Tag Archives: The Marvelettes

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 – 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 – 1962

Some time in my teen years I feel in love with the girl group sound. My favorite was The Crystals’ “He’s a Rebel.” The music and the vocals hooked me. The singer tells of how others don’t approve of the boy she loves as he’s a non-conformist, but he treats her well and that’s all that matters.

The story behind the record is as interesting as the record itself. The song was written by Gene Pitney, who had several hits of his own, including “Town Without Pity” and “(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valence.” “He’s a Rebel” was slated to be the debut single for Vikki Carr, but when Spector heard Pitney’s demo he knew he wanted it for one of his acts, The Crystals.

He needed to record it quickly in order to challenge Carr’s version at the stores. The Crystals, however, were on the road in New York and unable to make the recording sessions in Los Angeles. No problem. Spector hired a local group called The Blossoms, led by Darlene Wright, to record the song. Wright was paid $3000 for the session. Spector released the record under the name The Crystals, as his label owned the name. The actual Crystals first learned of their new hit song when they heard it on the radio. It became their first #1 single, meaning The Crystals had to learn this song so they could perform it at their shows. The group’s lead singer, Barbara Alston, could not match Wright’s vocal performance, so fellow Crystal LaLa Brooks moved into the lead vocalist slot. Coincidentally, the week The Crystals’ “He’s a Rebel” was #1, Gene Pitney was #2 as a singer with “Only Love Can Break a Heart,” a song he didn’t write.

As “He’s a Rebel” was so successful, Spector needed to get a follow-up single out quickly. Again, he turned to The Blossoms to record “He’s Sure the Boy I Love.” Wright, however, was angry that her name was not on “He’s a Rebel” and told Spector she would only do this song if she were singed to a recording agreement and was properly credited for her vocals on the track. Spector agreed, changing her name in the agreement to Darlene Love. He released “He’s Sure the Boy I Love.” It was credited to The Crystals.

Spector used the money he made from “He’s a Rebel” to buy out his business partners in the Philles Records label. In addition to the financial settlement, Spector had to give his two ex-partners a share of the royalties of the next Philles single release, so Spector got the real Crystals into the studio and recorded “(Let’s Dance) The Screw,” a silly number clearly not intended to be a hit. A copy was sent to one of the ex-partners. No royalties were generated.

Tunes du Jour celebrates Throwback Thursday with twenty great hits from 1962, kicking off with “He’s a Rebel” by “The Crystals.”


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Throwback Thursday – 1961

From 1958 to 1960, Ben E. King was the lead singer of The Drifters, scoring hits with “There Goes My Baby,” “Save the Last Dance for Me,” “This Magic Moment” and “I Count the Tears.” He suggested to the group’s manager, George Treadwell, that they record the spiritual tune “Stand by Me Father,” but Treadwell turned him down. King also asked Treadwell for a greater share of the group’s royalties. Again, Treadwell turned him down. King said goodbye.

King left the group after recording just thirteen songs with them. He soon made the top ten as a solo act with 1961’s “Spanish Harlem.”

Around that time, King was working on a song based on “Stand by Me Father.” He had some lyrics and a melody. He finished the lyrics with his producer, Jerry Leiber. Leiber’s songwriting/production partner, Mike Stoller, added some chords behind the melody, as well as a bass line.

Per Leiber, it’s that last addition that makes Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” a classic. “The lyrics are good, King’s vocal is great. But Mike’s bass line pushed the song into the land of immortality. Believe me – it’s the bass line.”

“Stand By Me” kicks off this week’s Throwback Thursday playlist, spotlighting hits from 1961.


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My First 45 By The Carpenters

When I was young I’d listen to the radio waitin’ for my favorite songs
When they played, I’d sing along; it made me smile

One of my favorite songs when I was young(er) was “Please Mr. Postman,” to which I was introduced via the version performed by The Carpenters, as the original hit version by The Marvelettes pre-dated my existence.

The Carpenters’ single entered the Billboard Hot 100 in 1974, the year my Grandpa Abe gave me a radio, entering me on a path of music fandom from which I have yet to stray. It ultimately went to #1, the same position at which The Marvelettes’ version peaked fourteen years earlier (and in doing so, became Motown Records first #1 pop hit). Incidentally, The Carpenters final Hot 100 entry was also a cover of a Marvelettes hit, “Beechwood 4-5789.” It peaked at #82, sixty-five notches below the peak position of the original.

I bought the Carpenters 45, which came with a picture sleeve cleverly replicating an envelope.

Carpenters002Zip codes? We don’t need no stinkin’ zip codes!

I wrote to the address on the sleeve. A few weeks later I received this in the mail:

Carpenters001
By the way, the lyrics that open this blog post are taken from “Yesterday Once More,” a #2 hit for The Carpenters. The song was written by Richard Carpenter and John Bettis.

Karen Carpenter, the sibling duo’s singer and drummer, was born on March 2, 1950. She died in 1983 at age 32 from “emetine cardiotoxicity due to or as a consequence of anorexia nervosa.”

Between 1970 and 1981 The Carpenters scored twenty top 40 hits on the Hot 100. Here they are:


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My Birthday Advice: Don’t!

doggies + Elvis
Today is my birthday. Over my 25+ years on earth, I’ve learned many life lessons. Most of them came from songs. My birthday gift to you is a playlist of 100 songs offering advice as to what not to do.


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“Lean On Me” – Bill Withers

In 1967 Bill Withers moved to Los Angeles to try to make it as a songwriter. While pursuing this dream he worked at Lockheed Aircraft, making around $3.50/hour. He spent $2500 of his own money to record some demo tracks. Not one record company or publisher expressed interest.

While working at a factory making toilet seats for 747s, he formed friendships with his co-workers and appreciated how they would help each other out. The mutual support this group of workers offered inspired him to compose a song. He titled it “Lean on Me.”

His upbringing played a large part in the song’s sentiment. “Being from a rural, West Virginia setting, that kind of circumstance would be more accessible to me than it would be to a guy living in New York where people step over you if you’re passed out on the sidewalk, or Los Angeles, where you could die on the side of the freeway and it would probably be 8 days before anyone noticed you were dead. Coming from a place where people were a little more attentive to each other, less afraid, that would cue me to have those considerations.”

He recorded the track for his album Still Bill. The single went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in July 1972. He left his factory job, but retained a good perspective, telling the L.A. Times: “Even when I was working on bathroom seats, this was at least constructive. I challenge anybody: I won’t sing for a month and you don’t go to the bathroom for a month and let’s see who comes off with less misery.”

“Lean On Me” won Withers a Grammy award for Best R&B Song … in 1987. On March 21 of that year Club Nouveau took their rendition of the song to #1, only the fifth time in the rock era that two different versions of the same song hit #1. (The first four? “Go Away Little Girl” – Steve Lawrence/Donny Osmond, “The Loco-Motion” – Little Eva/Grand Funk, “Please Mr. Postman” – The Marvelettes/The Carpenters, and “Venus” – The Shocking Blue/Bananarama.)

Bill Withers turns 77 years old today. Being he is an American institution, federal offices and banks are closed today. Many parts of the country are celebrating his birthday with fireworks displays, as they should. Here are twenty Withers tracks worth hearing, starting with the classic “Lean on Me.”


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Let’s Twist!

Ringo + Chubby
On January 13, 1962, Chubby Checker returned to #1 with “The Twist,” a record he previously took to #1 in September of 1960, making it the only record to hit #1 in two separate chart runs.

The song was originally recorded and released in 1959 by its writer, Hank Ballard, and his band, The Midnighters, as the b-side to their single “Teardrops on Your Letter.” A Baltimore DJ named Buddy Deane played “The Twist” on his television dance party program and got a good response. He told Dick Clark, host of American Bandstand about the tune.

Depending on what account you read, Ballard was unavailable to appear on American Bandstand or Clark was wary of Ballard, who previously hit with such lascivious songs as “Work with Me, Annie” and “Sexy Ways.” Either way, Clark had Chubby Checker (born Earnest Evans; his stage name was a take-off on popular singer Fats Domino) record “The Twist.”

Checker’s version is an extremely faithful cover of the Ballard recording. It is difficult to tell them apart; even Ballard thought the Checker recording was his!

In its 1960 release, Chubby Checker’s record launched a national dance craze. On the second release of the Chubby Checker version, “The Twist” became a worldwide phenomenon. Other twist hits included “Slow Twistin’,” “Dear Lady Twist,” “Twist, Twist Señora,” “Twistin’ the Night Away,” “Percolator (Twist),” “Soul Twist,” “Twist and Shout,” “Hey, Let’s Twist,” “Twistin’ Matilda (and the Channel),” “Twist-Her,” “Bristol Twistin’ Annie,” “Twistin’ Postman” and The Chipmunks’ “The Alvin Twist” – and that was just in 1962!

Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” spent one week at #1 in 1960 and two more weeks at #1 in 1962 before it was knocked from the top by…”The Peppermint Twist,” by Joey Dee & the Starlighters.

Here are twenty twistin’ favorites.

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Just Sing “Baby, Baby”

In 1964 the Motown songwriting/production team of Brian Holland, Eddie Holland and Lamont Dozier wrote a composition intended for The Marvelettes, who by that time had two top ten pop singles under their belt – “Playboy” and “Please Mr. Postman,” both co-written and co-produced by Brian Holland.

The three men went into the studio and had the instrumental track recorded, but when Lamont Dozier played the song and presented the chorus to The Marvelettes’ Gladys Horton, he got a response he wasn’t expecting. “Oh, honey, we don’t do stuff like that. And it’s the worst thing I ever heard,” she told him. In case he was still unsure how she felt, she added “No way am I gonna sing any junk like that!”

Dozier went through the Motown roster to see who he could get to record this number. He ended up with the group at the very bottom of the list, a trio of women signed to Motown several years earlier, but who had no big hit records to their name. Originally a quartet called The Primettes, the group had released nine singles, only one of which, a song written by Holland-Dozier-Holland entitled “When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes,” made the top 40, reaching #23. Initially they declined Dozier’s offer to record the song, finding it childish, repetitive and too slow, but they soon changed their mind, as they had no other material to record.

The three women in the trio, known around the Motown offices as “The No-Hit Supremes,” all sang lead vocals. As the instrumental version of this new track had already been recorded in the register in which Gladys Horton sings, the producers thought Mary Wilson, who sang in the same range as Horton, should handle the lead vocals, but Motown head Berry Gordy, Jr. wanted one of the other Supremes, Diana Ross, to be the group’s lead vocalist.

Ross complained that the music was in the wrong key, but was told to sing it the lower key. She wasn’t crazy about doing so, nor were the other two women eager to learn the intricate background vocals that had been written. Because of their bad attitude, Dozier told them to just sing “Baby, baby.”

On June 17, 1964, Motown released the track, entitled “Where Did Our Love Go,” as a single. As the “No-Hit Supremes” toured as part of Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Cavalcade of Stars, where they received credit at the bottom of the poster as part of “And Others,” the song climbed the charts. It hit #1 in August 1964, and by the time the tour ended, the Supremes had top billing.

doggies + Diana 003

Holland-Dozier-Holland went on to write many more songs for the Supremes, including their next four singles, all of which went to #1. The women scored twelve #1 pop hits between 1964 and 1969, ten of which were written by the same trio of men who came up with “Where Did Our Love Go,” which made Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Today Tunes du Jour celebrates the woman who may not have become a household name had she not given in to recording the now classic tune. Happy 70th birthday, Diana Ross!

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It’s Friday And I Need To Dance!

In 1967 Bill Withers moved to Los Angeles to try to make it as a songwriter. While pursuing this dream he worked at Lockheed Aircraft, making around $3.50/hour. He spent $2500 of his own money to record some demo tracks. Not one record company or publisher expressed any interest.

While working at a factory making toilet seats for 747s, he formed friendships with his co-workers and appreciated how they would help each other out. The mutual support this group of workers offered inspired him to compose a song. He titled it “Lean on Me.”

His upbringing played a large part in the song’s sentiment. “Being from a rural, West Virginia setting, that kind of circumstance would be more accessible to me than it would be to a guy living in New York where people step over you if you’re passed out on the sidewalk, or Los Angeles, where you could die on the side of the freeway and it would probably be 8 days before anyone noticed you were dead. Coming from a place where people were a little more attentive to each other, less afraid, that would cue me to have those considerations.”

He recorded the track for his album Still Bill. The single went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in July 1972. He left his factory job, but retained a good perspective, telling the L.A. Times: “Even when I was working on bathroom seats, this was at least constructive. I challenge anybody: I won’t sing for a month and you don’t go to the bathroom for a month and let’s see…who comes off with less misery.”

“Lean On Me” won Withers a Grammy award for Best R&B Song … in 1987. On March 21 of that year Club Nouveau took their rendition of the song to #1, only the fifth time in the rock era that two different versions of the same song hit #1. (The first four? “Go Away Little Girl” – Steve Lawrence/Donny Osmond, “The Loco-Motion” – Little Eva/Grand Funk, “Please Mr. Postman” – The Marvelettes/The Carpenters, and “Venus” – The Shocking Blue/Bananarama.)

Winston + Club Nouveau

This week’s dance playlist kicks off with the record that hit #1 on this day 27 years ago – Club Nouveau’s “Lean on Me.”

UPDATE: For some reason, the original version of Club Nouveau’s “Lean on Me” is not on Spotify; only a cheesy re-record is there. Screw it! We’ll kick off our dance party with Aretha Franklin’s “Freeway of Love.”

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