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Category Archives: girl groups

In honor of yesterday’s passing of one of the giants in American pop songwriting. Rest in peace, Ellie Greenwich.

10. “Doo Wah Diddy,” Manfred Mann
The penultimate “I’m hers!/She’s mine!” A thrillingly emphatic declaration of love and fidelity, especially when followed up with “wedding bells are gonna shine.”

9. “You Don’t Know,” Ellie Greenwich
The quiet, minimalist tension of the verses which then meet the oomph key change in the constantly spiraling bridge before culminating with a helpless “Help me” chorus.

8. “Wait Til My Bobby Gets Home,” Darlene Love
The breathless tumble of “Sure do need some lovin and a-kissin and a-huggin/But I’ll wait until my Bobby gets home,” which would trip up any singer that isn’t Darlene Love.

7. “Out in the Streets,” the Shangri-Las
“He used to act bad/Used to, but he quit it.” That quick “it” proves that Mary Weiss, adenoidal Queens brogue and all, was a fantastic singer.

6. “Then He Kissed Me,” the Crystals
Opening guitar line + interplay of castanets = the sound of lust rushing over you. (note: When I found out Ms. Greenwich died, this was the first song I played, and instead of feeling sad, this sound caused a wide grin to form)

5. “Goodnight Baby,” the Butterflys
“One kiss can lead to another/and baby, you know they always do.” Who says pop music can’t be poetic?

4. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” Darlene Love
This thing is like a stocking packed with hooks, too many of them to choose just one, but the impassioned call-and-response of “please! (please!) please! (please!)” towards the end is like the dam finally breaking.

3. “He’s Got The Power,” the Exciters
Not many songs are absolute undeniable monsters. This one is, straight out of the gate. And then it tops itself with the chugging “Can’t stop saying I adore him/Can’t stop doing things for him.”

2. “The Train From Kansas City,” the Shangri-Las
The whole narrative of the song is devastating, but “I’ll be back in the time it takes to break a heart” kills it. (No Youtube of the original, so here’s Mary Weiss doing it during her comeback tour, which is still totally swoon-worthy).

1. “Be My Baby,” the Ronettes
My favorite song forever and ever. Hal Blaine’s iconic, oft-copied drum beat to begin the song is fantastic, but it’s its reappearance in the middle that makes the song transcendent. Eh who am I kidding, it’s Ronnie Spector’s “whoa oh oh oh oh.”

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I mean, it’s hard to not be ready when the wind is blowing at you in seven thousand different directions cutting through your big coat and stupid wool hat (+ dumb ear-flap thing) that leaves your hair a stupid crumpled pile of limp blah and thermals and two pairs of socks and mittens and gloves and whatever the hell else you need to put on in order to not resemble a walking frozen hot dog when it’s ball-shriveling season in New York. In other words, I’m going to California, hurrah mid-sixties holidays.

Christmas also means listening to the Phil Spector Christmas record, easily the best Christmas record ever released because you can listen to it year-round and not want to kill yourself. Seriously, it’s that good. I mean, look!:

1. White Christmas – Darlene Love
2. Frosty The Snowman – Ronettes
3. The Bells Of St. Mary – Bob B. Soxx And The Blue Jeans
4. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town – Crystals
5. Sleigh Ride – Ronettes
6. Marshmallow World – Darlene Love
7. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus – Ronettes
8. Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer – Crystals
9. Winter Wonderland – Darlene Love
10. Parade Of The Wooden Soldiers – Crystals
11. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) – Darlene Love
12. Here Comes Santa Claus – Bob B. Soxx And The Blue Jeans
13. Silent Night – Phil Spector And Artists

Any record with that much Darlene Love is top-shelf A+ Jim Beam Black Label type shit. The presence of Darlene Love also signals Christmas due to her annual appearances on Letterman singing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” My favorite version, sentimentally, is from 2000:

What makes the performance so powerful for me is the use of the USAF’s Singing Sergeants and the shots of the soldiers watching the performance via satellite. The song is elevated from its standard tale of heartache and abandonment to become a subtle comment on global and personal implications of war and militarization through the sheer simplicity of the images. Previously, I’d never thought of any possible reason for the lover’s absence in this song other than general falling-out-of-love-ness. Watching this for the first time socked me in the gut; much like listening to this song for the first time, all over again.

I mean, this song is so good that Mariah Carey bit its steeze for “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” which is pretty clearly her best song and best, most unaffected (ha, its still WAYYY affected, but in a way that works with the fake Wall of Sound) vocal performance. This song is so good that THIS HAPPENED!

If I remember correctly, this aired on the same show that featured “Lazy Sunday,” which became the big hipster geek internet fad joke–and rightly so–but this to me was far more clever than ZOMG WHITE PEOPLE BE RAPPIN ABOUT LAME MOVIE@!, mainly because the pastiche of Spector is tremendously spot-on, and the fact that Darlene Love is the ACTUAL SINGER. At first I was floored, thinking, “How the hell did they get someone to sound so much like Darlene Love?!” Because NO ONE sounds like Darlene Love. Darlene Love is the greatest pop singer that has ever lived. I was impressed when I found out it was really her, imitating herself and her reputation. She’s able to poke fun of herself as Christmas tradition while paying tribute to it as well, with grace and humor and dignity. Clearly, Robert Smigel knew what he was doing in getting her to sing this song.

“Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” is probably the peak of her career, and maybe even Spector’s, and that’s saying a whole helluva lot.

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I really wish Darlene Love had a bigger career. Her story is fascinating, and obviously there’s her cannon of a voice. I won’t go into the ridiculous bullshit that happened between her and Spector, but I feel like his biggest musical crime was depriving her of fame and glory and reputation, as well as the world of MORE OF HER. As crazy huge a fan I am, I really only have a handful of songs that she released under her name, the Crystals/the Blossoms, and Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans. I would love to hear more, and I know they’re out there. All I want for Christmas is more of you, Darlene Love. Come on home.

Bonus! Darlene Love talkin’ some shit on Spector, GLORIOUSLY:

I had a great Thanksgiving at Stan’s place with many friends and lots of games and delicious food and booze and Ratatouille and football and it was the most fun I’ve had in a really long time. We played the video game Rock Band, which I am terrible at in every capacity except singing although you don’t really need to sing to be good at that part thank God because I’ve become a progressively worse singer since the age of, oh, let’s say twelve. The thing about Rock Band is the song selection. The first go-round there were some good cuts but it was so teenage boyhood; do people really want to play a Stone Temple Pilots song?

The new group of songs or whatever you call it (upgrade? v2.0? I dunno) excited me only because it included Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl.” YES OMG. And I found out that they also have Sleater-Kinney’s “You’re No Rock’n’Roll Fun.” Now those are some songs I’m happy to sing. And part of the reason I wanted to sing “Rebel Girl” was to re-enact their fabulously empty shouty rhetoric during the parts of the song where the game asks you to just make noise or whatever on the microphone. As an old gender studies minor, this gave me a great opportunity to spout sloganeering bullshit about patriarchy and women’s bodies and rape and lesbianism and on and on and on, though I really should’ve referenced Judith Butler or something. Not to toot my own horn, but I thought my Tobi Vail impersonation (inspired by seeing a YouTube of her ranting incoherently at a BK show about abortion, which unfortunately I can’t find anymore) was pretty spot-on.

Last week Stan told me about Rock Band introducing some country songs and how the messageboards or whatever were all aflame with angry people saying that country had no place on Rock Band (I don’t have a link or anything but it was probably referenced on one of those techgeek blogs where people have to wear tinfoil hats and type 175 wpm). Referencing whatever he read, Stan sent me this: “There was even a poll on the site asking, “Should country music be on Rock Band?” A few great songs (Johnny Cash!) would fit; We needn’t go hog-wild.”

Oh yeah, because there were all those great intricate drum parts and thrashing solos and wild vocal stylings in all those Johnny Cash songs. Mainly what bothers me about their reaction is the rockism inherent in it, as if only Rock Songs can be included in a game where people um excuse me SIMULATE playing music, and only rock = music. It’s the same thing as when people say they like all kinds of music except rap and country, which is a vaguely racist and classist statement. Also, why wouldn’t you want to have different kinds of music on your virtual band game? There’s already rap on Rock Band (the Beastie Boys, but oh they’re white okay). Do you need another Radiohead song to moon along to? I would love a Country Band game, and George and I have already thought about a Girl Group game, where you incorporate hand gestures w/ a Wii controller as well as stomping dance routines on a Dance Dance Revolution pad a la this amazing performance.

The timing of this is funny, because on Thanksgiving I said something like, “They should have some Loretta Lynn on this shit.” And now there’s going to be Miranda Lambert! And Brad Paisley! (I seriously hope it’s “Ticks”) We were speculating on which Lambert song it would be, and while I would love it to be “Famous in a Small Town” (seeing as it is just already a classic country song) but it is probably going to be “Gunpowder and Lead” because that song is just RAWWWWWKKKKK, and I’m okay with that.

Seriously, I just wish I could sing country songs for the rest of my life. I need a job that will let me do that.