Sunday, 11 January 2009

Dum Dum Ditty

My mother mumbling along to ‘The End of the World’ by Skeeter Davis when I was quite young is one particular moment I can think of that ignited my interest in this period, it’s not so much girl group track but certainly evocative of the scene. This sad track doesn’t necessarily stick out because of that sentimental fact, but fact that she is tone death and sang it so tunelessly; it makes my eyes well up when I hear it.
What influence has the sixties girl group sound had in this day and age? What springs to mind when I say the words s.i.x.t.i.e.s g.i.r.l.g.r.o.u.p sound? Perhaps a perverse transgender line up of showaddy waddy ? Or perhaps the noughties reincarnation of Hairspray (the John Waters 80’s original remains one of my childhood favourites)?
What is it I love about 60’s girl groups? I love the gut wrenching lyrical content that croons of heart ache and lust, lust, lust? I love the gorgeous four part harmonies, the skyscraping beehive hairdos, winged eyeliner and knee skimming mini skirts, the retro kitsch is oh so very now after all. I love the melodrama, the American dream personified in every group is so often a tale of broken dolls, fixed then broken again by the savage competition to stay top of the pops, churning out hit after hit to the point of exhaustion. Each one has their own story but I’ll use my writing to pigeonhole and define an era and a MOVEMENT to make it succinct and much simpler to contemplate than it should be.
Over the past few years there’s been a somewhat revival aesthetically in the mainstream with Duffy, Amy Winehouse, hairstyles (think Dawn Porter, the annoyingly self obsessed ‘investigative journalist’ that looks a bit like a clean Lily Allen).
It seems like everyone has taken note or two from the ‘good ol’ days’. The main difference between now and then is that now we don’t know how to hide a good scandal. everyone knows when you see Amy Winehouse crawling around on stage she’s strung up to her eyeballs, it’s almost expected of pop musicians these days- the squeaky clean façade is dead- it took a stake to the heart a long time ago. And EVERYONE knows the skeletons in the closets of today’s pop star wannabes before they’ve even released their first single.
What I love most about the 60’s girl groups is their depiction of an innocence and naivety that was believable. When today’s desperately fame hungry vultures aren’t clogging up the television schedule with another attempt to zombify their careers, it’s transparent that they’re backstage giving sloppy blowjobs to the cameramen. Not to indicate that the girl groups of yester year weren’t doing the same, just their target demographic would remain oblivious or turn a blind eye to the charade. Ignorance is, after all, bliss.
I love the lyrics of heartbreak and pain- compared to the meaningless drivel spluttered by Girls Aloud and the like. These were songs sans hyperbole, extended metaphors or sophistry - good old fashioned love songs that don’t need the bravado to ask ‘dont’cha wish yer girlfriend was a freak like me?’, you just know these girls were promising to love with the same (bunny boiling) intensity.
Listening to these tunes, the lyrics focus on monogamy and a sort of child like dependency, thanks to Brill building song writers such as Carol King, Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry. Each track is cloaked with a layer of the haunting, dense walls of sound Spector’s production affords the records.
The distinctive wall of sound: ‘rock’s monolithic backbeat’, waves of distortion and reverberated sound that define Spector’s production technique and has influenced so many since it’s creation. Electric and acoustic guitars playing orchestrated pieces, Spector’s so called ‘Wagnerian approach to rock & roll’ he appropriately described as ‘little symphonies for the kids.’
Clearly the beloved song writing/ production relationship wasn’t perfect.
Ellie Greenwich: ‘He (spector) always wanted to have total control over anything that he had anything to do with. I don’t know how happy he was that Jeff and I were going to do something on our own …but he didn’t stop us.’
Spector’s tyrannical grip, trial for second degree murder and mortifyingly bad choice in wigs has sullied his reputation as a production wizard.
Taken from Plan B issue 14 September ’06 an interview with Ronnie. ‘What happened to my singing?’ I would ask him and he would shout, ‘I don’t have time to talk about your goddamn career’, so I wasn’t going to ask him that question again because he yelled a lot, and I mean a lot. So I stopped asking him and became this little quiet girl.’
Ronnie Spector is probably my favourite of the girl group vocalists, her New Yoik dialect seeping through that booze and tobacco marinated voice. Woah oh, a woah oh oh oh… with ‘Be my Baby’, ‘Baby I love you’, defining 60’s girl group records.
The emphasis on youth ‘Born Too Late’, the low self esteem ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’, there’s a reason why these tracks aren’t anachronisms in the 21st century and why the revival isn’t so surprising. What teenage girl isn’t attracted to the familiar plight of her sisters from the sixties? But in the vintage age our attempts to resuscitate these decaying corpses all seems a bit hollow doesn’t it? Like we’ve seen everything before. Someone just mention it to the management of Winehouse meh and Duffy bleh…Don’t get me started on the Pipettes.

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