Girl Groups: How the Other Half Lived by Greil Marcus


“Of all the genres of rock and roll, girl group rock (‘group’ is merely a con­vention — the operative word is ‘girl’) is the warmest, and probably the most affecting. The style flourished between 1958 and 1965, ‘bad’ years of rock and roll; it went into eclipse when the Beatles invalidated its premises of contrivance and manipulation and the soul beat invalidated its sound. These days the soul beat is worn out and contrivance, never absent, has re­surfaced; so has the style. The Three De­grees, who first attracted attention in 1970 with a remake of the original girl group hit, the Chantels. ‘Maybe,’ took over the charts last year with their traditionally submissive, pining, lovely ‘When Will I See You Again?’ Bette Midler led cheers for the Shangri-las and the Crystals; Bonnie Raitt unearthed the Sensations’ ‘Let Me In.’ David Johansen pledged his love to the Shangri-las, the Angels, the Cookies, and the Toys. Patti LaBelle and the Bluebells, notable 13 years ago for making the worst of all girl group records, ‘I Sold My Heart to the Junkman,’ held on and grew up to become a good womans group. … The style is stretching, and as happened 15 years ago, all of rock is more lively because of it. Girl group rock does not, of course, take in all female rock and roll singers. Big Mama Thornton does not fit. Neither do Dionne Warwick, Jackie DeShannon, Aretha Franklin, Betty Wright, Jean Knight, Mary Wells, or even the Supremes. These singers are either too mature, too sophisticated, too assertive, or too classy; they lack the inno­cence, the inability to comprehend disaster and the need to replace disaster with para­dise, that is the essence of the style. Leslie Gore’s ‘You Don’t Own Me’ fits, not be­cause it is part of this world view, but because it was very self-consciously an instance of girl group rock in rebellion against itself. Which meant a producer playing tricks with the genre. This music is, first and foremost, producer’s music: He wrote or commissioned the songs and created the sound; all the lead singer had to do was win your heart. Almost none of the singers celebrated below prospered outside of the care of the one producer who developed their talents in the first place — the relationship was that dependent. …”
Voice

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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