It's My Party
The birth of a pop classic. Featuring Lesley Gore, Helen Shapiro, the Blossoms and Barbara English.
IT'S MY PARTY AND I'LL CRY IF I WANT TO. These days that phrase is part of our lingua franca - it even has resonance for those who weren't born at the time - but for a diminutive teenager with diamond hard strawberry blonde flick-ups and a 22-carat voice, those fateful words were her key to immortality. Born in Brooklyn in 1946, Lesley Goldstein's passion for music had begun even before she had learned to read, by which time her immigrant father Leo had restored the original Russian family name of Gore and moved his wife and child out to the 'burbs of New Jersey - to Tenafly via Teaneck. As Lesley approached her teens, childhood favourites like Patti Page had been supplemented by Presley and the new wave of rockers. Poodle skirts and record hops were part and parcel of her adolescence and, yes, Lesley was a member of a girl-group in junior high; a gang of Shirelles wannabes who got to perform a couple of shows. From small acorns . . .
By the age of fifteen Lesley had persuaded her dad and her mom, Ronny, to send her to a proper vocal coach in New York City. Before long she was playing the occasional gig with Sal Bonafetti's band whose drummer was her 18-year-old cousin Allan. Lesley very soon caught the ear of Mercury prexy Irving Green at what was, supposedly, a showcase for the band. This interest galvanised singing teacher Myron Earnhart into cutting four unadorned demos, just Lesley and piano, which led to Irving Green paying a second and decisive visit to confirm that what he had heard was the real deal. Here was a youngster with talent galore, an individual style, cute as a button and full of wholesome, girl-next-door teen appeal. A real shoe in!
It was sheer serendipity that heading Mercury's A & R department was young, hip and steeped-in-jazz Quincy Jones. Whatever lucky star was shining on the day that Quincy turned up chez Les and unloaded two hundred demos from his chauffeur-driven company car, the synchronicity was perfect. Top of the pile of discs was a copy of "It's My Party." Lesley: "He was carrying these big boxes in and we set them in the den, and he puts on "It's My Party." It's the first time I've ever done this, so I said to him, 'That's not half bad. I like it. Good melody. Let's put it on the maybe pile.' Then we went through the entire two hundred and it was the only one we liked. It was the only song we had at that point. So we went back to the drawing board. Quincy got Paul Anka to write me a couple of songs. Quincy knew what he was doing." A few weeks later, on March 30th, 1963, Lesley went to Bell Sound Studios in New York to record her first session for Mercury. With German conductor Claus Ogermann providing the arrangements and musical scores, and Quincy Jones overseeing the operation, four songs were recorded that day. Among them was, of course, "It's My Party."
Unbeknown to many except the staff at Aaron Schroeder Music, the publishers of "It's My Party," a certain North London teenager named Helen Shapiro had already recorded a version of the song. The singer - talented, young, Jewish, voice-trained, magnificently coiffured - in many ways the British precursor to Lesley Gore, had flown to the USA to record her new album, Helen In Nashville, during a short break in her British tour of February 1963. Among her support acts on the tour were the Beatles, no less. Helen: "Going to Nashville was a big thrill. Norrie Paramor was the co-producer with a guy called Al Kasha in the control booth. Elvis Presley's group, the Jordanaires, did the vocal backing with the help of three girls, Milly, Dolly and Prissy. I thought I had really arrived, using Elvis' backing group." Helen found the experience of recording in Nashville to be much less stiff and formal than in London: "The studio was something of a surprise, though. It was just like a shack or a small barn. There were no musical scores. We just had a rough chord chart, the demo acetates we'd been given to work from and a turntable. We would talk about which song we'd do, stick the demo on the turntable and work out the chords, instruments, and vocals. I was plonked in the middle of the studio with a mike. The musicians were all around me. I loved it. The guitarist brought in a fuzz-box to use on "Woe Is Me," which Jackie DeShannon had written, and the three girls added the wailing sound, very black and soulful. We all had high hopes of the single doing well but it was way ahead of its time. Another good single, "Not Responsible," was released next. The piece de resistance, which we were saving until last, was a song called "It's My Party." Right from the first time we heard the song on the rough demo back in London, we thought we were going to sock them between the eyes with that one. We'd been told that the song was an exclusive for me but by the time we got round to releasing it, Lesley Gore had come out with her version which was an enormous hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Her version was much more punchy than mine but if we'd had any inkling that something like that was going to happen we'd have released my recording first."