Classic Music Review: Early Girl 7″ Hits, Part 1

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Here’s how I came to discover Early Girl 7″ Hits:

  • While researching my post on Dusty Springfield’s Dusty in Memphis, I noticed that her backstory involved intimate relationships with several women. Always interested in fellow bisexuals, I started digging into that bit of history.
  • One of her many alleged partners was a woman named Norma Tanega. “Norma Tanega. Norma Tanega. I know I’ve heard that name somewhere.” So I researched Norma Tanega.
  • Much to my surprise, I found that Norma, like me, is a graduate of one of the Claremont Colleges, and currently lives as an artist and musician in Claremont. Small world! More to the point, I found that Norma Tanega was a singer-songwriter who produced a minor 60’s hit called, “Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog.” I’d never heard the song before, so I must have seen her name when I was reviewing the historical Billboard and Cashbox charts.
  • As much as I grumble about iTunes, they’re pretty good at obscurity, so I went there and searched for Norma Tanega. The song only appeared on a collection called Early Girl 7″ Hits. I previewed “Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog” and found it to be a pleasant, whimsical pop tune, perfect for a summer day in 1966.
  • I looked at the other tracks on the album and found the collection intriguing. Knowing that iTunes has tons of collections that are filled with fakes sung by second-stringers who don’t come close to the originals, I sampled the tracks by Jan Bradley, Barbara Lynn and Doris Troy because I already had those in my library. All originals!

The real motivation for writing this review is that I am a ravenous learner, and the greatest satisfaction I get from writing music reviews is that in the process of researching the artist and experiencing the music, I get to learn more about music, about culture and about myself. As a person with a deep interest in the place of women in society, exploring the status of women as expressed in music during the years prior to and following the advent of The Pill and the beginning of Women’s Lib gives me an opportunity to learn even more about the obstacles to equality, many of which were generated by the women themselves. While there are some seriously cool songs in this collection, I have to admit that some of my female forebears were fucking idiots! Let’s try to figure out why many women of the era between 1955 and 1968 insisted on dumbing themselves down and refused to live up to their potential, while a few had the courage to break the mold.

Sound like fun? Let’s rock! Instead of following the track order of this album, I’ve chosen to review these songs chronologically to uncover the cultural-historical patterns. Due to the length of the album (26 songs), I’m splitting this essay into two different posts. We’ll split the list right down the middle, which means this post will end somewhere in 1962. Just pretend that the Cuban Missile Crisis disrupted my writing schedule and you should be able to stay with me.

1955 “Band of Gold” by Kit Carson, Billboard #17: This is not Freda Payne’s Holland-Dozier-Holland song, a depressing story that at least had a good groove behind it. This “Band of Gold” is a dreadful piece of poetry backed by one of those shimmering orchestras that accompanied many a bad film in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. A gentleman named Bob Musel is responsible for the tortuous lyrics that open with the horrid “I’ve never wanted wealth untold.” Dude! In Modern English, you put adjectives before the noun. Who do you think you are, fucking Milton? The core message of the song follows forthwith: “My life has one design/A simple little band of gold/To prove that you are mine.” Prove to whom? The neighbors? The vice squad? Why do you have to prove anything? I’ve never understood wives or husbands who get upset that the other is not wearing the wedding ring, or carelessly lost it down the toilet. Baby, if the entire structure of your relationship depends on a skinny little piece of metal, I think you’re missing the point. By the way, Kit’s real name is Liza Morrow. Many of the women on this album adopted new names for their show biz persona, primarily of the Anglo-Saxon variety, and a good chunk of the names eradicated by this pattern of institutional prejudice were of Italian origin. I have no idea what was wrong with Liza Morrow, but I guess some marketing genius thought naming a singer after a man who spent most of his life slaughtering Native Americans was a good angle.

1955 “Let Me Go, Lover!” by Joan Weber, Billboard #1: Oh, my god. Talk about a melodramatic performance! Joan wrings the life out of every syllable in this song, spitting out the word “go” and the phrase “cut me deep” with such force that it sounds like she’s auditioning for a part in the junior high school play. The story, if you can call it that, is of a woman whose lover won’t let her go. He’s not holding her captive in the basement or anything like that, but holding her with his “spell.” Joan’s not the only woman in this collection who communicates serious dependency problems, and it makes me wonder if the women of the postwar era were attacked with some kind of super science fiction brain-sucking death ray that turned them into moronic parasites convinced that their survival depended entirely on responding to male whims.

1956 “Ivory Tower” by Cathy Carr. Billboard #2: Born Angelina Cordovano, Cathy traded her melodic Italian name for a shot at the big time. Remarkably, there were three versions of this song released in 1956, and little Angelina’s version beat out Gale Storm’s (My Little Margie) and a soul version by Otis Williams & The Charms. Cathy has a very smooth and pleasant voice, rather like Patsy Cline without the oomph and the accent. The song is essentially a plea that her true love come down from the cold, cold ivory tower and find love in her warm, warm arms. Cathy and the song were slotted for the teen market of the time, which gives the impression that teens were still pretty much squares in 1956 (or so the record companies wanted to believe). This song came out a year after Rebel Without a Cause, and I’ll bet there were more teen girls trying to emulate Natalie Wood smoking on way to school (scandalous!) and standing up to her vicious father (how dare she!) than trying to become the next Cathy Carr.

1957 “I’m Available” by Margie Rayburn, Billboard #9: A cute and eventually irritating little ditty dominated by true-ooh-ooh’s and lo-0ves, Margie (Marjorie Helen Orwig) uses this opportunity to advertise herself to a particular member of the male population: “My heart tells me that you need a little lo-ove/So let’s get started ’cause that’s what I’ve plenty uh-uh-of.” Sounds racy! Unfortunately, she disappoints those whose imaginations conjure up the sight of hairy chests and muscular arms, the sound of ripping brassieres and the smell of sweaty, sordid passion. Good little girl that she is, she prudishly and cruelly establishes limits to her availability: “Well, I’m available for a kiss or two-ooh-ooh.” That’s it? You call that available? Other than the lesson in the phenomenon of semantic change, “I’m Available” falls into the damned-with-faint-praise categories of “inoffensive” and “sweet.”

1957 “With All My Heart” by Jodie Sands, Billboard #15: In one of the more criminal examples of identity theft, Eleanor DiSipio is transformed into Jodie Sands, all for a hit that didn’t even break into the Top 10. At least she got a few minutes on American Bandstand with Sal Mineo. The song isn’t that good, the lyrics are 100% cliché and her voice not as inviting as Cathy Carr’s. This is one of many pop songs during the 1950’s featuring a Latin touch, a phenomenon that will henceforth be known as The Ricky Ricardo Effect.

1958 “Padre” by Toni Arden, Billboard unknown: 1958 was a very strange year for pop music. The early burst of rock ‘n’ roll energy seems to have been snuffed out by a combination of novelty songs and corny romantic numbers. David Seville’s “Witch Doctor” spent two weeks at #1, Sheb Wooley’s “Purple People Eater” six weeks at the top and Domenico Modugno’s “Volare (Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu)” was #1 for an astonishing ten weeks. Although it’s not even listed in the Billboard year-end Top 50, “Padre” sold over a million records. Absofuckinglutely amazing. Opening with a despicably angelic chorus, Toni Arden delivers a melodramatic performance even more pitiful than Joan Weber’s in this emotionally bizarre mix of jealousy and Catholicism. The story involves a woman who has gone to consult the priest who performed her marriage ceremony. She had a sickeningly sweet and (to her) satisfying marriage, living in a little cottage where “All day, the birds would sing” to the joyful couple until . . . “SHE came along/And sang him her song/And won him with honeyed lies/SHE of the golden eyes.” Since the people in the 1950’s were so into euphemism, I’m going to assume SHE had a bigger rack and knew how to give head better than the saintly wife. The wife is so out of touch with reality that she kneels and prays for hours “counting her beads alone” and asks the padre to “pray for my love and me.” It’s never explained why on earth the guy would want to go back to such a mentally-imbalanced, crushing bore of a wife, but I’ll let the padre figure that out. The cultural theme of interest is that love was viewed by women of the era as a competitive sport and that every other woman was a potential thief and bitter enemy. Divided and conquered, they dreamed of spending the day baking cakes and doing the wash. By the way, Toni (originally Antoinette Ardizzone) looked like she had a pretty good rack herself, so she must have sung this song in a state of deep denial. This song is so bad it hurts, so I’ll share the pain with my readers:

1960 “He’ll Have to Stay” by Jeanne Black, Billboard #4: Talk about a crossover hit! In addition to the Billboard Top 100 placement, it hit #6 on the Country chart and #11 on the Black Singles chart, despite the fact that Jeanne Black is as white as a lily. “He’ll Have to Stay” was what they called an “answer song” to Jim Reeves’ “He’ll Have to Go.” In Reeves’ song, he’s on the phone in some juke joint talking to a lady friend who is entertaining a gentleman friend other than Mr. Reeves. He gives her a rather wimpy ultimatum to make a choice, and though we never hear how it turned out, I hope she slammed the receiver down so hard it punctured the eardrums of this creepy, intrusive suitor. Apparently, Jeanne (or her team of songwriters) felt the same way, for she insists that her visitor is there to stay! She even turns the tables on the creep on the other end of the line, singing, “I can hear the jukebox playing soft and low/And you’re out again with someone else, I know.” Typical possessive male, holding on to one but refusing to let go of the other. Way to stand up for yourself, honey! It’s a new decade, and in a few short years, you’ll get your own cigarette, baby!

1960 “Sixteen Reasons” by Connie Stevens, Billboard #3: Wanna know how to turn your shitty teen pop song into a sure-fire hit? Stick the word “sixteen” in the title! Whether it was tons, candles or reasons, sixteen was a magic number for everyone from Chuck Berry to Neil Sedaka. Connie Stevens was a breathy blonde TV star (77 Sunset Strip) who had previously teamed up with fellow cast member Edd Byrnes on the novelty hit, “Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb.” Why any girl would want to use a comb all greased up with Brylcreem or Vitalis is beyond me, but the song was a huge hit in 1959. I’m never going to get another chance to share this incredible peek into late 1950’s culture, so here are the lovely couple with Dick Clark:

As for the song on this record, the suspense is in whether or not Connie Stevens can pull off the math required to finish it. Fortunately, she has help because the background singers introduce every line with the count, from one to sixteen. It’s Connie’s job to briefly describe each reason then sum the numbers so she can give us a little update on her progress in the chorus. She blows the first by copping out, singing “They’re all part of sixteen reasons why I love you,” indicating she has some trouble counting to four. She then proceeds to blow us away in the next chorus with “That’s just half of sixteen reasons why I love you.” Think about what it took for Connie to get there: she would have had to remember that the background singers sang “eight” two seconds before her big moment AND reduce 8/16 to the lowest common denominator of 1/2. Is that higher reasoning or what? The suspense resumes, though, because Connie has to survive the bridge without summing up the numbers AND sing another verse of four more reasons on top of that. It is truly fucking thrilling when Connie triumphantly belts out that line, “And those are all of sixteen reasons why I love you.” Brings tears to my eyes to see a fellow blonde shine like that.

1961 “Angel on My Shoulder” by Shelby Flint, Billboard (made Top 100): Sort of a pre-folk song with acoustic guitar, Shelby does have a very pretty voice, so much so that Joni Mitchell said that when she started her folk career that her goal was to sound like Shelby Flint. While this song isn’t half as demanding as Joni’s simplest number, her voice is undeniably pleasing and exceptionally articulate. Lyrically it doesn’t go beyond the wish for a boy to love her, but as least she doesn’t grovel.

1961 “I Just Don’t Understand” by Ann-Margret, Billboard #17: Ann-Margret was apparently all the rage in the early 60’s, something like a high-class sex kitten, I guess. She wasn’t much of an actress and she wasn’t much of a singer, and despite several attempts to turn her into the latter, she didn’t really make it until she went gospel later in life and won a Grammy. The Beatles actually covered this song (it’s on Live at the BBC), and John Lennon didn’t do much better with it. The line, “Well, you say that you need me/Like the ocean needs sand” ranks as one of the worst similes on record.

1961 “Triangle” by Janie Grant, Billboard #87: A very obscure song by a very obscure young girl who was sixteen at the time. Janie didn’t quite hit all the notes but that probably didn’t matter to teenage girls who bought the record, a pretty run-of-the-mill song about boy-girl challenges.

1962 “Bobby’s Girl” by Marcie Blaine, Billboard #3: Marcie’s real name was Marcia Blank, a much more fitting name for a singer who sounds as if her entire cranial cavity had been vacuumed clean. Later she would redeem herself in a career as an educator, but here she’s the epitome of the dumb teenage girl of the era who has only one wish in life: to be Bobby’s girl. The refrain “You’re not a kid anymore” is supposed to imply that becoming a teenager means one should begin thinking about the future, but Marcie missed the thinking part, stubbornly imagining a future with Bobby despite the fact he’s got another girl who probably has twice the brains (I’m guessing, but I’ll be willing to put some money on it). The lyrics are full of unintended pathos—this chick doesn’t need Bobby, she needs a therapist!

Each night I sit at home
Hoping that he will phone
But I know Bobby has someone else
(You’re not a kid anymore)

Still in my heart I pray
There soon will come the day
When I will have him all to myself…

I want to be Bobby’s girl
I want to be Bobby’s girl
That’s the most important thing to me…

And if I was Bobby’s girl
If I was Bobby’s girl
What a faithful, thankful girl I’d be

To be fair, to Marcie, her stardom was a complete accident. In high school, she recorded a demo as a favor for a friend and somehow the demo wound up in the greedy hands of Seville Records, who decided it was just the thing for the booming dumb teenage girl market hooked on Gidget movies. Still, “Bobby’s Girl” is nowhere near as offensive the next song in our countdown.

1962 “Johnny Get Angry” by Joanie Sommers, Billboard #7: Oh, for fuck’s sake. I have never heard a more completely sexist song in my life, one that is insulting to both men and women and displays a complete disrespect for both introversion and intelligence. This insult to humanity deserves nothing less than a verse-by-verse, blow-by-blow critique.

Johnny I said we were through
Just to see what you would do
You stood there, and hung your head
Made me wish that I were dead

You broke up with a guy just to get a rise out of him? What a mean-spirited little bitch! After breaking the poor guy’s heart, you’re appalled that he’s expressing a natural human emotion to rejection? It’s called sadness, asshole!

Oh, Johnny get angry, Johnny get mad
Give me the biggest lecture that I ever had
I want a brave man, I want a cave man
Johnny show me that you care, really care for me

Let me try to get my head around this. What you want is a Neanderthal in need of anger management therapy instead of a relationship with a guy who has class enough not to make a scene and is sensitive enough to feel pain? And you want him to show you how manly he is by lecturing you? I wish he’d channel his inner Neanderthal, take his big manly club and beat you fucking senseless!

Every time you dance with me,
You let Freddy cut in constantly
When he does, you never speak
Must you always be so meek?

That’s called civility, manners and politeness, dummy! Hey, if you don’t want Johnny, I’ll take him! I’d be doing him a service to save him from a future of perpetual nagging by a girl who would be way better off with someone like King Kong.

Every girl wants someone who
She can always look up to
You know I love you, of course
Let me know that you’re the boss

Whoa! Wait a minute! You LOVE Johnny? Let’s see, so far you’ve criticized every move he’s made, called him a wimp and said he makes you wish you were dead. That’s love? But . . . you don’t want him to be himself, you want him to be someone you can look up to and boss you around . . . but that’s not Johnny, so how can you love . . . oh, for fuck’s sake, I give up.

I can go no further. At this point all I can say is:

Each night I hope and pray
When I post Part 2 someday
You’ll hear about women who have half a brain.

Part 2 next week!

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Altrockchick

Independent music reviewer appearing on altrockchick.com and 50thirdand3rd.com. Originally from San Francisco, I am now a French/EU citizen living in Nice. And I look great in leather.

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