Wednesday, June 1, 2022

The "Girl Groups"

 

I was in middle school when early rock & roll all but died out and “girl groups” began appearing over the radio airwaves. These groups sprung out of the male dominated Doo-Wop era of the forties and fifties. The “girl group” phenomenon lasted from about 1957 to 1966.The early groups were mostly teenagers who sang together in school and church. “Mr. Lee”, by the Bobbettes was the first song to make the pop charts. These five teenage girls from East Harlem, originally called themselves the Harlem Queens. They grew up in the projects and like the Doo-Wop groups before them, practiced in the hallways and on the playground.

“Maybe”, by the Chantels, was the next song to become a hit. It was a million seller in 1957 and re-released in 1969 after Janis Joplin covered it. The Chantels were five high school girls, ages 14 to 17, who attended parochial school in the Bronx and sang together in the school choir.


My favorite “girl group”, and the act that solidified the “girl group” sound was the Shirelles, four teenagers from Passaic, New Jersey. They began singing together at high school shows and parties, initially calling themselves the Poquellos. They had a sweetness and innocence to their sound, with back-ground harmonies like the earlier Doo-Wop groups. Their first single “I Met Him on a Sunday” was a song they wrote themselves and sang at school parties. Their second single, “Dedicated to the One I Love”, was a cover of a 1957 “5 Royals” song. The Shirelles version was released in 1959, but without a national distributer, only charted at #83 on the Billboard Top 100. In 1961, after they had several hits, the song was re-released and shot to #3. In 1967, the Mamas and the Papas covered the song "Dedicated to the one I Love" which went to #2. This was the first song that Michelle Phillips sang lead on instead of Cass Elliot.  

“Tonight’s the Night”, the Shirelles next hit single, was co-written by lead singer Shirley Owens. “Will You Love MeTomorrow” written by Carole King and her then husband Jerry Goffin was their first #1 song and the first #1 by any “girl group”.  Both of these songs would later make Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the greatest hits of all time. “Mama Said” reached #4 and in early 1962 “Baby It’s You” (co-written by Burt Bacharach, Hal David and Barney Williams) went to #8, It was recorded by the Beatles and put on their first album “Please Please Me” along with another Shirelles’ song, “Boys”, sung by Ringo. In 1969, a group called Smith had the biggest hit with “Baby It’s You”, but I favor the Shirelles’ version. The Shirelles second #1 hit, and their biggest selling single was “Soldier Boy”. Even though they continued to record new material until the late sixties, the Shirelles’ last hit single was “Foolish Little Girl” in 1963, charting at # 4.

Following in the wake of the Shirelles, came a host of other “girl groups” and 1963 was their most successful year. The Chiffons had hits with, “He’s So Fine” and “One Fine Day”(another Carole King/Jerry Goffin song),  The Ronnettes (Phil Spector’s Group) with “Be My Baby”, Martha and The Vandellas (a Motown act) had two hits, “Heatwave” and “Come and Get These Memories”, the Chrystals with “DaDoo Run Run”, and the Angels had a hit with “My Boyfriend’s Back”.

The most popular “girl group” was the Supremes (another Motown act). In 1964 they had two hits, “Where did Our Love Go,” and “Baby Love”. They went on to have 12 number one hits and for a time rivaled the Beatles popularity.

But in 1964, after the Beatles came to America, popular music became dominated by British groups, pushing out and replacing many musical styles, including almost all of the “girl groups”.

 

 

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Surf Rock

 


     

When I was in high school in Ferguson, Missouri in the early sixties, I dreamed of traveling to California and living the lifestyle of a surfer.  The southern California mystique was in the minds and hearts of many young people at the time. Rock & roll had nearly died in the early sixties. The hard-edged originality of early rockers, like Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry and Little Richard was gone and the airwaves were filled with clean cut white singers; (lots of Bobbys--Vinton, Vee, Rydel) and Fabian, Shelly Fabre, Connie Francis etc. Most sang well, but it was mainly sanitized pop music. Two major styles of music sprung out of the void, Motown and Surf Music.

Surf Rock is a southern California phenomenon integral to the surf culture of the early sixties, originating mainly in Orange County. Dick Dale is credited as the creator and pioneer.  His family moved to Orange County when he was a seventeen-year-old senior in high school. Dick began surfing and wanted to play music that represented his experience. He was influenced by the instrumental rock music of Duane Eddy, Link Wray and The Venturers. He played a Fender Stratocaster electric guitar and worked with Leo Fender to invent an amplifier that could increase the sound and get a reverb effect that emulated the sound of the waves. This reverb, called the “wet sound”, was built into the fenders amps.  He also made use of the vibrato arm of the guitar to bend the notes and he added tremolo picking, rapid picking that became the signature sound of surf bands.

            Dick Dale and the Deltones song Let’s Go Trippin’ is thought to be the first Surf Rock song. The group introduced it in 1960 at a dance concert at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Newport Beach on the Balboa peninsula. These concerts became known as “Stomps” because the surfers who attended would stomp on the floor in time with the music causing the old dance hall to shake. The dance, “the surfer’s stomp” was born from this.

            The Beach Boys were by far the most popular surf rock band, even though the surfers at the time would not have considered them to be authentic. Surf music was exclusively instrumental until Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys borrowed the basic sound and added the rich harmonies of the late fifties college circuit groups like the Four Freshman and the Hi-Los.  In 1961 the Beach Boys came out with Surfin’, but probably the first surfing song I heard in Missouri was Surfin’ Sufari, followed by Surfin’ USA and Surfer Girl.

Surf music splintered into two genres, instrumental surf rock and vocal surf pop. By 1963 both types of surf music were getting airplay across the country with hits like, Pipeline by the Chantays, Wipeout by the Safaris, and Surf City (co-written by Brian Wilson) by Jan & Dean. Many non-surfing musical groups jumped on the bandwagon and surf music began to fill the airwaves.

During those long, cold winter months in Missouri, intoxicating waves of surf music entered my ears and washed over my brain. I could only dream of the surfing scene of southern California, but it was a dream that enlightened my imagination and warmed my soul.