happily with two female guitarists, first Lady Bo and then The Duchess. The equitable Sly And The Family Stone proudly flaunted their sisters in lyrics and onstage, with Rose Stone on keys and Cynthia Robinson on trumpet. And some won by quality and quantity: session ace Carol Kaye played bass on more timeless hit classics and TV themes than anyone can ever count.
Velvet Underground and Nico
But women held their own upfront as well with female-fronted outfits like Raylene And The Blue Angels, Denise And Co., The Clefs Of Lavender Hill, Monique And The Lions (Germany), Linda Van Dyck backed by Boo And The Boo Boos (Netherlands), and Nico with The Velvet Underground (with drummer Maureen Tucker).
Listening through the Player, it's clear that women flowed with every current and cross-current of the '60s, sidelong with Elvis, The Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Marvin Gaye, and The 13th Floor Elevators. As the counterculture now consolidated in the Summer Of Love, they would become even more pervasive and integral.
*(This Player is limited to the first 200 songs.
Hear the unlimited Playlist here.)
This Music Player covers women in the mutating forms of Rock'n'Roll music, from 1967 through 1969, in chronological order.
Garage! Psychedelic! Roots!
PsycheFolk! World! HAIR!
Funky! Electronic! Hard Rock!
When people think of women in '60s Rock, they think of Grace Slick and Janis Joplin.
As they should, because they're both essential. But they are the surface tsunamis of a deeper, wider scene.
San Francisco became the vanguard of the social revolution precisely because it was cosmopolitan. Culture is the constant assimilation of fresh ideas from all angles, from all people, and crossroads cities have always been the nexus of progressive creativity because of it. As such, the Bay Area had more eclectic line-ups and sounds than almost anywhere, first.
The Vejtables; The Peanut Butter Conspiracy;
It's A Beautiful Day.
Visibility is the key. Because Grace Slick of The Great Society and Jefferson Airplane and Janis Joplin of Big Brother And The Holding Company had smash hits, they were seen nationally on music shows and the MONTEREY POP (1968) and WOODSTOCK documentaries (1969). But less seen were Bay Area bands with female members also slinging modern folk and blues like The We Five, The Vejtables, The Mojo Men, The Generation (with Lydia Pense), The Serpent Power, The Peanut Butter Conspiracy, Fifty Foot Hose, Mother Earth (With Tracy Nelson), and It's A Beautiful Day.
Sly And The Family Stone are often heralded as 'the first (and only) integrated band, male and female, black and white'. But it takes nothing away from one of the greatest groups of all time to say this is inaccurate. They were cousined by US brothers and sisters like The Loading Zone (with Linda Tillery), The Rotary Connection (with Minnie Riperton), and Sweetwater; and in England with The Ferris Wheel and Blue Mink.
Also in England, illusory borders continued dissolving as P.P. Arnold jammed with The Small Faces and Rod Stewart, Marsha Hunt with Deep Purple, Sharon Tandy (South Africa) with Les Fleur De Lys, Yoko Ono with John Lennon and The Rolling Stones, and Martha Velez with everyone. If the culture at large still thought the world was color faces in slotted places, the counterculture saw one world one people and infinite possibilities.
The pattern toward progress here is hybrid. With each passing year, the sounds that youth had heard side-by-side on AM blended together into the personnel, sounds, and outlooks of new bands who embraced diversity as freedom, and who found support on college stations in the freeform frontier of the new alternative FM radio.
The Mamas And The Papas;
The 5th Dimension; Los Stop.
These good vibrations are why vocal groups blended Motown, Dylan, Brian Wilson, and The Beatles to become acts like The Mamas And The Papas, Spanky And Our Gang, Sagittarius, The Fifth Dimension, The Free Design, Honey Ltd., The City (with Carole King), Chorus Reverendus (France), Los Stop (Spain), and Sergio Mendez And Brazil '66 (Brazil).
The success of Grace and Janis bolstered the arrival of more female-fronted Rock bands like The Ravelles, Lydia Pense with Cold Blood, Yuya Uchida And The Flowers (Japan), Ann Wilson And The Daybreaks (who would become Heart), and the great Mariska Veres with Shocking Blue (Netherlands).
Psychedelic bands had female members in the US with Neighb'rhood Childr'n, Daughters of Albion, Birmingham Sunday, The Unspoken Word, The Savage Rose, The Love Exchange, Ill Wind, and Kangaroo; and globally with Os Mutantes (Brazil), The Executives (Australia), Hljómar (Iceland), Aguaturbia (Chile), Trúbrot (Iceland), De Kalafe (Brazil), and Os Novos Balanos (Brazil).
The Daisy Chain; The Ace Of Cups; The Feminine Complex.
All-female bands opened tour bills and recorded singles, and sometimes full albums, like Dara Puspita (Indonesia), The Daisy Chain (who later became the mega-heavy Birtha), The Ace Of Cups, The Daughters Of Eve, The Puppets, The Feminine Complex, The She Trinity, and She.
Joni Mitchell; Vashti Bunyan; Deborah Harry.
Folk took on manifold forms. From the sinuous flux of Joni Mitchell and eerie soliloquies of Vashti Bunyan (England), to duos flexing out like Blackburn And Snow, Smokey And His Sister, and Lily And Maria. And into uncharted furrows with the PsycheFolk of The Insect Trust, The Bristol Boxkite, It's A Beautiful Day, and The Wind In The Willows (with Deborah Harry). Many Americana roots musics laced back to European seeds; a harvest of new English artists like Fairport Convention (with Sandy Denny), Pentangle, and Renaissance (with Annie Haslam) were now branching out into forms of progressive folk.
The back-to-the-roots music ethos rippled in tandem with the back-to-nature movement, as the counterculture embraced communalism, ecology, alternate spiritualities, rustic fashions, and natural appearance as a counterpoint to the slick, the selfish, and the flashy. Protest folk had formed an activist society grounded in the humanitarian and the equitable, in direct contrast to conformity and consumerism. It paralleled the general pattern of a massive and complex generation trying to reexamine and recontruct themselves at every turn. To be free in body and spirit, and to connect with each other fully.
Aretha Franklin; Sarolta Zalatnay; Les Planetes.
Aretha Franklin redefined herself and Soul music in 1967, making it more raw, more epic, more intimate. Soul artists were singing Rock songs, Rock artists were jamming Jazz, Jazz was going funky, and everyone was playing on the same festival bills with World artists. Every soul has soul and putting passion into the compassion were The Flirtations, the swamp soul of Bobbie Gentry and Delaney And Bonnie, Linda Lyndell ("What A Man"), Chicken Shack (with Christine McVie), Laura Nyro, Las Quatro Monedas (Venezuela), the bluntly-named Females (Indonesia), Sarolta Zalatnay (Hungary), Sodsai Chaengkij (Thailand), and Les Planètes (Canada). Get it on the good foot, good god, y'all!
The HAIR cast upbraid London, 1968.
After decades of vanilla sing-songs, Broadway was occupied by the revolution in 1968 with HAIR: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical, which broke every social restriction overnight to smash success. Along with the first black female Broadway lead ever with Melba Moore, its international productions launched the careers of cast members like Diane Keaton, Sonja Kristina (Curved Air), Elaine Paige, Marsha Hunt, Donna Summer, and Sônia Braga. Its songs became new utopian standards covered by The Supremes, Nina Simone, The Free Design, The 5th Dimension, Julie Driscoll, Carla Thomas, and countless more. No matter what anyone looked like, no matter what niche they were boxed by, these artists knew themselves instead as a tribal community of hearts and sounds.
Electronic music broke through to the mainstream with the 1968 success of Wendy Carlos' all-electronic Switched On Bach album. Other pioneers continued collaging patch-cord and tone-honed miracles like Delia Derbyshire (the original "Doctor Who Theme"), Alice Shields, and Pril Smiley. The revolution shifted from college labs to pop studios with the first Moog synths in 1968, as it synergized into experimental Rock by The United States Of America (who became Joe Byrd And The Field Hippies) and Fifty Foot Hose.
As Acid Rock warped into Heavy Rock, women hefted the heaviosity like Sharon Tandy with Les Fleur De Lys, the proto-Occult rock of Coven, the multinational The She Trinity, the iconoclastic Julie Driscoll with Brian Auger Trinity, Aquaturbia, and the Prog of Affinity. Char Vinnidge pitchshifted the Beatle-isms of The Luv'd Ones to full-bore Hendrix acidfuzz, as did The Pleasure Seekers in their transmutation toward becoming Cradle.
The Svelts, 1968;
Jean Millington (L), June Millington (R).
But the final word here about the '60s should be about the first word of the '70s: Fanny. In 1964, the filipina sisters June and Jean Millington of California were inspired by The Beatles to form an all-female band called The Svelts. After the usual turnovers, they were Fanny by 1969, and became the first all-female band signed by a major record label to record multiple albums. They summed up all of women's momentum of the decade in one band, ready to open the next decade with wider possibilities.
1950s Rock'n'Roll started with hundreds of female acts, and this became rapidly exponential with each decade.
As this series of Music Players will prove, they dominoed every decade through the '60s, the '70s, the '80s, the '90s, the '00s, and the '10s.
We've heard enough of his story, so let's widen the world with the history of her story.
Women Of Rock: The 1970s (2 Music Players)
Women Of Rock: The 1980s (3 Music Players)
Women Of Rock: The 1990s (2 Music Players)
Women Of Rock: The 2000s (2 Music Players)
Women Of Rock: The 2010s (2 Music Players)
Culture isn't constant or owned by a pure group. Culture is constantly renewing itself through everyone; it is simply human creativity moving fluidly beyond any delusions of division or difference.
Culture is an intersection of ideas. We refract everything we've taken in. From each other, with each other, for each other.
The many roots that entwine into the evolving trunk of Rock'n'Roll include string structures from Classical, rawboned guitar from Blues, the gallop of Country, jumping chorals from Gospel, heart tales from Folk, brash thrust from Mambo, horn blasts from Swing, greasefire from Bluegrass, the jaunty pep of Cajun, and the evening glow of Torch Song pop.
Mother Maybelle Carter; Memphis Minnie.
Women were innovators from the beginning of the recording industry.
Phonographs brought the world of music into the home in the 1920s and Blues music first lit imaginations and charts with the success of Bessie Smith. Everyone had always played instruments, and from the beginning there were female guitarists. Mother Maybelle Carter of The Carter Family innovated a new playing style that shifted guitars from a rhythm instrument to a lead in their Country sides, and Memphis Minnie recorded the original Blues version of "When The Levee Breaks". Sister Rosetta Tharpe combined Gospel zeal with Blues kick, justly earning historians' credit as the Godmother of Rock'n'Roll.
The International Sweethearts Of Rhythm.
The Boswell Sisters focused Jazz into tight chorals for the radio with tunes like "Rock And Roll" (1934), followed by The Andrews Sisters swaying the Swing into the War '40s. The cosmopolitan International Sweethearts Of Rhythm orchestra belted it 8-to-the-bar with the best. After the War, as orchestras pared to combos, Ella Rae Morse and Dinah Washington lit the sultry Torch in nightclubs and car radios.
Culture is a tryst and shout from everyone, for everyone. Let's rock!
Women have been part of every cultural movement since the beginning. If any source tells you different, they are biased
or unaware. This comprehensive Music Player dissolves all of that completely, giving proper due.
Women were always a part of Blues, Country, Swing Jazz, Jump Jive, Gospel, and Mambo, and all of these sounds rolled right into Rock. When anyone says women were rare in Rockabilly, they're flat wrong: thousands of women took as many stabs at fame through indie-pressed '45s as men, as often as they could force their way in. But biased men at the time often blocked their entry, or marginalized their chances, and maintained the cartoon history of his-story-without-her, echoed ever since for generations with rote ignorance.
It's only recently that you hear about Rockabilly queens like Wanda Jackson, and perhaps Janis Martin and Sister Rosetta. But there were legions more, as varied and vital as their brothers.
Big Mama Thornton; Big Maybelle;
Many women broadcast the Rock'n'Roll songbook first, like Big Mama Thornton's "Hound Dog" (1953), Big Maybelle's "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" (1955), and Annisteen Anderson"Fujiyama Mama" (1955). ("Hound Dog", the first hit standard penned by Lieber & Stoller, was also quickly interpreted by Esther Phillips and country filly Betsy Gay, well before Elvis.)
Gospel fretted over everyone's soul in these years, with admonishments from Marylin Scott and ambivalence from Lou And Ginnie. But the walls of Jericho couldn't hold back synthesis. Faye Adams' "Shake A Hand" strolls Gospel vocals over New Orleans barrelhouse piano before Fats Domino. And Sister Rosetta Tharpe's vibrant take on the spiritual "99 1/2 Won't Do" anticipates Wilson Pickett's secular rewrite by a decade.
Gleefully, many 1950s women embraced "sins" like sex as a virtue of life instead to be enjoyed and expressed honestly. Listen to how LaVern Baker converts Gospel guilt into rapt pleasure with "Soul On Fire" ("and I really had my fun"). Others went full-tilt and forthwith, like Julia Lee's impatiant "Gotta Gimme Whatcha Got", Esther Phillips' pouting "I'm A Bad, Bad Girl", Dorothy Ellis' emphatic "Drill Daddy Drill", and Dinah Washington anxious for the "Big Long Slidin' Thing".
Rock'n'Roll had always been a euphemism for sex, with its namesake music naturally rolling every pelvis precisely like Elvis Presley. It takes two to tangle, and tying the naughty chords are Barbara Pittman's brazen "I Need A Man", Janis Martin's point-blank "Bang Bang", Bonnie Lou's brisk "Friction Heat", and Lorrie Collins' flustered gratitude in "Mercy". And John And Jackie's fervidly lascivious "Little Girl" will make anyone blush.
West Philadelphia High School prom, 1950s.
Straight up, Rock'n'Roll and Rhythm & Blues were the same music at the start, given separate names just to segregate the audience. But looking past face value (ahem) and just listening, your heart and hips know it's the same party. Ruth Brown declared "This Little Girl's Gone Rockin'", Shirley And Lee are correct that "Everybody's Rockin'", and LaVern Baker belts true-blue Rock through and through in "Voodoo Voodoo".
This is our party and everyone is invited, through the front door.
Little Richard, Alis Lesley,
EddieCochran on tour (1957).
Rock'n'Roll is a pantheon with no leader where all rock and everyone rules.
Just as there is no central king there is no single queen. Before it were regal rebels like Charlene Arthur clanging the honky tonks while Big Maybelle jumped up the jooks. Joining Wanda and Janis were new heirs to the queendom like Jean Chapel, Ruth Brown, Alis Lesley, Etta James, Sparkle Moore, and Annisteen Anderson.
LaVern Baker; Barbara Pittman; Etta James.
Reality is hybrid and creativity is fluid. Listen to how Mambo swayed rockers like Georgia Gibbs, Fay Simmons, and Tiny Topsy. And how The De Castro Sisters, Marga Benitez, and Gloria Rios ("El Relojito/ Rock Around The Clock"; Mexico, 1956) rocked the rhumba. Then tilt to the lilt between Celia Cruz's "Baila El Rock & Roll" (Cuba) and Eartha Kitt's "Honululu Rock And Roll".
Rock-Olga; Mina; Cherry Wainer.
Rock'n'Roll was almost instantly an international scene, unleashing rockin' women like Amy Anahid, Magali Noel, and Caterine Caps (France); Renee Franke, Hannelore Cremer, and Conny Froboess (Germany); Towa Carson and Rock-Olga (Sweden); The Butterflies and The Fouryos (Netherlands); Alma Cogan (Britain), Hermanas Serrano (Spain), Celly Campello (Brazil), Elena Madera (Cuba), Cherry Wainer (South Africa), and Mina (Italy).
Elizabeth Cotten; Laura Lee Perkins.
Rock impresarios tried to weed female musicians out and doll them up front, but The Chantels were a full band playing their own instruments. Guitarists held their own like Ella Baker, Elizabeth Cotten, Odetta, and the aptly-named Bonnie Guitar. Listen to the duelling Mickey And Sylvia take your head clean off with the brutal instrumental "Shake It Up", or Big Maybelle or Laura Lee Perkins pounding the ivories, or organist Cherry Wainer's "Cerveza". Carol Kaye began her recording career playing guitar on Ritchie Valens' "La Bamba" and Chris Montez's "Let's Dance" before becoming the stellar bassist for The Wrecking Crew session mob.
Retroactive terms like Doo Wop and Girl Group later falsely segregated our perceptions, but in the true reality, it was all '50s Vocal pop with familial variety; besides the famed male ensembles, there were male-and-female combos (The Platters, The Fleetwoods, The Six Teens, The Skyliners, The Orlons, The Ad Libs, The Demensions, and the boldly-integrated The Crests), and all-female groups like The Chordettes ("Mister Sandman"), The Pre-Teens, The Teen Queens, The Cookies, and The Debs. It spanned the world in songs like Hermanas Navarro's early cover of "Sh Boom (Cancion Pop)" (1953, Spain) and Los Cinco Latinos' "Mi Oracion (My Prayer)" (Argentina, 1956). And The Storey Sisters' hilarious "Bad Motorcyle" (1958) practically invents Girl Group biker songs years ahead.
The Collins Kids
Country brought in kick from country swing, hillbilly boogie, and bluegrass. The Davis Sisters' (featuring young Skeeter) lip at a ferocious clip in "Rock A Bye Boogie" (1953), belting out Rockabilly's template years before the Johnny Burnette Trio. The Miller Sisters' "Ten Cats Down" hits the high lonesome harmonies before The Everly Brothers. Rose Maddox always swiped the spotlight from the clowny Maddox Brothers. The plucky guitars on Boots Collins' "Mean" (1956) sound for all the world like Merseybeat come early. The Collins Kids, Lorrie and Larry, were dervishes bashing guitars. And Dolly Parton began her career with "Puppy Love".
Electronic music was already beginning as Bebe and Louis Barron (France) created the entire soundtrack for FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956) out of tape loops and tone modulations.
Jazz vocalese and torch kept pace with the Rockin' upstarts, with Annie Ross' freewheelin' "Twisted" (later covered by Joni Mitchell), Keely Smith's flip sass on Louis Prima's "The Lip", and Peggy Lee's cool jazz tranformation of Little Willie John's fiery "Fever".
And, as the Music Player closes, you can already hear the first waves of Surf in 1959 songs like The Delicates' "Black and White Thunderbird", The Darby Sisters' "Go Back, Go Back to Your Pontiac", June August's "What Does A Lifeguard Do In The Fall?", and Jo-Ann Campbell's "Beachcomber".
Jean Chapel, with DJ Alan Freed;
Rock'n'Roll started with hundreds of female acts, and this became rapidly exponential with each decade.
As this series of Music Players will prove, they dominoed every decade through the '60s, the '70s, the '80s, the '90s, the '00s, and the '10s.
We've had enough of his story, so let's widen the world with the history of her story.
Women Of Rock: The 1970s (2 Music Players)
Women Of Rock: The 1980s (3 Music Players)
Women Of Rock: The 1990s (2 Music Players)
Women Of Rock: The 2000s (2 Music Players)
Women Of Rock: The 2010s (2 Music Players)
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.
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.
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).
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 188.8.131.52'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 184.108.40.206.'s, April March, The Husbands, and Bleached.
"Liberation for all. Everything must be rethought." ______________
Rock'n'Soul music is a baton relayed by everyone. ROCK SEX is about all of the creative connections that link our shared culture together: ____________
BLUES, MAMBO, JAZZ, ROCKABILLY, SURF, BEAT, SOUL, GARAGE, PSYCHEDELIA, FUNK, GLAM, PUNK, NEW WAVE, HIPHOP, POSTPUNK, GRUNGE, RIOT GRRRL, ELECTRO! _______________
This is our party and everyone is invited!