Sunday, December 15, 2019

Girl Power

Girl Power
by Pete Clemons

Incredibly, music first released during the same week John F Kennedy was assassinated, still resonates today. Especially at this wintery seasonal time of year. Yet, at the time, and possibly due to the sad events back then, the album was a relative failure.

The album 'A Christmas Gift For You from Philles Records' – named after the Philles label but was later re-titled 'from Phil Spector' - was recorded during the back end of 1963. It contained 13 tracks and was, predominantly, an all girl album in terms of vocals. It came from Phil Spector's production skills that became known as the Wall of Sound.

Girls began to put together popular music groups as early as late 1950s in New York. And a good number of significant ones were formed between the rock n roll years and the beat bands era.

The Bobbettes were one one of the earliest. They released a number of singles over the years but none surpassed 'Mr Lee' released in 1957 and sold over 2 million copies in America.

The Chantels were next up. They were a do-wop harmony group inspired by Frankie Avalon and scored a hit with 'Maybe' in 1958.

In the Manhattan area of New York – Gerry Goffin, Carole King, Neil Sedaka, Jeff Barry, Barry Mannis, Ellie Greenwich all teenagers at the time, according to Neil Sedaka 'writing songs in cubicles' within the Brill Building. Collectively they became known as the 'Brill building Set'.

All those song writers had their fair share of major success but it was Goffin and King who were the first to write a hit for an all female group. The Shirelles covered their song 'Will You Love Me Tomorrow' in 1960. It was a massive success but the lyrics were controversial. Lyrics covering the subject - will you still respect me tomorrow or is this a one night stand – were not the norm back then.

Inadvertently, the sound of the girl group was expanded by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who had written several hits for Elvis Presley a few years earlier. They had added elaborate orchestral sounds and strings to the 1959 Ben E King song 'There Goes my Baby'. And that, in turn, had inspired Phil Spector, who was also based in the Brill building, and he studied the methods used.

One of Ben E King's next hits, 'Spanish Harlem' was co-written by Spector, produced by Leiber and Stoller and contained more of their lavish production.

Phil Spector's imagination ran wild. But his downfall was vanity as life revolved just around him. The records he produced were his records. The artists who sung on them became just a conduit.

'He's a Rebel' by The Crystals became Spector's second number one during 1962. Although not a member of the band, vocalist Darlene Love lip synced the lead vocal as Phil Spector began to manufacture the hits. The Crystals follow up hit similar 'He's Sure the Boy I Love' was given similar treatment. The Crystals did tour the UK during 1964. Alongside Manfred Mann, they appeared at Coventry Theatre.

But then came Darlene Love's greatest moment and it is her voice we hear year after year, by way of TV adverts, with her version of 'Christmas (Baby please come home)' and this was just one of the songs from the album 'A Christmas Gift For You from Philles Records'.

Originally dancers from the Peppermint Lounge in New York, The Ronettes joined the growing list of girl groups. After a couple of minor hits, Phil Spector auditioned and signed them to the Philles Label.

The Ronettes were the final piece in the jigsaw as Phil found 'the sound he had been looking for'. That sound became known as 'Wall of Sound productions' - Symphonies for the kids that created a rich and powerful sound.

During mid 1963, 'Be my Baby' became the first, of what became massive hits for the Ronettes. Phil later married lead vocalist Ronnie Bennett but, as with his music skills, he took total control. The Ronettes supported The Rolling Stones on their UK tour of 1964 as well as appearing at the Co-op hall in Nuneaton.

But it wasn't all about Phil Spector. Another band from New York, The Shangri La's, became the next big all girl group. The Shangri La's came with an image of all black clothing. 1964 saw hits such as 'Remember (Walking in the Sand)' and 'Leader of the Pack'. These songs brought another view of how women could behave. The lyrics were moody dramas and plays.

The explosion of girl groups had not been confined to New York either. It soon spread to Detroit. The Marvellettes were a five piece formed during the early 1960s. Soon after he auditioned them, The Marvellettes gave Berry Gordy his first number 1 for his Tamla Motown label with their song 'Please Mr Postman' during 1961.

The music of the girl groups, created between the later part of the 1950s, through till the mid 1960s, has certainly endured the test of time. It has never been far from our pshyche for almost 60 years now and shows no sign of letting up.

Mr Lee - The Bobbettes

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