Wednesday, February 18, 2015

TMFW 76 - Lesley Gore Beats The Crystals to the Party

On Monday of this week, pop singer Lesley Gore died.  Gore was most famous for being the seventeen-year-old singer of "It's My Party," which was her first record and which was a number one song for two weeks in 1963.  Today's TMFW is about the recording and release of that song.  But first, a detour to appreciate the rest of Lesley Gore's career is in order.

Three of Gore's early hits were songs about slavish devotion to boyfriends.  "It's My Party" (#1 for two weeks) laments that the singer's boyfriend Johnny gave his ring to Judy, which was enough to ruin the singer's party.  "Judy's Turn to Cry" (peak position #5) celebrates revenge over Judy.  This is accomplished when the singer "kissed some other guy" to make Johnny jealous, which caused him to punch out the other fellow, leave Judy, and reunite with the singer.  And in "Maybe I Know" (peak position #14), the singer acknowledges that her boyfriend is cheating on her, but she asks repeatedly "what can I do" and she turns a blind eye in the hopes that "some day he'll settle down."

Despite that career beginning, Gore went on to become somewhat of a feminist icon.  Even as she was recording and releasing music regularly, Gore stayed in high school and then went to Sarah Lawrence College, from where she graduated in 1968.  And in the midst of those songs above - oddly, after the first two but before the third - she released "You Don't Own Me," (peak position #2) which is a clear declaration of independence from the notion of boyfriend-as-identity and which sees the singer promising that she will "be myself," "live my life the way I want" and "say and do whatever I please."  That song has had a longevity and resonance that her bubblegum songs did not.  It's been covered in at least seven other languages, has appeared in several films (including a prominent scene in First Wives Club where it is sung by Bette Midler, Diane Keaton, and Goldie Hawn), and was the basis of a PSA in 2012 advocating for women's issues in that election cycle.  Gore herself appears at the beginning of the PSA, stating "I'm Leslie Gore and I approve this message," and she makes an appeal at the end of the video too.

Apart from "You Don't Own Me," Gore was the co-writer (with her brother) of the song "Out Here on My Own," which appeared in the movie Fame and earned her an Oscar nomination.  And she co-wrote "My Secret Love" for the movie Grace of My Heart.  In that movie, a character who is clearly modeled on Gore sings a song about her female love interest and hopes for a day when she can live openly "without the need to hide away."

In her life, Gore did just that.  Starting in 2004, she was an occasional guest host of PBS's series In the Life, which ran for 20 years and focused on LGBT issues.  And by the time she came out publicly in 2005, she had already been living with her partner Lois Sasson for 23 years. 
That is a pretty remarkable career, and even more so for someone who is primarily known for a handful of teenybopper hits.  May she rest in peace.


Okay, now for today's True Music Fact.  In early 1963, Gore got the attention of the then-young record producer Quincy Jones when some demos that she made with her voice teacher found their way to his office in New York City.  Jones was an A&R guy, and came to Gore's house in February 1963 with a stack of demos for them to consider together.  As the story goes, there were nearly 200 demo records, which Jones and Gore went through in the den of her parents' house.  After listening to each one they would put it in either the "no" pile or the "maybe" pile.  By the end of the day, there was only one song in the "maybe" pile: "It's My Party."

Gore and Jones booked time in a Manhattan recording studio, and on the afternoon of March 30, 1963 they recorded the song.  But if not for a lucky coincidence later that night, it might not have ever been a hit.

As we got into a bit in TMFW 71 with the story of the many versions of "Let's Live for Today," in the early 1960s the record industry was still dominated by performers recording songs that were written by other songwriters.  So commercial success was as much about who was first to the record store (and more importantly the radio waves) as it was about quality.  In the case of "It's My Party," the demo that caught the attention of Jones and Gore had also won over Phil Spector.  Spector at the time was producing songs for The Crystals, who had a number 1 hit in 1962 with "He's a Rebel" and who went on to sing the top-10 hits "Da Doo Ron Ron" and "Then He Kissed Me."  Spector intended to record "It's My Party" with that group, and a release from an established act would surely have buried one from an unknown high school junior.

As fate would have it, on the evening of Saturday, March 30, Quincy Jones and Phil Spector were both at Carnegie Hall for a concert.  Making conversation outside of the venue, and without knowing that Jones had recorded the song with Gore earlier that day, Spector told Jones about his plan to record the song with The Crystals.  Understanding that a Crystals version of the tune would sink his efforts, Quincy Jones hurried back to the studio and (allegedly that very night) pressed 100 copies of the song.  He mailed the records to radio stations in key markets, and by the next Friday Lesley Gore heard herself on the radio.  The song was officially released later in April 1963, and it hit #1 the first week in June.  It was Quincy Jones' first #1 song, and the rest was history.

The Crystals never did record a version.  They were too late to the party.


BONUS FACT:  Just in case you are tempted to feel bad for Phil Spector for getting beat on "It's My Party," you should know that he did the exact same thing, in a worse way even, on The Crystals hit "He's a Rebel."  Spector heard that Vicki Carr was recording the song, and he wanted it for the Crystals so badly that he did not even wait for the "real" Crystals to come in from the east coast to LA to record it.  Incredibly, he used the group The Blossoms (lead by Darlene Love) and simply credited the song to The Crystals.  The actual Crystals were surprised to learn that they had a new song out, and were forced to work it into their live act.  The Blossoms for their part earned only a session fee and were not credited on the record.  Unbelievable.

BONUS FACT 2:  TMFW favorites They Might Be Giants do a nice, sparse cover of "Maybe I Know."  Here they are doing it on MTV in 1989.

No comments:

Post a Comment