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.
Per the email I received from Spotify in mid-December, my most-streamed track of 2016 was Blue Oyster Cult’s “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper.” While that is a great song, I don’t recall playing it more than once or twice this year. However, I did spend hours listening to music by those taken from us by the Grim Reaper. I’m not the only person to feel incredible sadness at the seemingly non-stop loss of great talents, which started on New Year’s Day when we heard the report that Natalie Cole died the day before.
With this playlist I want to celebrate the contributions these folks made to our lives and our culture. If I missed someone, forgive me. There were a lot of folks to remember.
Before we get to the Spotify playlist, videos from two whose music is not on Spotify.
Thank you for enriching my life:
Glenn Frey (of Eagles)
Muhammad Ali (nee Cassius Clay)
Maurice White (of Earth, Wind and Fire)
Carrie Fisher (actress best known for Star Wars)
Paul Kantner (of Jefferson Airplane)
Signe Toly Anderson (of Jefferson Airplane)
Sir George Martin (record producer best known for his work with The Beatles)
Attrell “Prince Be” Cordes (of P.M. Dawn)
Garry Marshall (television/film director/producer/writer, creator of Happy Days)
Pete Burns (of Dead or Alive)
Alan Vega (of Suicide)
Don Ciccone (of The Four Seasons)
Keith Emerson (of Emerson, Lake and Palmer)
Greg Lake (of Emerson, Lake and Palmer)
Steven Young (of M/A/R/R/S)
Joan Marie Johnson (of The Dixie Cups)
Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor (of A Tribe Called Quest)
Bernie Worrell (of Parliament)
Gary Paxton (of The Hollywood Argyles)
Rick Parfitt (of Status Quo)
Mack Rice (songwriter whose credits include “Respect Yourself”)
Milt Okun (record producer best known for his work with John Denver)
Marni Nixon (singer/actress best known for dubbing the singing voices of Natalie Wood in West Side Story and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady)
Rod Temperton (of Heatwave)
John Chelew (record producer best known for his work with John Hiatt)
Nicholas Caldwell (of The Whispers)
Trisco Pearson (of Force MDs)
Gayle McCormick (of Smith)
Gary Loizzo (of American Breed)
Paul Upton (of The Spiral Starecase)
Carlo Mastrangelo (of The Belmonts)
Fred Tomlinson (co-writer of “Lumberjack Song”)
John D. Loudermilk
Zsa Zsa Gabor
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.”
Ronnie Spector turns 71 years old today. Along with her sister Estelle and cousin Nedra, Ronnie, then Veronica “Ronnie” Bennett, formed The Ronettes, one of the classic girl groups of the sixties.
The trio was signed to Colpix Records, but none of their singles performed well. Then they met Phil Spector, who signed them to his label, Philles.
The first track Spector recorded with the trio was “Why Don’t They Let Us Fall in Love?,” which, though the girls liked it, Spector held from release.
With Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, Phil Spector wrote “Be My Baby,” with the intention of having Ronnie Bennett, the woman he wanted to be his baby, record it.
The resulting record had a classic Spector wall of sound production and Phil recorded more than 40 takes. It took Ronnie three days to get the lead vocal down.
The other Ronettes don’t sing on “Be My Baby.” Background vocals were provided by Darlene Love, Nino Tempo, Sonny Bono, who did promotion for Phil Spector, and Bono’s girlfriend, Cher.
In 1963, The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” rose to #2 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Since that time it has made many lists of the greatest recordings. Among its biggest fans is Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys, who named it is favorite single of all-time, saying “This is a special one for me. What a great sound, the Wall of Sound. Boy, first heard this on the car radio and I had to pull off the road, I couldn’t believe it. The choruses blew me away; the strings are the melody of love. It has the promise to make the world better.”
Ronnie Bennett married Phil Spector in 1968. They divorced in 1974.
Today’s playlist consists of twenty tracks embodying the classic girl groups sound, with an emphasis on The Ronettes.