Keen! History, page 2

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Bev, Efficient 1960s
The climax of the novelty idea was applied to the Supremes, later to be known with Diana Ross front and center. Good singers, combined with the super-talented songwriting team of brothers Eddie and Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier, made their songs hit the top of the charts. Their image was polished by Barry Gordy to the nines, since all the girls were slim and attractive.

The Supremes

By the mid-1960s, the public was more ready to accept a black girl group. The Supremes' high-class wigs and exquisite gowns gave them a glamorous image.

The novelty idea went in both directions. Sugary-sweet Ginny Arnell wasn't ugly, but her image was "stupid girl makes dumb mistakes." Her songs like "I Wish I Knew What Dress to Wear" and "Dumb Head" amplified this. "Dumb Head" was an extreme enough song to replace the typical background "she-lang" and "doo-lang" sounds with "duh, duh, duh, duh, duh." What a legacy!

No wonder the songs are such memorable tunes. People who would become mega-talents were involved on a daily basis. First, there was young talent who would become top producer/songwriting teams, such as Phil Spector, Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, Cynthia Mann and Barry Weil, Carole King and Gerry Goffin, and Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Eddie Holland. Even Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote a few girl group hits.

Lesley Gore

Quincy Jones produced Lesley Gore's hits. Cher got her start as Cherilyn and was produced by Phil Spector. Spector, already famous in the girl-group era, later became associated with the Beatles when he was asked to re-mix the album "Let It Be" prior to its release. Jackie DeShannon was lead singer of The Lady-Bugs. Patti of the Blue-Belles was none other than Patti LaBelle. Valerie Simpson and Nicholas Ashford, who became disco stars 15 years later, co-wrote songs for, and Valerie was lead singer of, the Apollas (Valerie was also Candy of Candy and the Kisses).


Of course, the girl-group sound spilled over into beach movies and other teen entertainment. Annette Funicello was the queen of these movies, singing and playing hard-to-get with good-looking men. But several others joined the movie biz, too, with artists like Donna Loren (with Annette in Pajama Party and Beach Blanket Bingo), Shelley Fabares, Jackie DeShannon, Lesley Gore, Helen Shapiro, and more. Even the Supremes appeared in Beach Ball in 1965.


Neil Sedaka and Neil Diamond wrote songs. Paul Simon wrote songs for the Cupcakes and the Fashions. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys wrote songs for the Honeys and Sharon Marie. David Gates, later famous as the lead singer of Bread, worked with Shelley Fabares and wrote songs for the Girlfriends and the Murmaids. Background musicians and singers were people like Manfred Mann, Smokey Robinson, Leon Russell, Harry Nilsson, Curtis Mayfield, Sly Stone, Sonny Bono, and many other later-more-famous names.

The rush to capitalize on the sound, the enormous output of records and growing-up of society all made the girl-group era peak swiftly. The British invasion had all but killed the sound by about 1966, though the biggest success of all girl groups, the Supremes, hung on. Ironically, earlier than 1966, girl groups had such big hits that they sometimes knocked the Beatles out of the #1 spot. The Beatles even had the Ronettes as their opening act for an early-sixties tour.

Of course, novelty popped into the picture here, too, as hastily-assembled girl groups called "the Beatle-ettes" and "the Bootles" were formed. Obviously, they didn't achieve near the magnitude of their namesakes.

In years following, the song gems of the girl-group era would be re-discovered and covered by a vast number of artists. Some big-hit remakes were Martha Reeves and the Vandellas' "Heat Wave," remade by Linda Ronstadt; Little Eva's "The Locomotion" remade by Grand Funk Railroad; The Ad Libs' "Boy from New York City" was remade by Manhattan Transfer; the Crystals' "Da Doo Ron Ron" was a big hit for teen idol Shaun Cassidy; the Marvelettes' "Please Mr. Postman" was a hit for the Carpenters. And in the ultimate irony, Cher, who got her start with the girl-group sound, had a hit with Betty Everett's "It's in His Kiss." There have been spoofs and imitations of the sound, too, most notably Julie Brown's 1984 hit, "Homecoming Queen's Got a Gun."

The Honeys

The sound of female harmony reverberated in the 1970s and 1980s with newer girl groups such as the Three Degrees, the Honey Cone and the Go-Gos. The girl-group sound was found even in mixed-gender groups who rocked to a early 60s beat, such as the B-52s. The girls in the band even had the beehive hairdos!

Some might laugh at the songs and the sound as confection, but the classic melody construction and simplistic love lyrics influenced a vast number of later recording artists. The sweet sounds of the girl groups live on and always will.

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