Album number three from the New Jersey pop icon, with 13 bonus tracks from 1963, including some of her greatest hits. Booklet includes interviews with Mark Barkan, co-writer of eight songs on the collection, and John Madara, co-author of the classic ‘You Don’t Own Me’. All tracks produced by the great Quincy Jones.
It’s a sad fact that it often takes the loss of an artist to re-evaluate their career and fully appreciate their legacy. Lesley Gore’s death in 2015 prompted heartfelt tributes from industry colleagues, fans and peers alike. Predictably, some obituaries tended to paint her as a pop princess best remembered for ‘It’s My Party’, but scratch beneath the carefully coiffed image and there is much more to this diminutive singer/songwriter than her ozone-depleting hairdo and catchy songs of ne’er-do-well boyfriends. There is the champion for women’s rights and LGBT equality for starters. Relegated to an oldies act by the time she was 25, it’s hard to comprehend just how rapid her rise to fame had been.
Issued in April 1964, “Boys, Boys, Boys” was Lesley Gore’s third album, released in a 12-month period which had seen her catapulted to stardom in the wake of her chart-topping debut single. Not bad for a level-headed schoolgirl who’d welcomed the opportunity of making a record with no expectations beyond enjoying the experience before heading off to college. Much to everyone’s surprise and delight, a further three Top 5 singles had ensued and, in time-honoured fashion, Mercury Records were striking while the iron was hot with an LP comprising material from Lesley’s earlier recording sessions, together with seven newly minted songs.
The loosely boy-themed collection was a further attempt to consolidate her position in the teen pop firmament and, for the most part it worked, with the album peaking at #127 on the Billboard chart. However, the single which heralded its release, the shoulder-shruggin’ ‘That’s The Way Boys Are’, was Lesley’s first to fail to dent the Top 10, while its follow-up, ‘I Don’t Wanna Be A Loser’, would just scrape into the Top 40. In truth, few could have reckoned with the impact of the British Invasion which was by now in full sway.
Released at the tail-end of 1963, the stellar ‘You Don’t Own Me’ had broken fresh ground and has continued to resonate down the decades. Perhaps most importantly, its message of independence and self-determination was truly worthy of Lesley’s artistic maturity. Described as “indelibly defiant” by the New York Times in her obituary, the lyrics became an inspiration to a generation of women while the song has long since been held up as a feminist anthem. Kept off the top spot by ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, ‘You Don’t Own Me’ held out at #2 for three weeks, a testament to Lesley’s staying power when many of her compatriots were already struggling against the rising tide of Beatlemania.
Lesley’s next single, ‘That’s The Way Boys Are’, must have felt like a step backwards, with its all-too familiar “boys treat us badly but we love ’em regardless la la la” subtext. Despite a driving beat and jaunty handclaps, it was – lyrically, at least – a slightly defeatist note on which to open “Boys, Boys, Boys”. Written by Mark Barkan and Ben Raleigh, the song was paired up with ‘That’s The Way The Ball Bounces’, co-authored by Marvin Hamlisch. With its gently undulating summery feel, the latter was an exercise in laidback lounge with a latin twist. Other standout tracks came in the shape of ‘Don’t Call Me’ – a kissin’ cousin to ‘You Don’t Own Me’ and every bit as moody and soulful – and the angsty ‘I Don’t Wanna Be A Loser’, which found its way on to two motion picture soundtracks: The Pawnbroker, for which Quincy Jones wrote the score, and The Girls On The Beach. ‘Boys’, essentially another shopping list of reasons why girls should steer well clear, was written by erstwhile teen idol Paul Anka, whose ‘Hello Young Lover’, a finger-waggin’ cha-cha more in keeping with Lesley’s youthful image, was the first track Lesley recorded at her debut session.
The album’s closing track, ‘I’m Coolin’, No Foolin’’, co-written by Lesley with Sid Shaw, is quite a departure and, with its sparse, hypnotic tempo, no-nonsense lyrics and powerful hooks, the singer seeks to rebuff a(nother) suitor. In an era when few female singers – let alone teenage ones – were writing their own material, it’s one of the more remarkable tracks on the album and all the better for a pared down, elegant production.