Girl Groups of the 60s

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The Chiffons

The Crystals

Martha & The Vandellas

The Marvellettes

The Ronettes

Shangri-Las

Shirelles

Supremes

As a baby boomer who grew-up in the 60s, you can't help but recall the all girl groups that dominated the charts in the early to mid 60s. The tradition of these all girl groups actually started in the 50s and were so much part of the 60s history of rock 'n roll.

Among the earliest acts categorizable as a "girl group" are The Chantels, whose 1958 hit "Maybe" had many of the earmarks of what would become the classic girl-group sound: looser harmonies mixing elements of pop and rhythm and blues, an identifiable lead vocal within a harmony arrangement, and subject matter centered around young love.

As rock and roll began to quickly grow in popularity, dozens of groups tried their luck, often teaming up with established songwriters and record producers. The Shirelles, who had had some minor R&B hits, hooked up with Brill Building songwriters, notably Gerry Goffin and Carole King, who wrote "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" for them. The song became a number one pop hit in early 1961, and is widely recognized as establishing the proto-typical girl-group style.

Other songwriters and producers quickly recognized the potential of this new approach, and recruited existing acts (or, in some cases, created them anew) to record their songs in a girl-group style. Phil Spector recruited The Crystals, The Blossoms, and The Ronettes, while Goffin and King handled much of the output of The Cookies. Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller would likewise foster The Dixie Cups, The Shangri-Las, and The Exciters. Other important girl group songwriters included Ellie Greenwich, Jeff Barry, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. The Motown label also masterminded several major girl groups, beginning with The Marvelettes and later with Martha and the Vandellas and The Supremes.

By the mid to late 1960s, in the face of the British Invasion and the increasing popularity of rock music, the popularity of girl groups began to wane. During this time, only a few all-female groups, such as The Supremes and Martha and the Vandellas (both Motown), made the transition to an earthier, soulful sound and success. The influence of the girl-group sound would continue to be heard even as the rock era progressed; particularly through The Beatles, who would cover several girl-group hits including "Chains" (The Cookies), "Please Mr. Postman" (The Marvelettes), "Baby It's You", and "Boys" (both originally recorded by The Shirelles).

Besides harmony singing, girl group songs of the time were characterized by high-end production and dramatic arrangements, and producers were often as important to the recordings as the artists themselves. Spector was the most famous and influential producer of the era. His Wall of Sound production featured a thick layer of instrumentation (drums, guitar, bass, a horn section and often something more exotic, such as Glockenspiel or vibraphone). Amidst the musical accompaniment, there was a lead vocal, often deliberately girlish in tone, singing deceptively simple, naïve lyrics which artfully and eloquently expressed the emotions of teenagers of the time. An example would be The Ronettes' "Be My Baby," which doubles as both a charming love song and, implicitly, a portrayal of adolescent sexual mores. Many groups, such as the Shangri-Las, used productions inspired by Spector, even if Spector himself did not work on their records. Others, including some New York City-based groups like The Chiffons, used more conventional pop music arrangements, while the Motown groups used typical driving Motown arrangements of the period.

The high-production, harmony-heavy sound of girl groups was so well-established and proved so popular that many individual singers adopted the "girl-group sound." Lesley Gore and Little Eva were solo artists, but are often considered part of the girl group genre. Other groups, such as Ruby and the Romantics and The Essex, had the "girl-group sound," even though they were not composed entirely of females. The sound was also a key element of many of the "Beach Party" type movies of the same era, many starring Annette Funicello.

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