Umpteen girl groups have topped the charts over the last fifty years. Never let it be forgotten that with ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ the Shirelles were the first.
The group was formed in 1957. Shirley Owens and her cheerleader chum Beverly Lee were the first to start singing together, just for fun to pass the time while babysitting. To emulate the harmonies of their favourite groups the Flamingos and the Heartbeats they needed more voices, so invited their friends Adeline “Micki” Harris and preacher’s daughter Doris Coley to join them. The quartet, all students at Passaic High School in New Jersey, dubbed themselves the Poquellos. Within months they were in the charts as the Shirelles with ‘I Met Him On A Sunday’, a prototype of the girl group sound.
The Shirelles figured on the US charts every year for the next decade. Without them their fabled boss Florence Greenberg might never have founded her Scepter and Wand labels. They inspired the Fab Four – fact not hyperbole. It wasn’t only those Beatle boys they entranced, but also many of the great girl groups of the last four decades. Destiny’s Child, for instance, might not exist were it not for them. The Crystals, Marvelettes, Supremes, Dixie Cups, Honey Cone, Three Degrees, Emotions, First Choice, En Vogue, TLC, Sugababes . . . they all owe a big debt to the Shirelles.
The group’s hit records, most of which feature Shirley on lead, have been the object of many CD collections over the years. Indeed, Ace’s longstanding 32-track The Best Of The Shirelles (CDCHD 356) is a hard example to beat. Now it’s time for the spotlight to shine on their albums via a series of Ace twofers, which kicks off with a pairing of 1960’s Tonight’s The Night and The Shirelles Sing To Trumpets & Strings from the following year, bolstered with three non-LP bonus tracks of contemporary vintage. The sound is better than you’ll hear elsewhere and in stereo where stereo tapes still exist. Most of the tracks on Sing To Trumpets & Strings are making their CD debut to boot.
Familiar highlights include the risqué ‘Tonight’s The Night’, the Doris-led ‘Dedicated To The One I Love’ (which the girls learned from the Five Royales while on the road), ‘Boys’ (as famously covered by the Beatles) and ‘Mama Said’, plus of course ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ and ‘What A Sweet Thing That Was’, two of Gerry Goffin and Carole King’s finest early compositions. Among the numerous gems only the most ardent of Shirelles fans will have heard before are ‘Johnny On My Mind’ (buffs might know the song by Lonnie Mack as ‘Dorothy On My Mind’), ‘I Don’t Want To Cry’ (ditto Chuck Jackson) and ‘Blue Holiday’ (Aretha Franklin). ‘It’s Mine’ (subsequently cut by Tammy Montgomery/Terrell) features a string section not heard on the original release, while ‘ Saw A Tear’ offers a rare chance to hear the voice of Florence Greenberg counting-in the girls. Roll on more volumes.
By Mick Patrick