girl group: selected recordings, 1955-1959
From history-of-rock.com (excerpts):
The 1960s yielded one of pop music’s most enjoyable trends, the “girl group” phenomenon. Starting in the 1950s as a trickle represented by the Hearts, the Blossoms, the Joytones, the Clickettes, the Deltairs, the Quintones, the Chantels, and the Bobbettes, it became a flood of groups in the 1960s, including the Shirelles, the Chiffons, the Shangri-Las, the Crystals, the Ronettes, the Angels, Reparata and the Delrons, the Exciters, the Cookies, the Supremes, the Marvelettes, and Patti Labelle and the Blue Belles.
Lonely Nights (Zelma Sanders) — Recorded by The Hearts (Baton 208) with the Al Sears Orchestra b/w Oo-Wee; released in 1955, reaching #8 on the Billboard R&B singles chart. Writer of the song, Zelma “Zell” Sanders, is identified by Wikipedia as a neighbor and manager of the group, but the Hearts were only the beginning for her as an Ace Records compilation spanning 1955-1970 titled Zell’s Girls (Ace CDCHD 1164) describes Sanders as a “Harlem-based songwriter-producer-manager who for two decades ran the very collectable J&S, Zell’s, Dice and other labels.” A product description (by Mick Patrick) accompanying a Baby Washington and The Hearts release by Ace says of Sanders,
Zelma “Zell” Sanders – who ran the fabled J & S, Scatt, Dice and Zell’s logos – was, by all accounts, quite a woman: a hardworking entrepreneur and formidable matriarch who controlled the artists she managed with the tough love of a strict parent, sometimes fining or sacking them on the spot if they broke her rules. Prior to entering the record business, she toiled by day as a security guard in Harlem, while by night she wrote songs and dreamed of becoming a rhythm & blues mogul.
The site vocalgroupharmony.com says,
The Hearts consisted of Joyce James (lead singer), Joyce Peterson, Jeanette ‘Baby’ Washington, Rex Garvin and Louise Harris Murray (doing the talking part). Washington, who joined The Hearts after “Lonely Nights”, went on to a successful single artist career. Garvin later wrote “Over The Mountain” for Johnny & Joe.
In its article on Rex Garvin, Wikipedia notes,
Garvin remained involved with the group as their pianist, arranger, musical director and (in their own word) “maestro” through various personnel changes during the 1950s, later explaining that he did so “mainly to meet girls”.
The Hearts – Lonely Nights, 1955 (Baton 208)
Disappointed Bride (Zelma Sanders) b/w Going Home to Stay
The group consisted of sisters Betty and Rosie Collins, sisters of Aaron Collins, a singer with the doo wop group The Cadets. It was Aaron who wrote their debut song [sic], and the single that became their biggest hit. “Eddie My Love” was released by RPM Records, and following its success, was followed by a string of other releases. These included “Baby Mine”, “Billy Boy”, “Red Top”, “Rock Everybody” and “I Miss You”, but none of these achieved the success of their debut song.
The Teen Queens
From a profile of the group at history-of-rock.com (excerpts):
Arlene Smith (lead), Lois Harris (first tenor), Sonia Goring (second tenor), Jackie Landry (second alto), and Rene Minus began their musical journey in their preteens while attending choir practice at St. Anthony of Padua school in the Bronx. By 1957, they had been singing together for more than seven years. A staple of their diet was Gregorian chants taught to such perfection that changing notes and parts were second nature.
The strength of the group apart from its vocal presence was the writing ability of lead singer Arlene Smith. There weren’t many girl groups in the mid-50s and even less that wrote their own material. Arlene contributed both words and music, and the combination of her classical and gospel background with simple yet poignant lyrics made her more successful at sixteen then she could have possibly imagined. Her first song “He’s Gone” was written about a boyfriend while she was practicing piano.
The Chantels’ first single “He’s Gone,” was released in August 1957. From the four part a capella chime harmony intro topped by Arlene’s floating falsetto to its duplicate ending, “He’s Gone” instantly set a new standard of quality for female group recording. By September 30, the record was on the Billboard national Top 100 charts but inexplicably stopped at number 71. This record charted only seven weeks after Bobbettes hit the top 100 with their first release “Mr. Lee.” Ironically, these two trend setting groups of the 50s only lived a few mile [sic] apart.
Earliest singles by The Chantels:
End 1001 He’s Gone/The Plea, 1957
End 1005 Maybe/Come My Little Baby, 1957
End 1015 Every Night/Whoever You Are, 1958
End 1020 I Love You So/How Could You Call It Off, 1958
The Chantels by 1957 [sic], then in high school, had been a group for seven years. Unlike some black groups of their time, the quintet was under the influences of classical music and Latin hymns. The lead singer, Arlene Smith, had received classical training and performed at Carnegie Hall at age twelve. Smith provided the group with both lyrics and music. The girls were discovered by Richard Barrett, lead singer of The Valentines, and by summer 1957 signed to End Records, owned by George Goldner.
He’s Gone (Arlene Smith, George Goldner) — The first single by the Chantels, b/w The Plea — chart peak: #71 pop, Billboard
(above) The End Records label of the Chantels recording of Maybe credited the songwriting to “Casey-Goldner”. I’ve been unable to identify “Casey,” while “Goldner” is the owner of Gee and Roulette Records, George Goldner. At some point, reissues began to credit both Arlene Smith and Goldner.
Whether Goldner, a record label owner and promoter, actually contributed anything to merit his co-songwriting credits on some of the Chantels early recordings is certainly doubtful. Evidence suggests that Goldner habitually acquired songwriting credits in exchange for getting a song recorded and issued on one of his record labels. For example, in an interview of the vocalist Jimmy Jones, best known for his 1959 hit Handy Man, by Seamus McGarvey (published at JimmyJones.com), the singer said:
Goldner, he was nice man, a nice person. The only thing I didn’t like about what George Goldner and them did was, after I’d write a song, this was the thing they done: they took all the publishing, which you knew they was gonna’ do that, and then they’d want to take half the writer’s royalties, and it was not just that they wanted to, they did! Like, I’d write the song, and as the writer when it come up, he’d be half writer, and he never put a lyric in the song!”
Second Hand Songs, which is the authority I’m following here, has Arlene Smith and record producer and manager of the Chantels, Richard Barrett, credited as co-songwriters of “Maybe.” In at least one instance, the first recording of “Maybe” by the Three Degrees, issued on the single Swan 4245 in February 1966, Barrett was the lone songwriter credited on the label.*
Maybe (Arlene Smith, Richard Barrett)
The Chantels — Issued on the End Records label in November 1957 as the 45 rpm single E-1005, b/w Come My Little Baby. The Arlene Smith composition was recorded by the Chantels on 16 October 1957. It peaked in early 1958 at #15 in the Billboard pop singles chart and #2 R&B. Charting for 18 weeks, it peaked in early 1958 at #15 in the Billboard pop singles chart, and #2 R&B.
Two recordings (description revised on 21 October 2014):
I’m guessing that the recording in the first of the following two videos is the original single, because it’s length corresponds closely to that given on the End Records E-1005 label directly above, from 45cat.com. Of eight collected E-1005 “Maybe” labels representing multiple pressings, and multiple variants of some pressings, displayed at 45cat as of 21 October 2014, only this one (“2nd Pressing, variation A”) includes the time, given as 2:32. Despite a longer choral introduction, the recording in the first video is at least 12 seconds shorter than that in the second, with a briefer fade out.
He Promised Me (Dottie Wayne*) *aka Dotty Wayne, Dorothy Wiener
The Blossoms with “Eddie Beal’s Music” — issued on 11 November 1957 on the single Capitol F3822 as the B-side of “Move On”
Group members, from doo-wop.blogg.org:
Fanita Wright Barrett (first tenor) [later known as Fanita James]
Annette Williams (first tenor)
Nanette Williams Jackson (second tenor)
Gloria Jones (baritone)
Although the membership changed from time to time over the history of the group, and later featured lead singer Darlene Love, the members listed above are the four credited in the description on the back of the “Move On”/”He Promised Me” single sleeve.
Their career began in Los Angeles, California, while still in high school in 1954. Originally the group was a sextet of young girls singing for fun. Calling themselves The Dreamers the group originally sang spirituals since two of the members had parents who were against their daughters singing secular rhythm and blues music popular on the radio during the early 1950s.
Fanita Barrett (later known as Fanita James), Gloria Jones, Jewel Cobbs, Pat Howard and twin sisters Annette and Nanette Williams all came from musical backgrounds. [read more]
Born Too Late (Fred Tobias and Charles Strouse) — recorded by The Poni-Tails and issued as the B-side of their single Come On Joey, Dance With Me, #11 Billboard R&B singles chart, #7 Hot 100 in 1958
The Poni-Tails, from Wikipedia:
Formed in a suburb of Cleveland, the Poni-Tails – Toni Cistone, Karen Topinka and Patti McCabe – started singing at Brush High School, which they all attended. Tom Ilius, a music publisher, had them signed to local record label Point Records, who released their first single, “Your Wild Heart” b/w “Que la Bozena” (the latter of which was written by the group). “Heart” was covered by the then-15-year-old Joy Layne, and became a nationwide hit. The next release was “Can I Be Sure” on Marc Records, which was not a success; following this release Topinka left the group and was replaced by LaVerne Novak.
Soon after this, the group signed to ABC-Paramount and released “Just My Luck to Be Fifteen”, a flop. Following this was “Come on Joey, Dance With Me” b/w “Born Too Late”. The B-side caught on at radio and became the group’s biggest hit, reaching #11 on the U.S. R&B singles chart and #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1958. Follow-ups “Seven Minutes In Heaven” (#85 Pop) and “I’ll Be Seeing You” (#87 Pop) fared less well, and their last single, 1960’s “Who, When And Why”, did not chart.
I Love You So (Viola Watkins, William Davis)* — This song was recorded by the Crows as the B-side to Gee, a 1953 recording which is considered one of the first R&B songs to become a “crossover” pop hit as well.
*Songwriting credits: The label of the 1953 Crows record credits Watkins – Davis. That would be Viola Watkins, the singer and pianist whom the Crows had previously sung back-up for on the first recording session for George Goldner’s fledgling Rama Records, and William “Bill” Davis, baritone for The Crows. By 1958, when the Chantels recorded the song, the songwriters were now announced on the label as G. Goldner – S. Norton, meaning label owner and songwriting credit rip-off artist, George Goldner, and lead singer of the Crows, Daniel “Sonny” Norton. That wasn’t the last change. At some point, notorious music industry executive Morris Levy acquired Goldner’s phony songwriting credit. Hence, on the 1990 Rhino label compilation The Best of the Chantels, we’ve got Levy/Norton credited on the back of the sleeve. Same song, at least three different pairs of songwriters and/or charlatans credited over the years.
The Chantels — 1958, b/w How Could You Call It Off
I Met Him on a Sunday (Ronde-Ronde) (Doris Coley, Addie “Micki” Harris, Shirley Owens & Beverly Lee) — Written by the original four members of the Shirelles while they were known as The Poquellos. Recorded on 7 February 1958, it was released as their first single, b/w I Want You to Be My Boyfriend.
After hearing them sing I Met Him on a Sunday, a song they had written for [a talent show at Passaic High School], their classmate Mary Jane Greenberg convinced the reluctant Poquellos to meet with her mother, Florence, the owner of Tiara Records; After several months of avoiding Greenberg and telling her that they were not interested in singing professionally, they were booked to Tiara. By the end of the year they had changed their name to The Shirelles, a combination of the first syllable of Owens’ given name and -el, reminiscent of then-popular group The Chantels, after briefly using the name The Honeytunes. That year, they released their first song, I Met Him on a Sunday; after local success, it was licensed to Decca Records for national broadcast and charted at #50.
The song originated when Julius Dixon was late for a songwriting session with Beverly Ross. He explained that his daughter had gotten a lollipop stuck in her hair, and that had caused him to be late. Ross was so inspired by the word “lollipop” that she sat down at the piano and produced a version of the song on the spot. Beverly Ross recorded a demo of the song with Ronald Gumm, a 13-year old neighbor of Dixon, under the name Ronald & Ruby. Ross’ mother insisted that she use a pseudonym for safety reasons, because they were an interracial duo.
RCA got hold of it and Dixon, who owned the master and had produced the demo, agreed to let them release it. Ronald and Ruby’s version rose up the chart reaching #20.
“Lollipop” was then covered in the United States by female vocal quartet The Chordettes whose version reached #2 and #3 on the Billboard pop and R&B charts, respectively. The song became a worldwide hit. The Chordettes’ version reached #6 in the UK, where there was also a cover version by The Mudlarks which made #2.
Ronald & Ruby
The Chordettes were a female popular singing quartet, usually singing a cappella, and specializing in traditional popular music. The group organized in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, in 1946. The original members of the group were Janet Ertel (1913 – November 4, 1988), Carol Buschmann (her sister-in-law), Dorothy Schwartz, and Jinny Osborn (or Lockard) (April 25, 1928 – May 19, 2003). In 1952, Lynn Evans replaced Schwartz, and in 1953, Margie Needham replaced Osborn (who was having a baby), though Osborn later returned to the group. Nancy Overton also was a member of the group at a later time. Originally they sang folk music in the style of The Weavers, but eventually changed to a harmonizing style of the type known as barbershop harmony or close harmony.
Their biggest hit was Mr. Sandman[,] in 1954. Archie Bleyer himself is on that record along with the group, Bleyer stripping the sound down the better not to clutter the girls’ voices. They also hit No. 2 with 1958’s “Lollipop” and also charted with a vocal version of the themes from television’s Zorro (U.S. #17) (1959) and the film Never on Sunday (U.S. #13) (1961).[read more]
Dedicated to the One I Love (Lowman Pauling, Ralph Bass)
From Wikipedia’s song profile:
Pauling was the guitarist of The 5 Royales , the group that recorded the original version of this song, [and] Bass was the producer. A version by The Shirelles was a minor hit for them in 1959. The 5 Royales saw a re-release of their own version chart at #81 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1961. Later that year, The Shirelles re-released their version and watched it rocket up the chart to #3.
The 5 Royales – 1957
The Shirelles – #83 Hot 100 in 1959, #3 on 1961 re-release
From The Scepter/Wand Story by Mike Callahan and David Edwards:
The Shirelles performed at the Howard Theater in Washington, DC, in the spring of 1959, and really liked a song done by the Five Royales, a group also on the bill. It was a record called “Dedicated to the One I Love,” but the Royales’ version on King from the year before hadn’t been a hit. The girls stayed backstage and sang along until they learned the song. Back in New York, when Florence heard them sing it, she thought it would be a wonderful next single, their first for the fledgling Scepter label. It was recorded in Beltone Studios in Manhattan, with Doris Coley singing the unforgettable opening line, and Florence and her son Stanley co-producing. It was released in June, 1959, as Scepter 1203.
Lover’s Prayer (Johnnie Richardson & Barbara English) — recorded by The Clickettes (as The Click-Ettes), single issued in mid-1959 b/w Grateful, Dice 96/97
History-of-rock.com says of the group,
The Clickettes consisted of Barbara English (lead), Trudy McCartney, Charlotte McCartney and Sylvia Hammond. The Clickettes recorded for the Dice label that was located on Tiffany Street in the East Bronx, NY. The Dice label was owned by Johnnie Richardson and her mother Zell Sanders. Periodically one singer from the Teen Clefs filled in for the Clickettes, therefore they were really a quartet.
From a profile of The Clickettes by Mick Patrick (accompanying an audio file of Lover’s Prayer at soundcloud.com):
The Clickettes were managed by Zelma “Zell” Sanders, the owner of J & S Records, home of the Hearts, Johnnie & Joe and others. The fabled R&B matriarch had a reputation for hiring and firing her acts willy-nilly. When she signed them up in 1958, she envisaged an entire new squad of Hearts, who were already on their third incarnation, but the Bouquets didn’t like that idea. Recognising their potential, Mrs Sanders instead placed the group in the hands of her daughter, Johnnie Louise Richardson – of the duo Johnnie & Joe – on whose behalf she inaugurated a new logo, Dice. The Bouquets were accordingly renamed the Clickettes.
But Not For Me was paired with another intense ballad, I Love You, I Swear, for release as the group’s debut in October 1958. Jive Time Turkey b/w A Teenager’s First Love was rushed out just weeks later, while a third coupling, Louella and You Broke Our Hearts, was released the following month, but bearing the name the Avalons. The Clickettes’ next platter comprised two numbers waxed previously by Johnnie & Joe, Warm, Soft And Lovely and the Frankie Lymon-esque Why Oh Why. More doo wop heaven ensued with Lover’s Prayer b/w Grateful, issued by Dice in mid-1959.
Suggested girl group links:
- Marv Goldberg’s R&B Notebooks
- The Pop History Dig: “1960s Girl Groups” 1958-1966
- Spectropop Girl Group Page
- The Girl Groups (history-of-rock.com) & Girl Groups – A Short History
- Girl Group — Wikipedia
- doo-wop: Biography, Groups & Discography: (doo-wop.blogg.org) — comprehensive, great info and photos, slow loading site
- jeffosretromusic.com — short history of the “girl group sound” phenomenon, and list of principle artists and their hit recordings (beginning at 1960)
- 100 Greatest Girl Group Songs (digitaldreamdoor.com)
- Top 40 Girl Group Tracks of the 1950s (rateyourmusic.com) – The list includes also the flip side of each single selected by rateyourmusic.com users; label images for most of the top 30
- Girl Groups: The Story of a Sound by Alan Betrock, 1982
- Always Magic in the Air: The Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era by Ken Emerson, 2006
- Motown: The Golden Years by Bill Dahl, 2001
* When the first version of Maybe recorded by the Three Degrees was released on Swan Records in February 1966, the sole songwriter credited on the label (see below, right) was now Richard Barrett, who had produced and managed the Chantels, and had also discovered and produced the Three Degrees. Among other artists to record the song are the Shangri-Las (1964 release), Chuck Jackson & Maxine Brown (1967), Janis Joplin (1969), and Reparata and the Delrons (1970).
The Three Degrees — issued in February 1966 on Swan 4245 (also S-4245), b/w “Yours”
(below) extended remix by Ruud
related Songbook pages: