Girl Group Sounds


I love pop music, and I’ve been in love with the Girl Group Sound of the late fifties and sixties since I was a teenager. It’s an amazingly varied genre, and all human life is there: love, hate, violence, death, dread, longing, ecstatic happiness, abject misery –  all set to memorable tunes with often fantastically complex arrangements.


This is by no means a definitive Best Of or anything preposterous like that (it’s missing at least three Shangri-Las records for a start), but it will hopefully give you a flavour of what I’m talking about.


Be warned, however, repeated use can lead to addiction.


The Four Pennies

The Four Pennies:

When The Boy's Happy



The Four Pennies were actually The Chiffons, forced to temporarily change their famous name because of a contractual dispute. The song comes speedily out of the blocks and is full of joy and excitement and pounding drum rolls.


Girl group records are sometimes so overloaded that they get a bit chaotic by the middle eight, and this is a good example, but the girls pull it back with aplomb. If the sentiment seems a little submissive and unreconstructed then well spotted, but that’s how these records are – whether it was at the hands of a boyfriend, a parent or corrupt management, these girls knew how to suffer – happily for us, it wasn’t in silence.   

The Ginger Snaps:

The Sh-Down Song



A sub-genre of the Girl Group Sound is Records Where Girls Warn Other Girls Off Their Men. The Sh-Down Song has a great arrangement and a menacing lyric (it is aptly subtitled ‘You Better Leave Him Alone’). The second record on our list to feature a honking sax solo, the first to feature threats of physical violence. I don’t know very much about The Ginger Snaps other than this record features Dandee Dawson, but I don’t know anything about Dandee Dawson either. Sorry.

The Ginger Snaps
Reparata and the Delrons

Reparata and The Delrons:

Saturday Night Didn't Happen



Reparata and her Delrons were tough Italian and Irish girls from  Brooklyn. They made consistently great records, but had no consistency of sound and lots of internal wranglings, so their career was all over the place.


‘Saturday Night Didn’t Happen’ is a one hundred and eighty hundred second soap opera dripping with drama and regret. I didn’t know that parrots ate carrots, either, but I suppose it makes sense.



The Toys:



The Toys were a three girl group who specialised in welding pop lyrics to classical tunes. ‘Attack!’ was their second hit, and has the sweet rinky dink baroque sound most associated with the group.


This song is also about dealing with a predatory female sniffing around a childhood sweetheart: a policy of appeasement is not on the cards.


The Toys Attack!

The Charmettes Please Don't Kiss Me Again

The Charmettes:

Please Don't Kiss Me Again



Nice girls in Girl Group records never want to fall in love, they are always forced and here they are practically assaulted into it.


We get more yaketty sax, a great key change, a superb vocal and instrumental arrangement, and a charming, breathless lyric full of the confusion and excitement of young love and being out late, perhaps in the back of a car or in a field by the reservoir.



The Marvelettes:

I Want A Guy


The Marvelettes are one of the greatest ever girl groups, and their Smokey Robinson penned single ‘The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game’ is one of the best pop records ever made - end of.


This particular track (the b-side of ‘Twistin’ Postman’, fact fans) is a slow, sensuous cri de cour with sinuous Middle Eastern sounding organ. It’s all rather sad, a single comic frame that Roy Lichenstein never painted.

Marvelettes I Want A Guy
The Shirelles Dooms Day

The Shirelles:

Dooms Day



This is some heavy stuff, lightly arranged. In the midst of the cold war, with mankind under the threat of instant annihilation, what could be worse than the atomic bomb?


Breaking up with your boyfriend, that’s what. Nice tip of the bouffant to their earlier smash ‘Baby, it’s You’, as well. Who knew Armageddon would be so catchy?




The Teardrops:

Tears Come Tumbling 


The Teardrops formed in 1961 and, in various guises, stayed on the Girl Group train until 1969, although they only ever released half a dozen singles.


‘Tears Come Tumbling’ is a big song with a big arrangement – but, despite selling enough regionally to warrant a national pressing, it wasn’t a big hit. As if these girls didn’t have enough problems.

The Utopias Sally Bad

The Utopias:

Sally Bad


The Utopias were a brother and sister outfit, but the sound here is pure Girl Group,  sort of a mash up of a couple of Shangri-Las hits and an ambiguous lyric which might be about any of the following teen nightmares: sex before marriage, teen pregnancy or VD. Perhaps all three.


The most homemade sounding of the records selected, this is some metres from the main path, and all the more striking because of it.







THe Shangri-La's:

Dressed In Black




This epic sounds like a death disc, but is actually about forbidden love. Dripping in emotion and hormones, with more than a hint of the Gothic, it features the stark and sinister lyric ‘I climbed the stairs - I shut the door - I turned the lock - alone once more -and no one can hear me cry - no one’ and, like almost everything the Shangri-La’s recorded, is absolutely brilliant.


The Shangri-La's

Paul Bareham

About The Author:

Paul Bareham

Paul Bareham posts on Forumusic as Gingham Kitchen, and writes weblogs under the tax dodge alias of Unmann- Wittering.


He would like to point out that loving The Shirelles in 1980’s Essex was not always easy, but it was definitely worth it. 

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