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Girl Groups Of The '60s: Pre-Beatles Queens Of The Pop Chart

Music | October 4, 2017

Ronnie Spector of The Ronettes, circa 1964. (Photo by Gilles Petard/Redferns)

Girl groups of the 1960s were responsible for some of the catchiest hits of the day. Songs like "Be My Baby" by the Ronettes, "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" by The Shirelles, and "Where Did Our Love Go?" by the Supremes are pop-music diamonds, short and catchy with passionate lead vocals and sophisticated harmonies. The earlier wave of '60s girl groups included The Shirelles, The Crystals, The Blossoms, Shangri-Las, The Chiffons, the Dixie Cups, the Ronettes and The Cookies. Then later came the Motown sound with The Marvelettes, Martha and the Vandellas and The Supremes.

The Supremes were one of few girl groups that was able to sustain their success through the tsunami that hit American shores in the form of the Beatles and the British Invasion. It's conventional wisdom among some music experts that the Brits more or less "killed" the girl group phenomenon, or at least hastened the end of the golden age of girl groups. But let's be real -- it's pop music, considered a fairly disposable form of entertainment at the time, and nothing lasts forever. It's also worth noting that girl group never went away, it just changed with the music -- up through the Pointer Sisters to TLC to the Spice Girls. 

The original or "classic" girl-group phenomenon had a damn good run, in that period from 1961 to '64, when some 750 girl groups put singles onto the pop chart. Americans were treated to music that still makes you sing along, even if you weren't even born when it was released, and remains some of the most transporting pop ever recorded -- when you hear a girl group hit, even if you're streaming it on Spotify over Bluetooth, in a small way you feel like it's 1963 all over again.

The Best Girl Group Hits Of The '60s Are Timeless

Martha And The Vandellas. Source: Pinterest

The distinctive sound of the girl groups filled the air during that time. Along with the sound of the cash register and the sales of millions of records! Music critic Greil Marcus, who wrote about the girl groups in 1992 for The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, stated: “The music was perhaps the most carefully, beautifully crafted in all of rock and roll – one reason why none of the twenty or so best records in the genre have dated in the years since they were made.”

The Shirelles Asked Us 'Will You Love Me Tomorrow?'

The Shirelles. Source: Amazon

There were over 1,500 girl groups estimated that recorded music in the 1960’s. Only about two dozen out of that number went on to become famous hit makers. One of the groups to make it was The Shirelles. Their first popular hit to enter the charts was “Tonight’s The Night,” co-written by lead singer, Shirley Owens and it entered the Top 40 back in 1960. “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” was a #1 hit that remained in the Top 40 for 15 weeks. More Top 10 hits followed for The Shirelles with “Dedicated to The One I Love,” a #3 hit; “Mama Said,” a #4 hit; “Baby It’s You,” and “Soldier Boy,” hit #1 in 1962. So over a two-year span, The Shirelles had 11 hits in the Top 40 and 5 in the Top 10!

The Crystals Told Us 'Then He Kissed Me'

The Crystals. Source: Pinterest

In 1961, when he was just starting out with his own record label, Phil Spector signed a girl group called The Crystals. The Crystals came on strong in 1961-1963 with a series of hits, including: “There’s No Other Like My Baby” ; “Uptown” ; “He’s A Rebel”; “Da Doo Ron Ron”; “Then He Kissed Me” ; and “He’s Sure the Boy I Love”. The Crystals made Spector a millionaire when he was just 21 years old. After hearing the final playback of “Da Doo Ron Ron” in the studio, Spector reportedly told Sonny Bono (who was a production assistant back then): “That’s gold. That’s solid gold coming out of that speaker.”

Ronnie Spector Of The Ronettes Wanted Us To 'Be My Baby'

The Ronettes. Source: Pinterest

But the girl group Phil Spector became especially attached to was a new group from New York’s Spanish Harlem, named The Ronettes. They were one of the main girl groups of the 1963-1964 period, turning out a series of hit songs that helped define that era. Two of those to make the charts were “Be My Baby” and “Baby, I Love You”.  

'He's So Fine,' Said The Chiffons

The Chiffons. Source: genius.com

The Chiffons were another group of teenage girls who began singing together in high school. Their first hit, “He’s So Fine,” went to #1 on the Billboard chart in 1963. It sold over one million copies and is known for the signature “doo-lang, doo-lang” throughout the song. The Chiffons would have three other songs that hit the Top 40: “One Fine Day”; “A Love So Fine,” and “I Have a Boyfriend”. 

The Marvelettes Begged 'Please Mr. Postman'

The Marvelettes. Source: Pinterest

The Marvelettes were the first girl group act for Motown Records, as well as having the first Motown group #1 hit with “Please Mr Postman” in 1961. This stayed on the pop charts for nearly 6 months and was later covered by a British rock group called The Beatles. Other Marvelettes’ Top 40 hits included: “Playboy”; “Beachwood 4-5789” ; “Too Many Fish in the Sea” and “Don’t Mess With Bill”.  

The Supremes Told Us To 'Stop! In The Name Of Love'

The Supremes. Source: Pinterest

One of the most famous of the girl groups that emerged out of Detroit’s Motown music scene in the mid 60’s, at the same time the Beatles and the British invasion were coming on strong in the U.S. and would go toe-to-toe with those groups on the music charts, was The Supremes. Diana Ross, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard recorded “Where Did Our Love Go” in the summer of 1964, that particular song had been rejected earlier on by the Marvelettes. It went to #1 and sold over 2 million copies, so The Supremes were on their way to make music history! They quickly followed this with two more #1 hits: “Baby Love” and “Come See About Me”. The hits kept coming for The Supremes in 1965, 1966 and 1967. Between 1964 and 1967, The Supremes had one of the best all-time female track records in pop music history: they released 15 singles and all but one made the Top 10. Additionally, 10 of those songs were #1 hits! 

Tags: Feminism | Music In The 1960s | Phil Spector | Popular Lists Of Everything From The Groovy Era | The 1960s | The Chiffons | The Crystals | The Marvelettes | The Ronettes | The Shirelles | Women

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Cyn Felthousen-Post

Writer

Cyn loves history, music, Irish dancing, college football and nature. Social media is also her thing, keeping up with trends and celebrities with positive news. She can be found outside walking or hiking with her son when she's not working. Carpe diem is her fave quote, get out there and seize the day!