The History Of America's Girl Groups
When the Chantels had their first hit in 1958 with "Maybe," it marked the beginning of an era; an era dedicated to the girl groups. Though the 1950s had its share of female vocal groups like the Maguire Sisters, the Poni Tails and the Chordettes (you all remember their 1958 hit "Lollipop," if not from the fifties, maybe from the Stand By Me soundtrack?), but their sound was affiliated with the fifties and bore little resemblance to the girl groups of the next decade.
The Shirelles, who began their career in 1958, were the first successful girl group of the sixties and had a tremendous influence on the sound. They had minor hits in the late fifties with "I Met Him On A Sunday" and "Dedicated To The One I Love," but their recognition and success can only be credited to their 1960 smash "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" This song was a turning point, not only in the girl group era, but also in musical history. It proved to be the perfect blueprint for the renowned girl group sound. The story behind "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" goes far beyond what's printed on the record.
The Shirelles were a singing group in junior high school, performing the occasional talent show and recreation night. A school friend named Mary Jane Greenberg thought the Shirelles were the ultimate and recommended them to her mother, Florence. Mrs Greenberg worked in the music business and signed the singing group to her tiny record label, Tiara Records. "I Met Him On A Sunday," the Shirelles' first release, prompted interest from Decca Records. They recorded a few discs for Decca, but the label wasn't exactly what Florence Greenberg had in mind for the Shirelles. Once no longer under contract to Decca, Florence formed another label called Scepter Records. Soon Florence moved into an office in the Brill Building, located on 1619 Broadway, the epicenter of the music business. Florence hired Luther Dixon to write and produce for the Shirelles. Dixon's connections with people like Don Kirshner (who owned the publishing company Aldon Music and, later, Dimension Records), Gerry Goffin, and Carole King (the distinguished songwriting couple of the sixties) were crucial to the Shirelles climb to success. It was in Don Kirshner's office where Luther Dixon heard a demo of "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" Though Goffin and King weren't too keen on giving this promising demo to an unknown group, Dixon managed to convince them to take the risk. With an ambitious new label, a talented songwriting team, and a quartet of beautiful female voices, there was no way that "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" could fail. The record reached #1 and remained in the charts for four months. Not bad for a new label and a girl group.
Creating the girl group sound demanded a large team of craftsmen. The publishers, record labels, choreographers, disc jockeys, arrangers, producers and, most importantly, the songwriters, were an essential part of shaping the girl group sound. Perhaps the two most important figures behind the girl groups were Phil Spector and Berry Gordy. As for the songwriting teams - who could forget Ellie Greenwich & Jeff Barry, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, Carole King & Gerry Goffin, and Lamont Dozier, Eddie & Brian Holland? As for the producers, it was Phil Spector, Jack Nitzsche, Bob Crewe, Berry Gordy and Shadow Morton who were the most in demand. Without these people the girl groups would never have made such a tremendous impact on music history.
When Berry Gordy launched Tamla/Motown Records in Detroit in 1959, he brought a new meaning to pop and soul. Berry Gordy's prolific team of songwriters like Holland-Dozier-Holland, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, and even Gordy himself, created what is still known today as the Motown sound. Hitsville USA, located in the heart of Detroit, was a musical assembly line. Day after day the songwriters, producers and artists worked together to create "the hit," and often this was easily achieved. While Motown artists like the Temptations, Smokey Robinson, the Four Tops and Little Stevie Wonder hits with the record-buying public, it was Motown's girl groups that made the label so unforgettable. Mary Wells, the Marvelettes, Martha & the Vandellas and the Supremes had over twenty Top 10 hits during the sixties. The Supremes will always be remembered as the sixties' most popular girl group.