Friday, November 20, 2009

The Shirelles

The Shirelles were an American girl group in the early 1960s, and the first to have a number one single on the Billboard Hot 100. The members of the quartet were Shirley Owens (the main lead singer; later known as Shirley Alston, then Shirley Alston Reeves), Doris Coley (later known as Doris Coley Kenner, then Doris Kenner Jackson; she sang lead on "Dedicated to the One I Love", "Welcome Home Baby," "Blue Holiday" and a number of 'B' sides and album cuts), Beverly Lee, and Addie 'Micki' Harris. The quartet formed in New Jersey in 1958, and went on to release a string of hits including "Baby It's You" (written by Burt Bacharach/Hal David/Barney Williams), "Mama Said," "Foolish Little Girl," and the #1 Pop hits "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" (Gerry Goffin/Carole King) and "Soldier Boy" (Florence Greenburg/Luther Dixon). Their "Sha La La" became an international hit when covered by the UK/British group Manfred Mann, giving them a Top 5 hit in 1965, and the song "Boys" was covered by The Beatles. The Beatles also covered "Baby It's You" on their album "Please, Please Me" in 1963. A year later, this same Burt Bacharach/ Hal David song was also a Top 30 hit in the UK for Sheffield-born singer Dave Berry.

The Shirelles were the first major female vocal group of the rock and roll era, defining the so-called girl group sound with their soft, sweet harmonies and yearning innocence. Their music was a blend of pop and R&B, especially Doo-wop and smooth uptown soul that appealed to listeners across the board, before Motown became a crossover phenomenon with white audiences. Though The Chantels preceded them by several years, their international success was unprecedented, as they hit in England, too; their inviting musical blueprint had an enduring influence not just on their immediate followers, but on future generations of female pop singers, who often updated their songs without losing their initial appeal. In addition, they provided some of the earliest hits for important Brill Building songwriters like Gerry Goffin & Carole King, Burt Bacharach & Hal David, and Van McCoy.


The Shirelles were originally formed in 1958 in Passaic, New Jersey by four friends: Shirley Owens Alston Reeves, Doris Coley Kenner Jackson, Addie "Micki" Harris McPherson, and Beverly Lee. Students at Passaic High School, they christened themselves 'the Poquellos', wrote a song called "I Met Him on a Sunday," and entered their school talent show with it, singing it a cappella. A school friend had them audition for her mother, Florence Greenberg, who ran a small record label; she was impressed enough to become the group's manager, and changed their name to The Shirelles by combining frequent lead singer Shirley's first name with doo-woppers the Chantels. The Shirelles' recording of "I Met Him on a Sunday" was licensed by Decca and climbed into the national Top 50 in 1958. Two more singles flopped, however, and Decca passed on further releases. Greenberg instead signed them to her new label, Scepter Records, and brought in producer Luther Dixon, whose imaginative, sometimes string heavy arrangements would help shape the group's signature sound.

"Dedicated to the One I Love" (1959), a song they learned by heart after seeing The Five Royales perform in a show they did together and "Tonight's the Night" (1960) both failed to make much of an impact on the pop charts, although the latter was a Top 20 R&B hit and Top 40 Pop hit. However, they broke big time with the Goffin-King composition "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?"; released in late 1960, it went all the way to number one pop, making them the first all-female group of the rock era to accomplish this feat; it also peaked at number two R&B. In the UK, this same song reached the Top 5 pop chart in 1961. Its success helped send a re-release of "Dedicated to the One I Love" into the Top 5 on both the pop and R&B charts in 1961 (US), and "Mama Said" did the same. A more R&B flavored outing, "Big John," also went to #2 that year. 1962 continued their run of success, most notably with "Soldier Boy," a Luther Dixon/Florence Greenberg tune that became their second pop #1; they also had a Top 10 pop and R&B hit with "Baby It's You". Dixon subsequently left the label; The Shirelles managed to score one more pop/R&B Top Ten with 1963's "Foolish Little Girl", which reached #4 on the pop chart and #9 R&B, but found it difficult to maintain their previous level of success. "Soldier Boy" also reached the Top 30 in the UK in 1962.

The group went on to record material for the film It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, headlined the first integrated concert show in Alabama, and helped a young Dionne Warwick get some of her first exposure (subbing for Reeves and Jackson when each took a leave of absence to get married). A money dispute with Scepter tied up their recording schedule for a while in 1964, and although it was eventually settled, The Shirelles were still bound to a label where their run was essentially over. This was also due in part to the British Invasion, whose bands were among the first to cover their songs; not only their hits, but lesser-known items like "Boys" (the Beatles) and "Sha La La" (a hit for Manfred Mann). Some of the classic covers of The Shirelles tunes, besides the ones mentioned above include: "Dedicated to the One I Love" by The Temprees, and later the Mamas & the Papas, "Baby It's You" by The Masqueraders, and "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" by Roberta Flack. Shortly after its release, Bertell Dache did a very interesting answer song to "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" entitled, "Not Just Tomorrow, But Always".

The Shirelles scraped the lower reaches of the charts a few more times, making their last appearance, ironically, with 1967's "Last Minute Miracle". Jackson left the group the following year to remarry and raise her family, and the remaining Shirelles continued as a trio, cutting singles for Bell Records as "Shirley and the Shirelles", United Artists, and RCA through 1971. The group continued to tour the oldies circuit, however, and appeared in the 1973 documentary "Let the Good Times Roll". Shirley Alston Reeves left for a solo career in 1975, upon which point Doris Jackson returned. Reeves recorded both as 'Lady Rose' (on the Scepter Strawberry subsidiary) and Shirley Alston for moonlighting Motown executive Barney Ales' Prodigal label until the label was purchased by Motown. That year, she recorded the album "With A Little Help From My Friends", in which such rock-and-roll luminaries as Shep and the Limelites, The Five Satins, Lala Brooks of The Crystals, Danny and the Juniors, The Flamingos, and The Drifters sang along with Reeves.

Doris took a leave of absence from 1979 to 1982 and was replaced by Louise Bethune. Shortly after Doris returned, Micki Harris died of a heart attack during a performance in Atlanta on June 10 1982. She was replaced by a returning Louie Bethune. By 1986, the group split, and the two originals formed their own groups: Coley fronting one group along with Fanita James and Gloria Jones of The Blossoms and occasionally, Carolyn Willis formerly of The Honey Cone; and Beverly Lee fronting the other (which featured Eloise Whittiker). Various groups claiming to be the Shirelles had been touring the oldies circuit in the '90s, so one group agreed to tour the West Coast while the other toured the East Coast. This meant that promoters would look for an authentic Shirelle to be featured in the group. They reunited briefly for a program honoring them at the high school they attended in Passaic, New Jersey and sang background on Dionne Warwick's 1983 recording of "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?", found on her "How Many Times Can We Say Goodbye?" album. They had previously sung background for her on the song "Get Rid Of Him", an answer to their own "Foolish Little Girl", on Warwick's 'Make Way For Dionne Warwick' album.

The Shirelles made a special guest appearance on Bo Diddley's 1996 album A Man Amongst Men, singing background vocals on the tracks "Bo Diddley Is Crazy," "Hey Baby" and "Oops! Bo Diddley."

Beverly Lee eventually secured the official trademark for the group's name. The members of the group have also been lifelong activists in the fight for royalty reform, medical coverage, and fair treatment of and recognition for pioneering artists. They were officially inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. In 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked them #76 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" (#125) and "Tonight's the Night" (401) both made Rolling Stone's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Doris Jackson died at the age of 58 from breast cancer in Sacramento, California, on February 4, 2000. Following her death, James and Jones reformed the Blossoms.

The Shirelles' hometown of Passaic recently (September 2008) honored the group by renaming a section of Paulison Avenue between Passaic and Pennington Avenues (the section where Passaic High School is located) "Shirelles Boulevard."


Studio albums

* 1961: Tonight's the Night
* 1961: The Shirelles Sing to Trumpets and Strings
* 1962: Baby It's You (US #59)
* 1962: The Shirelles and King Curtis Give a Twist Party (duets album with King Curtis)
* 1963: Foolish Little Girl (US #68)
* 1963: It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
* 1967: Spontaneous Combustion (Live album)
* 1968: Eternally, Soul (duets album with King Curtis)
* 1972: Happy and in Love (RCA)
* 1973: The Shirelles (RCA)
* 1975: Shirley Alston: With a Little Help From My Friends (Prodigal)
* 1976: The Shirelles: Let's Give Each Other Love (RCA)
* 1977; Lady Rose (Shirley Alston) (Strawberry)
* 1977; Lady Rose Sings the Shirelles' Greatest Hits (Shirley Alston) (Strawberry)


* 1963: Greatest Hits (US #19)
* 1964: The Shirelles Sing the Golden Oldies
* 1967: Greatest Hits, Vol. 2
* 1972: Remember When


* 1958: "I Met Him on a Sunday (Ronde-Ronde)" (US #49)
* 1959: "Dedicated to the One I Love" (US #83)
* 1960: "Tonight's the Night" (US #39)
* 1961: "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" (Gerry Goffin/Carole King) (US #1, UK #3)
* 1961: "Dedicated to the One I Love" (US #3; rerelease of 1959 hit)
* 1961: "Mama Said" (US #4)
* 1961: "What a Sweet Thing That Was" (US #54)
* 1961: "A Thing of the Past" (US #41)
* 1961: "Big John" (US #21)
* 1962: "Baby It's You" (Burt Bacharach/Mack David/Barney Williams) (US #8)
* 1962: "The Things I Want to Hear (Pretty Words)" (US #107)
* 1962: "Soldier Boy" (Luther Dixon/Florence Greenberg) (US #1, UK #23)
* 1962: "Welcome Home, Baby" (US #22)
* 1962: "Stop The Music" (US #36)
* 1962: "It's Love That Really Counts" (US #102)
* 1963: "Everybody Loves a Lover" (US #19)
* 1963: "Foolish Little Girl" (US #4, UK #38)
* 1963: "Don't Say Goodnight and Mean Goodbye" (US #26)
* 1963: "Not for All the Money in the World" (US #100)
* 1963: "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" (US #92)
* 1963: "31 Flavors" (US #97)
* 1963: "What Does a Girl Do?" (US #53)
* 1964: "Tonight You're Gonna Fall in Love With Me" (US #57)
* 1964: "Sha-La-La" (US #69)
* 1964: "Thank You, Baby" (US #63)
* 1964: "Maybe Tonight" (US #88)
* 1965: "Are You Still My Baby" (US #91)
* 1967: "Last Minute Miracle" (US #99)
* 1969: "Go Away, Find Yourself" (Bell)
* 1970: "Strange, I Still Love You" (UA)
* 1970: "It's Gonna Take a Miracle" (UA)
* 1972: "No Sugar Tonight" (RCA)
* 1972: "Let's Give Each Other Love" (RCA)
* 1974: "I Hear Those Church Bells Ringing"/"Chapel of Love" (Shirley Alston) (Prodigal)


No comments: