In the male dominated world of early pop/rock, the girl group genre absolutely helped to define and shape music of the time and these seminal elements of the music can be heard for decades and continues to this day. Starting in the 1950s as a trickle represented by the Hearts, the Blossoms, the Joytones, the Deltairs, the Quintones, and the Bobbettes, the floodgates opened in the early sixties.
Rooted in early R&B and a dose of doo wop, girl groups reached their commercial and artistic peak in the early 1960s, and one of the earliest acts to be categorized as a girl group was the Chantels. They laid the foundation of the definable elements of the genre: loose harmonies, an eclectic mix of pop and R&B, an identifiable lead vocal with a harmonic arrangement, and subject matter that centered on young love.
The girl group craze also provided a unique forum for some of pop rock's most talented songwriting teams such as Gerry Goffin and Carole King, which were one of the hottest songwriting teams of the Brill Building sound (they wrote the Shirelles' hit "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" among others). Named after the music publishing offices in New York, the Brill Building also introduced other notable songwriting teams such as Jeff Barry/Ellie Greenwich and Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil and Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.
Some of the songs were considered so "hot," that often the producers released the demo recording as the record--a feat that would be unthinkable today. And many of the records spiraled up the charts with no promotion.
Some of the girl groups became well-known at dizzying speed. In 1963, a girl group named the Ronettes were performing at the tiny Riptide Club in Wildwood, New Jersey, when their release, "Be My Baby," was released. Three weeks later, their song had moved from #90 to #20 on the national charts, they were stars.
But it took the amazing talents of record producer Phil Spector to launch the girl group genre to its apex. The budding superstar set the stripped down versions of the songwriting teams' music to majestic orchestral arrangements and the term "wall of sound" was created. With Spector, the songwriting team Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich wrote some of pop's most memorable songs, including "Da Doo Ron Ron" and "River Deep, Mountain High." Some of Greenwich's finest compositions were supplied to Spector, including the aforementioned Ronettes "Be My Baby" and "Baby, I Love You," "Then He Kissed Me" and Darlene Love's "(Today I Met) The Boy I'm Going To Marry." Greenwich also worked closely with the Red Bird label, owned by Leiber, Stoller, and George Goldner, providing such hits as the Dixie Cups' "Chapel of Love" and "People Say" and the Shangri-Las' "Leader of the Pack," (years later, Broadway would stage a Tony-nominated musical with the same name based on her life).
While most of the notable girl groups were black, white teenage girls like Lesley Gore, the Angels and the Raindrops (with Ellie Greenwich on lead vocals) dominated the pop charts. In Lesley Gore, teenage girls also found a voice, with her groundbreaking singles such as "It's My Party," "Judy's Turn To Cry" and one of the first women anthem songs called "You Don't Own Me."
Additionally, besides capturing the female hearts of America, the girl groups had an influence in fashion, especially as the acts began to be invited to appear on variety television programs, who, despite their often-humble backgrounds, wore the latest and most stylish dresses (often in matching sets) and set styles for hair and clothing.
Another sound that helped define the girl group genre came from Motown, which relied heavily on the girl group sound with breakthrough hits by Mary Wells with "Two Lovers" in 1962, and the number one smash "My Guy," among others. The Supremes also hit the number one spot in 1964 with the classic cut "Where Did Our Love Go," "Come See About Me," and continued their reign as one of the best female vocal groups of all time with a slew of hits from 1964 through 1969.
Other black female groups also had classic number one cuts, songs by The Shirelles (#1 in 1960 with "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" (which is the first all-girl group to ever hit Billboard's number one position)and "Soldier Boy" (#1 in 1962) and top ten hits like "Dedicated To The One I Love," in 1959 and "Momma Said" (#4 in 1961) and a song that has been covered by many artists "Baby, It's You," which peaked at number eight in 1961.
While it's often thought that the arrival of the British invasion signified the end of the girl group era, nothing could be further from the truth with the girl group genre being at its best with songs like "Chapel Of Love," by the Dixie Cups, the Shangri-Las with the story-telling single "Leader Of The Pack," "He's So Fine," by the Chiffons and the catchy hooks of "My Boyfriend's Back," by the Angels. In fact, the Supremes carried on the girl group phenomenon and actually held their own in with astronomical record sales in the 60's. In 1966, the group also released "The Supremes A' Go-Go," which became the first album by an all-female group to reach number one on the US Billboard 200, knocking The Beatles' Revolver out of the top spot.
Additionally, the girl group sound was an early influence on the Beatles. In fact, John Lennon stated that he and Paul McCartney had hoped to duplicate the success of Goffin and King songwriting team. Early Beatles albums included cover versions of hits by the Shirelles, the Cookies and the Marvelettes.
The girl group sound has never really gone away and can be heard in many of the female vocal groups that have followed in its footsteps. After Elvis had shipped of to serve his country and before Beatlemania took hold, the girl groups took pop music by the hand and delivered some of the best pop music that has ever been recorded. The girl group sound of the early 1960s marks an important influence in rock and roll and a defining image of American culture, both musically and socially.