Bouffants, Beehives & Backcombing

Bouffants, Beehives & Backcombing

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Early Brit Girls Vol. 1

Although the arrival of the archetypical 60s ‘dolly bird’ was still a couple of years away, by the turn of that decade a whole ‘new look’ Brit Girl was emerging; a slim, wan, wide-eyed young gazelle, the polar opposite of the overtly glam, well-upholstered, tightly-corseted, frilly-petticoated, severely made-up filly of the 50s whom we’d grown accustomed to.  Almost overnight, girl singers seemed to look decades younger, even the established stars (Petula Clark, in particular, looked younger in her 30s than she had in her 20s!) and the records they made were beginning to sound equally fresh.  This excellent compilation traces the rise of UK ladies from the R&R era to the early 60s, and heralds the newly emergent Brit Girl sound.

 British female singers had traditionally taken something of a back seat as far as the UK Hit Parade was concerned, because most teenaged record buyers were girls, and they tended to buy records by the guys they were swooning over.  As a consequence, girls were generally given either US hits to cover (which invariably resulted in four or five different British birds in direct competition with one another on the same few songs) or home-grown novelty material.  Covers of American records were all very well, provided they were R&B hits by the likes of Ruth Brown, or a stray, crossover US Country hit; but all-too often they were show tunes, MOR ballads or turgid dance band fare.  The early recording careers of artists like Alma Cogan, The Beverley Sisters, Marion Ryan, Shirley Bassey, Petula Clark, Lita Roza and Toni Eden very much reflect this, being an object lesson in poorly chosen repertoire and missed opportunities.  It’s to their eternal credit that these fine singers all nonetheless managed to record the occasional worthwhile disc (many of which are included herein), even if they were often ignored by the UK record-buying public.  A classic case in point was Alma Cogan, who couldn’t get arrested in the UK with her ‘…Pocket Transistor’, yet spent many months at No.1 with it in Japan.  Shirley Bassey and Petula Clark eventually took control of their own business affairs, successfully reinvented themselves, and subsequently went on to carve out lifelong and humongously successful careers.

Meanwhile, things had begun to look up commensurate with the arrival of Rock & Roll.  New singers emerged, like Janice Peters (who cut two killer singles, ‘A Girl Likes’ and ‘This Little Girl’s Gone Rockin’’) and Sally Kelly (who was managed by Larry ‘Parnes Shillings & Pence’), whilst The Vernons Girls – originally a 16-girl ensemble vocal group on Jack Good’s TV show Oh Boy! – were pretty much a cottage industry of their own, spinning off The Breakaways and The DeLaine Sisters (whose respective covers of ‘He’s A Rebel’ and ‘It Might As Well Rain Until September fall squarely in the “so-bad-they’re-good” category) while Lynn Cornell opted for a solo career (her cover of Patti LaBelle & The Blue-Belles’ ‘I Sold My Heart To The Junkman’ was, conversely, a real beaut!).

However, hit records were hard to come by.  The Three Barry Sisters cut a nice version of Annette’s ‘Tall Paul’ in 1959, whilst the following year The Lindy’s delivered a rocking cover of Paul Anka’s much-covered ‘Train Of Love’ (Annette had the US hit, whilst Alma Cogan took an entirely different arrangement of the song into the UK charts).  Also in 1960, The Three Bells (they later became The Satin Bells) tried with ‘Steady Date’, and the indie Triumph label fielded a trio of girl singers in the shape of Carol Jones, Laura Lee and Pat Reader; but only Laura Lee’s morbid cover of ‘Tell Tommy I Miss Him’ came close to success.  The Lana Sisters – a kind of hip version of The Kaye Sisters – were quite popular at this time, with regular appearances on BBC’s Drumbeat, and significant airplay on releases like ‘Buzzin’’, ‘Tell Him No’ and ‘You Got What It Takes’.  But they were ultimately unsuccessful and remain important only as a footnote to Dusty Springfield’s career, as it was her first professional singing job.

Things took a massive upswing in the Spring of 1961 when 14-year old Helen Shapiro exploded onto the scene with ‘Don’t Treat Me Like A Child’ and ‘You Don’t Know’, the latter a chart-topper and million-seller, following which Helenmania briefly broke out in the UK.  In her wake came more young hopefuls, most notably 16-year old Carol Deene (who charted with her first release, a cover of Sue Thompson’s ‘Sad Movies’), 17-year old Glenda Collins, 18-year old Patty Brook (who’d been discovered by Emile Ford), and – a something of a ‘senior citizen’ at 22 – Susan Maughan (whose ‘Mama Do The Twist’ picked up plenty of radio play that summer).

But ultimately, 1962 was the year that the new-look Brit Girl really made her mark.  Teenagers Hayley Mills and Louise Cordet both made the UK Top 20, with ‘Let’s Get Together’ and ‘I’m Just A Baby’ respectively (the former had already made the US Top 10), where they were soon joined by Susan Maughan (with her biggest hit, ‘Bobby’s Girl’, which reached No.3) and Maureen Evans (whose ‘Like I Do’ also reached No.3 – Maureen had registered a trio of minor chart entries a couple of years earlier).  Further down the charts, Carol Deene (with ‘Norman’, ‘Johnny Get Angry’, ‘James (Hold The Ladder Steady)’), The Vernons Girls (‘Lover Please’ and the utterly magnificent ‘Funny All Over’ and ‘You Know What I Mean’) and a revitalised Petula Clark weighed in with three hits each (Petula’s ‘Ya Ya Twist’ and ‘Chariot’ were both million-sellers, although the bulk of the sales were in Europe), whilst Valerie Mountain made the Top 30 with an EP, the soundtrack to the film ‘Some People’ and Julie Grant made her chart debut with a neat cover of The Drifters’ ‘Up On The Roof’.  Elsewhere, Rose Brennan (her ‘Tall Dark Stranger’ got plenty of radio play), Simone Jackson (ditto ‘Pop-Pop-Pop-Pie’), Patty Brook, Grazina, Pat Reader (her Joe Meek-produced ‘Cha-Cha On The Moon’ was a minor classic), Candy Sparling, Jan & Kelly (whose ‘Ooh! He Didn’t’ was a blatant Vernons Girls rip-off) and Kathy Kirby were unlucky not to join them in the charts, as they all released great discs during ’62.

Finally, that same year, Dusty Springfield enjoyed an unlikely US Top 20 hit as a member of The Springfields with the folksy ‘Silver Threads And Golden Needles’, a disc which sold over a million copies in the US alone.  A few months later they registered their biggest UK hit with ‘Island Of Dreams’ which reached No.5, spent six months on the UK charts, and was ultimately so successful that it hastened both the group’s demise and the start of Dusty’s spectacular solo career.

 

Groper Odson

Special thanks to Mick Patrick, Malcolm Baumgart and Lucky Parker.