A few years ago I realised how intensely emotional and almost operatic some of the Girl Group recordings of the 1950s and 1960s were. Perennial favourites such as
"You Baby" by The Ronettes
"Leader of the Pack" by The Shangri-Las
are emotional bombs compacted into a few minutes of music and song. I began to look for what other music in the same style was available, and ended up with a playlist of 346 .mp3 files.
While digging back for those old 50s & 60s girl groups I kept noticing how many of the songs I encountered seemed to have completely over the top submission and obsession as lyrical themes. I started noting those I came across, including solo acts, ending up with a playlist of 57 numbers.
The marvelous users of YouTube have posted all but two of that list, enabling me to assemble the playlist below. It is sorted by title to randomise, and to separate any tracks by same artist. (Not entirely successful in the case of Dusty Springfield).
Ike Turner, and Carole King & Gerry Goffin and the Brill Building writers seem to be to blame for a fair few of these. Many are by male writers, but I'm not going to get statistical because the sample is not a random selection, it is biased by coming mainly from what I happen to have on CD, including a 3 disc set of songs by Carole King. Nevertheless, the writers can be seen on the page below, with the above writers highlighted.
A Tragedy in 2 minutes 18 seconds
Anyone But You
Vocalist: Ruth Brown
Produced: Phil Spector
Atlantic 45 rpm Single 1961
If someone would have told me
That you were gonna hurt me
I'd a said, "Oh no,
Anyone but you."
And if they had told me
You would desert me
I'd a laughed and said
"Anyone but you."
Now that it's over
Now that I'm crying
Now that you've told me
You can't be true
Still I know
I'm gonna miss you
Yes, I'm really gonna miss you
But, I'll never love anyone
Anyone but you
I'll never love anyone
Anyone but you
Here at the Paste magazine site I found a sympathetic treatment of the Brill Building's fade from prominence. There is little mention of these types of lyric though.
The Crystals' "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)", (Goffin, King) was controversial when released for it's portrayal of violence as a sign of male possessive feelings.
Joanie Sommers' "Johnny Get Angry", (Hal David and Sherman Edwards) is a sort of masochistic invitation to abuse. "These days, feminists would be picketing the record studio for such a song." Discussed well at Songfacts.com.
Lesley Gore's "That's The Way Boys Are" (Mark Barkan, Ben Raleigh) is just pathetic, and made more bizarre when you consider Miss Gore was actually a lesbian, and can't have felt very comfortable with a jolly-sounding song with lyrics like:
"When I'm with my guy and he watches all the pretty girls go by,
And I feel so hurt deep inside I wish that I could die;
Not a word do I say, I just look the other way,
'Cause that's the way boys are..."
Then there is the weeping passivity of a song like The Chantels' "Maybe" by their vocalist Arlene Smith:
"Maybe, if I pray every night
You'll come back to me
And maybe, if I cry everyday
You'll come back to stay
We also have the dreamy acceptance of the done and dumped Connie Stevens in "I Couldn't Say No" (Ripp, Goffin-King, again!):
"You spoke so sincerely
I couldn't think clearly
And somehow, with you
It seemed right
I was too much in love to be wise
And I couldn't say no to you last night"
I found this commentary: "Her utter sincerity in describing post-coital afterglow in “I Couldn’t Say No,” an obscure Goffin-King number Stevens recorded in 1962, defuses a touchy topic--the girl is at first feeling guilt over giving in to her beau’s charms, making it hard to listen to without thinking “date rape” as her misgivings unfold--and transforms the song into an ode to the first blush of new love."
But I can't agree with the above when you consider the song contains the lines
"You wanted my kisses, so I gave you my kisses
Never dreaming today you'd be gone"
".......when I think of you I regret
That I couldn't say no to you last night"
I can't deny the emotional power of some of these songs, but I think we really have to keep in perspective these outmoded attitudes.