02_Douglas_Shirelles

02_Douglas_Shirelles - thy ll Sh irelle altered Kahere’s...

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Unformatted text preview: thy ll Sh irelle altered Kahere’s a test. Get a bunch of women in their thirties and for— ties and put them in a mom with a stereo. Turn up the volume to the “incurs temporary deafness” level and play “Will You L0ve Me Tomorrow” and see how many know the wordsm—all the words—by heart. If the answer is 100 percent, these are bona fide American baby boomers. Any less, and the group has been infiltrated by impostors, pod people, Venusians. But even more interesting is the fact that non—baby boomers, women both older and younger than my generation, adore this music too, and cling to the lyrics like a life raft. Why is it that, over thirty years after this song was number one in the country, it still evokes in us such passion, such longing, such euphoria, and such an irresistible desire to sing very loudly off key and not care who hears us? And it’s not just this song, it’s girl group music in general, from “He’s So Fine” to “Nowhere to Run” to “Sweet Talkin’ Guy.” Today, the “oldies” station is one of the most successful PM formats going, in no small part because when these songs come on the radio, baby boomers get that faraway, knowing, contented look on their faces that prompts them to scream along with the lyrics while running red lights on the way home from work. None of this is silly—there’s a good reason why, even on our deathbeds, we’ll still know the words to “Leader of the Pack.” First of all, air] group music was really about us——girls_ When rock ’n’ roll swiveled onto the national scene in the mid~l950$ and . . Where the Girls Are . . . . - . u a u - . A n u . . united a generation in opposition to their parents, it was music per— formed by rebellious and sexually provocative young men. Elvis Pres— ley was, of course, rock ’n’ roll’s most famous and insistently masculine starw-in 1956, five of the nine top singles of the year were by Elvis. At the same time, there would be weeks, even months, when no woman or female group had a hit among the top fifteen records.1 When women in the fifties did have hits, they were about the moon, weddings, some harmless dreamboat, like Annette’s “Tall Paul,” or maybe about kissing. But they were nevergever about doing the wild thing. Then, in December 1960, the Shirelles hit number one with “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”; it was the first time a girl group, and one composed of four black teenagers, had cracked the number one slot.2 And these girls were not singing about doggies in windows or old Cape Cod. No, the subject matter here was a little different. They were singing about whether or not to go all the way and won— dering whether the boyfriend, so seemingly full of heartfelt, earnest love in the night, would prove to be an opportunistic, manipulative, lying cad after he got his way, or whether he would, indeed, still be filled with love in the morning. Should the girl believe everything she’d heard about going all the way and boys losing respect for. girls who did? Or should she believe the boy in her arms who was hug— ging and kissing her (and doing who knows what else) and generally making her feel real good? Even though this song was about sex, it didn’t rely on the musi— cal instrument so frequently used to connote sex in male rockers’ songs, the saxophone. Saxes were banished, as were electric guitars; instead, an entire string section of an orchestra provided the counter- point to Shirley Owens’s haunting, earthy, and provocative lead vocals. The producer, Luther Dixon, who had previously worked with Perry Como and Pat Boone, even overlaid the drumbeats with violins, so it sounded as if the strings gave the_so_n_g_l_i_tsinsistent, puls— ing rhythm. While Owens’s alto voice vibrated with teen girl angst and desire, grounding the song in fleshly reality, violin arpeggios flut— tere/ desi It v and it a cup: alon sopl or t was long was was Girl ties mid noia whi W611 deci excc song Play the bash grab er hovs boys rebe “Ch you: Why the Shirelles Martered 85 . u u u . o n . A a . . . . . . . . u tered through like birds, and it was on their wings that our erotic S- -. desires took flight and gained a more acceptable spiritual dimension. ly ; It was this brilliant juxtaposition of the sentimentality of the violins re and the sensuality of the voice that made the song so perfect, because :5, it was simultaneously lush and spare, conformist and daring, :n euphemistic yet dead—on honest. The tens of millions of girls singing ut along could be starry—eyed and innocent, but they could also be all E sophisticated and knowing. They could be safe and sing about love, ag or dangerous and sing about sex. “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” was about a traditional female topic, love, but it was also about female th ' longing and desire, including sexual desire. And, most important, it 1p, was about having a choice. For these girls, the decision to have seX >€r was now a choice, and this was new. This was, in fact, revolutionary. WS Girl group music gave expression to our struggles with the possibili— nt- ties and dangers of the Sexual Revolution. ln- What were you to do if you were a teenage girl in the early and est mid—19605, your hormones catapulting you between desire and para— Ve, noia, elation and despair, horniness and terror? You didn’t know be which instincts to act on and which ones to suppress. You also ing weren’t sure whom to listen to since, by the age of fourteen, you’d :irlS decided that neither your mother nor your father knew anything Ag— except how to say no and perhaps the lyrics to a few Andy Williams ally !l songs. For answers——real answers—many of us turned to the record players, radios, and jukeboxes of America. And what we heard were asi— the voices of teenage girls singing about—and dignifying—our rnost .ers’ ., P basic concern: how to act around boys when so much seemed up for Ears; grabs. What were you to do to survive all those raging hormones? ter— : Why, dance, of course. lead There’s been a lot of talk, academic analysis, and the like about 'ked how Elvis Presley and rock ’n’ roll made rebelliousness acceptable for with E boys. But what about the girls? Did girl group music help us become vuls— rebels? Before you say “no way” and cite “I Will Follow Him,” ngSt : “Chapel of Love,” and “I Wanna Be Bobby’s Girl” to substantiate flut— your point, hear me out. Girl group music has been denied its right- e - Where {he Girls Are . . . . . . . . - u u - p u . . ful place in history by a host of male music critics who’ve either ignored it or trashed it. Typical is this pronouncement, by one of the contributors to The Rolling Stone History cngock 8 Roll: “The female grOup of the early 19605 served to drive the concept of art com— pletely away from rock ’n’ roll. . . . I feel this genre represents the low point in the history ofrock ’n’ roll.”3 Nothing cOuld be more wrong— headed, or more ignorant of the role this music played in girls’ lives. It would beideal if this section of the book were accompanied by a customized CD replaying all these fabulous songs for you. Since that’s not possible, I do urge you to listen to this music again, and to hear all the warring impulses, desires, and voices it contained.4 By the late 19505, Tin Pan Alley realized that Perry Como, Doris Day, and Mantovani and his orchesu-a weren’t cutting it with the fastest—growing market segment in America, teenagers. Even Pat Boone was hopelessly square, having foisted on us the insufi‘erable “April Love” and his goody—two—shoes advice book to teens, ’ii-uixt Twelve and Twenty, which said kissing “for fun” was dangerous. Music publishers and producers grasped two key trends: rock ’n’ roll was here to stay, and there was this flourishing market out there, notjust boys, but girls, millions of them, ready and eager to buy. And they were not buying the Lennon Sisters or Patti Page. At the same time, the proliferation of transistor radios meant that this music could be taken and heard almOSt everywhere, becoming the background music for our desires, hopes, and fears, the background music to our indi— vidual and collective autobiographies. Teenage songwriters like Carole King and Ellie Greenwich got jobs in the Brill Building in New York, the center ofpop music pro— duction in America, and in the aftermath of the Shirelles hit, all kinds of girl groups and girl singers appeared, from the pouf—skirted Angels (“My Boyfriend’s Back”) to the cute and innocent Dixie Cups to the eat—niy—dirt, in—your-face, badass Shangri—Las. There was an explo— sion in what has come to be called “girl talk” music, the lyrics and beat ofwhich still occupy an inordinately large portion ofthe right~— or is it the left?~side of my brain. us s< us st som gror that liou: early "Whh abor whe free< roles abOt loss sona they anot musi lic, i quiv flder bedr out ‘ in tl musi fore\ rassii us, c of id lives. ing t very >ris the- Pat ble vixt isic was just hey me, l be usic 1di— got aro— inds [gels l the plo— and PVhy the ShireHes Alaltered . u . - . . . . . . . s - . | . The most important thing about this music, the reason it spoke to us so powerfully, was that it gave voice to all the warring selves inside us struggling, blindly and with a crushing sense of insecurity, to forge something resembling a coherent identity. Even though the girl groups were produced and managed by men, it was in their music that the contradictory messages about female sexuality and rebel— liousness were most poignantly and authentically expressed. In the early 19605, pop music became the one area of popular culture in ‘which adolescent female voices could be clearly heard. They sang about the pull between the need to conform and the often over— whelming desire to rebel, about the tension between restraint and freedom, and about the rewards—wand costs—of prevailing gender roles. They sang, in other words, about getting mixed messages and about being ambivalent in the face of the upheaval in sex roles. That loss of self, the fusing of yourself with another, larger—than—life per— sona that girls felt as they sang along was at least as powerful as what they felt in a darkened movie theater. And singing along with one another, we shared common emotions and physical reactions to the music. This music was, simultaneously, deeply personal and highly pub— lic, fusing our neurotic, quivering inner selves with the neurotic, quivering inner selves of others in an effort to find strength and con— fidence in numbers. We listened to this music in the darkness of our bedrooms, driving around in our parents’ cars, on the beach, making out with some boy, and we danced to it—usually with other girls—— in the soda shops, basements, and gymnasiums of America. This music burrowed into the everyday psychodramas of our adolescence, forever intertwined with our most private, exhilarating, and embar— rassing memories. This music exerted such a powerful influence on us, one that we may barely have recognized, because of this process of identification. By superimposing our own dramas, from our own lives, onto each song, each ofus could assume an active role in shap— ing the song’s meaning. Songs that were hits around the country had very particular associations and meanings for each listener, and A q Dthre the Girls Are . a . . . . . . . . . u . . . . although they were mass—produced they were individually inter- preted. The songs were ourswbut they were also everyone else’s. We were all alone, but we weren’t really alone at all. In this music, we found solidarity as girls.5 Some girl group songs, like “I Will Follow Him,” allowed us to assume the familiar persona Cinderella had trained us for, the selfless masochist whose identity came only from being some appendage to a man. As we sang along with Dionne Warwick’s “Walk On By,” we were indeed abject martyrs to love, luxuriating in our own self—pity. But other songs addressed our more feisty and impatient side, the side unwilling to sit around and wait for the boy to make the first move. In “tell him” songs like “Easier Said Than Done,” “Wishin’ and l—Iopin’,” and, of course, “Tell Him,“ girls were advised to abandon the tiine~wasting and possibly boy~losing stance of passively waiting for him to make the first move. We were warned that passivity might cost us our man, and we were urged to act immediately and unequiv— ocally, before some more daring girl got there first. Girls were urged to take up a previously male prerogative—to be active agents of their own love lives and to go out and court the boy. Regardless of how girls actually behaved—and I know from personal experience that what was derisively called “boy chasing” was on the rise—now there were lyrics in girls’ heads that said, “Don’t be passive, it will cost you.” Was being cautious too safe? Was being daring too risky? Girl group music acknowledged—even celebrated—our confusion and ambivalence. Some of us wanted to be good girls, and some of us wanted to be bad. But most of us wanted to get away with being both, and girl group music let us try on and actuout ahostnfidenti— ties, from traditional, obedient girlfriend to brassy, independent rebel, and lots in between. We could even do this in the same song, for often the lead singer represented one point of view and the backup singers another, so the very wars raging in our own heads about how to behave, what pose to strike, were enacted in one two— minute hit single. .. :_ a...” .9"... . g 1 Cu Y( sii to 353 ) a N6 .de In _nd ing - «- Why the ShireHes Marrered . . . . . . . . . . . . . A . . Few songs capture this more perfectly than one of the true girl group greats, “Sweet Talkin’ Guy” by the Chiffons. Here we have a tune about a deceitful and heartless charmer who acts like he loves you one day and moves on to another girl the next. Nonetheless, since he’s “sweeter than sugar” (ooh—ooh) with “kisses like wine (oh he’s so fine) this heel is irresistible. The lead singer warns other girls to stay away from such a boy, since he’ll only break their hearts, but she also confesses he is “my kinda guy.” The female chorus backs her up, acknowledging that it is indeed understandable to be swept up by such a cad. On the face of it, we have lyrics about the unrequited love ofa young woman with, no doubt, a few masochistic tendencies. But the song achieves much more. With the layering of voices over and against one another, some of them alto and some of them soprano, we have a war between resisting such boys and succumbing to them. The music, with its driving beat and a tambourine serving as metronome, is dance music. At the end of the song the layered vocal harmonies run ecstatically up the octaves, like girls running jubilandy across a field, ending with a euphoric chord that suggests, simultaneously, that young female_love will win in the end and that it will transcend male brutishness. Singing along to a song like this, girls could change voice, becoming singing ventriloquists for different stances toward the same boy, the same situation. As altos, sopranos, or both, back and forth, we could love and denounce such boys, we could warn against our own victimization, yet fall prey to its sick comforts. We could feel how desire—irresistible, irrational, timeless—was shaping our des- tinies. The euphoric musical arrangement made us feel even more strongly that the power to love and to dream would enable us some- how to burst through the traps of history In “Sweet Talkin’ Guy,” being divided against yourself is normal, natural, true: the song cele— brates the fact not just that girls do have conflicting subjective stances but that, to get by, they must. Yes, we can’t help loving them, even when they‘re bastards, but we have to be able to name how they hurt Where the Girls Are . . u . . . . . a . . u . . . 0 us. and we must share those warnings with other girls. And if we’re dancing while we do it, moving our bodies autonomously, or in uni— 5011 with others girls, well, maybe we’ll escape after all. Girl group songs were, by turns, boastful, rebellious, and self— abnegating, and through them girls could assume different personas, some of them strong and empowering and others masochistic and defeating. As girls listened to their radios and record players, they could be martyrs to love (“Please Mr. Postman”), sexual aggressors (“Beechwood 445789”), fearsome Amazons protecting their men (“Don’t Mess with Bill” and “Don’t Say Nothin’ Bad About My Baby”), devoted, selfless girlfriends (“My Guy,” “I Will Follow Him”), taunting, competitive brats (“judy’s Turn to Cry,” “My Boyfriend’s Back”), sexual sophisticates (“It’s in His Kiss”), and, occasionally, prefeminists (“Don’t Make Me Over” and “You Don’t Own Me”). The Shirelles themselves, in hit after hit, assumed differ— ent stances, from the faithful romantic (“Soldier Boy,” “Dedicated to the One I Love") to knowing adviser (“Mama Said,” “Foolish Little Girl”) to sexual slave (“Baby It’s You”). The songs were about escap— ing from yet acquiescing to the demands of a male—dominated soci— ety, in which men called the shots but girls could still try to give them a run for their money. Girls in these songs enjoyed being looked at with desire, but they also enjoyed looking with desire themselves. The singers were totally confident; they were abjectly insecure. Some songs said do and others said don’t. Sometimes the voice was of an assertive, no—nonsense girl out to get the guy or showing off her boyfriend to her friends. At other times, the voice was that of the passive object, yearning patiently to be discovered and loved. Often the girl tried to get into the boy’s head and imagined the boy regard— ing her as the object of his desire. Our pathetic struggles andanxieties about popularity were glamorized and dignified in these songs. In girl group music, girls talked to each other confidentially, pri~ marily about boys and sex. The songs took our angst—filled conversa— tions, put them to music, and gave them a good heat. Some songs, like “He’s So Fine” (doo lane, doo lang, doo lang), picked out a cute Why [he S-hirelles .Mattered 91 . . . . . . u . . s - . - A n . u . 'Ie boy from the. crowd and plotted how he would be hooked. In this lia song the_'choice_ was clearly hers, not his. Songs also re—created images ofa c101: of girls standing around in their mohair sweaters assessing the 1f— male talent and, well, looking over boys the way boys had always as, looked over girls. Other songs, like “Playboy” or “Too Many Fish in ad the Sea,” warned girls about two~timing Romeo types who didn’t ey deserve the time of day, and the sassy, defiant singers advised girls to am tell boys who didn’t treat them right to take] a hike. Opening with a en direct address to their sisters—“Look here, girls, take this advice”— Ay the Marvelettes passed on what sounded like age—old female wisdom: aw “My mother once told me something/And every word is true/Don’t vly - waste your time on a fella/Who doesn‘t love you.“ Urging the lis— 3d, tener to “stand tall,” the lead singer asserted, “I don’t want nobody .n’t that don’t want nae/Ain’t gonna love nobody that don’t love me.” 'cr— The absolute necessity of female collusion in the face ofthought— l to less or mystifying behavior by boys bound these songs together, and ttle bound the'listeners to the singers in a knowing sorority. They knew ap— things about boys and love that they shared with each other, and this >ci— shared knowledge—smarter, more deeply intuitive, more worldly ,em : wise than any male locker room talk—provided a powerful bonding :l at between girls, a kind of bonding boys didn’t have. And while boys ves. IL were often identified as the love object, they were also identified as )me the enemy. So while some of the identities we assumed as we sang f an along were those of the traditional, passive, obedient, lovesick girl, her each of us could also be a sassy, assertive, defiant girl who intended to the ' have more control over her life—or at least her love life. In numer— ften ! ous advice songs, from “Mama Said” to “You Can’t Hurry Love,” the ard— message that girls knew a thing or two, and that they would share that eties knowledge with one another to beat the odds in a man’s world, cir— ' culated confidently. pri— Other songs fantasized about beating a different set of odds—the :rsa- i seeming inevitability, for white, middle—class girls, of being married mgs, I 03 to some boring, respectable guy with no sense of danger or cute - adventure, someone like David Nelson or one of Fred MacMurray’s Where the Girls Are three sons. Here we come to the rebel category~—-“Leader of the Pack,” “Uptown,” “He’s a Rebel,” “Give Him a Great Big Kiss,” and “He’s Sure the Boy I Love.” Academic zeros, on unemployment, clad in leather jackets, sporting dirty fingernails. and blasting around on motorcycles, the boy heroes in these songs were every suburban par— ent’s nightmare, the boys they loved to hate. By allying herself romantically and morally with the rebel hero, the girl singer and lis— tener proclaimed her independence from society’s predictable expec— tations about her inevitable domestication. There is a role reversal here, toow-the girls are gathered in a group, sharing information about their boyfriends, virtually eyeing them up and down, while the rebel heroes simply remain the passive objects of their gaze and their talk. And the girls who sang these songs, like the Shangri—Las, dressed the part of the defiant bad girl who stuck her tongue out at parental and middle—class authority. The Ronettes, whose beehives scraped the ceiling and whose eyeliner was thicker than King Tut’s, wore spiked heels and skintight dresses with slits up the side as they begged some boy to “Be My Baby.” They combined fashion rebellion with in—your—face sexual insurrection. In “Will You Love Me Tomorrow," Shirley Owens asked herself, Should she or shouldn’t she? Of course, the question quickly became Should I or shouldn’t I? The answer wasn’t clear, and we heard plenty of songs in which girls found themselves smack in the grip of sexual desire. Sexuality emerged as an eternal ache, a kind of irresistible, unquenchable tension. But in the early 19605, sex and sexual desire were still scary for many girls. The way many of these songs were produced—orchestrated with violins instead of with electric guitars or saxophones—muted the sexual explicitness and made it more romantic, more spiritual, more safe. “And Then He Kissed Me" alluded to some kind of new kiss tried on the singer by her boyfriend, one she really liked and wanted to have a lot more of. In “Heat Wave,” Martha Reeves sang at the top ofher lungs about being swept up in a sexual fever that just wouldn’t break, and the whisper~ ing, bedroom—voiced lead in “I’m Ready” confessed that she didn’t H t . <10 ("1 O. C" (LPH me‘fltr'T‘W'lV.‘ 00¢?!" eir ble, sire nere tars tore 46” her :. In eing per— idn’t Why the Shirelles [Vlattered really know quite what she was supposed to do but that she was sure ready to learn—wright now. Claudine Clark desperately begged her mother to let her go off to the source of the “Party Lights,” where one helluva party was happening, and she sounded like someone who had been in Alcatraz for twenty years and would simply explode ifshe didn’t get out. The contradictions of being a teenage girl in the early and mid- 1960s also percolated from the conflict between the lyrics of the song and the beat of the music. Girl group music had emerged at the same time as all these new dance crazes that redefined how boys and girls did~—or, more accurately, did notmdance with each other. Chubby Checker’s 1960 hit “The Twist” revolutionized teenage dancing, because it meant that boys and girls didn’t have to hold hands any” more, boys didn’t have to lead and girls didn’t have to follow, so girls had a lot more autonomy and control as they danced. Plus, dancing was one of the things girls usually did much better than boys. As the twist gave way to the locomotion, the Bristol stomp, the mashed potatoes, the pony, the monkey, the slop, thejerk, and the frug, the dances urged us to loosen up our chests and our butts, and learn how to shimmy, grind, and thrust. This was something my friends and I did with gleeful abandon. Many of us felt most free and exhilarated while we were dancing, so bouncing around to a song like “Chains” or “Nowhere to Run” put us smack-dab between feelings of liberation and enslavernent, between a faith in free will and a surrender to destiny. Both songs describe prisoners of10ve, and if you simply saw the lyrics without hearing the music, you’d think they were a psychotherapists notes from a session with a deeply paranoid young woman trapped in a sadomasochistic relationship. Yet with “Chains,” sung by the Cook- ies, girls were primed for dancing from the very beginning by the hand clapping, snare drums, and saxophones, so that the music worked in stark contrast to the lyrics, which claimed that the girl couldn’t break free from her chains of love. Then, in a break from the chorus, the lead singer acknowledged, “I wanna tell you pretty I/thre (/26 Girls Are q . . u - s . . . . . . . A . . baby/Your lips look sweet/I’d like to kiss them/But I can’t break away from all of these chains." At least two personas emerge here, coexisting in the same teenager. One is the girl who loves the bitter» sweet condition of being hopelessly consumed by love. The other is the girl who, despite her-chains, has a roving and appreciative eye for other boys. The conflict between the sense of entrapment in the lyrics and the utter liberation of the beat is inescapable The tension is too delicious for words. It was the same {or one of the greatest songs ever recorded, “Nowhere to Run.” The opening layers of drums, horns, and ram— bourines propelled us out onto the dance floor—I mean, you couldn’t not dance to this song. While we were gyrating and bouncing around to a single about a no—good boy who promised nothing but heartache yet had us in his sadistic grip, we were as happy as we could be. The best part was the double entendre lyrics in the middle, which we belted out with almost primal intensity. “How can I fight a love that shouldn’t be?/When it’s so deep—so deep—~it’s deep inside of me/ My love reaches so high I can’t get over it/So wide, I can’t get around it, no.” In the face of our entrapment, Martha Reeves made us sweat, and celebrated the capacity of girls to love like women. She also artiCu— lated a sophisticated knowingness about how sexual desire overtakes common sense every time, even in girls. In a very difi‘erent kind of song, the effervescent “I Can’t Stay Mad at You,” Skeeter Davis told her boyfriend that he could treat her like dirt, make her cry, virtually grind her heart under the heel of his hem, and she‘d still love him any~ way, and all this between a string of foot—tapping, butt-bouncing shoobie doobie do bops. So even in songs seemingly about female victimization and helplessness, the beat and euphoria of the music put the lie to the lyrics by getting the girl out on the dance floor, moving on her own, doing what she liked, displaying herself sexually, and generally getting ready for bigger and better things. Dancing to this music together created a powerfial Sense of unity, of commonality of spirit, since we were all feeling, with our minds and our bodies, the same enhanced emotions at the same moment. nwm ("Vf'T‘L-A‘X‘fl 1‘.) :ak :re, er- r is for 1011 .ed, 3 in t ind che fhe we :hat 1 it, and Cu- tkes i of told (ally my— :ing nale put ring and this y of the l/Vhy {he Shirelles Mattered - . A - . - a . - u - - . u . . While a few girl groups and individual singers were white—the Angels, the Shangri—Las, Dusty Springfield—finost successful girl groups were black. Unlike the voices of Patti Page or Doris Day, which seemed as innocent of sexual or emotional angst as a Chatty Cathy doll, the vibrating voices of black teenagers, often trained in the gospel tra— ditions of their churches, suggested a perfect fusion of naivete and knowingness. And with the rise of the civil rights movement, which by 1962 and 1963 dominated the national news, black voicesconveyed both a moral authority and a spirited hope for the future. These were the voices of exclusion, of hope for something better, of longing. They _ were not, like Annette or the Lennon Sisters, the voices of sexual repression, of social complacency, or of homogenized commercialism. From the jazz Age to rap music, African American culture has- always kicked white culture upside the head for being so pathologi— cally repressed; one consequence, for black women, is that too often they have been stereotyped as more sexually active and responsive than their white—bread sisters. Because of these stereotypes, it was easier, more acceptable, to the music industry and no doubt to white culture at large that black girls, instead of white ones, be the first teens to give voice to girls‘ changing attitudes toward sex. But since the sexuality of black people has always been deeply threatening to white folks, black characters in popular culture also have been desexualized, the earth— mother marmny being a classic example. The black teens in girl groups, then, while they sounded orgiastic at times, had to look fern— inine, innocent, and as white as possible. Berry Gordy, the head of Motown, knew this instinctively, and made his girl groups take charm school lessons and learn how to get into and out of cars, carry their handbags, and match their shoes to their dresses.6 They were trapped, and in the glare of the spotlight, no less, between the old and new def1 initions of femininity. But under their crinolined skirts and satin cock— tail dresses, they were also smuggling into middle—class America a taste of sexual liberation. So white girls like me owe a cultural debt to these black girls for straddling these contradictions, and for helping create a teen girl culture that said, “Let loose, break free, don’t take no shit.” . . Where the Girls Are The Shirelles paved the way for the decade’s most successful girl group, the Supremes, who had sixteen records in the national top ten between 1964 and 1969. But of utmost importance was the role Diana Ross played in making African American beauty enviable to white girls. As slim as a rail with those cavernous armpits, gorgeous smile, and enormous, perfectly made—up eyes, Dlana Ross is the first black woman I remember desperately wanting to look like, even if some of her gowns were a bit too Vegas. I couldn’t identify with her completely, not because she was black, but because when I was four— teen, she seemed so glamorous and sophisticated. Ross has taken a lot of heat in recent years as the selfish bitch who wanted all the fame and glory for herself, so it’s easy to forget her importance as a cultural icon in the 1960s. But the Supremes-—who seemed to be both girls and women, sexy yet respectable, and a blend ofblack and white cul— ture—made it perfectly normal for white girls to idolize and want to emulate their black sisters. Another striking trend that grew out of the girl group revolution was the proliferation of the male falsetto. From Maurice Williams in “Stay” to Lou Christie in “Two Faces Have I” to Roy Orbison in “Crying” and Randy and the Rainbows in “Denise” (ooo—be—ooo), and most notably with The Four Seasons and The Beach Boys, boys sang in high—pitched soprano ranges more suited for female than for male sing~along. What this meant was that girls belting out lyrics in the kitchen, in the car, 01' while watching American Bandstand had the opportunity to assume male roles, male subjective stances as they sang, even though they were singing in a female register. This was nothing less than musical cross—dressing. While the male falsettos sang of their earnest love for their girls, about how those girls got them through the trials and tribulations of parental disputes, loneliness, drag—car racing (“Don’t Worry Baby”), or being from the wrong side of the tracks, girls could fantasize about boys being humanized, made more nurturing, compassionate, and sensi~ tive through their relationships with girls. This is an enduring fan~ tasy, and one responsible for the staggeringly high sales of romance "E‘IOONOH‘O (Dr-Tner HWY/NW“) O Why the Shz'relles .Martered 97 s u . A o u n - . - . - n - a u . . novels in America. It was a narcissistic fantasy that the girl was at the girl center of someone’s universe, that she did make a difference in that :1: universe, and that that difference was positive This practice. of to assuming male voices later enabled girls to slip in and out of male ms points of View, sometimes giving girls a temporary taste of power. .lrst Several years later, in a song much maligned by feminists, “Under 1 if My Thumb,” girls could and did sing not as the one under the thumb but as the one holding the thumb down. :: While girl group music celebrated love, marriage, female lot masochism, and passivity, it also urged girls to make the first move, to me rebel against their parents and middle—class conventions, and to dump £31 boys who didn’t treat them right. Most ofall, girl group musicmpre— yids cisely because these were groups, not just individual singers—insisted :ul_ that it was critically important for girls to band together, talking t to I about men, singing about men, trying to figure them out. ' i What we have here is a pop culture harbinger in which girl don groups, however innocent and commercial, anticipate women’s IS in groups, and girl talk anticipates a future kind of women’s talk.’ The n .m consciousness—raising groups of the late sixties and early seventies 00), came. naturally to many young women because ‘we’d had a lot of boys g practice. We’d been talking about boys, about lovmg them and hat- 1 for ing them, about how good they often made us feel and how bad they CS in 3 often treated us, for ten years. The Shirelles mattered because they 1 the captured so well our confusion in the face of changing sexual mores. gang, And as the confusion of real life intersected with the contradictions in popular culture, girls were prepared to start wondering, sooner or t the I - later, why sexual freedoms didn‘t lead to other freedoms as well. Girl group music gave us an unprecedented opportunity to try :2: on different, often conflicting, personas. For it wasn’t just that we King I could be, as we sang along first with the DiXie Cups and then the boys t Shangri—Las, traditional passrve girls one minute and more active, pensifl rebellious, even somewhat prefeminist girls the next. Contradiction ’ {am was embedded in almosc all the stances a girl tried on, and some ver— ’mnce sion, no matter how thwarted, of prefeminism, constituted many of Where the Girls Are . . - - - . u . . . . . . - . 0 them. We couldn’t sustain this tension forever, especially when one voice said, “Hey, hon, you’re equal” and the other voice said, “Oh no, you’re not.” The Shirelles and the other girl groups mattered because they helped cultivate inside us a desire to rebel. The main purpose of pop music is to make us feel a kind of euphoria that convinces us that we can transcend the shackles of conventional life and rise above the hordes of others who do get trapped. It is the euphoria ofcommer—' cialism, designed to get us to buy. But this music did more than that; it generated another kind of euphoria as well. For when tens of mil— lions of young girls started feeling, at the same time, that they, as a generation, would not be trapped, there was planted the tiniest seed of a social movement. Few symbols more dramatically capture the way young women in the early 19605 were pinioned between entrapment and freedom than one of the most bizarre icons of the period, the go—go girl danc— ing in a cage. While African American performers like the Dixie Cups or Mary Wells sang on Shindig or Hullabaloo, white girls in white go—go boots pranced and shimmied in their cages in the back— ground. Autonomous yet objectified, free to dance by herself on her own terms yet highly choreographed in her little prison, seemingly indifferent to others yet trapped in a voyeuristic gaze, the go-go girl seems, in retrospect, one of the sicker, yet more apt, metaphors for the teen female condition during this era. It’s not surprising that when four irreverent, androgynous, and irresistible young men came over from England and incited a collective jailbreak, millions of these teens took them up on it. For we had begun to see some new kinds of girls in the mass median—some perky, some bohemian, some androgynous—who convinced us that a little anarchy was exactly what we, and American gender roles, needed. em a 9.. (‘I‘ we estrus; SUSAN J. DOUGLAS a a o a o o c-:-.'|'= in" Q 0- {0 '0 a 'I o a. ;- " '2 R A N D O M H O U S E ...
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02_Douglas_Shirelles - thy ll Sh irelle altered Kahere’s...

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