By Mick Patrick
19 hits on Billboard magazine's Hot 100, of which eight made the Top 20, rank Lesley Gore as second only to Brenda Lee as the USA's top-selling solo female recording star of the mid-60s.
Lesley was not quite five when her brother Michael was born, yet had already amassed an impressive record collection and would spend hours listening to favourites such as Patti Page; her destiny was being forged. As Michael grew older, he exhibited an aptitude for the piano and soon fell into a routine of writing songs with Lesley. At school she excelled in the choir and was part of a girl group who sang solely Shirelles songs. By the age of 15 she had persuaded her parents to send her to a vocal coach. Before long she was singing occasionally with a band.
At a showcase for the group, Lesley caught the ear of Mercury Records' president Irving Green, who invited her to visit the company's New York HQ, where she met producer Quincy Jones. The pair clicked instantly, and a recording contract was offered. A few days later, Quincy arrived at her home with a stack of publishers' demos, from which they selected the song that would change her life.
Days after Lesley's 17th birthday, 'It's My Party' entered the charts on its way to #1. Even the Beatles were captivated by the vibrancy of the disc, asking George Martin to produce their records in a similar style. In classic soap opera fashion, the biter bit in 'Judy's Turn To Cry', a Top 5 sequel which consolidated her position as America's new pop princess. 'She's A Fool' made it three in a row, while her first LP made the upper reaches of the album chart.
If the USA hadn't chosen this moment to embrace the Beatles, Lesley would have also made #1 with 'You Don't Own Me'. Other Top 20 highlights of 1964 were 'That's The Way Boys Are' and 'Maybe I Know'. Her only sizeable hit of 1965 was 'Sunshine, Lollipops And Rainbows', but by then she was not just a pop star but also a full-time college student. Almost two years passed before producer Bob Crewe restored her to the Top 20 with 'California Nights'. The feat was aided by a television appearance in Batman singing what proved to be her final big hit.
Post-Mercury, Lesley recorded for Bob Crewe's short-lived Crewe label, surfacing next with a singer-songwriter LP for Mowest. She had been building up to this for years, having written many of her Mercury tracks. A 1975 reunion with Quincy Jones found her in a more soulful setting than before on an A&M album. In 1980 she and brother Michael received Grammy and Oscar nominations for 'Out Here On My Own', one of several songs they composed for the film Fame. Lesley also frequently performed live with her friend Lou Christie, with whom she recorded some duets.
In the 1990s she ventured into the world of journalism by interviewing k.d. lang for Ms magazine. In 1996 she was asked to write a song for the film Grace Of My Heart. The result was 'My Secret Love', lip-synched in the film by Bridget Fonda, whose character was partly based on Lesley. Gore died of lung cancer on February 16, 2015, she was 68 years old. Following her death, Neil Sedaka commented that she was "a phenomenal talent" and "a great songwriter in her own right." Gore's funeral was held on February 19, 2015 in New York City.