As you may know by now, Girl Group and Femme Soul songs are my bible. My first Astrology lecture is dedicated to this particular genre of music and how it unfolded around the Virgo maiden archetype during the 1960’s. Critically ignored by the dominance of white male musicians and music critics, the “girl group” genre continues to deserve excavation as a time capsule of a splendid flashpoint in American Culture along lines of gender, race, sexuality, sexual orientation and class.
More or less the undisputed peak of the Girl Group phenomenon was 1963. While the march of matrons of music had long been gathering steam, the snowball that started in late 1957 found itself graduating to some big money earning leagues by the fourth year of the 1960’s.
Gerry Goffin (yes, Mr. Goffin & King) was once quoted as saying “In the 60’s, God was a young black girl who could sing.” If you look at the Billboard Hot 100 (Nevermind the Billboard R&B Charts) you could see his theory in practice. It was the year that saw the Top 40 dominated by efforts by now classic group names that asserted femininity. From “He’s So Fine” to “It’s My Party” to “Da Do Ran Ran” to “Heatwave” to “Be My Baby” to “My Boyfriend’s Back” to “Don’t Say Nothing Bad About My Baby” to “Sally Go ‘Round The Roses” and beyond.
As stalwarts from the turn of the decade like The Shirelles, Marvelettes and Chantels saw their fortunes wane, they passed the torch onto folks like The Chiffons, Martha & The Vandellas, the newly emboldened Crystals, The Orlons, The Jaynettes and The Ronettes. Solo stars that embraced the girl group ethos made inroads as well, as Mary Wells continued her reign as the current queen of soul while being challenged by new starlets like Dionne Warwick and Doris Troy. Legends in the marking like The Supremes FINALLY landed their first top 40 hit, Patti LaBelle and her Bluebelles moved away from their plagiarizing controversy and struck gold with showtunes.
Among those memorable names, there’s dozens of names that graced the charts but don’t stick in our minds more than 50 years later. Beyond that, there’s many efforts that may have had a localized impact in our days before global homogenized stardom, but didn’t make the national news. Then there’s a the deeper layer of digging in on album tracks for those groups lucky to get beyond a brace of singles and unreleased at the time efforts.
So I went through my digital jukebox and picked out some of my favorites from that year before the end of the Camelot fantasy shifted music tastes away from the proto-feminist and Black femme centered storylines that have inspired those on both sides of the speaker for the better part of half a century.
For that reason, I’ve focused on Black Women exclusively, and ignored some pretty big hit making women like Lesley Gore, whose breakthrough hit “It’s My Party” was originally recorded by girl group shadow legend and session singer Barbara Jean English.
Like Gore’s big hit, often a lot of efforts by white girl groups at the time started life in the hands of Black women that didn’t get as easy a shot at stardom. To honor the brilliant work and labor of Black women that year, we’ll be centering their gems. I got to 30, then found myself at 40, and now I’m capping myself and you at 50 gems that’ll groove you like having a hairspray high.
8) The Velvelettes – Mama Please
24) Barbara George – Something’s Definitely Wrong
39) The Chiffons – ABC, 123
48) Martha & The Vandellas – This is When I Need You Most