The Pop History Dig

“1960s Girl Groups”
1958-1966

In 1963-64, The Chiffons put four songs on the Top 40 list, including “He’s So Fine,” a No.1 hit.
In 1963-64, The Chiffons put four songs on the Top 40 list, including “He’s So Fine,” a No.1 hit.
     In the late 1950s and early 60s, one style of music that began to dominate the American music charts and permeate youth culture of that day came from the “girl groups.”  Comprised mostly of three-to-four young females, typically teenagers themselves, the girl groups of the late 1950s through the mid-1960s were mostly African American, though some white groups scored hits, too.  They were named The Crystals, The Shirelles, The Ronettes, and more.  A few lone performers with and without female backup, also carried the “girl group” sound, and were considered a part this genre. 

     The distinctive sound of the girl group songs filled the air in those years, and seemed to be everywhere.  The music spawned the sales of millions of records, creating a number of millionaires – though often not the performers themselves, who were frequently short-changed and manipulated in the process.  More on that later.

Jacqueline Warwick’s 2007 book, “Girl Groups, Girl Culture,” with The Shirelles on its cover.
Jacqueline Warwick’s 2007 book, “Girl Groups, Girl Culture,” with The Shirelles on its cover.
     Still, the 1960s girl group phenomenon resulted in a compressed period of musical innovation with lasting results.  The songs and performances pushed the bounds of the industry at the time and became a key source of innovative song writing and composition, as well as novel forms of instrumentation.  But most of all, “the girl group sound” had a fresh and optimistic buoyancy to it, with lyrics that were mostly innocent and naive – of the “girl–dealing-with-boy” variety – though some songs also offered social commentary.  There had been girl groups in previous decades, dating to The Andrew Sisters of the 1930s and 1940s, The McGuire Sisters of the 1940s and 1950s, and similar acts.  But what distinguished the 1960s “girl group” phenomenon was its distinctive sound and the huge Baby Boomer market that sent the music to the top of the charts.

     Music critic Greil Marcus, writing of the girl groups in 1992 for The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, has noted:  “The music was perhaps the most carefully, beautifully crafted in all of rock and roll – one reason why none of the twenty or so best records in the genre have dated in the years since they were made.”  Now, more than 50 years old at this writing, the girl group music of the 1960s continues to have wide appeal and staying power.

     According to some sources, there were over 1,500 girl groups that recorded in the 1960s.  Of these, about two dozen or so went on to become significant hit makers.  What follows here is an overview of some of the more prominent girl groups that emerged during the 1958-1966 period, along with a healthy sampling of songs from that era (more than a dozen), and some description of the songwriters, producers, and businesses involved in the music making.

Group photograph of The Chantels in the late 1950s.
Group photograph of The Chantels in the late 1950s.
     Among the earliest of the girl groups were The Chantels with their powerful 1957-1958 hit, “Maybe,” featuring Arlene Smith singing lead.  The group was established in the early 1950s by five girls, then students at St. Anthony of Padua school in The Bronx.

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“Maybe”-1958

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      The original five members of The Chantels consisted of Arlene Smith (lead), Sonia Goring, Rene Minus, Jackie Landry Jackson, and Lois Harris.  By the summer of 1957 The Chantels were signed by record producer George Goldner, owner of End Records.  Their second single, “Maybe” was released in December 1957, and by January 1958 it became a top hit, reaching No. 15 on the Billboard chart and No.2 on the R & B chart.  “Maybe” sold over one million copies and was awarded a gold disc.  One profile of the group in liner notes for the PBS collection, The Doo Wop Box, noted: “Their records were not terribly sophisticated from a production standpoint, but then just listen to Arlene Smith’s voice and tell us if you really need anything else.”  Smith was 16 years old when “Maybe” was recorded.

The Shirelles shown on a later 1992 Ace compilation album of their greatest hits.
The Shirelles shown on a later 1992 Ace compilation album of their greatest hits.
     However, The Shirelles, the girl group shown on the book cover above, and in later years on the album cover at left, are often regarded by rock historians as the opening act of the 1960s “girl group era,” and perhaps more representative of the girl group sound that followed in those years.

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“Will You Love Me Tomorrow?”-1960-61

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     Although the Shirelles had recorded a few songs as early as 1958, their hits didn’t start coming until 1960.  Among their first popular songs was “Tonight’s The Night,” co-written by lead singer, Shirley Owens, a song that entered the Top 40 in mid-October 1960.  “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” was a Shirelles’ No. 1 hit of December 1960-January 1961 that remained in the Top 40 for 15 weeks.  During 1961-1962, four more Top Ten hits followed for the Shirelles: “Dedicated to The One I Love,” a No. 3 hit in February 1961; “Mama Said,” a No. 4 hit in May 1961; “Baby It’s You,” a No. 8 hit in January 1962 written by Burt Bacharach, Hall David and Barney Williams; and “Soldier Boy,” a No. 1 hit in March-April 1962.  In all, over a two-year span, The Shirelles would put 11 hits in the Top 40, and five in the Top Ten.

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“Baby It’s You”-1962

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     The Shirelles ascendency came primarily in the early 1960s, during the “Kennedy years,” a time when America was riding high on the promise of a new young president named John F. Kennedy.  And despite the Cold War clench and very serious civil rights issues then emerging, the popular music of the day, including the Shirelles’ songs and those of other girl groups, added a certain buoyancy and optimism to the soundtrack of that time.

     The Shirelles began as four high school friends in Passaic, New Jersey – Shirley Owens, Doris Coley, Addie “Micki” Harris, and Beverly Lee.  They originally formed under another name in 1958 and were first signed by Florence Greenberg, who later ran the Scepter record label.  Greenberg brought in producer Luther Dixon, who added string arrangements that improved the Shirelles’ sound, helping them produce the hit songs “Tonight’s the Night” and “Dedicated to the One I Love.”

The Shirelles
Top 40 Hits

“Tonight’s the Night”
October 1960, #39
“Will You Love Me Tomorrow”
December 1960, #1
“Dedicated to The One I Love”
February 1961, #3
“Mama Said”
May 1961, #4
“Baby It’s You”
January 1962,#8
“Soldier Boy”
March /April 1961, #1
“Foolish Little Girl”
April 1963, #4

     Their big hit, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” was written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin – one of the famed Brill Building song-writing teams in New York city, where a steady stream of pop hits originated during the 1950s and 1960s (see sidebar later below).  “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” is sometimes credited as the first major girl group hit of the rock era and was also the first all-girl song to ever hit Billboard’s No.1 position.  The song’s lyrics also ventured into new social territory raising the question all girls wanted answered after one night’s romance.  Reviewing the song for AllMusic.com, Bill Janovitz has observed:

…The song is a masterpiece of pop songcraft… [King and Goffin] deftly handle controversial subject matter: the long-term concerns of a young woman involved in a physical consummation of love.  Goffin’s lyrics address the issue in a direct manner, neither ham-fisted nor nudging with innuendo.  The artful lyric is simply conversational; polite conversation — ladylike: “Is this a lasting treasure/ Or just a moment’s pleasure?”  What a stunning couple of lines.  Faced with the restrictions of early-’60s AM pop radio both in content and song length, King and Goffin squeeze an impressive amount of substance and significance from an economical, 14-syllable couplet.  We realize that this very human need, this act of love, can be perceived as a meaningless satisfaction of physical desire, devastatingly disappointing to another who experiences the same moment as a consummation of a deep emotional commitment.  These mere two lines sum up the impact that two people can have on each other’s feelings.  “Tonight with words unspoken,” sings the narrator, ”You say that I’m the only one.”  Words unspoken?  She is vulnerable, perhaps kidding herself, and she knows it; she is wishing for the best…

Three of The Marvelettes, shown performing in the 1960s.
Three of The Marvelettes, shown performing in the 1960s.
     Also in the early 1960s came The Marvelettes, five girls from a Michigan high school glee club – Gladys Horton, Katherine Anderson, Georgeanna Tillman, Wanda Young, and Juanita Cowart (with some changing personnel).  They signed a Motown Records contract on the Tamla label in 1961. 

     Motown was the black-owned record label founded by Detroit’s Berry Gordy.  A former auto assembly-line worker, Gordy began Motown with a $700 loan in 1959 and built it into a recording empire using three adjoining Detroit row houses as his studio.  By 1964, Motown was the nation’s largest independent producer of 45-rpm records, selling 12 million records a year, with Motown girl groups accounting for an important share of that total.

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“Please Mr. Postman”-1961

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     The Marvelettes were the first girl group act of Motown Records, and the first Motown group with a No. 1 hit – “Please Mr Postman” — which hit the No. 1 spot on December 11, 1961.  It stayed on the pop charts for nearly six months.  “Mr Postman,” later covered by the Beatles, was followed by several other Marvelettes’ Top 40 hits, including three more in 1962 – “Twistin` Postman” at No. 34; “Playboy” at No. 7; and “Beachwood 4-5789″ at No. 17.  “Too Many Fish in the Sea” was a No. 25 hit in 1964, and “Don’t Mess With Bill” cracked the Top Ten at No. 7 in 1966.  Another Marvelettes song that received some attention on the R&B charts, reaching No. 24  in the spring of 1963, was “Forever,” with Wanda Young Rogers singing lead.

The Cookies of Brooklyn, NY had two Top 40 hits in 1962-63, including “Chains.”
The Cookies of Brooklyn, NY had two Top 40 hits in 1962-63, including “Chains.”
     Among other groups sometimes considered as part of the 1960s’ girl group era were The Exciters, The Sensations, The Cookies, and The Paris Sisters.  In October 1961, Priscilla, Albeth, and Sherrell Paris of San Francisco had a No. 3 hit, “I Love How You Loved Me,” and another Top 40 hit in March 1962, “He Knows I Love Him Too Much.”  In February 1962, The Sensations of Philadelphia had a No. 4 hit with “Let Me In” on Chess Records’ Argo label, with Yvonne Mills Baker singing lead.

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“Tell Him”-1962-63

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      In December 1962-January 1963, The Exciters, a three person group with one male, scored with a Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller tune, “Tell Him,” which rose to No.4 and two decades later was used on The Big Chill soundtrack.  Carole King and Jerry Goffin wrote for The Cookies girl group, a Brooklyn, New York threesome of Dorothy Jones, Ethel McCrea, and Margaret Ross, helping them produce the No. 17 hit, “Chains,” in the fall of 1962.  The Cookies also sang backup vocals on the 1962 Little Eva hit song, “The Loco-Motion” (also by King/Goffin).  But in early 1963, the Cookies scored a Top Ten hit with another King/Goeffin tune, “Don’t Say Nothin’ Bad About My Baby,” which rose to No.7 on the Billboard chart.

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“South Street”-1963

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     Another of the early 1960s groups were the Orlons – first formed as an all girl group in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the 1950s, but later added one male.  Rosetta Hightower sang lead for the group, joined by Shirley Brickley, Marlena Davis and Stephen Caldwell.  The Orlons had three Top Ten hits in 1962-63 – “The Wah-Watusi,” No. 2 in June 1962; “Don’t Hang Up,” No. 4 in the fall of 1962; and “South Street,” No. 3 in 1963.

 

Girl group record producer Phil Spector had his first million-dollar payday in the early 1960s with The Crystals.
Girl group record producer Phil Spector had his first million-dollar payday in the early 1960s with The Crystals.
Enter Phil Spector

     During the 1960s, the “girl group sound” began to be influenced and molded by a young record producer named Phil Spector who had previously recorded in the late 1950s with his own short-lived group, The Teddy Bears.  Spector would become famous in the 1960s for his lavish instrumentation of girl group and other pop recordings; a technique that came to be known as “the wall of sound.”  He became a master at composing appealing orchestral-like treatments for rock songs, giving them a full, lush sound with little “empty” air.  He would later call these productions “little symphonies for the kids.”  Spector was also a control-room maestro who became skilled at multi-tracking which he used to craft his “wall-of-sound” productions.  “Whenever you hear a ‘60s-era production with echoey voices, five or six guitar parts, nearly as many keyboards, and perfectly aligned maracas and other percussion shaking and rattling underneath, it’s safe to assume that the enigmatic Spector created it, or inspired it,” writes Tom Moon in his book, 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die.

The Crystals were the hot girl group in 1961-62 with hits such as: "Uptown," “He’s A Rebel” and “Da Doo Ron Ron,” which are sampled below.
The Crystals were the hot girl group in 1961-62 with hits such as: "Uptown," “He’s A Rebel” and “Da Doo Ron Ron,” which are sampled below.
     In 1961, when he was just starting out with this own record label, Philles, Spector signed a group named the Crystals.  There were actually two sets of personnel who recorded as the Crystals at Spector’s direction.  More on that in a moment.  The Crystals, in any case, came on strong in the 1961-1963 period with a series of hits, including: “There’s No Other Like My Baby” (1962, No. 20); “Uptown” (1962, No. 13); “He’s A Rebel”(1962, No.1); “Da Doo Ron Ron”(1963, No. 3); “Then He Kissed Me” (1963, No. 6); and “He’s Sure the Boy I Love” (1963, No.11).  The Crystals made Spector a millionaire; he was 21 years old.

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“Uptown”-1962

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     Initially, the Crystals had formed in 1961 with five girls, most of them just graduating from high school – Barbara Alston, Mary Thomas, Dolores “Dee Dee” Kenniebrew, Myrna Girard and Patricia “Patsy” Wright.  Their first hit was November 1961′s “There’s No Other Like My Baby,” co-written by Spector and Leroy Bates, with Barbara Alston on lead vocals.  This song had been recorded on the evening of three of the girls’ high school prom, as they came to the studio still wearing their prom dresses.  The Crystals’ next hit, “Uptown,” was written by Brill Building songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil,  and it included a little attitude and some class issues woven into the lyrics.  Spector added flamenco guitar and castanets.  But “Uptown” was upbeat in sound, featuring Barbara Alston on lead, and it became a top hit.  After “Uptown,” one of the group’s members, Myrna Girard became pregnant and was replaced by Dolores “LaLa” Brooks.

Darlene Love with Phil Spector, 1960s.
Darlene Love with Phil Spector, 1960s.
     However, for the Crystals next song, “He’s A Rebel,” Spector recorded singer Darlene Love and her backing group, The Blossoms, as “The Crystals.”

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“He’s A Rebel”-1962

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     Reportedly, the real Crystals were unable to travel from New York to Los Angeles fast enough to suit Spector, who was then racing to beat Vicki Carr to market with her version of the song.  Since Darlene Love and the Blossoms were based in L.A., Spector used them to recorded “He’s A Rebel” as The Crystals.  “He’s a Rebel” hit No. 1 in November 1962.  The “Crystals” follow-up single –”He’s Sure the Boy I Love,” which hit No. 11 — also featured Love and The Blossoms.

Dolores “LaLa” Brooks with Phil Spector, 1960s.
Dolores “LaLa” Brooks with Phil Spector, 1960s.
     In 1963, the real Crystals, with LaLa Brooks singing lead, then recorded “Da Doo Ron Ron,” a Top 10 hit in both the U.S. and the U.K.  Upon hearing the final playback of “Da Doo Ron Ron” in the studio, Spector reportedly remarked to Sonny Bono, later of  “Sonny & Cher” fame but then a production assistant: “That’s gold.  That’s solid gold coming out of that speaker.”

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“Da Doo Ron Ron”-1963

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     The follow-up Crystals’ single, “Then He Kissed Me,” also cracked the Top 10.  Both of the 1963 hits – “Da Doo Ron Ron” and “Then He Kissed Me” – were co-written by Phil Spector with Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich.  The lead vocals were sung by Lala Brooks. 

     The Crystals, however, weren’t the only girl group Spector was working with.  He also produced songs for the earlier-mentioned San Francisco group, The Paris Sisters.  And once performers were signed with Spector, he would sometimes use them interchangeably with other groups, or as background singers, or for specially-created groups to put out one or two songs.  Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, for example – with Darlene Love, Fanita James and Bobby Sheen – had two Top 40 hits for Spector’s Philles label in 1962 and 1963 – “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah,” No. 8 in December 1962, and “Why Do Lovers Break Each Other’s Heart?,” No. 38 in March 1963.

The Ronettes of the 1960s at the top of their game, circa 1963-64. Click on photo for separate story.
The Ronettes of the 1960s at the top of their game, circa 1963-64. Click on photo for separate story.
     But one girl group Phil Spector became especially attached to was a new group from New York’s Spanish Harlem named The Ronettes.  The Ronettes story is covered separately at this website in more detail –including song samples, the group’s biography, an account of Spector’s stormy relationship and marriage with lead singer Ronnie Bennett, and some later legal battles. 

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“Be My Baby”-1963

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     Suffice it to say here that the Ronettes were one of the key girl groups of the 1963-1964 period, turning out a series of hit songs that helped define that era, including “Be My Baby” of October 1963, one of the key genre-defining girl group songs.   

“Spector-Made”
Girl Group Songs
1962-1964

“There’s No Other (Like My Baby)”
Jan 1962 / The Crystals / #20
“Uptown”
Mar 1962 / The Crystals / #13
“He Knows I Love Him Too Much”
Mar 1962 / The Paris Sisters / #34
“He’s a Rebel”
Nov 1962 / The Crystals / #1
“He’s Sure the Boy I Love”
Jan 1963 / The Crystals, #11
“…The Boy I’m Gonna Marry”
May 1963 / Darlene Love, #39
“Da Doo Ron Ron”
June 1963 / The Crystals / #3
“Then He Kissed Me”
Aug 1963 / The Crystals / #6
“Wait ’Til My Bobby Gets Home”
Sept 1963 / Darlene Love / #26
“Be My Baby”
Oct 1963 /The Ronettes, #2
“A Fine, Fine Boy”
Nov 1963 / Darlene Love, #53
“Baby, I Love You”
Nov 1963 / The Ronettes, #24
“(The Best Part of) Breakin’ Up”
May 1964 / The Ronettes, #39
“Do I Love You?”
Aug 1964 / The Ronettes, #34
“Walking in the Rain”
Dec 1964 / The Ronettes, #23
_______________________
Phil Spector produced songs; not a complete list.

     Added to the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress in 2006, “Be My Baby’s” description in that listing reads: “This single is often cited as the quintessence of the ‘girl group’ aesthetic of the early 1960s and is also one of the best examples of producer Phil Spector’s ‘wall of sound’ style.  Opening with Hal Blaine’s infectious and much imitated drumbeat, distinctive features of the song, all carefully organized by Spector, include castanets, a horn section, strings and the able vocals of Veronica (Ronnie) Bennett.  Enhancing the already symphonic quality of the recording is Spector’s signature use of reverb.”

     Phil Spector, in any case, became a dominant girl group producer, churning out hit after hit with The Crystals, The Ronettes, Darlene Love, and others.  He also worked with non-girl groups during the same period, including the Righteous Brothers, and a few years later, Tina Turner

     But from 1962 through 1964, Spector’s girl group sound was all over the charts.  He produced at least 15 Top 40 girl group hits in those two years, some of which are listed in the table at right.

     Spector worked with other songwriters on many of these hits.  The Brill Building team of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, in particular, worked with Spector on a number of girl group hits.  Among the songs they co-wrote with Spector were: “Da Doo Ron Ron” and “Then He Kissed Me” for the Crystals; “Be My Baby” and “Baby, I Love You” for the Ronettes; and also Darlene Love’s “(Today I Met) The Boy I’m Going To Marry.” 

     In addition, Spector also produced a Christmas album using the Ronettes, Darlene Love and others to record traditional Christmas favorites in the girl-group /wall-of-sound style – an album that is still popular to this day. Phil Spector the person, however, is quite another story, whose quirky and sometimes violent behavior has been widely written about elsewhere. In 2009, after two trials in Los Angeles, he was convicted of second-degree murder of actress Lana Clarkson and is presently serving a sentence of 19 years to life. But during his 1960s heyday, Spector had magical abilities in the recording studio.

     Beyond the Phil Spector-produced girl group songs, there was additional activity in 1963 and 1964 with artists such as The Chiffons, Martha & The Vandellas, The Angels, The Jaynetts, and others.  More on those groups in a moment.  But first, some background on New York’s “Brill Building” writers and producers and their role in the girl group era.

 

“Brill Building Pop”
1950s-1960s

Brill Building entrance in New York city at 1619 Broadway.
Brill Building entrance in New York city at 1619 Broadway.
     Behind the success of a number of the 1960s girl groups were teams of songwriters and producers who worked out of New York City’s Brill Building and related offices north of Times Square.  In the 1930s, after the Brill Brothers clothing store had successfully operated at that location for many years, a bigger building was completed, intended for stock brokers and bankers.  However, with the Depression, it became a rental building instead, housing primarily music publishers and writers. 

     By 1962, the Brill Building contained 165 music businesses of one kind or another.  In fact, it became a place where the complete music making process – from song idea to finished record demo –could be completed in a manner of days.  At the Brill Building, a song and melody could be written, musicians hired, demo cut, record companies and publishers contacted, managers and promoters hired.  By the early 1960s, the “Brill Building method” of song making exploded with a frenzy of pop music production, as hits soared to the top of he music charts.  In the process, some of the Brill Building writers, producers and publishers became quite wealthy.

Brill Building songwriter Carole King at piano, along with husband and composing partner Gerry Goffin, far right, on song collection CD cover with other songwriters.
Brill Building songwriter Carole King at piano, along with husband and composing partner Gerry Goffin, far right, on song collection CD cover with other songwriters.
     Songwriters Carole King and Gerry Goffin worked for a Brill Building music company just up the street, at 1650 Broadway.  They were among more than a dozen young writers in their late teens and early twenties who came to work for Aldon Music, a company formed by music men Don Kirshner and Al Nevins in 1958.  Aldon churned out pop lyrics and music for client record labels such as Columbia, Atlantic, RCA and ABC.  The King/Goffin team, hired in 1960, would soon turn out some big girl-group hits such as: “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” for The Shirelles (#1, 1960), “One Fine Day” for The Chiffons (#5, 1963), and a string of others.  But as a young married couple in their 20s, they also worked at other day jobs while they wrote music.  Then came their first big hit and their lives changed, as Carole King has recalled: “When ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow?’ sold a million [copies], we went, ‘bye-bye day job!’”  Jerry Goffin remembered that day too, as he was then working for a chemical company: “Carole and [Don Kirshner of Aldon Music] arrived in Donny’s limousine at the chem factory and told me I didn’t have to work anymore.  And he gave us a $10,000 advance and we got credit cards, and I’ve never had to do an honest day’s work since.”

Brill Building writers Barry Mann at the piano, with Cynthia Weil (left) and Carole Kind, 1965.
Brill Building writers Barry Mann at the piano, with Cynthia Weil (left) and Carole Kind, 1965.
     Phil Spector, famous for his “wall of sound” productions described earlier, also spent time at the Brill Building.  He came in 1960 to learn the trade assisting the songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who had written a long list of hit songs in the 1950s for the likes of Elvis Presely, Lavern Baker, the Coasters, the Drifters, and others.  Leiber and Stoller helped to blend rhythm & blues music into rock ‘n roll and pop recordings.

     Another songwriting team – Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil – also worked for Aldon Music and wrote a number of girl group hits, including: “I Love How You Love Me” for the Paris Sisters (#5, 1961); two for The Cyrstals, “He’s Sure The Boy I Love”(#11, 1962) and “Uptown”(#13, 1962); and “Walking In The Rain” for The Ronettes (#23, 1964 w/Phil Spector).

     Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, another Brill Building team who also worked with producer Phil Spector, wrote several girl group hits, including two for the Crystals and one for Darlene Love described earlier.  They also co-wrote several others with Spector including “Be My Baby” (#2, 1963) and “Baby I Love You”(#24, 1964) for The Ronettes, and “Chapel Of Love” for The Dixie Cups (#1, 1964).  Barry and Greenwich also did two for the Shangri-Las – “Leader Of The Pack” (#1, 1964 w/Shadow Morton) and “Give Us Your Blessings”(#29, 1965).

1960s’ album cover for “The Raindrops” that featured Ellie Greenwich & Jeff Barry.
1960s’ album cover for “The Raindrops” that featured Ellie Greenwich & Jeff Barry.
     Sometimes the Brill Building writers would drift into releasing songs themselves.  That happened in early 1963, when husband-and-wife team Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry recorded a demo titled “What a Guy,” a tune Barry had written for The Sensations. But Jubilee Records opted to have the Barry/Greenwich demo released as the single under the group name The Raindrops. 

     As a result, “What A Guy” hit No. 41 on the Billboard chart.  A follow-up, “The Kind of Boy You Can’t Forget,” did even better, reaching No. 17. 

     The Raindrops sound was “girl-group” in style, with Greenwich singing lead with double-tracked harmony parts, and Barry providing bass vocals.  Although they also released an album, the Barry/Greenwich excursion into recording as the Raindrops ended by 1965, around the time they became involved with writing songs for Red Bird Records. 

The Dixie Cups recorded their No 1 hit, “Chapel of Love,” on the Red Bird record label in 1963.
The Dixie Cups recorded their No 1 hit, “Chapel of Love,” on the Red Bird record label in 1963.
     Red Bird was a record label owned by another songwriting team, Leiber & Stoller, along with George Goldner, a producer.  Red Bird recorded hits such as the Dixie Cups’ “Chapel of Love” and the Shangri-Las’ “Leader of the Pack.”  Don Kirshner’s Aldon Music also had a record label – Dimension – a label that produced girl-group and other hit songs. 

     As for Brill Building writers moving into recording themselves, Carole King proved to be rising star on that front, later producing a long line of her own hit songs and albums – including the Grammy-winning and best-selling 1971 album, Tapestry.

     By 1965-1966, the talents of Brill Building writers and others like them were becoming less important as groups such as the Beatles, the Byrds, and the Beach Boys were setting the tone for other upcoming artists who wrote their own material.  For some, the girl-group era ended with The Supremes’ song “You Can’t Hurry Love,” released in the summer of 1966.

Cover of Rich Podolsky’s 2012 book on Don Kirshner & the pop music biz.
Cover of Rich Podolsky’s 2012 book on Don Kirshner & the pop music biz.
     Don Kirshner’s Aldon Music, meanwhile, did quite well during the 1960s, making many millions, thanks in part to girl group hits.  Between 1959 and 1966, Kirshner’s enterprise published some 500 songs, 400 of which had made the music charts.  In April 1966, for example, he had 25 songs on the Billboard charts, including the reigning No. 1 song at the time by the Righteous Brothers, “You’re My Soul and Inspiration.”  Kirshner’s songs by then had sold some 150 million recordings.  Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, meanwhile, who had written some of Kirchner’s hit songs – including the Righteous Brothers No. 1 hit, “You’re My Soul and Inspiration” — had just signed a five-year $1 million contract with Kirshner that April 1966.  Since Aldon Music by then had been sold to Columbia Pictures-Screen Gems, and Kirshner named v. p. of publishing and recording, the talents of writers like Mann and Weil would be turned more toward music for television and film.  King and Goffin, for example, had a No. 3 hit for the TV group The Monkees with “Pleasant Valley Sunday” in 1967.

     Yet for a moment in time, the “Brill Building” methodology of churning out pop girl-group and other hits with teams of songwriters and producers, worked phenomenally well.

 

The Chiffons girl group of the 1960s shown on a album cover featuring their greatest hits.
The Chiffons girl group of the 1960s shown on a album cover featuring their greatest hits.
     The Chiffons were another group of teenage girls who began singing together in high school – in this case at James Monroe High School in The Bronx, New York.  Originally formed in 1960 under earlier names, the group then included lead singer Judy Craig, Patricia Bennett, and Barbara Lee.  Two years later they added Sylvia Peterson, and by 1963 adopted The Chiffons as their name.

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“He’s So Fine”-1963

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     Their first hit, “He’s So Fine,”  went to No.1 on the Billboard chart from March 30 – April 26, 1963.  It sold over one million copies and is also known for its signature “doo-lang, doo-lang” refrain.   The song was written by Ronald Mack and produced by The Tokens, who in 1961 had the No.1 hit, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”  

     In 1963-64, The Chiffons would put three other songs on the Top 40 list:  “One Fine Day, which rose to No. 5 in the summer of 1963;  “A Love So Fine,” which hit No. 40 in October 1963; and “I Have a Boyfriend,” which charted at No. 36 in January 1964.

Cover of CD for “Billboard Top Hits of 1963,” lists three popular “girl group” songs from that year.
Cover of CD for “Billboard Top Hits of 1963,” lists three popular “girl group” songs from that year.
     “One Fine Day,” was penned by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, who had intended the song for Little Eva but decided The Chiffons were a better fit.  The song also has a signature piano segment credited to King.  The Chiffons would have another Top 10 hit a few years later, in May 1966, with “Sweet Talkin’ Guy,” which rose to No. 10.

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“One Fine Day”-1963

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     The year 1963 was among the most important and prolific years for the girl group sound, with hit after hit.  Also in 1963, a young female singer from New Jersey, Lesley Gore, had a June No. 1 hit with “It’s My Party.”  She followed that with three more Top Ten hits – “Judy’s Turn to Cry,” a No. 5 hit in July;  “She’s a Fool,” another No. 5 hit in October; and “You Don’t Own Me,” a January 1964 No. 2 hit.  Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” is viewed as one of the era’s more female-assertive tracks and also signaling a new direction.  The Angels, also from New Jersey – Phyllis and Barbara Allbut and Peggy Santiglia – had No. 1 hit in August and September of 1963 with “My Boyfriend’s Back.” 

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“Sally Go Round The Roses”-1963

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     Also in 1963, The Jaynettes girl group from the Bronx – Ethel Davis, Mary Sue Wells, Yvonne Bushnell and Ada Ray – had the infectious No. 2 hit with “Sally Go Round the Roses” in September/October.  This song has a haunting, hypnotic quality for some listeners, due in part to studio production techniques utilizing reverb coupled with a layering of numerous female vocals.  The song, a performance favorite of Grace Slick prior to her Jefferson Airplane days,  is also said to have been an influence on singer Laura Nyro.

Martha and the Vandellas on a 1964 record sleeve cover. Click on photo to visit their story at this website.
Martha and the Vandellas on a 1964 record sleeve cover. Click on photo to visit their story at this website.
     In Detroit, Michigan, meanwhile, Berry Gordy’s Motown music center was churning out girl group hits as well.  And one Motown group that broke big in 1963 was Martha & The Vandellas – a threesome consisting of Martha Reeves, Annette Beard, and Rosalind Ashford.

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“Heat Wave”-1963

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      Martha and her ladies scored three big hits in 1963 – “Come and Get These Memories,” a No. 29 hit in the spring; “Heat Wave,” a No. 3 hit in August; and “Quicksand,” a No. 8 hit in December.  Martha & The Vandellas would turn out nine more Top 40 hits over the next three years – among them: “Dancing in the Street,” a No 2 hit in 1964; “Nowhere To Run,” a No. 8 hit in 1965; and “Jimmy Mack,” No. 10 in 1967.  See “Motown’s Heat Wave” at this website for a separate story covering Martha and the Vandellas and their music.  Next: a brief section on girl group difficulties in the record-making process.

 

“Girl Group Woes”
Rights, Royalties & Recognition

      As buoyant and uplifting as girl group music may have been for millions of listeners, behind the scenes, in the production and management of that sound, there was a somewhat less happy scene unfolding.  The girls themselves were often treated as pawns in the process.  Though, to be sure, the top girl groups experienced elevated stardom and celebrity, traveled the world in some cases, and were certainly not deprived.  Still, a number of the girl groups – especially those younger ladies in their teens and early twenties –“…I was fifteen years old, What do I know about conflict of interest and making a recording deal?”
        – Nona Hendryx / She’s A Rebel
became dependent on the producers and the songwriters for their recordings and their careers.  And because they were young, they lacked the experience and social skills to advance their concerns.

     According to a conversation with Nona Hendryx of The Bluebells, as relayed in Gillian Gaar’s book, She’s A Rebel: “We would record songs, and listed on the [recording] as the writer would be his [the owner/producer’s] eight-month-old grandchild!  It was just ridiculous.  He owned the recording studio, he owned our contracts, we had his lawyers…  I mean, talk about conflict of interest!  But I didn’t know anything about conflict of interest.  I was fifteen years old, What do I know about conflict of interest, and making a recording contract deal?”  Hendryx also explained.  “We got ripped off really badly over the years, especially from the Bluebells era…  We ended up with nothing but our name – I don’t know who had the brains enough to ask for that at the time, but somehow we ended up with the name so we could work without any limitations.  But we lost a lot of the money we were entitled to.”

When the Shirelles discovered in 1964 that their trust fund had evaporated, they went on strike.
When the Shirelles discovered in 1964 that their trust fund had evaporated, they went on strike.
     Typically, when it came to contracts, the girl groups fared poorly.  And because in many cases they were so flattered to be discovered and professionally recorded, and then became so involved in the music scene swirling around them, they didn’t always realize what was happening, or too often, simply trusted what they were told.  So when it came to copyrights, publishing recognition, and compensation, the girl groups were often last in line.

     In 1963, The Shirelles learned that a trust holding their royalties – money they were supposed to receive from their Scepter Record label on their 21st birthday – did not exist.  The money, they were told, had been spent on production, promotion and touring.  The Shirelles went on strike and would not record.  After a lawsuit and countersuit in the mid-1960s, an agreement was reached, but the damage had been done.  The Shirelles believed they were lied to and deceived.  In an interview some years later, Shirley Owens of the Shirelles would explain that their manager and record label owner, Florence Greenberg, had put on a “mother routine” which the girls had fallen for completely.

Some of Motown’s Marvelettes in happier times.
Some of Motown’s Marvelettes in happier times.
     In 1967, after Motown moved from Detroit to Los Angeles, the Marvelettes stopped receiving their royalties.  Some of the surviving members and families later sued Motown to get their royalties – which they then had to spilt with a New York company that helped them in the litigation. 

     The Shangri-Las were another short-changed girl group.  As Gillian Garr reports in She’s A Rebel: “Despite their hits and frequent tours, the Shagri-Las saw little of the generated profits, which were eaten up in the black hole of management and studio costs.”

The Shangri-Las of the mid-1960s reportedly saw little of the profits generated by their hits.
The Shangri-Las of the mid-1960s reportedly saw little of the profits generated by their hits.
     In the 1980s, the royalties and rights battle began heating up after a former music agent named Chuck Rubin created Artists Rights Enforcement Corporation to provide legal referrals and support for artists seeking back royalties.  Rubin, a researcher with skills in digging up old contracts and master tapes, had found that during the ’50s and ’60s many rock artists – male and female alike – were short changed.  According to Rubin, “it was the exception to the rule if they were paid.”  The Shirelles, Ronettes, and the Vandellas are among the girl groups who have worked with Rubin’s organization in seeking back royalties.

     Phil Spector, for one, would be sued by at least three of the girl groups he worked with.  The Crystals sued Spector for unpaid royalties, but lost their case, although they did salvage the rights to their group name, enabling them to continue working and use the name in performances.  In 1993, Darlene Love sued Spector for back royalties, and a New York Supreme Court jury ruled in her favor in 1997, but because of the statute of limitations in New York State, awarded her $263,500 for royalties going back only to 1987.  The Ronettes, who also sued Spector in later years, fared little better, and that case is covered in more detail in the “Be My Baby” story a this website.

Rosalie “Rosie” Hamlin waged a long battle over decades for her royalties.
Rosalie “Rosie” Hamlin waged a long battle over decades for her royalties.
     Girl group members who wrote their own songs sometimes had to fight for years to get their music publishing rights as song authors.  Rosalie “Rosie” Hamlin of Rosie and The Originals, who wrote the No. 5 hit “Angel Baby” in 1960 at age 15, was not listed as the song’s author on the record label at the time it was a hit.  Hamlin also found in her contract that she was ineligible to collect record royalties for the song because she was not listed as the songwriter.  And although Hamlin did manage to obtain the copyright to her music in 1961, there were decades of battles that followed over royalties.

     Beyond the royalty wars and legal disadvantages the girl groups faced, there were also other issues, ranging from lack of media notice (female acts were not promoted or covered by the media and music press then as much as male artists, who in the industry’s words were “easier to sell”), to racism and sexism that were then much more prevalent.  And due in part to the formula/production-line nature of song-making in those years, managers and producers did not always acknowledge the talents of their charges or treat them with professional respect in the recording process, sometime regarding them as interchangeable parts to be plugged into the pop music machine wherever they were needed.

     Still, despite the woes and difficulties girl groups faced in their careers, most were generally happy to have been a part of the process and to have had the professional help that made their careers possible – inadequate, short lived, and poorly compensated as some of those careers surely were.

 

New Competition

Sheet music cover for The Toys’ 1965 hit song, “A Lovers Concerto,” Stateside Records.
Sheet music cover for The Toys’ 1965 hit song, “A Lovers Concerto,” Stateside Records.
     By 1964-65 the girl group sound was beginning to give way to other popular sounds.  With the arrival of the Beatles in 1964, and the “British invasion” of other U.K. artists thereafter, the market began to shift to the newer music.  The Beach Boys and the “surf sound” were ascending then as well.  Still, there were girl group hits in the mid-and late 1960s.  In addition to groups such as  Martha & the Vandellas and The Supremes from Motown, who had hits through the mid- and late-1960s, there were other girl groups also reaching the charts. 

     From Los Angeles, Carol and Terry Fischer and Sally Gordon, 15 and 17 year-olds who comprised The Murmaids, had a No. 3 hit song with “Popsicles and Icicles” in January 1964.  The Dixie Cups, three girls from New Orleans – sisters Barbara Ann and Rosa Lee Hawkins and their cousin, Joan Marie Johnson – recorded “Chapel of Love” for Red Bird Records in 1963.  By early June 1964, the Greenwich/Barry/ Spector song had soared to No. 1, remaining there for three weeks and selling more than a million copies.  The Dixie Cups would have three more Top-40 hits in 1964 and 1965.

     The Toys, a girl group from Queens, NY, had a major No. 2 hit in October 1965 with “A Lover’s Concerto,” which was based on the melody of Johann Sebastian Bach’s classical piece, “Minuet in G major.”  The Toys’ song – whose early lyrics include: “How gentle is the rain / That falls softly on the meadow / Birds high up in the trees / Serenade the flowers with their melodies” – was a million seller in 1965.

Cover of 1995 CD from RPM Records, U.K., “The Shangri-Las: Myrmidons of Melodrama,” which includes 33 of their tracks with annotation.
Cover of 1995 CD from RPM Records, U.K., “The Shangri-Las: Myrmidons of Melodrama,” which includes 33 of their tracks with annotation.
     In some cases, the look and lyrics of the girl groups that did emerge in the mid- and late-1960s, were different than what had gone before, losing a bit of the sweetness and “boy wonderment,” with a few groups adopting more of a tough girl look. 

     The Ronettes had started a change in look with their hairdos, tight skirts and Cleopatra style make-up.  But in 1964, a Queens, New York group named The Shangri-Las took the look and sound in something of a new direction. 

     The Shangi-Las were a white group, formed in 1963 by two sets of sisters – Mary Weiss (lead singer) and Elizabeth “Betty” Weiss, and identical twins Marge and Mary Ann Ganser. The girls were still 15-to-17 years of age when their parents signed their contract with George “Shadow” Morton of the Red Bird record label in April 1964.  They produced a series of songs that were mini-melodramas covering topics such as lost love, forbidden love (“Leader of the Pack”), teenage angst, and related themes that became quite popular in the U.S. and U.K..

1965: The Shangri-Las, in boots & leather, at radio station WHK, Geauga Lake Park, Cleveland, Ohio. Photo, George Shuba.
1965: The Shangri-Las, in boots & leather, at radio station WHK, Geauga Lake Park, Cleveland, Ohio. Photo, George Shuba.
     “Remember (Walking in the Sand),” was The Shangri-Las’ first big hit, about a girl receiving a letter of rejection from her former love.  Released in July 20, 1964, “…Walking in the Sand” shot up the charts quickly, reaching No. 5 by September 26th.  In the U.K., the song also charted, reaching No. 14 that fall.

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“Remember…Walking in The Sand”-1964

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      Next, with the help of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich at the Brill Building, Morton produced the Shangri-Las’ follow-up record, “Leader of the Pack,” which hit No.1 in the U.S. on November 28, 1964.  It also hit No. 1 in Australia and No.11 in England.  Although the group toured with other major rock acts and appeared on several TV shows, by 1966 their releases began to falter in the U.S., although they remained popular in England and Japan.  They also influenced some 1970s punk rock-era acts such as the New York Dolls and Blondie, and later, the Go-Go’s. “Leader of the Pack” later recharted in the U.K in 1972 at No.3 and again in 1976 at No. 7, giving the Shangri-Las the distinction of being the only American vocal group to ever hit the upper reaches of the British Charts three times.

 

The Supremes in 1965: from left, Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballard
The Supremes in 1965: from left, Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballard
The Supremes

     One girl group that emerged out of Detroit’s Motown music scene in the mid-1960s just as the Beatles and British invasion were coming on — and would go toe-to-toe with those groups on the music charts – was The Supremes. 

     In the late 1950s, the teenage threesome of Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballard had formed their singing group while living in Detroit’s Brewster housing project.  Initially they used another name during their high school years, but by January 1961, after signing with Berry Gordy’s Motown they changed their name at Gordy’s suggestion.  They became “The Supremes,” a name credited to Florence Ballard.  However, their first recordings at Motown – in fact, more than nine in a row – fell flat and went nowhere.

The Supremes’ first No. 1 hit, “Where Did Our Love Go,” sold more than 2 million copies.
The Supremes’ first No. 1 hit, “Where Did Our Love Go,” sold more than 2 million copies.
     But then came “Where Did Our Love Go” in the summer of 1964 – a tune that had been rejected by the Marvelettes.  But when that song went to No. 1 and sold over 2 million copies, The Supremes were on their way.  It was quickly followed that same year by two more No. 1 hits: “Baby Love” in October and “Come See About Me” in December.

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“Baby Love”-1964 

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     More top hits kept coming for the Supremes in 1965, 1966 and 1967.  In fact between 1964 and 1967, the Supremes compiled one of the best all-time female recording track records in popular music history: releasing fifteen singles, all of which, except for one, made the Top Ten.  In addition, ten of these songs were No. 1 hits.  The Supremes’ success brought television exposure beyond what the other girl groups had received, as they appeared not only on teen shows such a Shindig and Hullabaloo, but also The Ed Sullivan Show and The Tonight Show.  “Unlike other so-called girl groups,” observed The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll in 2001, “the Supremes had a mature, glamorous demeanor that appealed equally to teens and adults.  Beautiful, musically versatile, and unique, the original Supremes were America’s sweethearts, setting standards and records that no group has yet equaled.”  They also became important symbols of black success, and as The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia noted, “they were often seen at Democratic political fundraisers, for President Lyndon Johnson, among others…”

Album featuring The Supremes singing their hit songs composed by Motown’s Holland-Dozier-Holland team.
Album featuring The Supremes singing their hit songs composed by Motown’s Holland-Dozier-Holland team.
    The Supremes, and all of Motown had the benefit of a talented three-person team of writers/produces known as “Holland-Dozier- Holland,” or “H-D-H” – a team consisting of the two brothers, Brian and Edward Holland and Lamont Dozier.  During their tenure at Motown, from 1962-1967, Dozier and Brian Holland were the composers and producers, while Eddie Holland wrote the lyrics and arranged the vocals. 

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“Come See About Me”-1964 

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     H-D-H produced ten of The Supremes’ No. 1 singles, including: “Baby Love”, “Stop! In the Name of Love”, ”You Keep Me Hangin’ On,”  and the 1964 hit sampled above, “Come See About Me.”

     The Supremes were nurtured by Gordy’s Motown organization, and like other groups there, they were put through the “Motown finishing school” receiving professional guidance in dance, etiquette, and fashion.  However, some of the other Motown groups charged that the Supremes were given special attention by Berry Gordy, given the best songs, and helped along with more spending.  And as was later learned, Gordy and Diana Ross had become involved in the mid-1960s.

The Supremes performing "My World Is Empty Without You" on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1966: Diana Ross (right), Mary Wilson (center), Florence Ballard (left).
The Supremes performing "My World Is Empty Without You" on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1966: Diana Ross (right), Mary Wilson (center), Florence Ballard (left).
      By August 1967, The Supremes were renamed “Diana Ross and The Supremes.”  A few months earlier, Cindy Birdsong, a perfomer with another girl group from Philadelpia, Patti LaBelle and The Blue Belles, had replaced Florence Ballard, who had left The Supremes in April 1967.  The new group continued to turn out hits, producing 19 Top 40 hits through 1977 – two of which were No. 1 one hits: “Love Child” in October 1968 and “Someday We’ll Be Together” in November 1969. 

     The Supremes — and Diana Ross later on her own — went on to separate careers, continuing to record and release songs beyond the 1970s, with reunion tours and some personnel changes in later years.  Yet in terms of the classic 1960s’ girl group sound, The Supremes are often put in their own separate category, considered not typical of the teenage girl groups of that era, but rather, representing a somewhat more sophisticated and polished sound, with songs covering somewhat more adult themes.  Still, the market reach of The Supremes for both teen and adult listeners was huge and stretched over several decades.

     Other Girl Groups.  Among groups and solo female artists not mentioned in this article that are sometimes included in girl group listings are: The Ad Libs, The Caravelles, Claudine Clark, Dee Dee Sharp, The Jelly Beans, The Pixies Three, Reparata and the Delrons, The Starlets, Mary Wells, and The Velvelettes.  And beyond these, of course, there were hundreds of other girl groups that recorded during the 1960s, but for whatever reasons, did not achieve major notice.

 

The Crystals girl group of the early 1960s shown on the cover of a London Records EP recording.
The Crystals girl group of the early 1960s shown on the cover of a London Records EP recording.
Girl Group Legacy

     The girl groups of the 1960s occupy something of unique niche in the history of rock `n roll music.  They were singing groups that typically did not write their own songs nor play the musical instruments that powered those songs.  Nor was the girl group sound a long-lasting genre.  In fact, with the exception of The Supremes, it was a pretty compressed period; one that some historians mark as coming between Elvis Presley’s induction into the U.S. Army in 1958 and the Beatles’ rise in early 1964.

     But that demarcation may be too simplistic, as “girl group music” of one form or another, as shown above, persisted well through the 1960s.  And although the rise of the Beatles and the British invasion were factors,  there was also something else: the way popular music began to be produced around that time.  Groups such as the Beatles – but also extending to folk, surf, and solo female artists who began their rise in the mid-and late1960s – were artists who wrote and performed their own songs.  That was an important change in the means of production, as it fundamentally altered and outdated the Brill Building and Motown methodologies – the “assemblers” who had previously brought all the moving parts of pop song-making together.  Girl group music also leaned on a formula of similar and repeating types of sound, song titles, and lyrics which could only be sustained for a few years before listeners yearned for something new.  Still, the girl group sound made its mark and had its impacts.  In some ways the era marked a unique coming together of voices, producers and writers – a once-in-a-great-while crossing of paths and talents that briefly produced some beautiful and lasting music.

The Dixie Cups’ “Chapel of Love” was a No. 1 hit for 4 weeks, June 1965.
The Dixie Cups’ “Chapel of Love” was a No. 1 hit for 4 weeks, June 1965.
     As for the audience of that era, the verdict was clear and unequivocal: it was simply good music.  The Boomer kids, growing up with the girl group sound, voted for it overwhelmingly with their dollars, sending the pop music business to a place it had never been before.  And beyond those crazy kids, even a few serious music critics years later would extend their kudos. 

     Greil Marcus, writing in 1992 for The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, then enthusing over some memorable moments from the girl group oeuvre, mentioned, among others: “…the piano on ‘One Fine Day’…the unbelievably sexual syncopation of the Shirelles’ ‘Tonight’s The Night’; the pile-driving force of ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’; the good smile of the Crystals’ ‘He’s Sure The Boy I Love’ – a smile that stretched all across America in 1963.”  Marcus also added in his commentary:

…It was utopian stuff – a utopia of love between a boy and a girl, a utopia of feeling, of sentiment, of desire most of all.  That the crassest conditions the recording industry has been able to contrive led to emotionally rich music is a good chapter in a thesis on Art and Capitalism, but it happened.  That utopian spirit has stayed with those who partook of it – the formal style of girl-group rock has passed, but the aesthetic is there to hear in Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith, Book of Love, Bette Miller….

     And later, as historians dissecting the girl group era would acknowledge, there was something there worth saving.  In the Library of Congress cultural preservation program, girl group songs are among those listed on the National Recording Registry, including, so far, The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” and Martha & the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Street.”  There will, no doubt, be others to come.  More common kudos for girl group music comes in other forms, too – the use of their songs by other artists being a prominent one.  A number of girl groups songs have been covered by other artists, some of which have become hits themselves, but usually in most cases, bringing the music to new listeners.

Cover photo of the Beatles on their March 1995 EP that included The Shirelles’ song, “Baby It’s You.”
Cover photo of the Beatles on their March 1995 EP that included The Shirelles’ song, “Baby It’s You.”
      Cover Versions.  The Beatles, for one, have covered several of the girl group songs.  Early on, The Beatles used the Shirelles’ song “Baby It’s You” as part of their stage act from 1961 until 1963.  They also recorded the song in February 1963 for their first album, Please Please Me.  A live Beatles’ version of “Baby It’s You” was later issued as a part of a four-song EP in 1995 that rose into the Top Ten in both the US and UK.  Another Shirelles song, “Dedicated to the One I Love,” was given a boost by a 1967 cover version by The Mamas & the Papas with Michelle Phillips on lead. This version went to No. 2 in both the US and UK.

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Mamas & Papas-Cover Version

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     The group Smith in 1969 and The Carpenters in 1970-71 also released versions of The Shirelles’ song ”Baby It’s You.”  More than 20 other artists have also recorded the song.  Similarly, The Shirelles’ “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” has been recorded by a long line of artists – from The Chiffons in 1963 and song co-author Carole King on her 1971 Tapestry album, to Amy Winehouse who recorded a slowed-down, jazzy version for the 2004 film Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason.

Record jacket for the April 1967 Beach Boys single, “Then I Kissed Her,” a cover of a Crystals song.
Record jacket for the April 1967 Beach Boys single, “Then I Kissed Her,” a cover of a Crystals song.
     Some of The Crystals’ songs have also been widely covered.  In 1965, the Beach Boys recorded “And Then He Kissed Me” with the re-worded title “Then I Kissed Her,” and included the song on their Summer Days (And Summer Nights!) album.  Al Jardine sang lead on the song.  Two years later, in April 1967, the Beach Boys released the song as a single in the UK where it charted at No. 4. 

     Singing duo Sonny & Cher also covered “And Then He Kissed Me,”  issued on a French four-song EP in 1965. 

     And Bruce Springsteen covered the song in some of his live performances in 1975 under the title, “Then She Kissed Me.”  He also used the same song in more recent years, opening a concert with it in August 2008 in St. Louis, and performing it by request in Sunrise, Florida during a September 2009 encore performance.

Linda Ronstadt’s “Heat Wave,” 1975.
Linda Ronstadt’s “Heat Wave,” 1975.
     “(Love is Like a) Heat Wave,” the 1963 hit song by Motown’s Martha and the Vandellas, has some interesting cover history as well.  Linda Ronstadt had a No. 5 hit with the song in November 1975, and Phil Collins released a single version of “Heat Wave” in September 2010. 

     The Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian revealed in 2007 how he sped up the three-chord intro from “(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave” to come up with the intro for the Spoonful’s 1965 hit, “Do You Believe in Magic.”  And in recent years, the song has been used by at least five contestants on American Idol. 

     Many other 1960s’ girl group songs have similar histories of cover-version recordings; only a sampling has been offered here.

The 1996 film, “One Fine Day,” used The Chiffons’s popular 1963 song of that name in the film score.
The 1996 film, “One Fine Day,” used The Chiffons’s popular 1963 song of that name in the film score.
     Film & TV Music.  The 1960s girl group songs have also been used extensively in TV and film productions.  The Shirelles “Soldier Boy” was used in the 1979 film The Wanderers as well as the 1989 film, Born on the Fourth of July.  The Ronettes “Be My Baby” was used in the opening segments of films such as Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets of 1973 and Dirty Dancing of 1987.  It was also used in episodes of TV’s Moonlighting show in 1987 and The Wonder Years in 1990, as well as an entertaining Levis’ jeans TV ad in 1989.  The Crystals’ “And Then He Kissed Me” was used in the 1990 film Goodfellas and also during the opening credits of the 1987 film comedy Adventures in Babysitting, when Elisabeth Shue dances to and lip-syncs the song.  It is also said that this Crystals song song inspired a famous front-page headline, “And Then He Kissed Her” which ran in London’s The Sun newspaper on July 30, 1981, the day after Prince Charles and Lady Diana were married.

     Martha & the Vandellas’ song “Heat Wave” was sung by Whoopi Goldberg in the 1992 film Sister Act, and also featured in Backdraft of 1991 and More American Graffiti of 1979.  “A Lover’s Concerto” by The Toys was used in the 1995 film Mr. Holland’s Opus, and “One Fine Day” by the Chiffons was used in the 1996 film by that name starring Michelle Pfeiffer and George Clooney.  The Ronettes’ “Baby I Love You” is part of the soundtrack for the 1995 Hugh Grant-Julianne Moore film Nine Months, and the soundtrack for the 1999 film A Walk on the Moon featured a remake of the Jaynetts song, “Sally Go ‘Round the Roses.”  And this is only a partial list.

Gillian Gaar’s “She’s A Rebel,” 1992.
Gillian Gaar’s “She’s A Rebel,” 1992.
     Girl Group Books.  Among books that cover or include 1960s’girl groups as a subject are, for example: Alan Betrock’s 1982 book, Girl Groups: The Story of a Sound; Gillian Gaar’s 1992 book, She’s a Rebel: The History of Women in Rock & Roll; John Clemente’s 2000 book, Girl Groups: Fabulous Females That Rocked the World; and Jacqueline Warwick’s 2007 book, Girl Groups, Girl Culture.  Laurie Stras, a senior lecturer in music at the University of Southampton in the U.K. has edited a 2011 anthology that explores 1960s girl singers and girl groups in the U.S. and the U.K. – She’s So Fine: Reflections on Whiteness, Femininity, Adolescence and Class in 1960s Music.  Academic and trade journal articles have also delved into various aspects of the 1960s girl-group era, a few of which are listed below in “Sources.”

     Girl group members themselves have taken up the pen to tell their own stories of their years in the music business, some of them turbulent tales.  Among these books have been, for example: Mary Wilson’s 1986 book, Dreamgirl: My Life As a Supreme, written with Patricia Romanowski and Ahrgus Juilliard; Ronnie Spector’s 1990 book, Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts, and Madness, or My Life As a Fabulous Ronette; Martha Reeves 1994 autobiography with Mark Bego, Dancing in the Street: Confessions of a Pop Diva; and Darlene Love’s 1998 autobiography, My Name Is Love.

Peter Benjaminson’s book, “The Lost Supreme,” about Florence Ballard.
Peter Benjaminson’s book, “The Lost Supreme,” about Florence Ballard.
     Added to these are girl group books written by outside authors, such as: Marc Taylor’s 2004 book, The Original Marvelettes: Motown’s Mystery Girl Group; J. Randy Taraborrelli’s 2007 biography, Diana Ross; and Peter Benjaminson’s 2008 book, The Lost Supreme: The Life of Dreamgirl Florence Ballard.  There have also been several books written about Phil Spector’s life and work, among them, Mark Ribowsky’s 1989 book, He’s a Rebel: The Truth About Phil Spector – Rock and Roll’s Legendary Madman, and Mick Brown’s 2007 book, Tearing Down the Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector.  In 2005, Ken Emerson wrote a book about the Brill Building scene – Always Magic in the Air: The Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era.  Former Brill Building songwriter and singer Carole King has written a 2012 memoir titled, A Natural Woman.  A number of books have also covered Motown’s history, including Berry Gordy’s 1994 autobiography, To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown, and Peter Benjaminson’s 2012 book, Mary Wells: The Tumultuous Life of Motown’s First Superstar.

Broadhurst Theatre playbill for the 2011 play, “Baby It’s You.”
Broadhurst Theatre playbill for the 2011 play, “Baby It’s You.”
     Stage & Screen.  On Broadway and in Hollywood, girl group stories have been told, and more are in development.  Perhaps the most famous of the stage productions so far has been Dreamgirls, a 1981 Broadway musical based in part on the rise of performers such as The Supremes, The Shirelles, James Brown, Jackie Wilson, and others.  In the play, a young female singing trio from Chicago named “The Dreams” become music superstars.  The musical was nominated for thirteen Tony Awards and won six.  Dreamgirls was also made into a successful Hollywood film in 2006, starring Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé Knowles, Eddie Murphy, Jennifer Hudson, Danny Glover, and others.  The film won three Golden Globes and two Oscars.

     In April 2011, Baby It’s You!, another musical with girl group roots, debuted on Broadway.  This production featured the music of The Shirelles and offered the story of their manager, Florence Greenberg and her Scepter Records, the recording label Greenberg started when she signed The Shirelles.  This production ran for 148 performances, opening at the Broadhurst Theater in April 2011 and closing that year in September.

     Years earlier, in 1985, a Broadway show titled Leader of the Pack, dedicated to songs co-written by Brill Building songwriter Ellie Greenwich and based on her life, also ran on Broadway where it was nominated for a Best Musical Tony.

2013 playbill from the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre for the Broadway show, “Motown The Musical.”
2013 playbill from the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre for the Broadway show, “Motown The Musical.”
     Another Brill Building writer, Carol King, will be celebrated in a Broadway production scheduled to open in 2014 titled, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.  Sony/ATV Music Publishing is involved in the production and the musical score will include songs by Carole King and Gerry Goffin as well as Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.  And most recently on Broadway, opening in April 2013, has been Motown: The Musical,” which celebrates the musical legacy of Berry Gordy and the Motown music catalog, including Motown’s girl groups.

     So the 1960s’ girl-group beat lives on – in various forms and venues – staying alive for the future.  But for some who lived through that time and actually experienced the music making in those years, there’s no substitute for the real thing.  LaLa Brooks who sang lead on several of The Crystals big hits in the 1960s, gave an October 2011 interview with Mindy Peterman of the Morton Report during which she reminisced about working in the studio with Phil Spector and the parade of live musicians and singers who came together back then to produce the songs.  Similar scenes were common at Motown and the Brill Building.  That era is gone now, and those recording sessions can never be repeated, but Brooks is sure that the sound they made back then was special and unique, and she was glad to have been a part of it:

“…I remember there were so many people in the studio.  That was fascinating.  Just to sit outside the studio in the seating area before I put on the vocals and seeing all the musicians just playing live, which they don’t do today.  I think that was an experience.  So many of the young artists now, they’re using all kinds of computers and some kind of technology.  They lose that gift that I had in the studio with Phil [Spector] with all the musicians at one time playing.”

     Still, the sound from that time – the music, the voices, the beat – much of it has been captured, etched,  recorded, and digitized for all time.  The legacy is there for the listening.  And as more distance is put between that time and those songs, it does appear that the era, and the music made then, will stand out in a good way.  And however accidental, serendipitous, and/or opportunistic that music making may have been, the “girl group sound” remains a gift for the ages.

     For other stories at this website on the history of popular music please visit the Annals of Music category page or go to the Home Page for additional story choices.  Thanks for visiting — and please consider supporting this website.  Thank you. – Jack Doyle

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Date Posted: 25 June 2013
Last Update: 26 June 2013
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “1960s Girl Groups:1958-1966,”
PopHistoryDig.com, June 25, 2013.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

“Girl Group Hits”
A 1960s Sampler

The Shirelles
1960 – #39 – “Tonight’s the Night”
1960 – #1 – “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”
1961 – #3 – “Dedicated to The One I Love”
1961 – #4 – “Mama Said”
1961 – #8 – “Baby It’s You”
1961 – #1 – “Soldier Boy”
1963 – #4 – “Foolish Little Girl”
Rosie & The Originals
1960 – #5 – “Angel Baby”
The Paris Sisters
1961 – #5 – “I Love How You Love Me”
The Marvelettes
1961 – #1 – “Mr Postman”
1962 – #7 – “Playboy”
1962 – #17 – “Beachwood 4-5789″
1962 – #9 – “Someday, Someway”
1963 – #44 – “Forever”
1964 – #25 – “Too Many Fish in the Sea”
1966 – #7 – “Don’t Mess With Bill”
The Exciters
1962 – #4 – “Tell Him”
The Orlons
1962 – #2 – “The Wah Watusi”
1962 – #4 – “Don’t Hang Up”
1963 – #3 – “South Street”
The Sensations
1962 – #4 – “Let Me In”
The Cookies
1962 – #17 – “Chains”
1963 – #7 – “Don’t Say Nothing Bad…”
Little Eva
1962 – #1 – “The Loco-Motion”
Dee Dee Sharp
1962 – #2 – “Mashed Potato Time”
The Crystals
1961 – #20 – “There’s No Other Like…”
1962 – #13 – “Uptown”
1962 – #1 – “He’s A Rebel”
1963 – #11 – “He’s Sure the Boy I Love”
1963 – #3 – “Da Doo Ron Ron”
1963 – #6 – “Then He Kissed Me”
The Chiffons
1963 – #1 – “He’s So Fine”
1963 – #3 – “One Fine Day”
1963 – #40 – “A Love So Fine”
1964 – #36 – “I Have a Boyfriend”
1966 – #10 – “Sweet Talkin’ Guy”
The Angels
1963 – #1 – “My Boyfriend’s Back”
The Blue-Bells (& Patti LaBelle)
1962 – #15 – “I Sold My Heart To…”
1963 – #37 – “Down The Aisle”
1964 – #34 – “You’ll Never Walk Alone”
Lesley Gore
1963 – #1 – “It’s My Party”
1963 – #2 – “Judy’s Turn to Cry”
1964 – #2 – “You Don’t Own Me”
The Jaynetts
1963 – #2 – “Sally Go Round The Roses”
Darlene Love
1963 – #39 – “Today I Met The Boy…”
1963 – #26 – “Wait Till My Bobby…”
The Ronettes
1963 – #2 – “Be My Baby”
1963 – #24 – “Baby I Love You”
1964 – #39 – “Best Part Of Breakin’ Up”
1964 – #34 – “Do I Love You”
1964 – #23 – “Walking in the Rain”
1965 – #52 – “Born To Be Together”
1966 – #100 – “I Can Hear Music”
Martha & The Vandellas
1963 – #29 – “Come & …These Memories”
1963 – #4 – “Heat Wave”
1964 – #8 – “Quicksand”
1964 – #2 – “Dancing In The Street”
1965 – #34 – “Wild One”
1965 – #8 – “Nowhere To Run”
1966 – #9 – “I’m Ready For Love”
1967 – #10 – “Jimmy Mack”
The Murmaids
1964 – #3 – “Popsicles and Icicles”
The Dixie Cups
1964 – #1 – “Chapel of Love”
1965 – #20 – “Iko Iko”
The Velvelettes
1964 – #45 – “Needle in a Haystack”
1965 – #64 – “He Was…Sayin’ Somethin’”
The Toys
1965 – #2 – “A Lover’s Concerto”
The Shangri-Las
1964 – #5 – “…Walking In the Sand”
1964 – #1 – “Leader of the Pack”
1965 – #18 – “Give Him a Great Big Kiss”
1965 – #29 – “Give Us Your Blessings”
1965 – #6 – “…Never Go Home Anymore”
1966 – #33 – “Long Live Our Love”
The Supremes
1964 – #1 – “Where Did Our Love Go”
1964 – #1 – “Baby Love”
1964 – #1 – “Come See About Me”
1965 – #1 – “Stop! In the Name of Love”
1965 – #1 – “Back in My Arms Again”
1965 – #11 – “Nothing But Heartaches”
1965 – #1 – “I Hear A Symphony”
1966 – #5 – “My World is Empty…”
1966 – #9 – “Like An Itching in My Heart”
1966 – #1 – “You Can’t Hurry Love”
1966 – #1 – “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”
1967 – #1 – “Love is Here and…”
1967 – #1 – “The Happening”
Diana Ross & The Supremes
1967 – #2 – “Reflections”
1967 – #9 – “In and Out of Love”
1968 – #1 – “Love Child”
1969 – #1 – “Someday We’ll Be Together”
________________________
Song rankinigs, U.S. Billboard chart.

Greil Marcus, “The Girl Groups,” in Anthony De Curtis and James Henke (eds), The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, Random House, New York, 1992, pp. 189-190.

“Girl Groups: A Short History,” History of Rock.com.

Alan Betrock, Girl Groups: The Story of a Sound, Delilah Books / Putnam Publishing Group, 1982, 516 pp.

“100 Greatest Girl Group Songs,” DigitalDream Door.com.

“Girl Group,”Wikipedia.org.

Frank Hoffmann with Robert Birkline, “Girl Groups,” Survey of American Popular Music (website), Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas.

Bob Hyde and Walter DeVenne, “Maybe, The Chantels,” The Doo Wop Box, Booklet & Liner Notes (used in PBS promotions), Rhino Records, 1993, pp. 56-57.

Jacqueline Warwick, Girl Groups, Girl Culture, new edition, Routledge, 2007, paperback, 288 pp.

“The Shirelles,” in Holly George-Warren and Patricia Romanowski (eds), The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press, New York, 3rd Edition, 2001, pp. 880-881.

“The Shirelles,” Wikipedia.org.

Bill Janovitz, Song Review, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?,” AllMusic.com.

Joel Whitburn, The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, New York: Billboard Books, 8th Edition, 2004.

Ian Dove, “The Shirelles Sing ‘Soldier Boy’ In a Rock Revival at the Garden,” New York Times, December 31, 1972.

Amy Ellis Nutt, “Passaic Dedicates Street to the Ones it Loves: The Shirelles,”The Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ), September 22, 2008.

“The Marvelettes,” Wikipedia.org.

“The Marvelettes,” in Holly George-Warren and Patricia Romanowski (eds), The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press, New York, 3rd Edition, 2001, pp. 614-615.

Joe McEwen and Jim Miller, “Motown,” in Anthony De Curtis and James Henke (eds), The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, Random House, New York, 1992, pp. 277-292.

“Locking Up My Heart” (Marvelettes song), Wikipedia.org.

Marc Taylor, The Original Marvelettes: Motown’s Mystery Girl Group, Aloiv Publishing Co.,, 2004, 219 pp.

Andy Greene, “Gladys Horton of the Marvelettes Dies at 66; Horton Sang Lead on ‘Please Mr. Postman’ and ‘Too Many Fish in the Sea’,” RollingStone.com, January 27, 2011.

“The Paris Sisters,”Wikipedia.org.

“The Exciters,” Wikipedia,org.

“The Cookies,” Wikipedia.org.

Bruce Eder, “The Cookies, Biography,” AllMusic .com.

“The Orlons,” Wikipedia.org.

“The Crystals,” in Holly George-Warren and Patricia Romanowski (eds), The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press, New York, 3rd Edition, 2001, p. 229.

“He’s A Rebel,” Wikipedia.org.

Nick Cohn, “Phil Spector,” in Anthony De Curtis and James Henke (eds), The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, Random House, New York, 1992, pp.177-188.

“Phil Spector/The Teddy Bears,” in Holly George-Warren and Patricia Romanowski (eds), The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press, New York, 3rd Edition, 2001, pp. 922-923.

Jack Doyle, “To Know, Know…Him, 1958-2010″ (includes Teddy Bears & Phil Spector history), PopHistoryDig.com, December 19, 2010.

“Phil Spector, Biography,” RollingStone.com.

Mark Ribowsky, He’s a Rebel: Phil Spector, Rock and Roll’s Legendary Producer, New York: Perseus, 2007.

“Phil Spector,” Times Topics, The New York Times.

Dave Thompson, Phil Spector: Wall Of Pain, (updated paperback edition), Omnibus Press, March 1, 2010.

“The Crystals,” Wikipedia.org.

“Then He Kissed Me,” Wikipedia.org.

“Da Doo Ron Ron,” Wikipedia.org.

Frank Hoffmann with Robert Birkline, “The Spector Sound,” Survey of American Popular Music (website), Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas.

“Wall of Sound,” Wikipedia.org.

Jack Doyle, “Be My Baby: 1960s-2010″ (The Ronettes history), PopHistoryDig.com, January 18, 2010.

The cover of Mary Wilson's 1986 book, "Dreamgirl: My Life as A Supreme."
The cover of Mary Wilson's 1986 book, "Dreamgirl: My Life as A Supreme."
Bruce Pollock, When Rock Was Young, New York: Holt, Reinhardt & Winston, 1981.

Greg Shaw, “Brill Building Pop,” in Anthony De Curtis and James Henke (eds), The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, Random House, New York, 1992, pp.

“Man With the Golden Ear,” Time, Friday, April 22, 1966.

“Don Kirshner and Aldon Music,” History of Rock.com.

“Spotlight on Brooks Arthur!,” Artie Wayne On The Web, October 12, 2011.

“The Chiffons,” Wikipedia.org.

“The Chiffons,” in Holly George-Warren and Patricia Romanowski (eds), The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press, New York, 3rd Edition, 2001, pp. 174-175.

“The Jaynetts,” Wikipedia.org.

“Sally Go ‘Round the Roses,” Wikipedia.org.

“Martha and the Vandellas/Martha Reeves,” in Holly George-Warren and Patricia Romanowski (eds), The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press, New York, 3rd Edition, 2001, pp. 613-614.

“(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave,” Wikipedia.org.

CD cover, "The Best of the Crystals," 1992.
CD cover, "The Best of the Crystals," 1992.
Jack Doyle, “Motown’s Heat Wave: 1963-1966″( Martha & the Vandellas), PopHistoryDig. com, November 7, 2009.

Gillian Gaar, She’s a Rebel: The History of Women in Rock & Roll, Seattle: Seal Press, 1992. 488 pp.

Robert McG. Thomas, Jr., “Florence Greenberg, 82, Pop-Record Producer,” New York Times, November 4, 1995.

Ann Powers, “Doris Kenner-Jackson, 58, Singer In the Original Shirelles Foursome,” New York Times, February 8, 2000.

Sharon Krum, Scripps Howard News Service, “1960s Girl Groups Are Getting Their Own Back,” Star-News (Wilmington, NC), July 29, 1998.

“The Dixie Cups,”Wikipedia.org.

Peter Benjaminson’s 2012 book, "Mary Wells: The Tumultuous Life of Motown's First Superstar."
Peter Benjaminson’s 2012 book, "Mary Wells: The Tumultuous Life of Motown's First Superstar."
“The Dixie Cups,” in Holly George-Warren and Patricia Romanowski (eds), The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press, New York, 3rd Edition, 2001, p. 268.

Robert F. Worth, “A Sad Song for the Ronettes: Court Reverses Royalty Rights,” New York Times, October 18, 2002, p. B-3.

“Ronettes Denied Song Royalties,” Los Angeles Times, October 19, 2002, p. E-2.

John Caher, “Ronettes’ Profits Limited by 1963 Contract,” New York Law Journal, October 21,2002.

Cynthia J. Cyrus, “Selling an Image: Girl Groups of the 1960s,” Popular Music, Vol. 22, No. 2, Cambridge University Press, May, 2003, pp. 173-193.

Reebee Garofalo, Chapter 6, “Popular Music and Political Culture: The Sixties,” Rockin Out: Popular Music in The U.S.A, Pearson, 2012.

“The Murmaids,” Wikipedia.org.

“The Toys,” in Holly George-Warren and Patricia Romanowski (eds), The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press, New York, 3rd Edition, 2001, pp. 1,000-1,001.

Mark Ribowsky’s 2007 book on Phil Spector.
Mark Ribowsky’s 2007 book on Phil Spector.
Katy June-Friesen, “The Real Dreamgirls: How Girl Groups Changed American Music,” Smithsonian.com, February 1, 2007.

“The Shangri-Las,” in Holly George-Warren and Patricia Romanowski (eds), The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press, New York, 3rd Edition, 2001, p. 876.

“The Supremes/Diana Ross & the Supremes,” in Holly George-Warren and Patricia Romanowski (eds), The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press, New York, 3rd Edition, 2001, pp. 960-963.

“Rock ‘n’ Roll: The Sound of the Sixties,” Time, Friday, May 21, 1965.

Richard Williams, “Sweet Nothings; The Lyrics Are All about Boyfriends, the Melodies Only a Few Bars Long. Why Are the 1960s Girl Groups Still So Enchanting?,” The Guardian, Friday, January 20, 2006.

Laurie Stras (ed), University of Southampton, UK, She’s So Fine: Reflections on Whiteness, Femininity, Adolescence and Class in 1960s Music, Ashgate, September 2011, 284 pp.

“Baby It’s You!” (stage production), Wikipe-dia.org.

“Best of the Ronettes” CD issued on the ABKCO label, 1992.  Click photo for separate story.
“Best of the Ronettes” CD issued on the ABKCO label, 1992. Click photo for separate story.
“Dreamgirl: My Life As a Supreme,” Wikipe-dia.org.

“Dreamgirls (musical),” Wikipedia.org.

“Dreamgirls (film),” Wikipedia.org.

Daniel Kreps, “‘Be My Baby’ Songwriter Ellie Greenwich Dead at 68,” RollingStone.com, August 26, 2009.

Allan Kozinn, Arts Beat Blog, “A Carole King Musical Is Broadway Bound,” New York Times, March 15, 2013.

Mindy Peterman,”‘Da Doo Ron Ron’! An Interview with La La Brooks, Original Lead Singer of The Crystals,” The MortonReport.com, October 8, 2011.

Gerri Hirshey, We Gotta Get Out of This Place: The True, Tough Story of Women in Rock, June 2002, 304 pp.

Melissa Block, ” ‘One Kiss:’ A Box Full of Girl Groups,” NPR, December 15, 2005.

Brittany Beyer, “Women Who Rock: Early 1960s and Girl Groups,”Broad Strokes, October 11, 2012.

“The Girl Groups,” History of Rock.com.

Victor Brooks, Last Season of Innocence: The Teen Experience in the 1960s (hardback), Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, April 2012, 216 pp.

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“Motown’s Heat Wave”
1963-1967

Martha & the Vandellas on 1964 record sleeve, from left: Martha Reeves, Annette Beard,and Rosalind Ashford.
Martha & the Vandellas on 1964 record sleeve, from left: Martha Reeves, Annette Beard,and Rosalind Ashford.
     One of the 1960s’ more renowned “girl groups” coming out of Berry Gordy’s Motown music center in Detroit, Michigan, was named “Martha and the Vandellas.”  Between 1963 and 1967, this group – consisting initially of Martha Reeves, Annette Beard, and Rosalind Ashford – laid down a string of hits that helped define the popular music of that day.  Their sound was distinctive, and it would become one of the hallmark musical identities to be associated with Motown for years thereafter.  But in the 1960s, this music also distinguished Motown as a rising power in the pop music business.  For at that time, Motown was just beginning to be noticed on the national music scene.

 

“Heat Wave”

     One of the first big hits to come from Martha and the Vandellas was “Heat Wave”–  a key song released in July 1963; a song that helped send this group, Motown, and its songwriters into the realm of big business.  At the time, leading-edge baby boomers, with their significant buying power, were moving through their high school years.  “Heat Wave” hit the streets precisely as millions of these kids were coming of age.  A buoyant, hard-driving rock ‘n roll tune, “Heat Wave” captured the spirit and optimism of its time – along with the energy of its young listeners – as well as well as any song of that era.  Even to this day, “Heat Wave” is an irresistible dance tune.  In 1963, it quickly scaled the pop charts.

Music Player
“Heat Wave” – 1963

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     The song’s full title is actually “(Love is Like a) Heat Wave,” with lyrics about teen love describing a young girl’s heart burning with desire — “like a heat wave.”  As Martha and her ladies ask in the singing: “Has high blood pressure got a hold on me, or is this the way love’s supposed to be?”  Their answer: “Can’t explain it, don’t understand it, ain’t never felt like this before.”  But in 1963, the power of this song was not in its lyrics.  Rather, this tune aroused its listeners with buoyant hand-clapping, an unyielding drum beat, and pure musical drive.  Its “message” was its energy and its vibrancy.  “Heat Wave” offered its coming-of-age charges pure possibility.  To them, the song’s optimistic musical assessment suggested wide-open horizons with  few limitations – especially in those more innocent, pre-JFK-assassination days of  September 1963.

A 45 rpm of Martha & The Vandellas’ ‘Heat Wave’ on the Gordy label from Motown, 1963.
A 45 rpm of Martha & The Vandellas’ ‘Heat Wave’ on the Gordy label from Motown, 1963.
     “Heat Wave” became a million seller, and by late September 1963 it had risen to No. 4 on the pop charts and No. 1 on the R&B charts, remaining in those spots for about five weeks.  “Heat Wave” was produced by a famous three-person team at Motown – a team consisting of the two brothers, Brian and Edward Holland, along with Lamont Dozier.  This talented trio — “Holland-Dozier-Hol- land,” as they came to be known, or H-D-H — wrote and arranged a number of the songs that came out of Motown, producing a distinctive sound that  helped define American popular music in the 1960s.   During their tenure at Motown, from 1962-1967, Dozier and Brian Holland were the compo- sers and producers, while Eddie Holland wrote the lyrics and arranged the vocals.  Thus, “Holland-Dozier-Holland” was the credit line that often appeared on many of the Gordy and other record labels coming out of Motown in that period.

Cover of a 2009 U.K. remastered CD with  'Come & Get These Memories' & 'Heat Wave,' plus four bonus tracks. Universal/Island.
Cover of a 2009 U.K. remastered CD with 'Come & Get These Memories' & 'Heat Wave,' plus four bonus tracks. Universal/Island.
     “Heat Wave” was the second hit collaboration between the Vandellas and the H-D-H team.  “Come and Get These Memories” had been Martha & the Vandellas’ first hit, released earlier in February 1963.  “Memories” rose to No. 29 on the Billboard singles chart, and No. 6 Billboard R&B chart.  But it was “Heat Wave’s” success that helped propel the “Vandellas-HDH-Motown” sound to new heights.  The song also garnered the group’s only Grammy Award nomination – Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group for 1964.  “Heat Wave” was followed shortly by another song in the same vein, as HDH turned out “Quicksand,” released in October 1963.  “Quick- sand,” like “Heat Wave,” was another very “danceable” tune.  In its lyrics, the lover this time was bringing his lady “closer and closer” – into a love that was like “quicksand,” causing her to fall “deeper and deeper in love” with him.  This tune rose quickly on the charts, reaching No. 8.  It was the third hit for the Vandellas and the HDH team.

Getting Their Start
Young Artists Rising

 

1960s photo of Martha & The Vandellas – from left: Annette Beard, Martha Reeves, and Rosalind Ashford at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.
1960s photo of Martha & The Vandellas – from left: Annette Beard, Martha Reeves, and Rosalind Ashford at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.
     Martha Reeves, Annette Beard, and Rosalind Ashford formed a singing group in high school called the Del-Phis.  They recorded one single with the Check-Mate records, a subsidiary of Chess Records.  Martha Reeves had also sung on her own under another name.  However, in 1961, Reeves took a secretarial job at Motown working for recording producer Mickey Stevenson.  On one occasion in July 1962, Motown’s head, Berry Gordy, was in need of some back-up singers for a recording session, and Reeves and her friends were called in to sing behind Marvin Gaye on two songs – “Hitch Hike” and “Stubborn Kind of Fellow.”  Now under contract with Gordy and Motown, the three young singers soon recorded their first song, “I’ll Have To Let Him Go.”  By then they adopted their new group name, Martha and the Vandellas – “Vandellas” being a word combi- nation made from Detroit’s Van Dyke Street and Martha Reeves’ favorite singer, Della Reese.  By February 1962 they released “Come and Get These Memories,” their first song to chart, and with that, they were one their way.

 

European record sleeve for 1964's ‘Dancing in the Street’ single.
European record sleeve for 1964's ‘Dancing in the Street’ single.
 

“Dancing in the Street”

     In July 1964, came perhaps the crowning gem of Martha & The Vandellas’ career – “Dancing in the Street” – another signature Motown tune and one of the Vandellas’ most famous songs from that era.  This song was produced by William “Mickey” Stevenson and written by Stevenson and soon-to-become Motown star in his own right, Marvin Gaye.  Originally written with another singer in mind, Kim Weston, Martha and the Vandellas did the song after Weston passed on it.  After Martha Reeves first heard the demo, she asked if she could arrange her own vocals to fit the song’s message.  Gaye and Stevenson agreed.  They also included a new Motown songwriter, Ivy Jo Hunter, who helped with instrumentation and musical composition.  The song was then recorded in two takes.

Martha & the Vandellas performing, 1960s.
Martha & the Vandellas performing, 1960s.

     “Dancing in the Street” peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard chart in September 1964 and would remain in the Top 40 for 11 weeks.  It was released as the first single from the group’s third album, Dance Party.  “Dancing’s” lyrics offer a good time “in the streets” in practically whatever city the listener could imagine.  The song’s lyrics, in part, go as follows:

Calling out around the world,
“Are you ready for a brand new beat?”
Summer’s here and the time is right
For dancing in the street
They’re dancing in Chicago
Down in New Orleans
In New York City…

All we need is music, sweet music
There’ll be music everywhere…

Music Player
“Dancing in the Street”-1964

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     “Dancing in the Street” was released in late July 1964 and played through that summer at the height of the civil rights movement in the U.S.  Some interpreted the song as a call to “demonstrate in the streets,” others as an anthem for social change.  However, Martha Reeves would remark at one point that it was nothing more than “a party song.”  And according to co-writer William “Mickey” Stevenson, the song was inspired by the sight of a group of multi-racial kids playing in the spray from a fire hydrant on hot summer evening in Detroit in the summer of 1964:  “All the hatred and prejudice in the world, and these kids had no concept of it,” Stevenson would say.  And notably, Berry Gordy had fashioned his Motown music business for commercial success with the idea of his stars “crossing over” to appeal to larger white audiences all across the country.  So “Dancing in the Street” was not designed as music to incite street riots.

Martha & the Vandellas ‘Dance Party” album of 1965 included ‘Dancing in the Street’ and other of their popular songs, and is regarded by some as one of their best compilations.
Martha & the Vandellas ‘Dance Party” album of 1965 included ‘Dancing in the Street’ and other of their popular songs, and is regarded by some as one of their best compilations.
     Still, after black activists such as H. Rap Brown began playing the song while organizing demonstrations, some radio stations began taking the song off play lists.  That the music had a certain energy and conveyance for many people, there is no question.  Motown recording artist Marvin Gaye would later observe that of all the Motown acts he’d recalled from the 1960s, he thought “Martha & The Vandellas came closest to nearly saying something [political].”  Gaye continued:  “It wasn’t a nearly conscious thing, but when they sang ‘Quicksand’ or ‘Wild One’ or ‘Nowhere To Run’ or ‘Dancing In the Street’, they captured a spirit that felt political to me. I like that.”  Still, for many, it was just good music.

     It does appear, however, that by 1967 something of a turning point had occurred, as Martha and the Vandellas and other Motown artists toured the country during a time of racial strife and urban unrest.  “Dancing in the Street” and other Motown songs became more politically freighted than they had been, whether intended or not.“Dancing in the Street” and other Motown songs became more politically freighted than they had been, whether intended or not.  In fact, politics and pop music from that time on became more intertwined at Motown and elsewhere.  At least some of the music at Motown and other labels – as well as the artists themselves at those labels – began addressing civil rights and other national issues more directly than had occurred previously.

     In more recent years, books such as Dancing in the Streets: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit (2000, Harvard University Press) by Suzanne Smith, and Ready For a Brand New Beat: How “Dancing in the Street” Became the Anthem for a Changing America (2013, Riverhead) by Mark Kurlansky, have probed the historical and cultural impact of Motown’s music and business on both Detroit and the broader civil rights movement.  In addition, recent magazine articles, including Rollo Romig’s New Yorker piece of July 2013, “‘Dancing in the Street’: Detroit’s Radical Anthem,” and another that same month at Slate.com, adapting a piece from Kurlansky’s book, are also worth exploring.

     “Dancing in the Street,” in any case, was a huge hit in the mid-1960s, and remains a classic of the period.  Tom Moon, writing in his book, 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die, labels it the “Quintessential Summer Single.”  In November 2005, the song was ranked No. 40 by Rolling Stone’s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”  And in April 2006, Library of Congress announced that Martha and the Vandellas’ version of “Dancing in the Street” would be preserved by the National Recording Registry.

Record sleeve for Martha and the Vandellas’ single ‘Nowhere to Run’ issued in Holland.
Record sleeve for Martha and the Vandellas’ single ‘Nowhere to Run’ issued in Holland.

 

“Nowhere to Run”

     “Nowhere to Run,” another of the Vandellas’ HDH-Gordy-Motown hits, was released in February 1965.  This song tells the story of a woman trapped in a bad relationship with a man she cannot help but love.  Musically, the sound is quite similar to “Dancing In The Street.”  The song also appeared on the album Dance Party.  “Nowhere to Run” hit No. 8 the Billboard singles chart, and No. 5 the Billboard R&B chart.  It also charted in the U.K., peaking at No. 26.  Over the years, “Nowhere to Run” has been played at football contests and other sporting events, sometimes to taunt oppossing teams, or otherwise to energize crowds.

     Other songs for Martha and the Vandellas followed “Nowhere to Run,” as seen on the list of hits below.  Two of these were Top Ten finishers – “I’m Ready for Love” in 1966 and “Jimmy Mack” in 1967.  But after 1967, it proved tougher going for the group. 

Martha & The
Vandellas
1960s Hot Hits

 

Come and Get These Memories
1963- No. 29; 6 R&B
Heat Wave
1963- No.4; 1 R&B
Quicksand
1964 – No. 8
Dancing In The Street
1964 – No. 2
Wild One
1965 – No. 34
Nowhere To Run
1965 – No.8
I’m Ready For Love
1966 – No. 9
Jimmy Mack
1967 – No. 10; 1 R&B

     By 1971, when the Motown organization moved west to Los Angles, Martha and the Vandellas parted company with the record label, going out on their own for a time.  Things were never quite the same thereafter.  Reeves, in fact, was stunned to learn of Motown’s move to Los Angeles and she fought a legal battle with the label to be released from her contract.  In the 1970s, Reeves had a bout with prescription drug problems, but emerged in the late 1970s drug free.

     As female artists at Motown, Martha & the Vandellas were second only to Diana Ross and the Supremes, with whom they competed for resources and attention.  One story has it that Berry Gordy favored the Supremes, and allocated resources accordingly.  Once the Supremes had demonstrated their crossover appeal with a couple of No. 1 pop hits, Gordy decided they would be the more lucrative group, and he reportedly sent the best material to the Supremes and helped them in other ways.  Martha Reeves would later write that Gordy held back the song “Jimmy Mack” for two years because it sounded too much like a Supremes song.  Reeves and two other Vandellas –  Beard and Ashford – would sue Motown for back royalties in the 1980s.  Beard and Ashford in fact, claimed at one point they had received no royalties from Motown dating to the 1960s.  There was a settlement in some of the litigation, and at least one lump sum payment to Beard and Ashford.  But as of 2004 or so, disputes were still ongoing in some of the cases.  Reeves appeared to have had separate litigation dating to 1983, and won a lawsuit for some back royalties, an award which also specified royalties for current and future reissues of past work.

 

Top Motown Group

Through The Years

     During their years of performing, Martha and the Vandellas’ personnel changed a few times.  Betty Kelly replaced the departing Annette Beard in 1964, and after Kelly left in1967, Lois Reeves came on.  Sandra Tilley was added to the group in 1969 after Rosalind Ashford left.  Martha Reeves remained throughout the group’s 1963-1972 run.  The group broke up in 1973 after a final farewell performance in December 1972 at Detroit’s Cobo Hall.  Reeves tried a solo career briefly in the mid-1970s, but the magic of the 1960s did not return.  Throughout the 1980s and 1990s there were occasional reunions and perfor- mances, variously constituted, and also a recording here and there.  In 1994, Reeves published an autobiography, Dancing in the Street: Confessions of a Pop Diva, with Hyperion and writer Mark Bego.  By 2005, Reeves ran for and won a seat on Detroit’s city council, which she held until an election loss in August 2009.  Thereafter she returned to performing with her sisters as “Martha Reeves and the Vandellas.”  This group had a sold out tour in the UK in 2009.

     In their heyday, Martha and the Vandellas proved to be one of Motown’s top acts, and their popularity led to spots on popular TV shows of that era, including The Ed Sullivan Show, The Mike Douglas Show, American Bandstand, and Shindig! 

     During their nine-year run on the charts, from 1963 to 1972, Martha and the Vandellas had over 26 hits.  Twelve of these charted within the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100; six within the Top Ten including: “Dancing in the Street,” “Heat Wave,” “Nowhere to Run” and “Jimmy Mack.”  Two of their songs – “Heat Wave” and “Jimmy Mack” – were also No. 1 R& B hits, while eight others finished in the R&B Top Ten.

     In 1995 the trio was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  “Heat Wave” and “Dancing in the Street” were included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.  In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked Martha and the Vandellas at No. 96 on their list of the 100 greatest artists of all time.  The group has also received various other awards and recognition, including  induction into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.

     See also at this website, “1960s Girl Groups,” a more detailed account of the “girl group” music genre, including many of the groups involved during the 1958-1967 period, as well as some of the producers and songwriters involved.  For additional music stories, see also the Annals of Music category page at this website.  Thanks for visiting – and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle

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Date Posted:   7 November 2009
Last Update:   25 August 2013
Comments to:   jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Motown’s Heat Wave, 1963-1967,”
PopHistoryDig.com, November 7, 2009.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

Martha Reeves’ biography with Mark Bego – ‘Dancing in the Street: Confessions of a Motown Diva’ – was issued in August 1994 by Hyperion Books.
Martha Reeves’ biography with Mark Bego – ‘Dancing in the Street: Confessions of a Motown Diva’ – was issued in August 1994 by Hyperion Books.
Martha & the Vandellas – Dutch record sleeve for single, “Heat Wave.”
Martha & the Vandellas – Dutch record sleeve for single, “Heat Wave.”
Martha & the Vandellas – Dutch record sleeve for single, “Quicksand.”
Martha & the Vandellas – Dutch record sleeve for single, “Quicksand.”

“Martha and the Vandellas / Martha Reeves,” in Holly George-Warren and Patricia Romanowski (eds), The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press, New York, 3rd Edition, 2001, pp. 613-614.

Richard H. Lingeman, “The Big, Happy, Beating Heart Of the Detroit Sound,” The New York Times Magazine, Sunday, November 27, 1966, p. 25.

Andrew Briggs, “Martha, Vandellas in Town”[at Whisky-a-GoGo, W. Hollywood], Los Angeles Times, May 6, 1967, p. B-7.

Loraine Alterman, “Meet the Graduates of the Motown Sound; Recordings,” New York Times, Sunday, July 28, 1974.

“New Image Shown By Martha Reeves At the Bottom Line,” New York Times, Sunday, September 15, 1974.

“Miss Reeves, Solo, at Reno Sweeney’s,” New York Times, Thursday, December 18, 1975, p. 63.

Richard Skelly, “Martha Reeves and the Vandellas: The Motown Years,”Goldmine, March 3, 1995, pp. 34-50.

Emily Gaul, “The Recordings of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas,” Goldmine, March 3, 1995, pp. 64-68.

Gerri Hirshey Nowhere to Run: The Story of Soul Music, New York: Times Books, 1984.

Martha Reeves and Mark Bego, Dancing in the Streets: Confessions of a Pop Diva, New York: Hyperion Books, 1994.

Martha and the Vandellas,” Rock and Roll Hall of Fame & Museum, Induction, 1995.

Dancing in the Street,” Wikipedia.org.

Martha and the Vandellas,” Wikipedia.org.

Martha Reeves,” Wikipedia.org.

Dave Marsh, “No. 50, ‘Heat Wave,’ Martha and the Vandellas,”The Heart of Rock and Soul – The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made, 1989.

Jeff B. (ed), Martha & The Vandellas,” Digital DreamDoor.com.

“Motown Artists Continue to Lose Royalties: Martha and the Vandellas Cannot Void Contract,” BlackWebPortal.com, by EURWeb, March 5, 2004.

Martha and the Vandellas Record Sleeves, Dutch Motown Artone Collection, 7InchRecords.com, site accessed, November 2009.

Also at the PopHistoryDig.com, see other Motown-related and 1960s music stories, including: “Do You Love Me,” on The Contours; “Fingertips, Pt.2,” on Stevie Wonder; “Hello Stranger,” on Barbara Lewis; and “Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” on the Righteous Brothers.

Rollo Romig, “‘Dancing in the Street’: Detroit’s Radical Anthem,” The New Yorker, July 22, 2013.

Mark Kurlansky, “How Martha and the Vandellas Started ‘Dancing in the Street;’ The Backstory of a Motown Song That Defined a Generation,” Slate.com, July 17, 2013.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Fingertips – Pt.2″
1963

1960s record sleeve for 'Little Stevie Wonder.'
1960s record sleeve for 'Little Stevie Wonder.'
     The clear, calling harmonica was the sound that first got your attention; it was coming from a new piece of music being played on the radio in late summer 1963. That was the summer of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech; the summer preceding John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The harmonica in the air those days was from a song that had an unusual name: “Fingertips,” or more precisely, “Fingertips, Part 2.” It was like nothing else at the time; part of a distinctive mix of music and vocals, a song recorded live with an unusual arrangement. And it was performed by a 12 year-old blind boy. “Little Stevie Wonder” they called him; a Detroit kid who had a sixth sense about him; a kid who could, it was said, discern a coin’s identity by the sound it made when dropped on a kitchen table.

     Stevie Wonder was born Steveland Judkins in May 1950 in Saginaw, Michigan, later known as Steveland Morris after his mother’s married name. Placed in an incubator immediately after birth, baby Steveland was given too much oxygen, leading to permanent blindness in childhood.

Early 1962 album with Motown.
Early 1962 album with Motown.
     Growing up as a blind child, young Stevie developed an affinity for musical instruments, playing the harmonica at five, taking piano lessons at six, and playing drums at eight. After his family moved to Detroit, he began singing and playing instruments in church, including the piano, harmonica, and bongo drums. With a transistor radio to his ear, he also listened to Ray Charles and Sam Cook. In 1961, at the age of 11, the young boy and his mother were introduced to Brian Holland and Berry Gordy of Motown records through Ronnie White of the singing group The Miracles. After an audition, Motown signed the boy to a contract, giving him the stage name Little Stevie Wonder.

Stevie & harmonica.
Stevie & harmonica.
     His first recordings in 1962 attempted to link him to jazz and Ray Charles. They included two albums, one, A Tribute to Uncle Ray, featuring Stevie’s versions of tunes by his hero, Ray Charles. A second album, The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie, spotlighted his various instrumental skills. Neither of the albums amounted to much. But then came “Fingertips.” Originally written by Clarence Paul and Henry Cosby, the song was recorded for the studio album The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie Wonder. “Fingertips” was basically a long instrumental piece, showcasing Wonder’s talents on the harmonica. However, a live version of the song — recorded during a “Motown revue” at the Regal Theater in Chicago — was the version that would become the hit. Motown initially grouped it with others songs as part of another Little Stevie album — Recorded Live! The 12 Year Old Genius.

First #1 album with Motown-Tamala, 1963.
First #1 album with Motown-Tamala, 1963.

 

DJ’s Liked Pt. 2

     Radio DJs for some reason began playing the 7-minute version of “Fingertips” on the album, which was quite unusual since songs of more than 3 minutes were rarely played on the radio. The DJs especially liked the second part of “Fingertips,” labeled “Fingertips Pt. 2,” which seemed to capture the frantic energy of a live concert. Seeing how the DJs were reacting to the song, Berry Gordy decided to issue it as a 45 rpm single, with “Fingertips Pt 1″ on one side, and “Fingertips Pt 2″ on the other side. By early August 1963, “Fingertips” became Motown’s second #1 hit. The Marvelettes’ “Please Mr. Postman” had been Motown’s first #1 record, topping the charts in late 1961. “Fingertips Pt 2″, in fact, became the first live, non-studio recording to reach #1 on the Billboard pop singles chart.  The live song, with full instrumentation behind it, also had some “call-and-response” sections, complete with audience participation, as in the excerpt below:

45 rpm with two sides of 'Fingertips' - Pt.1 & Pt.2.
45 rpm with two sides of 'Fingertips' - Pt.1 & Pt.2.

Stevie: Evvybody say yeah,…
Audience: Yeah…
Stevie: Everbody say yeah, yeah, yeah …
Audience: Yeah, Yeah, Yeah…
Stevie: Clap yo’ hands just a little bit louder…
Audience: [Clapping rhythmically]….

     But the harmonica solos in the live version were full of energy and the novel arrangement caught the attention and enthusiasm of DJs and listeners.  “Fingertips” held the #1 spot on the pop charts for three weeks.  The song also reached #1 on the R&B singles chart and the album made history as well.  Little Stevie Wonder became the first artist to have a #1 album and #1 single simultaneously.  He also holds the record for the youngest artist (age 13) to have an album go to #1 on the charts, eventually selling over a million copies.

Cover of 'Early Classics' CD, year 2000.
Cover of 'Early Classics' CD, year 2000.

 

Path to Stardom

     “Fingertips Pt. 2.” put Stevie Wonder on a musical career path that would take him to stardom and a prolific 40-plus years of making and writing music.  But not right away.  After the novelty of “Fingertips” wore off, a follow-up hit did not come for Stevie.  Although he managed to chart a few more singles over the next year, none had the success of “Fingertips.”  His voice also changed, and his recording career was temporarily put on hold.  He then studied classical piano at the Michigan School for the Blind.  On his return in 1964, he dropped “Little” from his stage name and in 1965 had a successful Motown dance tune, “Uptight, Everything’s Alright,” which he co-wrote.  That song hit #1 on R&B chart and # 5 on the pop chart.  Stevie Wonder was on his way.  Through the1960s and 1970s other hits came, among them: “Nothing’s Too Good for My Baby,” Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind”, and Ron Miller’s “A Place in the Sun”– all in 1966. He also wrote music for others, including The Miracles’ #1 hit of 1967, “Tears of a Clown,” co-authored with his producer, Hank Crosby.  But there were other Stevie Wonder hits too, including: “I Was Made to Love Her”(1967), “For Once in My Life”(1968), “My Cherie Amour”(1969), and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours”(1970), a song from the first album he produced.

     Up to this point, Wonder was still a minor under the law and Motown managed his career, controlling his publishing and recording sessions and keeping his money in a trust fund. By 1971, however, that changed when Stevie turned 21, taking control of $1 million then in his trust fund (some say he had earned $30 million for Motown by that time). He also began negotiating a new contract with Motown. The 21-page contract he negotiated set precedent there, and gave Wonder complete creative control over his music as well as a higher royalty rate, with Motown still distributing his product.

 

Ten Grammys in 2 Years

      In 1972, he gained a broader national audience by opening for the Rolling Stones on their major U.S. tour that year, where he unveiled the soon-to-be #1 hit “Superstition.” Albums in 1972 and 1973 followed. Then he won five Grammy awards in 1974, and five more the following year. He was now an established rock star and had become a multi-millionaire. His 1976 contract with Motown for $13 million over seven years was then the largest in recording history.His 1976 contract with Motown for $13 million over seven years was the largest in recording history at that time. By then, he had 20 hit singles to his credit and eleven best-selling albums. Yet three more decades of music-making still lay ahead, with more hits and more renown, including some unique collaborations, such as 1982′s “Ebony And Ivory” with Paul McCartney, which remained #1 for seven weeks. In 1986, The New York Times – noting his wide ranging skills in several genres, from funk to ballads, bossa nova to quasi-showtunes – called him “a one-man Tin Pan Alley.” In the 1980s and 1990s he also found time to become engaged in children’s and civil-rights causes, and led the campaign to make Martin Luther King’s birthday a national holiday. His music has also paid tribute to figures like King and jazz great Duke Ellington.


Stevie Wonder Hits
Selected Top 20 Singles

1963   “Fingertips – Pt. 2″
1965   “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)”
1966   “Nothing’s Too Good for My Baby”
1966   “Blowin’ in the Wind”
1966   “A Place in the Sun”
1967   “I Was Made to Love Her”
1968   “For Once in My Life”
1969   “My Cherie Amour”
1969   “Yester-Me, Yester-You…”
1970   “Signed, Sealed, Delivered…”
1970   “Heaven Help Us All”
1971   “We Can Work It Out”
1971   “If You Really Love Me”
1972   “Superstition”
1973   “You Are the Sunshine…”
1973   “Higher Ground”
1973   “Living for the City”
1974   “Don’t You Worry ’bout a Thing”
1974   “You Haven’t Done Nothin’”
1974   “Boogie On Reggae Woman”
1976   “I Wish”
1977   “Sir Duke”
1980   “Master Blaster (Jammin’)”
1980   “I Ain’t Gonna Stand for It”
1982   “That Girl”
1982   “Ebony and Ivory”*
1982   “Do I Do”
1984   “I Just Called to Say I Love You”
1984   “Love Light in Flight”
1985   “Part-Time Lover”
1985   “That’s What Friends Are For”*
1985   “Go Home”
1987   “Skeletons”
_________________________________
           *collaborations
 


Collaborator & Innovator 

    Known as a musician who has influenced the work of many other artists, Stevie Wonder has also collaborated with a number of his musical colleagues, including Prince, Michael Jackson, Dionne Warwick, Elton John, Julio Iglesias, the Eurythmics, Babyface, Angie Wood and others.  He provides the harmonica on Elton John’s “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues.”  He has also written over 100 songs for fellow artists.  Wonder’s writing and performing over the years has been distinguished for its novel and complicated musical style and its jazz influences.  American Idol contestants who attempt to cover his songs, for example, find them difficult to perform, as they use unusual chords, make abrupt, unpredictable changes, and often require that a syllable be sung over several notes.  His selection of musical key – sometimes using the black notes on the piano or keyboard, for example – is more often found in jazz than in pop, but he has used it to great success.  He has also been a musical innovator, playing an important role in bringing synthesizers and electronic keyboards to pop music.

CD cover, 2002 edition, Stevie Wonder 'The Definitive Collection,' by Motown.
CD cover, 2002 edition, Stevie Wonder 'The Definitive Collection,' by Motown.

  

    

 





 
Songwriter, Producer

     Today, Stevie Wonder is among the giants in the music industry; an accomplished singer, songwriter, musician, and record producer.  In the U.S., he has had at least nine #1 hits and more than 30 top ten hits.  In August 2007, he under-took his first U.S. concert tour in over a decade, performing in a dozen U.S. cities and Toronto, Canada.  During his career, his album and single sales have exceeded the 100 million mark and he has received numerous awards and honors.  He is the recipient of 25 Grammy Awards — a record for a solo artist — and has also received a Grammy lifetime achievement award.  In 1984, he won an Oscar for Best Song — “I Just Called to Say I Love You” – from the film, The Woman in Red.  In 1989 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and in 1999, received Kennedy Center Honors.  He is also a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame.  No less a musical authority than the former opera star Luciano Pavarotti once called him a “great, great musical genius.”

     Stevie Wonder has come a long way since the early 1960s and the days of “Fingertips, Pt. 2.”  Yet the innocence of that early sound, and his “Fingertips” harmonica, still send a good and clear calling, just as it did way back then.

     For other stories at this website on the history of popular music and profiles of songs and artists, please see the “Annals of Music” category page.  Thanks for visiting.  – Jack Doyle

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__________________________

Date Posted:  21 April 2008
Last Update:  30 November 2012
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Fingertips, Pt.2, 1963,”
PopHistoryDig.com, April 21, 2008.

_____________________________



Sources, Links & Additional Information

CD cover for a Billboard “Top Hits of 1963” collection, which includes “Figertips-Pt.2.”
CD cover for a Billboard “Top Hits of 1963” collection, which includes “Figertips-Pt.2.”
John S. Wilson, “Big Stevie Wonder Serves Soul at Philharmonic Hall,” New York Times, Saturday, September 27, 1969, p. 24.

“Black, Blind and on Top of Pop,” Time, Monday, April 8, 1974.

Jon Pareles, “Concert: Stevie Wonder,” New York Times, September 28, 1986.

John Rockwell, “Stevie Wonder,” in Anthony De Curtis and James Henke (eds), The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, Random House, New York, 1992, pp.293-298.

“Stevie Wonder,” in Holly George-Warren and Patricia Romanowski (eds), The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press, New York, 3rd Edition, 2001, pp. 1079-1081.

Steve Huey, “Stevie Wonder, Biography,”All Music Guide.

“Biography of Stevie Wonder,” About the Artist, The Kennedy Center, Washington D.C.

Ed Hogan, “Fingertips – Pt 2,” Song Review, All Music Guide.

Stevie Wonder,”Wikipedia.org.

Stevie Wonder Profile at U.K. web site, Soulwalking.

“Stevie Wonder Biography”at Biography.com.

“Stevie Wonder Biography”at Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Stevie Wonder website, StevieWonder.net.

Stevie Wonder U.K. site, StevieWonder.org.



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