Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Late Great Lesley Gore

Lesley Gore, known for such hits as "It's My Party" and "You Don't Own Me", died yesterday at age 68. The cause was lung cancer.

Lesley Gore was born  Lesley Sue Goldstein on May 2 1946 in New York City. She grew up in Tenafly, New Jersey. She attended the Dwight School for Girls in Englewood, New Jersey. She was sixteen when her vocal coach had her make recordings. These recordings eventually reached legendary record producer Quincy Jones, then working as an A&R man at Mercury Records, who signed her to the label. Her first single, "It's My Party", was written by John Gluck, Wally Gold and Herb Weiner. It was initially recorded by Helen Shaprio in February 1963, but her version would not appear until her album Helen in Nashville was released that October. In the meantime Lesley Gore recorded her version, which was released in the United States in April 1963. "It's My Party" reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on June 1 1963.

 Lesley Gore's next single would a sequel to "It's My Party". While "It's My Party" related the heartbreak of a girl whose boyfriend disappears at a party with another girl, in "Judy's Turn to Cry" the girl gets her boyfriend back from Judy by making him jealous. "Judy's Turn to Cry" was written by Beverly Ross and Edna Lewis. Released in June 1963 just as "It's My Party" was at the top of the charts,  "Judy's Turn to Cry" proved to be a hit, peaking at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was also in June 1963 that Miss Gore's first album, I'll Cry if I Want To, was released.

Lesley Gore followed "Judy's Turn to Cry" with the single "She's a Fool", which peaked at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100. Her next song would prove to be her second biggest hit. "You Don't Own Me" was written by John Madara and David White and released in December 1963. The song peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, kept from the #1 spot by the phenomenally successful "I Want to Hold Your Hand" by The Beatles. In the song a young woman tells her boyfriend that he does not own her and to let her live her life the way that she wants. The song would become regarded as a feminist anthem. Sadly, it would also be Lesley Gore's last top ten single.  Both "She's a Fool" and "You Don't Own Me" appeared on her album, Lesley Gore Sings of Mixed-Up Hearts (released in November 1963).

In 1964 Lesley Gore released the albums Boys, Boys, Boys and Girls Talk. She also released the singles "That's the Way Boys Are" (which peaked at #12 on the Billboard Hot 100), "I Don't Wanna Be a Loser" (which peaked at #37), and "Maybe I Know" (which peaked at #14). At the peak of her success Lesley Gore appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Andy Williams Show, Shindig, and Hullabaloo. She also appeared in the films The T.A.M.I. Show (1964), The Girls on the Beach (1965), and Ski Party (1965).

Unfortunately by 1965 Lesley Gore's career had gone into decline. Only two of her singles from that year hit the top forty of the Billboard Hot 100:  "Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows" (which peaked at #13) and "My Town, My Guy and Me" (which peaked at #32). Her album, My Town, My Guy & Me, peaked at #120 on the Billboard albums chart. An appearance on the phenomenally successful TV series Batman (in the episode "That Darn Catwoman"/"Scat, Darn Catwoman!") would drive her single "California Nights" all the way to #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1967. It would be her last major hit. Despite releasing several more singles throughout the late Sixties and into the Seventies, she never again reached the Billboard Hot 100.  Before her appearance on Batman, she had previously appeared as herself on an episode of The Donna Reed Show.

While her recording career was still taking place, Miss Gore attended  Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y., majoring in English and American literature. She would begin writing her own songs after being dropped by Mercury. Her 1972 album Someplace Else Now (released by MoWest Records) contained songs entirely written by her. She released three more albums: Love Me by Name in 1976, The Canvas Can Do Miracles in 1982, and Ever Since in 2005. She wrote songs for the 1980 film Fame.  "Out Here on My Own", co-written with her brother Michael, was a hit for Irene Cara and peaked at #19 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also received an Oscar nomination for Best Music, Original Song.

Later in her career Lesley Gore continued to appear on television, on such shows as American Bandstand, Dinah!, The Midnight Special, Sha Na NaMurphy Brown, and Hollywood Squares. She was the host of In the Life, a PBS newsmagazine series devoted to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trangendered individuals (Miss Gore had come out as a lesbian in 2005). In the late Nineties she also appeared on Broadway in Smokey Joe's Cafe. In June 2011 Lesley Gore was one of the headlines (along with Ronnie Spector and LaLa Brooks) at She's Got the Power, a Lincoln Centre concert dedicated to the girl groups and girl singers of the Sixties.

While the height of Lesley Gore's career was relatively brief (from 1963 to about 1965), there is a reason she is still remembered today. She had an incredible voice, one that was blessed not only with great musical range, but great emotional range as well. In an era known for its girl singers, Lesley Gore had among the most expressive of voices. And while she did not write any of the hits of her early career, Lesley Gore was a good songwriter. Her song "Out Here on My Own"  was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song with good reason.

Beyond her talent, however, Lesley Gore may be best remembered because any many respects she marked a turning point for female singers in the United States. In 1963 most girl singers were still singing about how great their boyfriends were or how their boyfriends had broken their hearts. They were singing songs that very much reflected the view of women during the era. To wit, it was the year of "He's So Fine" by The Chiffons, "Be My Baby" by The Ronettes, and "When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes" by The Supremes. "It's My Party" turned all of this on its head. Yes, it was a song about teenage heartbreak, but it was also a song in which a young woman made it clear she was going to express her feelings regardless of social decorum. "You Don't Own Me" defied that era's expectations of young women even more. While other girl singers sang of their loyalty to their boyfriends, with "You Don't Own Me" Lesley Gore made it clear she was very much her own girl. That it was released on the eve of the second wave of feminism in the United States is perhaps no coincidence. Gifted with an great voice and later becoming a good songwriter, Lesley Gore was very much a trendsetter before she even turned 18. She represented a sharp break from the many girl signers before her.

1 comment:

Paula said...

I'm sad to hear she has passed. "You Don't Own Me" is one of my all-time favorite songs. Don't know what you'll make of this, but I always thought she was English for some reason.