Publisher of Cha Cha Charming, music journalist, DJ and producer of ’60s girl-pop compilations for reissue labels like Ace Records and Rhino, Brooklyn-based Sheila Burgel is the girl-pop authority. She shares her love for female vocals with us, selecting 20 lesser known but no less essential ’60s girl-pop 45s for this exclusive mix.
Words: Sheila Burgel
Nothing beats the Ronettes’ ‘Be My Baby’. It is the quintessential ’60s girl-pop record and possibly the dreamiest song ever put to wax.
Following that are spectacular offerings by the Crystals, Shangri-Las, Lesley Gore, the Supremes, Martha & the Vandellas. But chances are that you’re already familiar with ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ and ‘Leader of The Pack’ and the Motown girl group’s infinite hit singles, all of which despite their old age, just never seem to go away. So rather than include the girl-pop mega-hits, I’ve based my list on the lesser known girl-pop records that I consider to be just as essential and high in quality as much of the material that topped the charts.
The term ’60s girl-pop casts a wide net over a multitude of genres—soul, freakbeat, R&B, psychedelia, folk, bossa nova, rock n’ roll, garage rock, you name it. For me, the only requirements are female vocals and exquisite melodies.
It was the magic of these melodies that led to my girl-pop record collecting habit. I bought my first ’60s girl-pop 45 in London at the age of 18, and have been at it ever since. I often get asked what’s behind my preference for the female voice and I don’t have an easy answer. Perhaps it’s the range of emotion in the female voice (unfortunately emotion was permitted in women and dismissed in men). Or maybe it’s the fact that women are still vastly underrated and under-represented in music despite their countless contributions (for example, ‘Be My Baby’ is more often credited to its producer Phil Spector than to the Ronettes themselves or to the song’s co-writer Ellie Greenwich). We’ve somehow decided that the most valid, respect-worthy artists are those who write and perform their own songs, and therefore the many women who strictly sing or write songs are left off the “best-of” lists.
Much of my life’s work has been dedicated to championing the female artists I love — I’ve written the liner notes for Rhino Records’ girl group box-set, Girl Group Sounds Lost & Found: One Kiss Can Lead To Another and paid tribute to the wild world of ’60s Japanese girl-pop with the Nippon Girls compilations for Ace Records. Pop has such an awful rap these days (for very good reason), so it’s nice to be reminded of an era when melodies took center stage, and business and craft worked together in the pursuit of pop of the highest order. Nowhere is this more explicit than in the sound of ’60s girl-pop.
Listen to the mix below and scroll down to check out the records individually.
The Chantels’ ‘Maybe’, a piercing doo-wop smash from 1959, is often credited as the first true girl group record. But by the early ’60s the group was struggling to stay afloat, bouncing between labels in the pursuit of more hits. Their brief stint at Verve Records resulted in the brassy drama of ‘Indian Giver’, which wouldn’t be out of place in a Bond film.
Jo Ann Campbell I Changed My Mind Jack (JUKEbox, 1962)
Jo Ann Campbell battles it out with ‘I Changed My Mind Jack’ on this sassy, in-your-face dancer, which I first heard when DJing at the fabulous BIG SHAKE party in Helsinki a few years back. It took me years to track down a copy of the Swedish JUKEbox picture sleeve. Despite collecting girl-pop 45s for nearly 20 years, I am regularly reminded that there are still plenty of top-notch, yet-to-be-discovered girl-pop gems lurking in the wilderness.
Bernadette Castro A Girl In Love Forgives / Get Rid of Him (Clopix, 1964)
Masochistic, male-worshipping lyrics were standard in ’60s girl-pop, and ‘A Girl In Love Forgives’ would be easy to dismiss if the melodies weren’t so damn gorgeous. After two singles for Colpix, Bernadette Castro worked her way up to CEO of her family’s Castro Convertible furniture company, and was once an active politician in the state of New York.
Dana Gillespie You Just Gotta Know My Mind (Decca, 1968)
Former waterskiing champion Dana Gillespie hooked up with Donovan for a few folk sides and this brilliant and very British beat-rocker 45 from 1968. Little-known American singer Karen Verros released a version for Dot Records three years earlier, but it has little of the punch and pizzazz of the English cut.
Candi Staton I’d Rather Be An Old Man’s Sweetheart (Than A Young Man’s Fool) / For You (Fame, 1969)
Once the Shangri-Las showed up, pastel party dresses and starry-eyed pop didn’t have quite the same appeal. Shangri-Las wannabes the Pussycats swiped the group’s rebel girl schtick—black moods, black leather, and black liner, with a tough garage sound to match. ‘I Want Your Love’ opens with a bluesy, spy-movie-theme guitar riff and takes on a seductive intensity that doesn’t let up until the fade out. Flipside ‘The Rider’ is almost as dark and delicious.
The Three Degrees Collage / Maybe (Roulette, 1970)
BIG thanks to my friend Bob Stanley for introducing me to this mind-warping psychedelic soul record by Philadelphia girl group, The Three Degrees (originally recorded by the James Gang in 1969). I’m on the hunt for more records in this vein, so any tips would be most welcome!
Mie Nakao Koi No Sharock / Sharock No.1 (Victor, 1968)
‘Sharock No. 1’ was my introduction to ‘60s Japanese girl-pop, and I spent many years learning Japanese and living in Tokyo so I could unearth more fabulous fuzz-pop records like this one. Jun Mayuzumi’s ‘Black Room’, Akiko Wada’s ‘Boy & Girl’ and Katsuko Kanai’s ‘Mini Mini Girl’ are equally thrilling examples of Japan’s unique take on ’60s psych, pop, and rock n’ roll.
The Elgins Heaven Must Have Sent You / Stay In My Lonely Arms (V.I.P., 1966)
Aside from her dreadful kindergarten pop singles, French Yé-Yé star France Gall had a pretty classy discography. ‘Chanson Pour Que Tu M’aimes Un Peu’ ditched the pop formula, and went for a sparse, acoustic guitar-led arrangement that still sounds modern in 2014.
Jill Gibson It’s As Easy As 1, 2 ,3 (Imperial, 1963)
Jill Gibson may not have achieved the same level of fame as many of her peers, but she spent the ’60s palling around with Jan Berry (of Jan & Dean) and big-shot producer and A&R man Lou Adler, writing songs, singing back-up, working as a photographer at the Monterey Pop Festival, and briefly joining the Mamas & Papas after Michelle Phillips was fired from the group. ‘It’s As Easy As 1,2,3’ isn’t miles away from the Mamas & Papas’ lush sound, and illustrates Jill Gibson’s knack for writing easy, breezy California pop.
Brunetta Baluba Shake / II Secondo Giorno (Rifi, 1966)
A good Italian girl-pop record is hard to find. Don’t be fooled by the mouth-watering sleeves; high drama and overwrought ballads dominate. Brunetta’s ‘Baluba Shake’ is the exception, and the brutal eBay bidding war I had to endure to get my hands on a copy gives you an idea of the demand for this very special record.
Dusty Springfield I Can’t Wait Until I See My Baby’s Face (Phillips, 1967)
Dusty Springfield worshipped soul music, and regularly looked to American soul and R&B artists for material. Her reading of Baby Washington’s ‘I Can’t Wait Until I See My Baby’s Face’ is so elegant, so effortless it’s hard to believe the song wasn’t written exclusively for Dusty.
The Cookies I Never Dreamed / The Old Crowd (Dimension, 1964)
The euphoria of falling in love captured in two and a half minutes. You could always count on Brill Building songwriters Russ Titelman and Gerry Goffin to dream up something irresistible, and this exuberant 45 by New York group the Cookies is considered one of the genre’s finest.
Barbara Lynn New Kind Of Love / I Don’t Want A Playboy (Tribe, 1967)
Anyone unfamiliar with Barbara Lynn should take a look at this performance to witness the electric guitar-toting soul singer in her element. She scored her first hit in ’62 with ‘You’ll Lose a Good Thing’, but I’m particularly sweet on her recordings for Tribe Records — namely ‘I Don’t Want A Playboy’ and ‘I’m A Good Woman’. Spinning ‘I Don’t Want A Playboy’ at every single DJ gig over a 15-year-period has left me with one bruised and battered 45 (hence the crappy sound quality).
The unlikely pairing of squeaky clean pop star Connie Stevens with Philly “sweet soul” producer Thom Bell resulted in this very beautiful and lavishly orchestrated B-side, ‘Tick=Tock’. Incidentally, the A-side ‘Keeps Growing Strong’ is the original version of the Stylistics’ monster hit ‘Betcha By Golly, Wow’.
Margaret Mandolph I Wanna Make You Happy (Planetary, 1965)
Original copies of this obscure single on Planetary Records can fetch up to $700, thanks to the hunger for Northern Soul A-side, ‘Something Beautiful’. ‘I Wanna Make You Happy’ may not have a drop of dancefloor appeal, but oh my lord is this the most tender, heart-felt, tear-inducing ballad I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing. I’ve met the song’s co-writer Russ Titelman on two occasions, and always find myself in a mumbling mess when trying to explain my thanks and appreciation for this flawless record.
I’m always digging for girl-pop records that veer from the script and venture into the esoteric. Dawn’s ‘I’m Afraid They’re All Talking About Me’, essentially an anxiety attack on record, had zero chart potential, but underneath all the neuroses and paranoia lay some pretty fine melodies.
Vashti’s debut single ‘Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind’ and its melancholic follow-up ‘Train Song’ were intended to launch the young singer-songwriter as the next Marianne Faithfull. When things didn’t go to plan, Vashti ventured further afield with the wholly uncommercial Just Another Diamond Day LP and lived in near-total obscurity until she was re-discovered in the 2000 and thrust into the indie spotlight.