Friday, November 6, 2009

The Shirelles

I didn’t know The Shirelles much, if at all, before picking up an album called 16 Greatest Hits in that magic section of Country Music Centre which was labeled “50s and 60s.” The LP actually had 13 hits on it, plus a remake of I Met Him On A Sunday (the original was on Decca, the reissues were all from Scepter), plus Boys, plus What Is Love. A few years later I picked up Juke Box Giants, the Shirelles edition, and I filled in some more songs, and Sha La La came from somewhere else, and so did the Decca tracks, which are the first 2 here.

The Shirelles were not the first girl group, and I won’t explain what I mean by “girl group,” except to say that none of the following qualify: The Chordettes, The Fontane Sisters, The Lennon Sisters, The De Castro Sisters, The Andrews Sisters. But The Chantels, they qualify. They hit the charts before The Shirelles did, but The Chantels didn’t have much of a chart career, 8 chart records to The Shirelles’ 25, and they kept changing singers, so they didn’t develop a musical personality. The Shirelles, they had personality and then some. They were the ur-teenagers. All their songs were about the trials and tribulations of being a teenager in love, no apologies to Dion & The Belmonts, and they were never cloying or patronizing.

As I say, they had 25 records in the charts, 12 of those in the top 40, and most between 1958 and 1964. In 1967 they had one more hit, called Last Minute Miracle, which I guess it was, though it wasn’t really much of a hit (it reached number 99 and stayed on the top 100 for 2 weeks).

I’ve managed to accumulate 18 of those 25 songs, and here they are.

The Shirelles:

I Met Him On A Sunday – The group members take turns singing on this story of the life of a romance, telescoped into one week. Typical story? Girl meets guy, girl dates guy, guy does not live up to expectations, girl ditches guy. “I said ‘bye bye baby’” she sings, after being stood up once too often. Good for her. This was their first hit, and their only one on Decca, but it’s generally overlooked because it did not make the top 40, and, except in a remake, is not included on the typical compilation. From the spring of 1958.
My Love Is A Charm – The idea of having someone you can count on, someone who may not be physically present, but who is there nonetheless, that’s what this is about. Another Decca single, but it wasn’t a hit.
Dedicated To The One I Love – Another song of longing and separation. What is clear in this record, which set it apart from so many others like it, is that the singer is a teenager. It’s not in the lyrics, just listen. It was a hit later for The Mamas And The Papas, with Michelle Phillips singing lead. The Shirelles put this on the chart originally in the summer of 1959, when it reached number 89. It was reissued in 1961, and it reached number 3, and that was in the winter of that year.
Will You Love Me Tomorrow – Carole King wrote this, with her then husband Gerry Goffin, and what we have here is a teenage cliché elevated to the level of transcendental art. It’s doomed, the whole thing is doomed, don’t believe him we want to tell her, but that’s not how it feels, and in the end we make ourselves believe things that are not always good for us. But at the moment it’s real, and it’s wonderful, and that’s part of our reality too. From the winter of 1961. Number 1. Covered by: Cher, The Four Seasons, Roberta Flack, Carole King on Tapestry. Most covers don’t work, because most singers who do it are adult and sound like adults, even (especially) composer Carole King. Perversely, I am partial to Frankie Valli’s rendition with The Four Seasons, but I know that’s nuts.
Sha La La – From the spring of 1964, right in the middle of the British invasion. It’s generally said that Manfred Mann covered this and took the hit away, but their version was out half a year later. It’s true, though, the MM had the hit. “When I see you walking down the street…”
Mama Said – This one just tugs at your heart strings. Nothing I can explain to you; you have to hear it yourself. From the summer of 1961.
Foolish Little Girl – Romantic mistakes abound. You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. Questions of love vs. pride, learning from one’s mistakes etc. Heavy stuff. From the spring of 1963.
Boys – This was the B side of something, I can’t remember what. The Beatles covered it, and that’s what made it famous, although it doesn’t make a lot of sense for a boy to sing it.
Tonight’s The Night – So many songs with this title. The Comets did one, that’s Bill Haley’s group, about partying. And everyone knows Rod Stewart’s song, which is salacious and juvenile. This one, though, come straight from the heart. Gorgeous. How can 2 songs with the same title, and the same subject matter, be so different. "I don't know," she sings, "I might love you so." From the autumn of 1960.
Soldier Boy – There were no major wars going on in the spring of 1962 when this song reached number 1, no draft. They do a lot of unison singing on this, and it’s another winner.
Everybody Loves A Lover – Doris Day did this, but you’d barely recognize it. I don’t know if there is a better song about the exhilaration that accompanies falling in love. From the winter of 1963.
What A Sweet Thing That Was – From the summer of 61. Will you love me tomorrow later. B side of A Thing Of The Past.
Baby It’s You – An early Burt Bacharach song, about standing up to confrontation. I don’t care what they say, she sings, and she doesn’t. The Beatles covered this on their first album, and Smith, with Gayle McCormick singing, put it back on the chart in 1969 in a slightly psychedelicized, veery hysterical version. From the winter of 62.
A Thing Of The Past – The inevitable happens; love dies. That’s a painful process, and it’s what they are singing about here. From the summer of 1961.
Don’t Say Goodnight And Mean Goodbye – “Something’s wrong, I can see it in your eye.” Of course you can, another song of dying love. From the summer of 1963.
What Is Love – This is a remake of the Playmates hit from 1957, regendered.
Blue Holiday – Like other things in life, holidays happen, and they are not always good, even though they are meant to be.
It’s Love That Really Counts – Maybe, but sometimes love is not enough. covered by The Fourmost from Liverpool.
Please Tell Me
Welcome Home Baby – From The summer of 62
Stop The Music – This party is falling flat. From the fall of 1962.
Thank You Baby – It was good while it lasted. A breakup song heavy on the sarcasm. From the summer of 1964.
Big John – When you gonna marry me? she says. I think she’s in trouble. “Folks’ll say you jilted me.” I bet they will. From the fall of 1961.

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