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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Will You Love Me Tomorrow?”-1960-61
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.
“Baby It’s You”-1962
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.”
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.
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.
“Please Mr. Postman”-1961
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
However, for the Crystals next song, “He’s A Rebel,” Spector recorded singer Darlene Love and her backing group, The Blossoms, as “The Crystals.”
“He’s A Rebel”-1962
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.
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.”
“Da Doo Ron Ron”-1963
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.
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.
“Be My Baby”-1963
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.
Girl Group Songs
“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”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
“He’s So Fine”-1963
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.
“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.
“One Fine Day”-1963
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.”
“Sally Go Round The Roses”-1963
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“Remember…Walking in The Sand”-1964
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Come See About Me”-1964
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).
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.
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.
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 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.
Mamas & Papas-Cover Version
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.
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.
“(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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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
“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.
“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.
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.
Frank Sinatra, looking a little “life weary” in a troubled pose on the cover of a “Cycles” single sleeve.
“Cycles” is the name of a song Frank Sinatra recorded in July 1968. The song was written by Gayle Caldwell, a singer-songwriter who had recorded with the New Christy Minstrel singers and also on her own. Sinatra recorded the song for Reprise Records, then owned by Warner Brothers. “Cycles,” in any case, proved to be a very good fit for Sinatra, as it has a classic Sinatra sound and feel to it – a song many believe is underrated, but has become, nonetheless, a fan favorite over the years. What follows here is some background on Sinatra, the song, and its reception.
After recording in New York in July 1968, two songs were released for a Frank Sinatra single that August – “My Way Of Life” on the A side and “Cycles” on the B side. “My Way of Life” received more attention initially, lasting six weeks on the Billboard singles chart beginning August 31, 1968. That song peaked at No. 64.
After “My Way of Life” fell off the charts, however, “Cycles” became the bigger hit. It began to break through around October 12, 1968, and rose to No. 23 on Billboard Hot 100, lasting some 10 weeks on the charts. It also rose to No. 2 on the Contemporary Adult / Easy Listening chart, remaining on that chart for 15 weeks through early 1969.
Frank Sinatra on the cover of Newsweek magazine, September 1965.
Following the success of the “Cycles” single that fall, it was decided that an album using the same name, Cycles, would be rushed into production for the Christmas season. Additional songs were recorded for the LP which was released in December 1968. Along with “Cycles,” Sinatra recorded a variety of other of pop and folk-rock songs for the album, including the Glen Campbell hits “Gentle on My Mind” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” as well Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” and others. The resulting album – a mixed bag of tunes and certainly not among Sinatra’s best – still peaked at No. 18 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, remaining on that chart for 28 weeks beginning December 28, 1968.
When Sinatra recorded “Cycles” he was more or less in late mid-career. He had just had a run of successes in the 1960s: in August 1965 he had released the retrospective album, September of My Years; in November that year he starred in the Emmy-winning T.V. special, Frank Sinatra: A Man and His Music; and on the music charts in 1966-67 he had three Top Ten hits — “Strangers in the Night” (No. 1, 1966), “That’s Life (No. 4, 1966), and “Something Stupid” (No. 1, 1967). In August 1968, a compilation album of his ’60s singles was also released – Frank Sinatra’s Greatest Hits! – which became a million-seller.
Writer: Gayle Caldwell
So I’m down and so I’m out
But so are many others
So I feel like tryin’ to hide
My head ‘neath these covers
Life is like the seasons
After winter comes the spring
So I’ll keep this smile awhile
And see what tomorrow brings
I’ve been told and I believe
That life is meant for livin’
And even when my chips are low
There’s still some left for givin’
I’ve been many places
Maybe not as far as you
So I think I’ll stay awhile
And see if some dreams come true
There isn’t much that I have learned
Through all my foolish years
Except that life keeps runnin’ in cycles
First there’s laughter, then those tears
But I’ll keep my head up high
Although I’m kinda tired
My gal just up and left last week
Friday I got fired
You know it’s almost funny
But things can’t get worse than now
So I’ll keep on tryin’ to sing
But please, just don’t ask me how
The “Cycles” song, however, is vintage Frank Sinatra, as if it were written just for him. When he recorded it he was 53 years old. By then he had lived long enough, and had a certain seasoning in his voice, which gave a believable, authentic feel to the song. “Cycles” is also reminiscent of the Sinatra style on earlier albums, such as 1955’s In The Wee Small Hours.
“Cycles” tells a tale of a worn-down soul who has been kicked around a bit, but still hasn’t given up. Many a mid-lifer, hearing Sinatra croon this tune, will readily identify with the song’s sentiments and Sinatra’s manner. Sinatra’s own life by 1968 had its share of ups and downs. A ladies’ man from his teen idol days through his later years, Sinatra had a troubled love life it seems. In the 1950s, he divorced his first wife to marry actress Ava Gardner, a relationship that ended in its own divorce. They were married between 1951 and 1957. In 1966 Sinatra married actress and TV star, Mia Farrow, but that union also ended in divorce, in fact in 1968, the year “Cycles” was recorded. Sinatra also had relationships with other women, among them Marilyn Monroe, Juliet Prowse and Angie Dickinson.
Politically, Sinatra had worked very hard in the 1960 presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy, also organizing and headlining JFK’s inaugural gala, only to be jilted by the Kennedys a few years later. By the tumultuous political year of 1968, Sinatra was finished with the Kennedys, throwing his support to Hubert Humphrey rather than Bobby Kennedy. So it appears Sinatra had plenty of real life depth to bring to the song “Cycles” as it was recorded in 1968.
Meanwhile, many of his fans mark “Cycles” as among their favorite Sinatra songs. One guest to the SinatraFamily.com site named Steve, writing in April 2004, noted in part: “I have always loved this song because it relates so well to the common people and I think despite all his wealth and fame, Sinatra could very well relate to the avg. working folks. The song is not one of despair but one of quiet hope and of someone who needs a little time to himself in order to regroup.”
Frank Sinatra with cigarette, Miami Beach, 1968. Photo, Terry O' Neill.
A customer at the iTunes music website reviewing the Cycles album, headlined his comment, “Cycles – The Song Itself is 5 Stars, Top Shelf!,” and wrote: “While this album is average (or maybe below) it has one of the greatest songs Sinatra ever recorded. I will never understand how…[Cycles] wasn’t one of his most famous songs; it is haunting and just beautiful.”
Beyond “Cycles” Sinatra still had a couple more decades of career to come. In 1969, for example, his hit song “My Way” came out, which in the U.S. rose to No. 27 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 2 on the Easy Listening chart. In the U.K., however, “My Way” was a much bigger hit and had a record run of 75 weeks in the Top 40 there, from April 1969 to September 1971.
Cover for Capitol Records’ “Classic Sinatra” CD – “His Great Performances, 1953-1960,” March-April 2000.
In the early 1970s, Sinatra flirted with retirement briefly, but by 1973 had another gold-selling album – Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back – and a television special. He also returned to live performing Las Vegas. In the mid-1980s, his Trilogy album – which includes the “New York, New York” tune – broke into the U.S. Top 20, peaking at No. 17. In 1984, he worked with Quincy Jones on the album, L.A. Is My Lady, also well received. And in 1993, he did a Top Ten album titled Duets, recording songs with partners such as Aretha Franklin, Tony Bennet, Bono, Liza Minneli and others. A follow-up album, Duets II, was released in 1994 and rose to No.9 on the Billboard charts.
His last public concerts were held in Japan in December, 1994. In February 1995, at a private party for 1,200 selected guests, Sinatra gave his final live performance, reportedly still in commanding form, closing the night with “The Best is Yet to Come.” Frank Sinatra died on May 14,1998. He was 82 years old.
Early 1960s: Frank Sinatra, right, with “Rat Pack” pals Dean Martin, left, and Sammy Davis, Jr, center. Click on photo for related story.
The entertainment career of Frank Sinatra spanned nearly 60 years, stretching from the 1940s as a rising young singer with the Harry James and Tommy Dorsey orchestras to headlining in Las Vegas and starring in Hollywood films. His recording output alone included some 296 singles and 69 albums. Along the way, he collected a number of awards and honors, including: eleven Grammy Awards; a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for acting; Kennedy Center Honors in 1983, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1985, and a Congressional Gold Medal in 1997.
Other stories at this website that cover parts of Frank Sinatra’s life and career include, for example: “The Jack Pack” (Sinatra & Rat Pack campaigning for JFK); “Ava Gardner” (includes the Sinatra years); “Mia’s Metamorphoses” (includes Mia Farrow/Frank Sinatra years); and “The Sinatra Riots” (his early years as a teen idol star). Additional stories covering the history of popular music, artist profiles, and song histories can be found at the Annals of Music category page. Thanks for visiting — and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. - Jack Doyle
Dion DiMucci – better known simply as “Dion” from his 1950s doo-wop fame – is a highly successful recording artist much loved by Baby Boomers. Dion flourished first with The Belmonts and then alone, scoring a series of hit songs in the 1950s and 1960s. Among the more famous of his Top Ten hits are: “A Teenager in Love” (1959, with the Belmonts), “Runaround Sue” (1961), “The Wanderer” (1961-62), “Ruby Baby” (1963), and “Abraham, Martin and John” (1968). But in later years, as he continued recording, Dion took on new musical genres – folk, Christian music, blues, country, and back to rock. During these years, he did not always have the commercial success he once had. And sometimes he was dismissed by critics as being defined by his teen idol years. But reassessments of his work found value in his later recordings, with a range of artists – including Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Lou Reed, Bob Dylan and others – citing his influence.
As a teenager growing up in the Bronx, Dion DiMucci began singing on street corners. In those years, he also picked up a drug habit that would lead to heroin addiction – something he would struggle with for years. After dropping out of high school, he recorded a demo that made its way to the producers of the Teen Club TV show in Philadelphia, where he made a performing debut in 1954 and released a few early songs with a group called the Timberlanes. But by 1958 Dion joined another neighborhood group called The Belmonts – named after Belmont Avenue in the “Little Italy” section of the Bronx. This group became “Dion and The Belmonts.”
1959: From left: Carlo Mastrangelo, Freddie Milano, Dion DiMucci, Angelo D'Aleo – Dion & The Belmonts.
Dion & The Belmonts included Dion singing lead and three others singing background – Carlo Mastrangelo, bass-baritone; Fred Milano, second tenor; and Angelo D’Aleo, first tenor. With their second recorded single released in April 1958 – “I Wonder Why” – they nearly broke the Top 20, peaking at No. 22. The song remained in the U.S. Top 40 for ten weeks. “I Wonder Why” was classic doo-wop, described by Bob Hyde in a 1993 booklet for the Doo Wop Box as follows: “…[T]he song opens with bass Carol Mastrangelo’s masterpiece of nonsense syllable-stringing, and just rolls from there. The Belmonts had a highly recognizable sound to compliment Dion’s voice…” After this song hit, Hyde wrote, “it was Katie-bar-the-door for white, predominantly Italian-American groups singing in what [was] called a ‘new-doo-wop’ style.”
“I Wonder Why”-1958
Dion and The Belmonts soon rose to the national scene, appearing on the American Bandstand TV show August 7, 1958, performing their hit song, “I Wonder Why.” They would also perform “No One Knows” on Bandstand, a song that would break the Top 20, hitting No. 19 on the U.S. charts.
Years later, “I Wonder Why” would find subsequent use in film and television soundtracks, including the 1983 film adaption of Stephen King’s novel, Christine; the 1993 film, A Bronx Tale; and the January 1999 pilot episode of The Sopranos TV series. Nicolas Cage also did a cover version of the song in the 1983 film, Peggy Sue Got Married.
London American Recordings 45 rpm label for Dion & The Belmonts’ 1959 hit, “A Teenager in Love.”
While visiting his old Bronx neighborhood some years later, Dion would recall the first time he and The Belmonts heard their song being played: “I remember the night that they first put ‘I Wonder Why’ on the radio… Everybody on the block turned their radios up loud and stuck them out the window….” Back in the late 1950s, meanwhile, Dion and The Belmonts released a couple of other songs after “I Wonder Why.” But their big hit came in March 1959 – “A Teenager in Love”– hitting No. 5 of the Billboard chart. That song remained on the U.S. Top 40 list for 13 weeks, became a million-seller, and was also an international hit, reaching No. 28 on the U.K. charts. The song was written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, and is ranked among the great rock `n roll classics. About the trials and tortures of adolescent love, “A Teenager in Love” was actually the antithesis of an earlier Pomus/Shuman song – “Great to Be Young and In Love.”
“A Teenager in Love”-1959
“A Teenager in Love” was followed by the group’s first album, Presenting Dion and the Belmonts. “Teenager in Love,” meanwhile was later covered by a number of other artists, including: The Fleetwoods, Helen Shapiro, Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Marley & The Wailers, Less Than Jake, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The song is also used in a Nintendo video game.
Dion & The Belmonts toured with Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens in early 1959, but fatefully did not take a tragic plane flight that crashed and killed Holly, Valens and two others.
As Dion and The Belmonts’ songs rose nationally, they began touring in the U.S., beginning in 1958. On one tour in early 1959, they were part of the “Winter Dance Party” featuring Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper. On February 2nd 1959, after playing the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, Buddy Holly had arranged to charter a plane to fly the performers to their next gig. Dion, however, decided not to ride with the group because of the expense. Shortly after midnight, however, on February 3rd 1959, the plane carrying the other members of the tour crashed not far from Clear Lake, Iowa, killing Holly, Valens, the Big Bopper, and the pilot – a tragedy which hit popular music hard, taking some of the era’s rising young stars.
Later that year, in November 1959, Dion and the Belmonts released another song that rose on the charts, a remake of a Rodgers & Hart standard, “Where or When,” which actually did better than their previous hit, “Teenager in Love,” rising to No. 3 on the charts. The popularity of this song helped bring the group back to American Bandstand for another national appearance. At about this time, however, Dion’s drug dependency worsened, and reportedly he was in the hospital detoxifying as “Where or When” peaked.
1963: Dion DiMucci with guitar.
Before he ever came to singing on the street corner with the guys, Dion DiMucci as a young boy created his craft from what was around him at his home and growing up on 183rd Street. His uncle bought him an $8 guitar.
At home, Dion would sometimes hear songs on the family radio that got his attention. In 1949, when he was about 11, he heard Hank Williams singing “Honky Tonk Blues” on Don Larkin’s country music radio show broadcast out of Newark, New Jersey. “I had no idea what a honky-tonk … was,” he would later say. But he liked what he heard. He liked the way Williams sounded so committed; how he pronounced and dug deep into the words of his songs.
But family life wasn’t always the best then for young Dion, but he turned inward toward his music, as New York magazine writer John Lombardi explained in a 2007 interview incorporating some of Dion’s recollections of those years:
“…There was a lot of unresolved conflict in my house… My pop, Pasquale, couldn’t make the $36-a-month rent on our apartment at 183rd and Crotona Avenue.” He was a dreamer, a failed vaudevillian, and sometimes Catskills puppeteer. He’d talk big and lift weights he’d made from oilcans, while Frances, Mrs. DiMucci, took two buses and the subway downtown to work in the garment district on a sewing machine. “When they’d start yelling, I’d go out on the stoop with my $8 Gibson and try to resolve things that way.”
Apollo Theater marquee, Dec 1955.
Then there were also the local haunts where Dion would watch and learn from other musicians. At around age 14 or so, hanging out at the stage door of 125th Street Apollo Theater, he learned a few things about harmony and choreography. “In those days,” Dion explained to New York magazine’s John Lombardi, “it was the Cleftones, the Cadillacs… You could say we copped some moves from the brothers…”
Dion would first succeed in doo-wop and rock `n roll, but in his later years he would explore the roots of this music more deeply. After he joined Columbia Records in 1962, Dion met John Hammond, a famous producer and talent scout at the label who introduced Dion to older blues recordings from artists like Robert Johnson. Dion would record some of this music at Columbia, but it would not be released until later years.
Dion's No.1 hit of 1961, "Runaround Sue," shown on its Laurie Records 45 rpm label.
In October 1960, Dion quit The Belmonts and started a solo career. By the end of the year he released an album on the Laurie label, Alone with Dion, and a single “Lonely Teenager,” which rose to No. 12. Follow-up recordings had less success until he began working with the Del-Satins as an uncredited backup group.
In September 1961, “Runaround Sue” was released and became the No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 from October 23 through November 5, 1961, overtaking “Hit the Road, Jack” by Ray Charles. It spent 12 weeks in the Top 40. “Runaround Sue” went on to sell over a million copies, and also rose to No. 11 in the U.K. Dion wrote this song with Ernie Maresca, who had written the earlier song, “No One Knows.” Maresca would partner with Dion on a few of his other songs as well.
Music Player “Runaround Sue”-1961
Dion later described “Runaround Sue” as a song about a girl “who loved to be worshiped, but as soon as you want a commitment and express your love for her, she’s gone. So the song was a reaction to that kind of woman.” More than 40 years later, in 2004, the song was ranked at No. 342 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”
1961-62: Laurie Records single sleeve with Dion’s hit song,“The Wanderer,” which peaked at No. 2.
For Dion’s next single, Laurie Records of New York had two new songs lined up for December 1961 – the “The Majestic,” which was featured on the “A” side of the 45 rpm disc, and “The Wanderer” on the flip side. Despite Laurie’s hope that it would be “The Majestic” that would take off, radio DJs instead played “The Wanderer.”
The song entered the U.S. charts in December 1961 and rose to No. 2 in February 1962. “The Wanderer” also hit No. 10 in the U.K. and No. 1 in Australia. The uncredited background singers with Dion on the song were the Del-Satins, a Laurie Records contract group at the time who later formed the core of another doo wop group, Johnny Maestro and the Brooklyn Bridge.
Music Player “The Wanderer”-1962
Dion, later offering his interpretation of “The Wanderer,” would say of the song:
…At its roots, it’s more than meets the eye. ‘The Wanderer’ is black music filtered through an Italian neighborhood that comes out with an attitude. It’s my perception of a lot of songs like ‘I’m A Man’ by Bo Diddley or ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ by Muddy Waters. “The Wanderer” is really a sad song. A lot of guys don’t understand that. – Dion DiMucci But you know, ‘The Wanderer’ is really a sad song. A lot of guys don’t understand that. Bruce Springsteen was the only guy who accurately expressed what that song was about. It’s ‘I roam from town to town and go through life without a care, I’m as happy as a clown with my two fists of iron, but I’m going nowhere.’ In the fifties, you didn’t get that dark. It sounds like a lot of fun but it’s about going nowhere.
A CD of 1962's top hits by Billboard includes “The Wanderer” on its cover at No. 7.
In any case, “The Wanderer” – which came to be owned by Michael Jackson’s Mijac publishing – was ranked at No. 239 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” In 1962, it was followed by a string of other Dion singles, each of which broke the Top Ten, including: “Lovers Who Wander” (No. 3), “Little Diane” (No. 8), and “Love Came To Me” (No. 10). Two albums were also produced – Runaround Sue and Lovers Who Wander. Dion by this time was a major star, touring worldwide and also making an appearance in Columbia Pictures’ 1961 film, Twist Around the Clock
At the end of 1962, Dion had changed his recording label, moving to Columbia Records. His first single there was a 1956 song, “Ruby Baby,” originally written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, one of those teams of songwriters from New York’s fabled Brill Building music center. The Leiber/Stoller song was first recorded by The Drifters in 1956 who had a No. 10 R&B hit with it. But “Ruby Baby” also became a big hit for Dion, reaching No. 2 in 1963 for three weeks, and remaining in the Top 40 for 11 weeks.
Dion's "Ruby Baby" album of 1963 also hit No. 20 on the albums chart.
At Columbia, Dion also had Top Ten hits with “Donna the Prima Donna” – which was recorded in Italian as well – and “Drip Drop,” another earlier Drifters hit. Both of the remakes by Dion rose to No. 6 in late 1963.
Music Player “Ruby Baby”-1963
The subject matter of Dion’s hit songs in the 1960-1963 period, was, by some accounts, type-casting him, as Richie Unterberger of AllMusic.com, observed – “as either the jilted, misunderstood youngster or the macho lover, capable of handling anything that came his way…”
Dion’s other Columbia releases in the period were less successful as changing tastes in music had arrived with the Beatles and other British groups, bringing a period of commercial decline for the doo-wop and street rockers of the early 1960s. Dion also had recurring problems with heroin. In 1966, there was an attempt to reunite Dion and the Belmonts, but the reunion did not work out as their joint album, Together Again, was unsuccessful.
Cover of 1980s album issued in Germany by Ace Records featuring “Abraham, Martin & John” by Dion.
Abe, Martin & John
In 1968, Dion had what he would later describe as a powerful religious experience. After getting clean from heroin addiction once again, he approached Laurie Records for a new contract. They agreed on condition that he record a new song written by Dick Holler.
The year 1968 was a tumultuous period of political and social upheaval in the U.S., made stark by the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King in April 1968, followed by a second assassination of Democratic U.S. Senator and presidential hopeful, Robert “Bobby” Kennedy in June 1968.
Music Player “Abraham, Martin & John”
Commemorating these tragedies, songwriter Dick Holler was moved to write the song “Abraham, Martin & John,” which became a tribute to the memory of four assassinated Americans, all icons of social change – Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy.
“Abraham, Martin & John” Dick Holler / Songwriter
Has anybody here seen my old friend Abraham?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
He freed a lot of people,
But it seems the good they die young.
You know, I just looked around and he’s gone.
Anybody here seen my old friend John?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
He freed a lot of people,
But it seems the good they die young.
I just looked around and he’s gone.
Anybody here seen my old friend Martin?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
He freed a lot of people,
But it seems the good they die young.
I just looked ’round and he’s gone.
Didn’t you love the things that they stood for?
Didn’t they try to find some good for you and me?
And we’ll be free
Some day soon, and it’s a-gonna be one day …
Anybody here seen my old friend Bobby?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
I thought I saw him walkin’ up over the hill,
With Abraham, Martin and John.
Each of the first three verses of the song features, respectively, Lincoln, King and JFK, with the fourth and final verse describing “Bobby” walking “over the hill” with the other three.
“Abraham, Martin and John” was a major American hit single for Dion in late 1968, reaching No. 4 on the U.S. singles chart, remaining in the Top 40 for 12 weeks, and selling more than a million copies.
The song became a folk-pop standard known worldwide. In Canada, it topped the charts, reaching No.1 there in late November 1968. Some years later, in 2001, the song would be ranked No. 248 on the Recording Industry Association of America’s “Songs of the Century” list.
The success of “Abraham, Martin and John” also resuscitated Dion’s career, leading to appearances on TV shows such as The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour to perform the song. Some years later, reflecting on the reaction he received from fans regarding this song, he noted: “I must have gotten 4,000 letters at the time, which was odd because I never got letters from college students before. If I had an e-mail address, I probably would have gotten a million.”
In the early 1970s, Dion shifted his musical style somewhat, focusing on more mature, contemplative and folk-rock type material. But Dion’s period with folk music ran its course within a few years.
Over the years, Dion DiMucci has changed his style, and experimented with new genres.
In 1972 he reunited with The Belmonts and they did a live reunion show at Madison Square Garden in early June that year, releasing an album from that concert. A year later, in 1973, Dion and the Belmonts performed once again at a sold out concert at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island. This was followed in 1975 by the album Born To Be With You, produced by Phil Spector, which initially did poorly, but later found praise among some artists, including Pete Townshend of The Who. In 1978 Dion released another album drawing on his earlier successes, titled Return of the Wanderer, which did not do well.
Beginning around December 1979 Dion began recording contemporary Christian music, releasing five albums on the Dayspring label reflecting his born-again Christian convictions. A few singles in this period also did well on Christian radio, and he won the Dove Christian music award for one of his albums, I Put Away My Idols, which was also Grammy nominated for best male Gospel performance.
Dion’s “Bronx Blues” of 1991 includes 20 songs recorded with Columbia Records in the 1960s – half “Dion” style and half blues.
By the late 1980s, Dion returned to rock ‘n roll with a series of sold out concerts in June 1987 at Radio City Music Hall in New York. The following year, he published a book with writer Davin Seay titled The Wanderer: Dion’s Story, and in 1989 he was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That year he also released the album Yo Frankie, and after hearing him perform in a 1989 concert, New York Times writer Stephen Holden was reminded that Dion was:
“…an innovator who took the black street-corner styles of the late 1950’s and, in songs like ‘’The Wanderer,’ fashioned a white urban blue-collar style of rock-and-roll that influenced not only [Lou] Reed but also Billy Joel and to a lesser extent Bruce Springsteen. Even though the lyrics of hits like ‘The Wanderer,’ ‘Runaround Sue’ and ’Ruby Baby’ seem quaint today, the songs helped define blunt, streetwise machismo that has long since become a classic rock music attitude.”
Dion DiMucci in more recent years.
In the 1990s, Dion appeared on a few occasions at concerts or for limited club dates. In July 1997, he headlined at Tramps club in the Chelsea section of New York for a rare small club performance – his first New York club date as a headliner in more than 35 years. That show, which sold out to stranding-room capacity, brought out old Dion fans in the New York region, where the doo-wop memory runs deep. One such fan who came out to Tramps was Harvey Weinstein, then a 42-year-old Social Security clerk from Coney Island. “When I was growing up,” he told New York Times reporter Rick Lyman, “there would be guys singing outside the shops and on the street corners. You’d hear the music on the trains. I don’t go to concerts all that often, but when I saw Dion was playing a club in Manhattan, I had to come.”
Bobby Jay, a black disk jockey who still played Dion and The Belmonts music on WCBS-FM, also spoke to Times reporter Rick Lyman in July 1997. Dion and The Belmonts, he said, “had that indescribable element that set them apart, that street attitude.” The teen idols of the late 1950s and early 1960s, he said, “were so clean-cut, almost nonregional.” But Dion, he explained, was different: “he had a New York swagger, a New York walk, a New York way of talking, that New York style that no one else had.” To this day, Dion still has a loyal New York following.
Dion DiMucci on the cover of a 2011 book he wrote with author Mike Aquilina.
Through the 2000’s, Dion continued making music, earning a second look from critics who earlier dismissed him as a teen idol. In early 2001, Dion: King of the New York Streets was released, a three-disc, 6o-track boxed set that included a 50-page booklet with comments by Dion and other muscians, plus an essay by music critic Dave Marsh.
Other Dion albums during the decade included: Déj Nu in 2000, Under the Influence in 2005, Bronx in Blue in 2006, Son of Skip James in 2007, Heroes: Giants of Early Guitar Rock in 2008. In 2011, Tank Full of Blues was released, with Dion producing and playing the guitars on the recording and writing or co-writing most of the songs. He also published a book in 2011, The Wanderer Talks Truth, a biographical and spiritual memoir written with Mike Aquilina.
Also in 2011, Dion began working with playwright/ director Charles Messina on a proposed stage play with the title, “The Wanderer — the Life and Music of Dion.” The play will cover the years 1957 through the late 1960s and feature more than 20 songs from that era as well as new music. It will weave the songs through a plot centered on Dion’s life from that period – a time that brought him his greatest success and his biggest tragedies.
New York Times reporter David Gonzalez described the play as “sort of a deeper version of Jersey Boys, the musical about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.” Discussing the play and playwright with Times reporter David Gonzalez in December 2012, Dion explained: “You know, I always saw my story as a young ‘Sopranos’ with great music and a Rocky Graziano ‘Somebody-Up-There-Likes-Me’ ending. It’s a story of redemption. A rock and roll redemption story!”
Cover of 1988 book Dion wrote with Davin Seay, “The Wanderer: Dion’s Story.”
Indeed, Dion took his lumps over the years, sank into drug and alcohol abuse, but he did redeem himself – with help from his wife Susan and others. Dion has traced his troubled times back to his early teen years. There was a rocky home life, mean streets gang involvement, and drugs. Then, all of a sudden, came fame and fortune. “One minute we were four mooks on the street,” he recounts of his Dion-and-The-Belmonts rise in his 1988 book, The Wanderer, “the next, everyone wanted to get close to us… You never wanted it to stop, and the only way to keep it going, it seemed to us, was to smile, sing and try to sort it all out later.”
Eventually, Dion confronted some truths about himself. “There was never a word of praise in my house… A lot of demeaning talk and criticism,” he would later explain. “I never felt good about myself – and the success didn’t change things.” But by the mid-1960s, he was living large in the fast lane. In 1962, Columbia Records had signed him to a $500,000 five year contract. “I made $2 million by the age of 22 . . . had 10 Top Ten records… was at the height of my profession,” Dion recounted in one interview. “I had all the bases covered… Fame, fortune and romance. I had even married my childhood sweetheart. But I was empty. I was looking out the penthouse window and saying, ‘What the hell is wrong?’ What I finally discovered was that I had others’ esteem, but I didn’t have self-esteem.”
Dion DiMucci visiting his old New York neighborhood in 2012. Photo, Librado Romero / New York Times.
Dion’s 1960s stage swagger was part pretense and part compensation, which he wrote about (with Bill Tuohy) years later in a song titled “King of the New York Streets.” One verse in that tune goes: “Well, I was wise in my own eyes/I awoke one day and I realized/You know this attitude comes from cocaine lies.” He would later add in one interview: “That song represents a chaotic kind of self-serving illusion about oneself, a guy who is full of himself and really can’t see past his nose.” Another verse in the same song goes: “Schools gave me nothing needed / To my throne, I proceeded / Every warning went unheeded / Yeah, king of the New York streets.”
In the late 1960s, Dion took control of his life. He moved to Boca Raton, Florida with his wife Susan to get away from the New York streets that helped form his heroin habit. He and his wife Susan have three daughters and a grandchild. In the late 1990s, Dion also returned to Catholicism and through the church has worked with prison inmates and others going through addiction recovery.
2006: Dion DiMucci in his music room at home in Florida, where a huge portrait he painted of 1930s bluesman Robert Johnson hangs on the wall behind him.
But for Dion, it’s still the music that keeps him going. And over the years, of course, the praise and respect he has received from fellow musicians and music critics has been no small matter either. Los Angeles Times pop music critic Robert Hilburn wrote in January 2001: “Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly were superstars of rock’s first wave, but none of them expressed the innocence and desire of adolescence any more soulfully than Dion DiMucci.” Bruce Springsteen once called him “the bridge between Frank Sinatra and rock ‘n roll.” And songwriter Jerry Lieber has stated that Dion was “the best white blues singer he had ever heard.” Dion, meanwhile, continues to record and explore new music. No doubt there is more to come. Stay tuned.
Article Citation: Jack Doyle, “Dion DiMucci, 1950s-2012,” PopHistoryDig.com, January 11, 2013.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
1950s: Dion DiMucci with the two of The Belmonts behind him.
1959 album: “Presenting Dion and The Belmonts.”
1959: Dion & The Belmonts with Dick Clark of the "American Bandstand" television show.
Dion DiMucci in his “teen idol” years, on the cover of “Teen Screen” magazine, June 1962.
Dion DiMucci on the road, waiting for a train.
“Dion and The Belmonts/Dion Dimucci,” in Holly George-Warren and Patricia Roman- owski (eds), The Rolling Stone Encyclo- pedia of Rock & Roll, New York: Rolling Stone Press, 3rd Edition, 2001, pp. 264-265.
Bob Hyde and Walter DeVenne, “I Wonder Why, Dion & The Belmonts” and The Doo Wop Box, Booklet & Liner Notes (used in PBS promotions), Rhino Records, 1993, p. 57.
The young Rolling Stones in the mid-1960s brought plenty of “attitude” to their music. From left: Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts.
Did one rock ’n roll song of the mid-1960s provide a kind of social dividing line — a musical bright line separating old and new? Did one song lay down, in a popular way, a kind of generational and values demarcation?
Certainly there were any number of songs at that time heralding the new generation’s outlook and values — in lyrics, distinctive sound, and in some cases, musical “attitude.”
Bob Dylan, for one — the leading tr0ubadour of the 1960s — had begun offering his interpretations by the early 1960s. His “Blowin` in the Wind” and “The Times They Are A Changin`” were much in the air by 1963.
Music Player “Satisfaction”-1965 [scroll down for lyrics]
But in May 1965, a young British rock group named the Rolling Stones recorded a rock song called “Satisfaction”– also known by its longer title, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.” By July 1965, “Satisfaction” had been released in the U.S. and soon became a gigantic hit. This song, however, was something more than merely good rock `n roll. In its way, and perhaps in a more popular mainstream sense, “Satisfaction” became the pop/rock equivalent of what Dylan and other folk/protest musicians were offering to somewhat less mainstream audiences. “Satisfaction” was a hard-rock tune with a driving sound, but with lyrics that were also aimed at the status quo; a song that expressed a distinct “dis-satisfaction” with the way things were.
Sample record sleeve from 1965 for the Rolling Stones’ song “Satisfaction,” with B-side title, “The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man,” Decca Records.
The Rolling Stones had formed their band in the early 1960s playing mostly cover versions of American rhythm and blues(R&B) music and Chicago blues and rock n’ roll artists, including Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, and others. Their manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, a former Beatles publicist, later encouraged the Stones to write their own pop songs as the Beatles were doing. Brian Jones, a talented guitarist who had once led the group and would later die in a drowning accident, preferred the R & B path. But lead singer Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards soon began writing pop rock ‘n roll songs, taking the group in what would prove to be a very successful direction. “Satisfaction” would become their landmark hit; their big breakthrough.
Keith Richards played a key inventor’s role with this song. In early May 1965, as the Rolling Stones were on tour in the U.S., it was Richards who came up with “Satisfaction’s” opening guitar riff — the distinctive, flat-sounding twang that powers the song throughout and its signature sound. Story has it that Richards woke up in the middle of the night during the U.S. tour and recorded the guitar riff into a tape recorder that he kept at his bedside for unexpected moments of inspiration. Then he went back to sleep. Next morning he played the riff for Mick Jagger, offering one lyric he had in mind for the song – “I can’t get no satisfaction.” Jagger would later say he thought that line was possibly influenced subconsciously by Richards’ listening to a 1955 Chuck Berry song titled “30 Days,” a tune which has a similar line – “I don’t get no satisfaction from the judge”. The guitar riff developed by Richards in any case, was initially not set for guitar, but thought as a guide for horns. Jagger, meanwhile, fleshed out more of “Satisfaction’s” lyrics one afternoon while on tour, later admitting to incorporating some of his own feelings at the time about the media and advertising.
“Satisfaction” Rolling Stones-1965
I can’t get no satisfaction,
I can’t get no satisfaction.
‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try.
I can’t get no, I can’t get no.
When I’m drivin’ in my car
and that man comes on the radio
and he’s tellin’ me more and more
about some useless information
supposed to drive my imagination.
I can’t get no, oh no no no.
Hey hey hey, that’s what I say.
…I can’t get no satisfaction,
I can’t get no satisfaction.
‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try.
I can’t get no, I can’t get no.
When I’m watchin’ my TV
and a man comes on to tell me
how white my shirts can be.
Well he can’t be a man ’cause he doesn’t
smoke the same cigarettes as me.
I can’t get no, oh, no no no.
Hey hey hey, that’s what I say.
I can’t get no satisfaction,
I can’t get no girl reaction.
‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try.
I can’t get no, I can’t get no.
When I’m ridin’ round the world
and I’m doin’ this and I’m signing that
and I’m tryin’ to make some girl
who tells me baby better come back
later next week
’cause you see I’m on a losing streak.
I can’t get no, oh no no no.
Hey hey hey, that’s what I say.
I can’t get no, I can’t get no,
I can’t get no satisfaction,
no satisfaction, no satisfaction,
The Stones, still on tour in the U.S. at the time, continued to work on the song between performances. In Chicago, they took it into the Chess recording studios, working on it there May 10, 1965. Two days later in Los Angeles, California, they completed it during a long session at RCA’s studios. It was in this session that Richards reportedly rigged up a version of a “fuzz box” to his guitar which gave the opening riff he’d invented its distinctive sound, helping send “Satisfaction” straight up the charts.
In that summer of 1965, there was no shortage of rock ‘n roll music. New songs were coming from all directions – Detroit’s Motown, the California surf scene, and a wave of new British artists. Among the tunes at or near the top of the charts that summer were songs such as: “Help Me, Rhonda” by The Beach Boys, “Mr. Tambourine Man” by The Byrds, and “I Got You Babe” by Sonny & Cher. But “Satisfaction” was different; the song stood out and apart. It had something about it that made it more than just a song. Though it was certainly musically appealing to the youth of that day, “Satisfaction” was also music with a message.
A share of popular and folk music by then had begun to take a more serious and cynical tack. Bob Dylan, as mentioned earlier, was having a profound influence, not only in folk and protest music, but also in mainstream rock `n roll. Dylan’s songs in 1962-1965, such as: “Blowin’ in The Wind,” “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall“, “Masters of War,” and “The Times They Are A-Changin`,” as well as songs by other protest songwriters, had opened a new window for 1960s’ music, bringing social commentary to song writing. The Rolling Stones and other groups at that time were greatly influenced by Dylan’s music. And “Satisfaction” – though not a protest song per se – was clearly one of those songs that had picked up on the idea of adding some “message” to the music.
Although the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement were both underway by mid-1965, “Satisfaction” was not a song aimed at those troubles per se. Rather, “Satisfaction” at the time was more of a general angst tune; a song that captured the frustrations bubbling up with the younger generation on a number of fronts, Vietnam and civil rights included. Conventional wisdom and social values were then being challenged all around and “Satisfaction” chimed in with lyrics aimed at superficial advertising and uptight sexual mores.“Satisfaction” had enough attitude and swagger to wilt any set of established values its listeners might target. It became an all- purpose anti-etablishment anthem.
The plea of the narrator/singer in this song is a guy who is frustrated with the “useless information” and advertising hype he hears on radio and TV, plus his own personal plight of not being able to score with the ladies. The guy is essentially throwing up his hands in frustration with life in general: he just isn’t getting any satisfaction on any level. Millions of young people then were trying to make their way in the world, and many weren’t happy or “satisfied” with what they saw around them.
The song’s lyrics, for their day, were controversial, in part, because they challenged the prevailing cultural mores. Perceived as an attack on the status quo, the song could be threatening to older listeners. “Satisfaction” offered plenty of attitude – not only in its lyrics, but also in its sound and the way the Stones delivered the song. “Satisfaction,” in fact, had enough attitude and swagger to wilt any set of established values its listeners might choose to target. It became an all-purpose, anti-establishment anthem with broad applicability. The song was a good fit for its times and audience.
The Rolling Stones pictured on “Satisfaction” record sleeve, from left: Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger (looking a bit out of it), and Brian Jones, 1965-66.
For the Rolling Stones, “Satisfaction” proved to be the breakthrough song; the one that set them apart and sent them on their way toward superstardom. The group performed “Satisfaction” on American TV even before the single was released in the States. On May 20, 1965, they appeared on the ABC show Shindig! from Los Angeles. “Satisfaction” was released as a U.S. single by London Records on June 6th,1965, with another somewhat obscure song on its B-side, “The Under-Assistant West Coast Promotion Man.” The Stones were then touring in the U.S., the third time they’d been to the States. But at the time they were still a new group to many in America. As part of this tour, for example, on May 4th, 1965, they performed at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia. On June 5, 1965 they played to about 3,000 people at Jack Russell Stadium in Clearwater, Florida. “Satisfaction,” meanwhile, had entered the Billboard Hot 100 that week and rose to No. 1 by July 10th, displacing The Four Tops’ “I Can’t Help Myself.” The song was also featured on the Rolling Stones’ third U.K. album, Out of Our Heads, also released in the U.S. in July 1965.
Keith Richards & Brian Jones comparing guitar licks,1960s.
Glenn Gass, a professor at the School of Music at Indiana University, told ABC News decades later on the 45th anniversary of “Satisfaction,” that although there were many great songs that year from groups such as the Beach Boys, Sonny & Cher, the Byrds, the Four Tops and others, “Satisfaction” nonetheless “claimed that summer.” The song held the top spot on the record charts for four weeks until August 7, 1965, when another English band, Herman’s Hermits, hit No. 1 with their tune, “I’m Henry the Eighth, I Am.” Still, “Satisfaction” remained on the Billboard charts for 14 weeks. The song sold 500,000 copies in its first eight weeks, giving the Stones their first official gold record award by the Recording Industry Association of America. The song also put the Stones on the path to “Beatles-level” popularity. “They were already going strong,” said Indiana University’s Gass of the Stones’ growing popularity then, “but that song put them in the Beatles’ stratosphere of rarified air.”“…It was the song that really made the Rolling Stones, changed us from just another band into a huge, monster band…”
– Mick Jagger Mick Jagger himself would later acknowledge much the same in a 1995 interview with Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone magazine:
“…It was the song that really made the Rolling Stones, changed us from just another band into a huge, monster band. You always need one song. We weren’t American, and America was a big thing and we always wanted to make it here. It was very impressive the way that song and the popularity of the band became a worldwide thing. It’s a signature tune, really,…a kind of signature that everyone knows. It has a very catchy title. It has a very catchy guitar riff. It has a great guitar sound, which was original at that time. And it captures a spirit of the times, which is very important in those kinds of songs… Which was alienation. Or it’s a bit more than that, maybe, but a kind of sexual alienation. Alienation’s not quite the right word, but it’s one word that would do.”
Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in 1967, two years after “Satisfaction” was released.
“Satisfaction” did, however, in the mid-1960s, tread upon sensitive ground with its lyrics suggesting frustrated adolescent sexuality — i.e., not getting any “girl reaction” – interpreted by some listeners and radio programmers as meaning a girl willing to have sex. In fact, when the Rolling Stones performed the song on the TV show Shindig! in 1965, the line “trying to make some girl” was censored. And again, when they performed it later on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1966 the same line – “trying to make some girl”– was not used.
“Satisfaction” also put rock music, and the Rolling Stones, on something of a more raucous, more bawdy, harder-edge path – a distinction some would later draw in comparisons to the Beatles. The Beatles, of course, had just been through their 1964-1965 “Beatlemania” period with a phenomenal run of pop hits and lots of “yeah, yeah, yeah.” The Stones, on the other hand, were coming on with a little different sound; providing music that had more of an R&B- and blues-tinge to it. “Satisfaction” was a “great ‘no’ to the Beatles’ ‘yeah’,” offered Glenn Gass from Indiana University in a 2010 interview with ABC News at the song’s 45th anniversary. Others, including writer Tom Wolfe, would go farther. “The Beatles,” he once famously wrote, “just want to hold your hand. The Rolling Stones want to burn your town down” – an exaggeration, of course, but the message was plain.
Ed Sullivan talking with Mick Jagger; Keith Richards in background, at another, later show rehearsal, January 15, 1967.
But it wasn’t just the Stones who were supplying that harder edge to rock music. In 1964 there had also been bluesy songs like the Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun,” and even the Beatles did their raucous cover of “Twist and Shout” that year. The Stones themselves also had the bluesy 1964 hit, “Time is On My Side,” which rose to No. 6 that November. Bob Dylan, meanwhile, had “Like A Rolling Stone” in the summer of 1965, a landmark message song. Still, “Satisfaction” grabbed center-stage attention at the time, appealing to mainstream rock audiences in a new way. It was a distinctive turn. After 1965-1966, of course, the music would change again, and the change would escalate, with much more innovation, new sounds, and good music to come – from the Stones, Dylan, the Beatles, and many others.
The Stones, for their part, would follow “Satisfaction” with a long list of other 1960s’ hits, such as: “Get Off My Cloud” and “As Tears Go By” in 1965; “Paint it Black” and “19th Nervous Breakdown” in 1966; “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and “Ruby Tuesday” in 1967; “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Street Fighting Man” in 1968; “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Honky Tonk Woman” in 1969, and many more. The Stones, in fact, were just getting started in the 1960s, with about four more decades of music-making and performing ahead of them. “Satisfaction,” meanwhile, would experience a spike in sales after being heard in movies such as Apocalypse Now in 1979 or Starman of 1994, as well as during and after the Stone’s many concert tours.
In November 2004, Rolling Stone magazine put “Satisfaction” at No. 2 among its ‘500 Greatest’ songs.
Over the years, “Satisfaction” has been accorded high honors in the pantheon of rock `n roll. The song has been noted in various “top 100 lists” by Vox, BMI , VH1, MTV, Q magazine and other media and rock music venues. Newsweek once called the song’s opening guitar riff, “five notes that shook the world.” In November 2004, Rolling Stone magazine placed the song at No. 2 on its list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”– second only to Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”. In 2006, “Satisfaction” was added to the Library of Congress National Recording Registry, songs deemed to be among those that are culturally and/or historically significant.
Other stories at this website on the Rolling Stones, their music, and business history include, for example, “Paint It Black” (song history & subsequent uses); “Stones Gather Dollars” (how the Rolling Stones helped develop a lucrative concert touring model); “Start Me Up” (Bill Gates & Windows 95 theme song), and “Shine A Light, 2008” (Rolling Stones film trailer). Additional story choices on other topics at this website may be found on the Home Page or in the Archive. Thanks for visiting — and if you like what you see here, please consider supporting this website. Thank you. — Jack Doyle
‘Little Eva’ Boyd of the 1960s shown on a later 2001 U.K. CD of her songs by Dimension recordings.
“The Loco-Motion” is the name of a 1962 dance song recorded by a young artist named Eva Boyd, then known as Little Eva. “The Loco-Motion” topped the music charts of its day, and later went on to future fame with two other artists — Grand Funk Railroad, an American rock band of the 1970s, and Kylie Monogue, the Australian pop star of the 1980s and 1990s. It turns out that “The Loco-Motion” is one of a very few songs that managed to rise to the top of the popular music charts — to No.1, in fact — in three separate decades.
In 1962, sixteen year-old Eva Boyd was working as a live-in domestic and babysitter for the famous 1960s songwriting husband-and-wife team of Carole King and Gerry Goffin. King and Goffin were one of the teams that music publisher Don Kirshner had assembled at New York’s famed Brill Building, where a long list of successful pop music hits were hatched in the mid-1950s-through mid-1960s period. In Little Eva’s case, some of her innocent on-the-job dance moves and singing while babysitting led to a Goffin-King song idea that became “The Loco-Motion.” According to one 1963 story that ran in The Saturday Evening Post, the alleged “inventive moment” was reported to have occurred as follows:
A 45 rpm record of "The Loco-Motion," Little Eva's No. 1 hit of 1962, on the Dimension record label.
“…While the lady of the house [Carole King], a girl only two years the baby-sitter’s senior, walked about the apartment bouncing her daughter to the rhythm of new melodies being born in her head, the baby-sitter [Eva Boyd] dusted, polished, cleaned and picked up to the same bounce. Sometimes she even learned the songs and sang them almost before her employers had finished writing them…. And one day, as Carole sat conjuring up a new tune, Eva went so far as to invent a dance to it. ‘What you’re doing reminds me of a locomotive!,’ exclaimed Carole’s 22-year-old husband [Gerry Goffin]…watching Eva dance.
“Then, poof! In a cloud of smoke—because Gerry was chained to cigarettes—he used his magic wand—a pencil—to write words on a pad. Abracadabra! And lyrics appeared describing Eva’s dance. Sorcerers Carole King and Gerry Goffin had just conjured up a song called ‘the Loco-Motion’…”
“The Loco-Motion” Lyrics: Carole King / Gerry Goffin
Everybody’s doin’ a brand new dance now
(Come on, baby do the Loco-Motion)
I know you’ll get to like it if you give it a chance now
(Come on, baby do the Loco-Motion)
My little baby sister can do it with ease
It’s easier to learn than your ABC’s
So, come on, come on, do the Loco-Motion with me
You gotta swing your hips now
Come on, baby jump up, jump back
Oh well, I think you’ve got the knack
Now that you can do it, let’s make a chain now
(Come on, baby do the Loco-Motion)
A chugga, chugga motion like a railroad train now
(Come on, baby do the Loco-Motion)
Do it nice and easy now, don’t lose control
A little bit of rhythm and a lot of soul
Come on, come on, do the Loco-Motion with me
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!
Move around the floor in a Loco-Motion
(Come on, baby do the Loco-Motion)
Do it holding hands if you get the notion
(Come on, baby do the Loco-Motion)
There’s never been a dance that’s so easy to do
It even makes you happy when you’re feeling blue
So, come on, come on do the Loco-Motion with me
You gotta swing your hips now
You’re doin’ fine
Come on, do the Loco-Motion
Come on, do the Loco-Motion
[repeat and fade out; background singers]
A somewhat similar account of the Little Eva/King/Goffin moment has been relayed by Vanity Fair writer, David Kamp:
Little Eva: I wanted to be a recording artist—that was my dream. Carole had one daughter, Lulu, and she was pregnant at the time [with her second daughter, Sherry Goffin, born in 1963]. And she asked me did I want to baby-sit. So I said, “Well, yeah, because in between sessions I’m gonna need some money.”
Gerry Goffin: She would always sing along to the songs we were writing in our little apartment. I came up with the idea [to have her sing on the demo]. Ethnic voices were what was in. Unsophisticated voices.
Carole King: Eva sang, and I sang background with her. And it was the first in a long line—right up to and including my next album—of demos that become masters.
Little Eva: Gerry already thought that it would be a hit with me singing. So he took it in to them to listen, Al Nevins and Don Kirshner. And they listened to it, and you know, it just hit ’em.
Gerry Goffin: For a while [after the song became a hit], she said, “Don’t worry, I’m still gonna work for you, I’m not gonna think about being a star.” And then, two weeks later, she’s touring.
Other accounts say the song, or something like it, was first intended for another singer named Dee Dee Sharp, who already had a big hit with her own dance tune, “Mashed Potato Time.”
Little Eva shown at front of locomotive engine in 1962 studio promo photo with others, from left: Don Kirshner, Al Nevins, Gerry Goffin and Carole King.
In any case, Eva Boyd was taken to a New York city recording studio. Originally it was intended that she serve as the singer only for the demo. However, the demo worked out so well that it was released with a few overdubs as the single.
Music Player “The Loco-Motion” — 1962
In short order, Eva Boyd became “Little Eva,” and by July 1962, a new dance tune, “The Loco-Motion,” had hit the streets. By the late August 1962 the song was No. 1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and the R& B charts. It was one of the top “girl group” hits of its day. It stayed in the Top 40 for about 12 weeks and went on to sell more than one million copies, becoming one of the top hits of 1962. Music critic Dave Marsh would later write in his 1989 book, The Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made, that “The Loco-Motion” was not so much a song as a sound – “some hand-claps, a baritone sax … there’s a triangle in there, and probably a piano, somebody chanting, ‘come on baby’.” What matters in the end, he says, “is the wholeness of the thing, the unity of the little sounds that add up to one big sound that won’t let you sit still.”
CD cover for a Billboard “Top Hits of 1962” collection, which includes “The Loco-Motion.”
Back in 1962, meanwhile, Eva Boyd soon had her own four-room apartment in Brooklyn and took home some $30,000 in royalties from the recording (1960s’ dollars). Carole King and Gerry Goffin also made about the same amount for their “Loco-Motion”songwriting. Little Eva, however, did not have another No.1 hit, but she did have a few Top 40 hits including, “Keep Your Hands Off My Baby” in 1962, also by Goffin-King. This tune hit No.12 on the pop charts and No. 6, R&B. (The Beatles performed a cover version of this song in January 1963 for the BBC, and decades later, it was issued officially on the Beatles Live at the BBC.) In 1963, Little Eva also had another minor hit with “Let’s Turkey Trot” (No. 20 pop,16 R&B) and she also did a remake that year of Bing Crosby’s “Swinging On A Star” in a duet with Big Dee Irwin which hit No. 38. She continued to tour and record through the early 1960s, but her commercial potential declined after 1964 as the Beatles and the “British invasion” took over the pop charts, ending the reign of many “girl group” acts. Little Eva retired in 1971, but would later return to the oldies circuit.
Grand Funk Railroad, Classic Masters CD, which includes the 1974 version of “The Loco-Motion.”
Grand Funk’s Version
In 1970, Grand Funk Railroad, an American rock band, was among the top recording acts then on the scene. In fact, the group sold more record albums in 1970 than any other American band. A long-playing hit single that year, “I’m Your Captain,” propelled them to fame with an album of the same name — especially with the help of FM radio stations, then playing longer-length songs. Grand Funk also became a major concert attraction. In 1971 they broke the attendance record set by The Beatles’ at Shea Stadium, selling out a concert date there in just 72 hours. After the band hired musician Todd Rundgren to refine their sound, they produced two successful mid-1970s albums and two hit singles from those albums – “We’re An American Band” in 1973 and “The Loco-Motion” in 1974, both of which hit No.1 on the U.S. pop charts.
Cover sleeve issued in Spain by EMI for “The Loco-Motion” single, 1974.
According to one account, the group recorded “The Loco-Motion” on their Shinin’ On album almost as an afterthought. Initially, they joked about it, but later considered doing the song as the Beach Boys had done with another older rock song, “Barbara Ann,” intending it to sound like a party recording with lots of hand clapping, etc.,. Instead, it became one of their most successful singles.
Grand Funk’s version of “The Loco-Motion” was released in February 1974, rising to No.1 on the pop charts by March 9th, holding that position for two weeks and then remaining in the Top 40 for another 14 weeks. Although Grand Funk retired in 1976, they would later re-group with some new personnel, continuing to record and perform through the 1990s and more recent years. Videos of the group performing their version of “The Loco-Motion” can be found on You Tube.
Cover from Kylie Minogue’s 12" vinyl recording of “The Loco-Motion” released in Australia, 1987.
The third artist to have a successful hit recording with “The Loco-Motion” — a song that helped launch her into superstardom as a teenager — was Australian TV star and pop singer Kylie Minogue. During an Australian football club benefit concert in 1987, Minogue performed the song “The Loco-Motion” and was signed to an Australian recording contract. In 1987-88 the song was released in Australia in vinyl and CD versions as a synth-pop dance single and spent seven weeks at No. 1 on the Australian music charts. It also became the highest selling single in Australia for the 1980s. Its success sent Minogue to London where she produced more hits and an album, rising to European stardom. In the U.S. and Canada, however, her initial album did not do well. But her single, “The Loco-Motion,” reached No. 3 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart in September 1988 and remained on the charts for 13 weeks, selling more than 500,000 copies. It also hit No. 1 on the Canadian Singles chart.
Cover of 1987 CD of Kylie Minogue’s version of "The Loco-Motion."
In 2002, however, a Time magazine reporter looking back on the Minogue’s recording of “The Loco-Motion,” called it “a singularly unmemorable cover, the kind that gets resurrected a decade later with a visit from VH-1’s ‘Where Are They Now camera crew’.” Still, the song appears to have played a key role in launching what became a giant singing career, with Minogue becoming something of an “Australian Madonna” in popularity, sex appeal, and business success. In 2005, however, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, but overcame her illness and was soon back on stage. According to the UK’s Times online, by her late 30s, Minogue had sold an estimated 60 million albums worldwide.
With the song’s 1980s revival, “The Loco-Motion” had come full circle. Original performer, “Little Eva” Boyd, was interviewed after the success of Kylie Minogue’s version. Boyd stated that she did not like the newer version. Yet, the song’s then-current popularity allowed Boyd herself to make a bit of comeback. She returned to live performing with other artists on the oldies circuit, recorded some new songs, and also did some nightclub performing. Little Eva continued performing until she was diagnosed with cervical cancer in October of 2001. She died two years later at age 59.
'Little Eva' Boyd, 1960s.
“The Loco-Motion,” meanwhile, born first of Boyd’s voice and the King-Goffin pen in the 1960s, had a very good run indeed. Few songs can claim 40 years of currency and enough appeal to rise to No. 1 in three separate decades. And beyond the three artists profiled here, a number of other groups have also done cover versions of the song. Even Carole King, the song’s co-author, who became a famous singer in her own right, has performed the song during some of her concerts. “The Loco-Motion,” with multiple decades of play and renewed life on at least three continents, is one of those tunes that generated a good return on its initial creative investment — for publishers, record companies, and performers. Additional stories of interest at this website on the history of the pop music business can be found at the “Annals of Music” category page or in the Archive. Readers of “The Loco-Motion” story may also find “1960s Girl Groups” of interest, which also includes a section on the 1960s’ Brill Building songwriters. Thanks for visiting — and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle
Article Citation: Jack Doyle, “The Loco-Motion, 1962-1988,” PopHistoryDig.com, March 7, 2011.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
CD Cover for "Honey and Wine: Another Gerry Goffin and Carole King Song Collection," 2009, Ace Records, U.K., featuring their 1960s’ hits.
Little Eva record cover for "The Loco-Motion."
Greg Shaw, “Brill Building Pop,” in Anthony DeCurtis and James Henke, with Holly George-Warren (eds), The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock n Roll, New York: Random House, revised edition, 1992, pp. 143-152.
“Pop Music: The Dumb Sound,” Saturday Evening Post, October 5, 1963.
“The Sound of the Sixties,” Time, Friday, May. 21, 1965.
David Kamp, “The Hit Factory,” Vanity Fair, November 2001, also at David Kamp.com
Portion of the single sleeve for Moody Blues’ 1971 hit song, “The Story in Your Eyes.” French picture sleeve.
“The Story in Your Eyes” is the name of a 1971 hit single by the English rock band The Moody Blues. It was written by the band’s guitarist and vocalist Justin Hayward and was first released as a single with “My Song” on the B-side.
The Moody Blues by 1971 were already a well known rock band with several hit songs and at least a half dozen albums to their credit. In addition to Hayward, as of 1971 the group also included John Lodge, Ray Thomas, Mike Pinder, and Graeme Edge. Since their founding in the mid-1960s, the Moodies have sold at least 60 million albums worldwide, a number that will likely become larger once accounting discrepan- cies from earlier years are cleared up. “The Story In Your Eyes” is simply one example of their music at about mid-career, as they still had another three decades of recording and performing ahead of them. “The Story in Your Eyes” also appeared simultaneously on the Moodies’ August 1971 album, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, and is regarded as the album’s best song by many critics.
Music Player “The Music in Your Eyes”-1971
At its release in 1971, “The Story in Your Eyes” rose on the Billboard pop chart to No. 23 in September, remaining in the Top 40 for about seven weeks. In the U.K, the album, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, rose to No. 1. In the U.S., the album rose to No. 2 on the Billboard album chart, staying there for about four weeks. Justin Hayward, in addition to writing the lyrics for “The Story in Your Eyes,” also sings its lead vocals. The song uses electric guitar primarily and also the mellotron, a favorite Moody Blues instrument of the 1960s, which gives the song a slightly orchestral sound. The mellotron is a keyboard instrument capable of duplicating the sound of violins, flutes, choirs, and it became something of a trademark sound on Moody Blues music of the 1960s and 1970s. The Moodies’ music of this era, in fact, is sometimes described as “orchestral rock.” By their next album, Seventh Sojourn of 1972, the mellotron would be augmented by a similar instrument, the chamberlin, and in later years, both would be replaced by modern synthesizers.
“The Story In Your Eyes”
The Moody Blues
I’ve been thinking about our fortune
And I’ve decided that we’re really not to blame
For the love that’s deep inside us now
Is still the same
And the sounds we make together
Is the music to the story in your eyes
It’s been shining down upon me now
Listen to the tide slowly turning
Wash all our heartaches away
We’re part of the fire that is burning
And from the ashes we can build another day
But I’m frightened for your children
That the life that we are living is in vain
And the sunshine we’ve been waiting for
Will turn to rain
Listen to the tide slowly turning
Wash all our heartaches away
We’re part of the fire that is burning
And from the ashes we can build another day
But I’m frightened for the children
That the life that we are living is in vain
And the sunshine we’ve been waiting for
Will turn to rain
When the final line is over
It’s certain that the curtain’s gonna fall
I can hide inside your sweet sweet love
For ever more
“The Story in Your Eyes” is probably one of the more well-known songs by the Moody Blues, after their more famous hit “Nights In White Satin.” But some hard-core Moodies fans look beyond these popularly known works and point to less well-known tunes such as “Forever Afternoon,” or “Gypsy” as better examples of what the Moody Blues were all about. Still, “Story” has its fans, on several levels.
One internet writer to SongFacts.com, for example — David of Syracuse, NY — voiced agreement with earlier Song Facts writers who liked the song, which also held meaning and memories for him, as he described: “…This song is so great, and timeless… I had this album when I was 17 in Syracuse… And then proceeded to buy every album that they created. These Moody Blues were one great band. I saw them in concert in March 1972. Syracuse War Memorial. The first concert I ever saw. And I remember it so well. The crowd was so cool, and well behaved….” Another writer to SongFacts — Lisa, from Toronto, Ontario — explained that “Story” was one of her “top 10 songs of all time.” She also offered that she thought the song was about “a love that can withstand the tests of time — you have been through it all and nothing and no one can come between a love like that.”
Another interpretation of the song came from “abcbraveheart,” who offered com- ments at You Tube after viewing a Moody Bluesvideo of the song: “This is a song about End of Times,” he wrote. “[The singer] says there’s a chance that we can overcome the dark forces underpinning this life, but he seems certain that ‘The curtain is going to fall.’ We’ll see how it plays out? Great song.”
The Moody Blues, in previous albums, had offered as part of their ongoing “message-in-the-music” style, concern for the fate of the planet. And some of that appears to be present in these lyrics as well — but not with an optimistic outcome. Here, they appear to be concluding, more or less, that things look pretty bleak, as in the lines: “the sunshine we’ve been waiting for will turn to rain” and, “I’m frightened for the children.” Perhaps all we have — the Moodies seem to be suggesting — is each other, and if we’re lucky, the safe harbor of a love relationship, as in the final line: “I can hide inside your sweet, sweet love for ever more.”
“In keeping with the metaphysical and inquisitive motif that Hayward had incorporated into tracks such as ‘Dawning Is The Day’ and ‘Voices In The Sky’,” wrote AllMusic.com reviewer Lindsay Planer, “‘Story In Your Eyes’ offers decidedly probing observational lyrics.”
"The Story in Your Eyes" 45 rpm on the London / Threshold label, Mexican pressing, 1971.
All Music’s Lindsay Planer, noting that “The Story in Your Eyes” became one of the Moodies’ signature concert tunes, recommends the version recorded in 1993 on A Night at Red Rocks with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, calling that version better than the original “in terms of sheer sonic force.”
The Moody Blues, of course, were quite successful well before the release of “The Story In Your Eyes” in 1971. The group was founded in Birmingham, England in May of 1964. Among their more famous hits prior to 1971, for example, are the following: “Go Now” of 1964; “Nights In White Satin” of 1967; “Tuesday Afternoon,” “Voices in the Sky” and “Ride My See-Saw,” all in 1968; “Never Comes the Day” in 1969; and “Question” in 1970. Other hits would follow in the late 1970s, 1980s and beyond. The group also had a series of successful albums prior to 1971, including: Days of Future Passed (1967), In Search of the Lost Chord (1968), To Our Children’s Children’s Children (1969) On the Threshold of a Dream (1969) and A Question of Balance (1970) — all of which went gold, selling 1 million copies or more.
In the summer & fall of 1971, the Moody Blues album, “Every Good Boy Deserves Favour,” rose to No. 1 and No. 2 respectively in the U.K. and the U.S. It was also a million-seller.
Following “The Story in Your Eyes” and the Every Good Boy Deserves Favour of 1971, the Moody Blues continued recording and performing until the mid-1970s, when they took some time off, each member doing some solo venturing. By the late 1970s, they regrouped and returned to their music, enjoying a bit of a resurgence in the mid- and late-1980s with more popular hits and albums (see sources below for more details on these). The Moodies are definitely one of those bands that have gone through several phases in their musical career, though generally weathering the changes for the better with continued good music. In recent years, they have toured the U.S., Canada and the UK, including tours in the years 2006 thru 2009. They have also issued remas- tered versions of most of their earlier albums plus prior never-released material.
For over four decades, the Moody Blues music has enjoyed a loyal following, making them one of the top-grossing bands in album sales and concert touring. Stay tuned to this website for more stories
on the Moody Blues and their music.
Early 1960s photo of Bill Medley & Bobby Hatfield on a 2006 issue two-CD set. Among songs included is the No.1 hit of 1965, 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' '.
In December 1964, a song titled “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” began to be heard on the radio. It was a song that would one day become the 20th century’s “most played” radio song. It was performed by two guys from California — Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield; two guys who came to be known as the Righteous Brothers. Their stage name came about after a black U.S. Marine, attending one of their early nightclub acts, shouted out approvingly: “That was righteous, brothers!” The label stuck, and the two singers became a distinctive duet, with Bill Medley, the taller of the two, providing the bass-baritone, and blond-haired Bobby Hatfield singing tenor. Their style would later be dubbed “blue- eyed soul,” and there was no doubt about their vocal talent. They had a range and style that helped create a strong and distinctive sound. But they also had another potent ingredient in their music that helped make it distinctive — a music producer named Phil Spector.
“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'”
( scroll down for lyrics )
Regarded as a musical genius in the studio, Phil Spector was then coming into his most productive years. With the Righteous Brothers, Spector made especially good use of their talents, packaging their songs in a distinctive way as he pushed the boundaries of popular music using his then-becoming-famous “wall of sound” technique. Spector’s sound used a flood of instrumentation behind good vocals that gave pop music a near-orchestral quality. His treatments became quite distinctive, often described as “full and powerful” — they changed popular music. Spector himself, however, would also become known for his quirky and bizarre behavior, some of it violent, which years later would result in a second-degree murder conviction in the Los Angeles case of actress Lana Clarkson, for which Spector is currently serving a 19-years-to-life prison sentence. But in his earlier life, during his 1960s’ music production and studio work with the Righteous Brothers and other groups, Spector had magical abilities and was a much sought-after producer.
Sample 45 rpm record sleeve for 1964-65 single.
Honing a Hit
Said to have been inspired in part by “Baby I Need Your Loving” — a song by the Motown group the Four Tops (#11, July 1964) — “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” was written by the New York Brill Building husband-and-wife team Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, along with Phil Spector. The production of the song went through many hours of experimentation, retakes, and studio time before it was recorded and released. As the Righteous Brothers’ Bill Medley would later recall: “Barry Mann wrote this ballad and I remember him telling me he wanted to write a song that was like the Four Tops’ records, and he wanted that kind of a song. So they wrote this ballad and Phil Spector and Barry Mann sat down at the piano and sang it to us. And they both had real high voices. And when they got done I said, ‘man, that’s a great song for The Everly Brothers’ — ’cause they sounded like The Everly Brothers. They had these real high thin voices. And I couldn’t imagine this was the song Phil Spector wanted to do with us… So we started learning it and the complexion of the song changed dramatically by trying to find the right key. The song has a pretty huge range to it….”
45 rpm disc showing A-side single, 'You’ve Lost That Lovin Feelin' ' on Philles record label.
To get up to the really high notes in the song — a song, it would turn out, that builds and builds — there had to be a low start, so they kept experimenting to find just the right start and voice. In the end, what had begun with Mann and Spector at the piano with their high, thin sound, became something very different — but in a good way. “The whole vibe of the song” changed, explained Medley. “And with Spector’s phenomenal production it was pretty unique. Great song! Great production! And I think Bobby and I did a real good job.” Spector also had some back-up singers on the song, namely Sonny & Cher, before they hit it big on their own. Years later, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame would single out the song, and Spector’s production, at the induction of the Righteous Brothers. “Spector heard a deeper potential in the blend of Medley’s earthy thunder and Hatfield’s heavenly fire,” said the Hall, calling the song “magnificently produced” and citing it as a kind of “symphonic pop.” Spector’s wall-of-sound production technique on this song, said the Hall, “scaled unparalleled heights for a pop single.”
Righteous Brothers, 1960s. Bill Medley & Bobby Hatfield, in younger days.
Still, at the time it was made, “You Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” had a couple of quirks about it that could make it a problem — especially for radio disc jockeys playing the new record. The opening line — “You never close your eyes anymore when I kiss your lips” — was done very slowly in Bill Medley’s very deep bass baritone. It was so slow and so deep, in fact, that upon hearing the record, some thought it was being played on the wrong speed. A second possible problem was the song’s length — nearly four minutes in play time when most songs then on the radio were in the two minute range. But Spector fixed that, at least temporarily, altering the actual 3:50 play time on the disc label by reversing the last two numbers, making it 3:05, which helped get the song past time-conscious radio DJs and music pro- grammers. But when the song was finally played by the DJs, the sound they heard was pure gold. It features, in part, a powerful back-and-forth between Medley and Hatfield in their respective baritone and tenor, almost in a call-and-response fashion, and gives the song a dramatic, soulful flair. Vanity Fair called it “the most erotic duet between men on record.”
45 rpm version of 1965's ‘Unchained Melody’ on Phil Spector’s label.
“We had no idea if it would be a hit,” recalled Bill Medley some years later. “It was too slow, too long, and right in the middle of The Beatles and the British Invasion.” But within two months of its release, by early February 1965, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” had reached the #1 spot in the U.S. and the U.K. It became one of the most successful pop singles of its time, despite exceeding the standard length for radio play. Indeed, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” remains one of the most played songs in radio history, estimated to have been broadcast more than 8 million times to date. The Righteous Brothers, meanwhile, proceeded to have three more Phil Spector-produced Top Ten hits: “Just Once in My Life” (#9), “Unchained Melody” (#4), and “Ebb Tide”(#5) — all in 1965. Those were heady days for the two singers, a time when they were actively recording in New York, as Bill Medley later recounted:
“. . .The Brill Building – you know, that’s where they did all that great writing…. Where Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Carole King, and Neil Sedaka [were]; . . . just [where] all the phenomenal writers came from. Well, when it was time for us to go in and record we would just call Screen Gems and say, ‘listen, we’re gonna record on the ninth of January and we need a song and we will fly into New York to hear what you guys come up with.’ So we would fly into New York at a certain time and they would parade these unbelievable artists in to us. They would sing these phenomenal songs. None of them were bad. They were all phenomenal. And what a great problem to have; to try and pick the best song out of all these wonderful songs. So I’m sure we turned down several hits. Couldn’t do them all. Certainly would have liked to.”
That Lovin’ Feelin'”
The Righteous Brothers
You never close your eyes anymore
when I kiss your lips
And there’s no tenderness like before
in your fingertips
You’re trying hard not to show it, (baby)
But baby, baby I know it
You’ve lost that lovin’ feelin’
Whoa, that lovin’ feelin’
You’ve lost that lovin’ feelin’
Now it’s gone, gone, gone, woah
Now there’s no welcome look in your
eyes when I reach for you
And now you’re starting to criticize
little things I do
It makes me just feel like crying, (baby)
‘Cause baby, something beautiful’s dying
You’ve lost that lovin’ feelin’
Whoa, that lovin’ feelin’
You’ve lost that lovin’ feelin’
Now it’s gone, gone, gone, woah
Baby, baby, I’ll get down on my knees
If you would only love me like you
used to do, yeah
We had a love, a love, a love you don’t
So don’t, don’t, don’t… let it slip away
Baby [baby], baby [baby]
I’m begging you please, please
I need your love [I need your love]
I need your love [I need your love]
So bring it on back [So bring it on back]
Bring it on back [So bring it on back]
Bring back that lovin’ feelin’
Woah, that lovin’ feelin’
Bring back that lovin’ feelin’
‘Cause it’s gone, gone, gone
And I can’t go on, woah
Bring back that lovin’ feelin’
Whoa, that lovin’ feelin’
Bring back that lovin’ feelin’
________________________ (…. ) = background chorus
[…. ] = Medley-Hatfield call-and-response
Before the Righteous Brothers scored big with “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” the two had performed on the September 1964 premiere of ABC-TV’s rock `n roll variety show, Shindig!, and they continued to make appearances on the show thereafter. They had also served as an opening act for the Beatles’ first America concert tour and later for the Rolling Stones as well. But once their songs began climbing the charts, they were soon in demand for their own act.
The Righteous Brothers’s sound, however, had fooled some listeners in the mid-1960s, including a few in the black community thinking the two singers were black artists. Black music was also then called “rhythm & blues,” or R&B music, having been changed from the previous “race records” label of earlier times. In the 1960s, a number of cities with R&B radio stations were surprised to learn that the Righteous Brothers’ songs were those of two white performers. Rocky Grosse, Program Director at WWRL, a major R&B station in New York, was one of those with the mistaken impression. George Woods, an on-air radio personality with WDAS in Philadelphia, is credited with coining the term “blue-eyed soul” to describe the kind of music these two white Righteous Brothers were then turning out — music enjoyed by both R&B and pop listeners. In fact, the Righteous Brothers songs helped open up the R&B radio stations to other white artists who also had a “soul sound” to their music.
“When we were both 13 we didn’t know each other,” Medley would later say about he and Hatfield, “but our musical college was the same. Rock ‘n Roll caught us right at puberty. First time I heard Little Richard, my life changed. I would buy all these records by Fats Domino, B.B. King, Bobby Bland and Ray Charles and listen to them all day long. When it came time for me to sing on stage, I was trying to be like them. . . .”
The Righteous Brothers quickly became one of the top groups on the music scene in the mid-1960s. They also became one of the first rock ‘n roll acts to play Las Vegas. As Bobby Hatfield later recounted about those times: “. . .It was a great reception. We were working [The Sands] with Frank Sinatra. He was in the main room and we were in the lounge. It was a real thrill to meet and actually become friends with people like Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Dean Martin. They were all working the Sands at that time…and Bill and I became …well, not close friends, but at least acquaintances, where they knew us by name and most of them just called us ‘the righteous boys’.”
Record sleeve cover for 1966 No. 1 hit song, (‘You’re My) Soul & Inspiration.’
By 1966 the Righteous Brothers left Phil Spector and the Philles label, making a better business deal with Verve Records. Verve bought the Righteous Brothers’ contract for $1 million. Their first song with Verve, “(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration” was also a No. 1 hit and a million seller. Bill Medley, who had some experience with sound production, was able to replicate a Spector-like “Wall of Sound” treatment for the duo’s new song. Through the remaining 1960s, however, they would have only a few more Top 40 hits. In 1968, Medley left for a solo career. Hatfield kept the Righteous Brothers going for a time with another singer, Jimmy Walker. But the act wasn’t the same. Medley had a couple of hits on his own, and for a time, neither he nor Hatfield did alone what they had done together. In 1974 they reunited for one hit, “Rock and Roll Heaven,” and in later years did some touring together on the oldies circuit and nightclub performing in Las Vegas and elsewhere.
The Righteous Brothers’ ‘Unchained Melody’ helped make the ‘pottery scene’ from the 1990 film ‘Ghost’ one of the most memorable ever – and the film's popularity gave the song & Righteous Brothers’ music new life.
However, two of the Righteous Brothers’ 1960s songs would later receive a boost from subsequent use in major films. “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ ” received a second run at the music charts in 1986 after it was used on the soundtrack of the May 1986 movie, Top Gun, starring Tom Cruise. In 1990, the Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody,” featuring Bobby Hatfield, was used memorably in the Patrick Swayze-Demi Moore film Ghost, rising to #14 on the pop charts and becoming a million seller more than 25 years after its first recording. “Unchained Melody” also then topped the U.S. adult contemporary chart for two weeks and was #1 in Australia for seven weeks through January 1991. In the U.K., meanwhile, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” became the only song to enter the UK Top 10 three different times: once in 1965 when it was originally released, again in 1969 when it was re-released, and a third time in 1990 following Ghost, when “Unchained Melody’s” rise to # 1 there also brought attention to “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin,'” which itself rose to #3 on the UK charts. “Unchained Melody,” however, was the best-selling UK single that year. In the U.S., a 1990 anthology album, Best of the Righteous Brothers, also became a million seller.
Separately, in 1987, Bill Medley’s duet with Jennifer Warnes on “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” — a featured song in the film Dirty Dancing — topped the Billboard Hot 100 that November, and later earned a Grammy Award. The film’s soundtrack, with the song, also became a gigantic best seller — in fact, the most successful soundtrack since Saturday Night Fever, selling 14 million copies.
On The Radio
In December 1999, Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) announced that “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” was the No. 1 song of the 20th century in terms of songs played most frequently on American radio and television. At that time, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ ” had passed the 8 million “plays” mark. The 8 million ‘radio plays’ of “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin'” equals more than 45 years of back-to-back airplay. “One million continuous performances of a song of the average length of 3 minutes represents 5.7 years of continuos airplay,” explained BMI in its announcement. “The 8 million performances of “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling’ ” equals more than 45 years of back-to-back play.”
The Righteous Brothers’ songs have been covered by a number of groups. Elvis Presley, for one, frequently sang “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” and “Unchained Melody” during his 1970s performances. Dionne Warwick, Hall and Oates, and Neil Diamond, among others, have also done versions of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.” Warwick’s version hit #16 in 1969, and Hall and Oates’ remake hit #12 in 1980.
But for some fans of the Righteous Brothers’ sound, there’s no substitute for the real thing. Here’s rock critic and writer Dave Marsh, recalling his memories of “You’ve Lost That Lovin Feelin” both as a young teen and in later adult years, as described in his book, The Heart Of Rock & Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made:
“…The [radio] deejay told me that this [song] was by the Righteous Brothers, who I already knew from TV’s Shindig. They were a Mutt and Jeff act. Somber-voiced Bill Medley stood way over six feet, dark and halfways handsome; tenor Bobby Hatfield was blond, five-five or so and greaser cute…
…Naturally, I bought the record, surprised at its red and yellow Philles label… So I sat and stared at the label and being in another line of work at the time — eighth grade — came to no unnecessary conclusions.. . . In the spring of 1987, staying at a hotel in downtown Chicago, I strapped on headphones and went for a run. . . I’d been on the road a couple of weeks, and felt home- sick, a little afraid, frightfully lonely. . . I loved the record (wore out one copy, picked up another used), harbored a half-secret devotion to the Righteous Brothers no matter what they did well into adulthood, moved on to other things, but still turned “Lovin’ Feelin'” way up whenever it came across the radio.
In the spring of 1987, staying at a hotel in downtown Chicago, I strapped on headphones and went for a run. There was a parade on Michigan Avenue, and I dodged in and out among the crowd until I got down by the lake, where there was almost nobody. I’d been on the road a couple of weeks, and felt homesick, a little afraid, frightfully lonely. The tape I listened to was composed of random favorites, deliberately jumbled so I couldn’t remember what came next. Somewhere over by the lake, “Lovin’ Feelin'” came on. I jammed the volume all the way up and the clash of those voices came through again. When they started begging and pleading — “Baby, baby, I’d get down on my knees for you,” sang Medley, “If you would only love me like you used to do,” responded Hatfield — tears sprang from my eyes. In the center of the continent, at the heart of a population of six million, I was suddenly, unmistakably, nerve-tinglingly abandoned and alone.
God knows what passersbys thought. But with the title — “You’ve lost that lovin’ feelin'” — echoing in my ears I understood at last: We worship the thing we fear…”
Righteous Brothers performing in later years.
During the 1990s and early 2000s, the Righteous Brothers were sometimes performing 60-80 shows a year on the road and in concert. They were also appearing in Las Vegas for about 12 weeks a year. But in 2003, they were recognized for their earlier contri- butions to rock ‘n roll music. On March 10, 2003, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Billy Joel was their presenter. “In the mid-1960s the Righteous Brothers became a fixture on Top 40 radio and the televised rock and roll variety show Shindig!…,” says their Hall of Fame description. “Medley’s commanding baritone and Hatfield’s forceful tenor ranked among the most indelible voices of that charmed era.” But sadly, only several months after their Hall of Fame induction, tragedy struck, as Bobby Hatfield died suddenly in November 2003 during one of their tours. He was 63 years old. In 2008, an earlier 21st anni- versary special on the Righteous Brothers’ music that had been filmed in 1983 at the Roxy in Los Angeles, was aired nationally on many PBS television stations.
The Beatles' February 11th, 1964 concert at the Washington Coliseum indoor arena in Wash., D.C., their first ever live U.S. concert performance. Photo: Rowland Scherman, http://www.snapstour.com/
When the Beatles first came to the U.S. in 1964, primarily to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show in New York on February 9th, 1964, they also performed two live concerts. The first of these concerts — and their first ever in the U.S. — was performed in Washington, D.C. at the Washing- ton Coliseum on February 11th. Not to be confused with an outdoor athletic-type coliseum, the Washington Coliseum was an indoor arena where professional and college basketball teams played. Originally built in 1941, it was first named the Uline Arena when it hosted hockey games. It was renamed the Washington Coliseum in 1959. It held a capacity crowd of about 7,000 people. Although the building still stands today near Washington’s Union Station, it is now used as an indoor parking garage. However, it is a protected property by the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board, and is slated for redevelopment. In the 1960s it hosted a variety of music acts and concerts, of which the Beatles’ February 11th, 1964 concert was one.
Ticket stub to Beatles' first live American concert in Washington, D.C., February 11th, 1964.
The Beatles also made another live concert appearance during their February 1964 U.S. visit — at New York City’s Carnegie Hall on February 12th. In New York there were two shows, but in Washington, only one. However, the D.C. performance was filmed in black and white video by CBS with the permission of the Beatles’ then manager, Brian Epstein. This filmed version of the live D.C. performance was then packaged into a “closed-circuit” offering by a private company to be aired several weeks later at selected theaters across the U.S. More detail on these theater showings later. First, the D.C. performance.
Beatles’ D.C. Concert
At the Washington Coliseum, the Beatles performed on a boxing-ring stage, changing postion during the show. Feb 11, 1964.
The February 11th, 1964 concert at the Washington Coliseum, located at 3rd and M Streets N.E., occurred during a cold and snowy night. It was the Beatles’ first live American performance after their televised appearance on the CBS Ed Sullivan Show. They had arrived in D.C. earlier that day by train from New York. Before their show that evening, they also appeared at a brief press conference. At show time, there was a sold-out, over-capacity crowd of 8,000 fans, by one count. Before the Beatles came on, there were other opening acts. Although three groups were advertised to perform as opening acts that night – including the girl group, The Chiffons, and also Tommy Roe and The Caravelles – an East Coast snow storm prevented The Chiffons from getting to Washington. Although the existing historical record is unclear about which groups actually performed that night as opening and/or intermission acts, Tommy Roe reports that he was there, and performed three songs – “Sheila,” “Everybody,” and “Carol.” Also reportedly appearing that night were Jay & The Americans, The Righteous Brothers, and The Caravelles. The opening acts were quite good, according to some in attendance that evening. But when the Beatles came on, the place erupted with screaming and incessant flash bulbs. They played for nearly an hour. Because of the set up in the Coliseum, the Beatles were essentially performing on a boxing ring-type stage, and had to move their equipment around on stage a few times in order to give everyone in the audience a chance to see them. Ringo was seen moving his drum set around on stage between sets.
Beatles Set List Washington, D.C. February 1964
Roll Over Beethoven
From Me to You
I Saw Her Standing There
All My Loving
I Wanna Be Your Man
Please Please Me
Till There Was You
She Loves You
I Want to Hold Your Hand
Twist and Shout
Long Tall Sally
Some Beatles afficionados and music critics regard the D.C. performance as a singular event in Beatles history, especially since it captured the group’s fresh and exuberant performance for the first time with a live, American audience — the “big market” the Beatles had dreamed of cracking. Writes music critic Richie Unterberger:
“…[H]ere are the early Beatles at their on-stage best. They’re more visibly delighted, indeed almost overwhelmed, by the crowd’s enthusiasm here than at any time before or since. Despite the seeming overnight success of their invasion of America, it had in reality been a long hard climb to the top, taking about seven years of diligent work and numerous excruciating setbacks, and also a year or so where they’d made virtually no inroads into the U.S. market despite their mushrooming British superstardom. This was the payoff, and though the group would get fed up with touring before screaming teenagers within a couple of years, at the Washington Coliseum they were if anything having an even greater time than their admirers….”
Another shot of The Beatles at their February 11th, 1964 concert at the Washington Coliseum arena in Washington, D.C.
After their live D.C. performance, the group attended a masked ball at the city’s British Embassy. Reportedly, British Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home decided not to attend for fear of being upstaged by the group. During the party, an unidentified woman cut off a lock of Ringo’s hair without asking him. The Beatles stayed at the embassy party for a time and then returned to their rooms at the Shoreham Hotel. Tommy Roe recalls that evening as “chaotic,” noting there were “many agents and celebrities trying to get close to the fab four…” Roe had toured the U.K. about a year earlier, and the Beatles were a featured act on his tour. In D.C., Roe was invited to the Beatles’ suite at the Shoreham Hotel later evening by Brian Epstein, but Roe was soon besieged by friends and colleagues who “wanted me to take them along to meet the boys…” However, visitors to the Beatles’ suite that evening were restricted, although Roe did get in briefly to thank them for putting him on as an opening act. “I remember their suite was packed with press and photographers doing interviews…”
The following day, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, meeting with British Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home at the White House, reportedly said of the Beatles: “I like your advance guard. But don’t you think they need haircuts?” The Beatles that day returned to New York by train for their Carnegie Hall concerts — two 25-minute performances before 2,900 fans attending each show.
1964 ad for the Beatles' closed-circuit concerts.
The Closed-Circuit Concerts
However, about a month later, in mid-March 1964, the CBS filming of the Beatles’ live D.C. show — together with separate footage of performances by the Beach Boys and Lesley Gore — was shown in selected U.S. movie theaters as a closed-circuit concert. Billed in advertising as — “The Beatles: Direct From Their First American Concert” — the complete 90-minute film was transmitted over telephone lines to selected U.S. and Canadian theaters in four separate shows — two each day — over the weekend of March 14th and 15th, 1964.
The first round of closed-circuit concerts occurred on Saturday, March 14, 1964, and among the receiving theater locations that day, for example, were: the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; the Hippodrome Theater in Cleveland, Ohio; the El Monte Legion Stadium in El Monte, California; the Public Auditorium in Portland, Oregon; the Village Theater in Westwood, California; and many others. The following day, on Sunday, March 15, 1964, the show went out again to a number of locations, including: the Norva Theater in Norfolk, Virginia; Lake Theater in Oak Park, Illinois; Fox Theater in San Jose, California; and also back in Washington, D.C. at the Coliseum. In Albany, New York that weekend, there were three showings at the Palace Theater. In Indianapolis, Indiana, the Lyric Theater received the show on March 14th and March 15th, as did a big screen theater at the State Fair Coliseum in Dallas, Texas.
The total audience for the special closed-circuit broad- casts of the Beatles’ concert film was expected to exceed 500,000. The shows were seen in more than 100 theaters in the U.S. and Canada. The promoters — identified in advertising as the National General Corporation, or their subisidiary, Theater Color Vision — made millions. One 1964 estimate placed the take at some $4 million, or roughly $30 million in today’s money. This Beatles’ concert showing was apprarently the first use of closed-circuit broadcasting for a rock concert, as previously this closed-circuit theater network had been used only for championship boxing matches.
Excerpts from the film have shown up in numerous video compilations, including The Beatles Anthol- ogy. In 2003, a company named Passport released a DVD entitled The Beatles in Washington D.C., February 11, 1964.
Master Tape at Auction
Decades after the Beatles’ February 1964 performances, a reported master tape of the CBS film of the Beatles’ D.C. concert surfaced on the internet, appearing at the website, BeatleSource.com, display- ed in its shipping box. According to this site, the tape was auctioned off by “It’s Only Rock and Roll” in 2005 to an unnamed bidder for an unspecified price.
CBS Beatles tape in box.
In the website’s description of the master tape, however, it is noted: “. . . a variety of poor quality kinescopes trans- ferred to video versions of the [Beatles’ D.C.] concert have circulated on bootlegs, imports and, most recently, as a commercially released DVD. These versions are missing the on-stage announcements and footage of the Beatles running through the audience en route to the stage. In addition, these inferior copies end abruptly midway through ‘Twist & Shout,’ and are totally missing the finale of ‘Long Tall Sally’ and footage of the Beatles leaving the stage. Even the footage seen by millions on the Beatles Anthology series was far removed in picture and sound quality from what fans saw in their local theaters in March 1964.”
The website also notes in its description of this tape: “We can unequivocally say that there exists no other videotaped Beatles concert that remotely approaches the quality of this performance by the Beatles at Washington Coliseum.”
DVD of Beach Boys 'lost' concert.
“Lost” Beach Boys
There also appears to have been a film excerpt made of the Beach Boys’ portion of this show, which in recent years has been marketed as a separate DVD. The disc offers 22 minutes of the Beach Boys performance, described in the marketing literature as a “long-lost concert video” only now available. That Beach Boys’ performance — which was spliced into the Beatles’ closed-circuit film along with the Lesley Gore performance — was originally videotaped by NBC-TV in Burbank, California. Both of those performances were part of a separate concert hosted in Los Angeles in late January 1964 by L.A. disc jockey Roger Christian. But after the Beatles’ closed-circuit TV show was aired, including the Gore and Beach Boys’ portions, the Beach Boys segment remained virtually unseen for decades. Then in 1998, according to one account, the Beach Boys’ portion, or a version of the original session, was rediscovered and began being sold in June 1999 as a separate DVD. “Beach Boys fans will be delighted with the quality of the digitally mastered picture and sound,” says one review of “The Lost Concert.” It also captured the Beach Boys in their early days, when Brian Wilson was featured in the lead, as he would later stop touring with the band. The DVD also includes cutaway shots that provide a glimpse of what teen audiences were like during the heyday of the surfing craze, according to one description. “[P]lenty of Gidget hairdos, and a few parents in the crowd, marveling at the frenzy of it all…,” says the description. Among the Beach Boys’ songs on the disc are: “Fun Fun Fun,” “Little Deuce Coupe,” “Surfer Girl,” “Surfin’ USA,” “Shut Down,” “In My Room,” and others. See also, “Early Beach Boys, 1962-1966.”
Poster for Beatles' closed-circuit concert in Providence, R.I., 1964.
In late 2010, a high-quality video of the 1964 Beatles’ Washington, D.C. concert was reported to have surfaced in a couple of places, suggesting that it might be the 1964 master tape, or was somehow related to that tape. In November 2010, Apple, Inc.’s iTunes music service announced that it would begin selling Beatles’ music – singles, albums, and a special boxed set, among other items. The “Beatles Box Set” – which iTunes was then selling for $149.00 – included 13 remastered Beatles’ studio albums and other Beatles’ music. The box set was also advertised to include something else: the live 1964 Washington Coliseum Beatles’ concert film. iTunes reported that it had a “worldwide exclusive” on the film. Apple at that time was also allowing Beatles fans to stream and view the 1964 concert film from iTunes for free during November and December 2010.
Then, in December 2010, another report announced that the “not-seen-since-1964″ closed-circuit film – complete with Beach Boys and Lesely Gore segments, Roger Christian’s introductions, and the Beatles’ “Long Tall Sally” concert segment – would be given a special theatrical showing at the American Cinematheque Egyptian Theater in Hollywood on February 11, 2011. Hosting this screening would be: Alan Boyd, director of the documentary Endless Harmony: The Beach Boys Story; Domenic Priore, author of Riot on Sunset Strip: Rock ’n’ Roll’s Last Stand in Hollywood; and Ron Furmanek, a rock ‘n roll film archivist. “This will be the first time the ENTIRE production has been seen in full since the two days it was screened as a nationwide closed-circuit theater event…”, said the announcement, adding: “Our test screenings left us bedazzled, feeling as though we had just seen The Beatles in person… it’s that good.” Since then, however, it is not clear how often the “lost concert” Beatles film was actually aired in U.S., if at all, as a tour of U.S. theaters was promised, but there appears to have been some difficulty in showing the film — at least in some locations.
The Beatles performing live at the Washington Coliseum, February 11, 1964 -- from left, Paul, George, John & Ringo.
More Innocent Time
In any event, the Beatles’ in-theater, closed-circuit concerts that were aired in 1964 offer a look at an earlier, more innocent time in the music concert business — and a rare piece of music industry history. It also appears that those music fans who attended the 1964 theater showings of the Beatles’ first live U.S. concert — along with the added Beach Boys and Lesley Gore performances — were part of a rare event that occurred only in a limited number of U.S. locations.
(Original Posting) Jack Doyle, “Beatles’ Closed-Circuit Gig, Feb-March 1964,” PopHistoryDig.com, July 9, 2008.
(Title Change) Jack Doyle, “Beatles’ D.C. Gig,” Feb-March 1964, PopHistoryDig.com, January 29, 2014.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
Beatles on the Washington, D.C. mall, Feb 1964.
Beatles on D.C. mall with U.S. Capitol, Feb 1964.
February 1964: Fans outside the Washington, D.C. Coliseum waiting for the Beatles to arrive. (Photo, Keystone/Getty)
Jerry Doolittle, “Beatles Arrive, Teen- Agers Shriek, Police Do Their Duty, and That’s That,” The Washington Post-Times Herald, February 12, 1964, p. 1.
On YouTube.com, there are several videos of the Beatles’ February 1964 performance at the Washington Coliseum. These are typically grainy, black-and-white videos of various lengths, some 30 minutes or more, with shots of the Beatles performing, screaming fans, and the general pandemo- nium of that concert.
John S. Wilson, “2,900-Voice Chorus Joins the Beatles; Audience Shrieks and Bays and Ululates,” New York Times, February 13, 1964.
“Potential $4 Million Box Office For Beatles On Closed Circuit TV,” Broadcasting, February 24, 1964.
“Closed TV Shows Here for Beatles,” Dallas Morning News (Dallas, TX), March 2, 1964.
Myra MacPherson, “Help! The Day The Mania Came To Washington,” Washing- ton Post, February 7, 1984.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”
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” _________________________________
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.
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