Harmonizing About Girl Power Back in the Day


Destiny’s Child has become the first powerhouse female vocal group of the new millennium, singing propulsive anthems of assertiveness and empowerment such as “Independent Women (Part I)” and “Survivor.”

But their ‘tude is nothing new.

Four decades before Beyonce Knowles was insisting that slacker boyfriend “Say My Name,” spunky young Lesley Gore was letting hers know in no uncertain terms that “You Don’t Own Me.”

At the same time that Betty Friedan’s watershed book “The Feminine Mystique” was inspiring a sea change in the role of women in society, pop music was reflecting these new attitudes and possibilities.


Two new “Girl Group Greats” collections from Rhino Records surveying hits from 1958 to 1966 not only gather 40 examples of the rock era’s first heyday for female group singing, they also point up many of the changes women were going through.

*** 1/2 Various Artists, “Girl Group Greats” and “More Girl Group Greats,” Rhino. Pop fans may not think of the great girl groups of the ‘60s as social progressives, but in many ways they were.

The viewpoint in songs such as the Dixie Cups’ “Chapel of Love” (where marriage is the answer to any girl’s woes) or the Shirelles’ “Soldier Boy” (in which they sweetly croon, “I’ll be true to you”) may sound precious, even antiquated in this era of anything-goes sexuality in pop music. But in the early ‘60s, the songs reflected the newly burgeoning women’s liberation movement, though often in ways that weren’t apparent on the surface.

The most obvious change from the kinds of songs the Andrews Sisters and the McGuire Sisters charted with in the ‘40s and ‘50s was the assertiveness of the Marvelettes’ “Beechwood 4-5789,” in which the singer hands out her phone number to a guy she likes and says, “You can call me up for a date any old time.”

In what might be considered the ‘60s precursor to TLC’s “No Scrubs,” the same group advised its young female fans that there are “Too Many Fish in the Sea” to waste time with loser guys.

Gore’s 1963 hit “You Don’t Own Me” remains an anthem championing independence from would-be controlling boyfriends. The impending sexual revolution came out in different ways musically--from the intimate sensuality of the Paris Sisters’ 1961 ballad “I Love How You Love Me” to the overt sexuality of Martha & the Vandellas’ “Heat Wave.”


Yet even in some of the more outwardly traditional-sounding material--mostly composed by male writers--what came through was female voices working together in strength and harmony.

Most of the tracks in these separate CDs have long been easy to find separately on various oldies collections, but it’s nice to have them assembled conveniently in two 20-song packages (they supplant Rhino’s two-disc 1990 girl-group collection). That means most of the classic girl groups are well-represented, among them the Chiffons (“One Fine Day,” “He’s So Fine”), the Supremes (“Baby Love,” “Where Did Our Love Go”), the Shirelles (“Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “Soldier Boy”) and the Angels (“My Boyfriend’s Back,” “ ‘Til”).

Rock hounds will appreciate the inclusion of several lesser-known cuts such as the Cookies’ “Don’t Say Nothin’ Bad (About My Baby)” and Joanie Sommers’ “Johnny Get Angry” in the first volume; the Jelly Beans’ “I Wanna Love Him So Bad” and the Raindrops’ “The Kind of Boy You Can’t Forget” in the second CD.

Liner notes--by author Jacqueline Warwick for the first disc and Sheryl Farber for the second--efficiently cover the relevant facts, delve a bit into the sociocultural aspects of what the girl group phenomenon represented and add some intriguing pop trivia.

For instance, after songwriters Carole King and Gerry Goffin wrote their cautionary tale about one-night stands, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” they originally hoped to get it recorded by . . . Johnny Mathis. It was the Shirelles, however, who took it to No. 1 in 1961. And R&B; fans will want to pay special attention to the drum part on the Marvelettes’ 1961 hit “Please Mr. Postman”--that’s Marvin Gaye keeping the beat.

*** The Kinks, “BBC Sessions, 1964-77,” Sanctuary Records. The most intriguing thing about this two-disc set of previously unreleased live radio performances is how it documents the Kinks’ rapid progression from just another spirited but undistinctive rock band trying to put its spin on American R&B; into the eloquent voice of the beleaguered British everyman.


That transition begins soon after the Kinks’ earliest BBC appearances in ‘64, when the group first made its mark with the crunch-rock standard “You Really Got Me,” and was still covering blues tunes such as Bo Diddley’s “Cadillac” and the blues chestnut “Milk Cow Blues.” Then singer-songwriter Ray Davies’ philosophical view began to emerge in wistful numbers like “Where Have All the Good Times Gone” from 1965 and reached full flower in such late ‘60s and early ‘70s pop masterpieces as “Waterloo Sunset” and “Days.”

By that time, the Kinks were less interested in the powerhouse rockers that provided their first taste of fame, instead crafting themed albums such as “The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society,” “Arthur,” “Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One” and “Muswell Hillbillies.”

Dave Davies’ singing and songwriting gets, if not equal time as his brother’s, at least reasonable exposure in performances of his “Death of a Clown,” “Love Me Till the Sun Shines” and “Mindless Child of Motherhood.” The set’s only drawback is that it has two performances each of “Skin and Bones” and “Money Talks,” while ignoring a couple of solid mid-’70s Kinks albums--”Soap Opera” and “Schoolboys in Disgrace.” On the plus side, the tapes yield many engaging comments about the material from the always pithy Davies brothers.


Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).