Tag Archives: Martha Reeves & the Vandellas

Girl Power! Forty Of The Best Girl Group Songs

The girl group sound was a genre of pop music that flourished on the charts between 1958 and 1966. Most records that fall into this category were made by all-female trios or quartets. However, some girl group hits were performed by solo women, and some by groups that featured a cisgender male. Per girl-groups.com, more than 750 girl groups cracked the US or UK charts between 1960 and 1966.

Tunes du Jour commemorates International Women’s Day with a playlist of forty of the best examples of the girl group sound.


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Throwback Thursday – 1965 (Part II)

Winston + Dylan
No other pop song so thoroughly challenged and transformed the commercials laws and artistic conventions of its time, for all time.
Rolling Stone, naming Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” the greatest song of all time

If it came out now, it would still be radical. For 1965, it was mind-blowing, as was its success. Six minutes long, sung by a guy who sounded nothing like the other singers on the radio, with confrontational often insulting lyrics. Somehow, it went all the way to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, kept from the top spot by The Beatles’ “Help!” As Rolling Stone wrote, “Just as Dylan bent folk music’s roots and forms to his own will, he transformed popular song with the content and ambition of “Like a Rolling Stone.”

Thanks in part to “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Help!” and Motown and Stax and the Rolling Stones and other British Invasion acts, 1965 was one of the best years for pop music. Tunes du Jour celebrates Throwback Thursday with a second playlist of tracks from this stellar year (the first playlist can be found here), kicking off with a Bob Dylan record that changed the rules.


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Throwback Thursday – 1964

Between the British invasion, the growth of Motown, and the girl group sound, many arguments could be made as to why 1964 was the best year for pop music. Here are twenty:


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Throwback Thursday – 1963

The girl group sound was hugely popular on the US pop charts in the early 1960s. The Shirelles, The Crystals, The Chiffons, The Angels, Martha and the Vandellas, The Marvelettes, The Exciters, The Orlons, The Cookies, The Murmaids, The Dixie Cups, The Supremes, The Toys, The Shangri-Las, The Jaynetts and others filled the radio with tales of teenage romance, heartbreak and occasionally social commentary. Solo acts such as Lesley Gore and Darlene Love also exemplified the girl group sound.

Described in the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry as “the quintessence of the ‘girl group’ aesthetic of the early 1960s,” the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” reached #2 in 1963. The record was produced by Phil Spector, who produced at least 15 top forty girl group songs between 1962 and 1964.

Lead vocals on “Be My Baby” were performed by Ronnie Spector. In fact, the other Ronettes aren’t even on the record. Backup singers included the girlfriend of Phil Spector’s promotion man. That man was Sonny Bono; his girlfriend was Cher. Sonny & Cher would have their first hit as a duo two years later.

This week’s Throwback Thursday playlist spotlights the hits of 1963. Here are twenty of that year’s best, kicking off with the record New Music Express named the second best song of the 1960s (their #1 was The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life”), the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby.”


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Throwback Thursday – 1983

Winston + MJ
MTV debuted on August 1, 1981. Back then it was a music video network. It positioned itself as a rock station. Most of the videos shown were of songs made by Caucasian performers, though rock-leaning black acts such as Joan Armatrading and the Bus Boys got some play.

Then came “Billie Jean.” The second single from Michael Jackson’s Thriller, “Billie Jean” was accompanied by a stylish video featuring a mesmerizing performance from Jackson. However, it wasn’t a rock song. It didn’t fit the format of rock radio stations, and it didn’t fit the format of MTV either.

But there is a big difference between radio and music television. There were plenty of radio stations and many different formats. You may not hear “Billie Jean” on the rock stations, but you could hear it on r&b stations and pop stations and dance-leaning stations. However, there was only one music television – MTV.

In his autobiography, Howling at the Moon, Walter Yetnikoff, head of CBS Records, for whom Jackson recorded (and where I worked in my first music business job), wrote “I screamed bloody murder when MTV refused to air [Jackson’s] videos. They argued that their format, white rock, excluded Michael’s music. I argued they were racist assholes – and I’d trumpet it to the world if they didn’t relent. I’ve never been more forceful or obnoxious. I’ve also never been as effective, threatening to pull all our videos. With added pressure from [Thriller producer] Quincy Jones, they caved in, and in doing so the MTV color line came crashing down.”

Jackson’s video for “Billie Jean” aired on MTV, followed just weeks later by his video for “Beat It,” a song whose guitar solo from Eddie Van Halen helped make it a hit on rock radio. These two videos made Jackson, already a superstar, a worldwide phenomenon with a humongous fan base that transcended race, age and location in a way never seen before. These two videos made MTV, a year and a half old and fairly popular in white suburban areas, a cultural institution. These two videos made the music video, then not something done for many singles, particularly those performed by artists of color, an art form and a necessary marketing tool.

Some people tuned in to MTV to see the Michael Jackson videos, and while watching the channel, discovered other acts. Some people tuned in to MTV to watch “white rock” videos, and while watching the channel, discovered Michael Jackson.

MTV went to showcase more “non-rock” videos. In 1988, they launched their hugely popular program Yo! MTV Raps, something that would have been completely unexpected just five years earlier, pre-“Billie Jean.”

While MTV deserves credit for making “Billie Jean” and Thriller successful, the person most responsible is Jackson himself. He wrote the song. He sang the song. He danced the song. Quincy Jones did not want “Billie Jean” to appear on Thriller. He didn’t like the title. He didn’t like the bassline. He felt the song’s introduction was too long. Jackson argued “But that’s the jelly!…That’s what makes me want to dance.” Jones wasn’t ready for this jelly, but Jackson stood his ground.

In May of 1983, NBC aired a tribute to Motown Records. Motown: Yesterday, Today, Forever featuring many legends who recorded for the storied label performing their classics. We saw Diana Ross, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Stevie Wonder, the Four Tops, Martha Reeves, Lionel Richie and the Commodores, Mary Wells, Junior Walker and then some. It was a terrific show, but the talk of the town following its airing was the performance of a song not from the Motown catalogue – Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” The iconic performance, during which Jackson brought the famous moonwalk to the world at large, pushed him that much more ahead of any other performer working in music back then.

Following “Beat It,” CBS Records released four more singles from Thriller. All seven of the singles released (the album had only nine songs!) went top ten, breaking the record of most top ten hits from a single-artist album that was set a few years earlier by…Michael Jackson, whose Off the Wall gave us four. Before Thriller, four singles for one album was considered a lot. Thriller raised the bar for blockbuster albums, and subsequent releases such as Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A., Prince’s Purple Rain, Def Leppard’s Hysteria and Janet Jackson’s Control each produced more than four hits.

“Billie Jean” changed everything.

On this week’s Throwback Thursday playlist, Tunes du Jour spotlights 1983, kicking off with Michael Jackson’s classic “Billie Jean.”


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A Soulful Christmas Playlist

TRIVIA QUESTION: Who was the first woman to hit the top ten on the Billboard Hot 100 with a song she wrote herself?

ANSWER: Carla Thomas. She was 16 years old when she wrote “Gee Whiz (Look at His Eyes),” which hit #10 in 1961. Today she turns 72.

In 1963, Thomas incorporated the title of her first hit into a seasonal offering, “Gee Whiz, It’s Christmas.”

“Gee Whiz, It’s Christmas” inspires today’s playlist – fifty great soul and r&b Christmas jams, with some fun extra treats thrown in.

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Feliz Cinco De Mayo!

Ringo + Toni 002
Hoy es Cinco de Mayo, y yo was thinking about Spanish-language songs that crossed over onto the US pop charts. That got me thinking about hit songs that were re-recorded in Spanish by their original hitmakers in an attempt to cross over the other direction. It’s a savvy business move, no? Why limit your audience, especially once the music business became more global?

Here is your Cinco de Mayo playlist:

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Happy Berry Gordy Jr.’s Birthday!

Today is the 83rd birthday of Berry Gordy, Jr., the aspiring pugilist turned songwriter turned record executive/entrepreneur. After penning hits for Jackie Wilson and Etta James in the late 1950s, Gordy went on to launch the Motown Record Corporation. The company’s first pop hit was Barrett Strong’s “Money (That’s What I Want),” a song written by Gordy with Janie Bradford, in 1960. From then on the hits kept coming.

Today’s playlist is a small sampling of great Motown releases. If you have a favorite Motown record, let me know what it is in the Comments. Enjoy!

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