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The Bliss of Girl Group Sounds

The Bliss of Girl Group Sounds
As anyone who has ever listened to the radio for more than 30 minutes knows, girl group songs have been mined throughout rock ‘n’ roll history for cover potential– from the Beatles to Blondie to more contemporary musicians, like Neko Case. And of course, girl groups are a constant on classic sixties rock stations. Beyond that, there is a global community of girl group music fans who bliss out to the stuff as well as buy and sell it online.

With “One Kiss Can Lead To Another: Girl Group Sounds, Lost & Found,” the first ever Girl Group boxed set, co-producers Sheryl Farber and Gary Stewart of Rhino Records are making music history. While there are girl group compilations, mostly out of the U.K, this is the first time ’60s girl groups are getting the box-set treatment. While “One Kiss” has received raves (both Blender and Uncut, the U.K. British film and music magazine, gave it five stars), the set also scored glittering reviews from Vanity Fair and the British newspaper The Guardian.

While girl group music, like opera, is often about the intensification of emotion, it’s also the sound of the feminine principle in action. e.g., recurring themes include the power of love, the need to nurture; the struggle to survive love gone wrong, and the strength and beauty involved in being emotionally vulnerable to another soul. The music on this set is powerful pop art that is beautifully produced, but when one considers how most music editors and rock critics are men and most music companies are controlled by men, it’s easy to see how and why it has been marginalized for so long.

One of the more soulful, soothing and definitely most intriguing music releases of 2005, “One Kiss” is an impassioned reminder that women not only hold up half the sky, but help keep the earth in loving balance.

“One Kiss” co-producer and Rhino Records Editorial Director Sheryl Farber recently spoke with Kyle Roderick about the bliss of compiling some of her favorite music and sharing it with the world.
KR: Why a girl groups box — what do you hope to accomplish with this set?

SF: Well, out there on the shelves we have boxes for disco, for doo wop, honkey-tonk, so many genres under the sun, and it always baffled me that ’60s girl groups hadn’t been given the box set treatment. This set will prove how much superb stuff there was coming out of girl groups and girl pop singers– soul, garage, rock, sunshine pop, Bachrach-style, etc– the variety is astounding. And these people were making great records even into the late ’60s, which is considered past the genre’s heyday.

The point is, there is so much MORE music than the big hits that get played on radio. Girl group music is a very, very deep well of art to draw on, and I feel so lucky to be able to bring this stuff to light. The music industry is still a very male province, but many men have reviewed this album and given it raves, so I feel very happy for the artists that this classic music and feminine sound is getting through again– and it’s reaching men as well as women.
KR: Do you have a personal connection to this music? Any good stories to share?

SF: When I was 10, my grandmother gave me a 45 of the Bobbettes’ “Mr. Lee” that she won in Bingo, and I was hooked! Then a fairly steady diet of Lesley Gore and Shangri-La’s records landed me a spot in a New York band called The Pussywillows, who were kind of a blend of the Buzzcocks and ’60s girl groups. Some of the covers we played were found on tapes of more obscure ’60s girl group records that had been circulating among New York musicians. Really great stuff that I’d never heard before, which got me more excited about the music. Some of those songs have even landed on this box.
KR: How did this collection come to be on Rhino? Talk a little about the process from conception to release.

SF: When I first got to Rhino, I knew I’d love to do something like this. I joined the Women’s Product Development team and tried to get something going that way, but it never really worked out. Then Gary Stewart brought me on as a co-producer on the two girl group hits packages, “Girl Group Greats” and “More Girl Group Greats.”

While doing that I brought up the possibility of a box. Back then he didn’t think it would be comprehensive enough without Phil Spector-produced tracks (they’re impossible to license from ABCKO), and even though I didn’t push it at the time, I knew there were still so much we could do, because there is just so much out there, some of which has been released on British comps. Gary brought me on as co-producer. We came up with the track list and then enlisted the assistance of a really great guy and huge girl group fan, John Grecco, who helped us research the tracks for licensing and publishing. Then David Ponak (licensing) and Natalie Richards (publishing) worked their magic.
KR: How were the tracks chosen? This is definitely richer and broader than a “greatest hits” treatment.

SF: Gary and I listened to thousands of songs, and out of those we went for the best. We took the favorites from our collections and got several enthusiasts to submit their picks. We wanted some diehard fans to have an input and investment in this project.

Then, since we were dealing with so much material, we had to be really organized about it. We met on several occasions and put the songs into categories: definites and maybes, and then listened to some more, and these lists would change shape from meeting to meeting. It was really a chiseling process, and one that I’m happy to say did not meet with much struggle.

Gary and I agreed on a lot, and then there were some he favored more than me and vice versa, so we brokered some deals: I’ll give you that track, if you give me this one. It was a great process that I trust yielded the best track list with most variety.
KR: What are two or three of your personal favorite cuts on the box?

SF: “I Never Dreamed” by The Cookies is one. It could’ve been huge, another, “Be My Baby,” it’s so beautiful. But Russ Titelman, one of the song’s writers, told me that Don Kirshner didn’t care for it, so it was never pushed.

Incidentally, when I contacted Russ about a James Taylor reissue, before the girl group box was even happening, I told him this was one of my favorite tracks of all time, and he was surprised I even knew about it. He told me, “It’s wild that you mention that, because I just put that on the other week and thought, I have never made a better record than this.” Now you must understand, Russ is a man who has worked with so many influential musicians: Eric Clapton, James Taylor, George Harrison, Randy Newman, just to name a few, so this is high praise indeed.

Also, “Train From Kansas City” by the Shangri Las has always floored me. Neko Case just did a great cover of it on her excellent, new-ish live record.
KR: Did you deal directly with any artists in putting this box together?

SF: That’s been one of the most blissful aspects of doing this. I’ve gotten to speak to some of my heroes and heroines about a time that they don’t get asked about often. And they’re all very excited about some of their lesser known music reaching a new audience. I finally got to talk to Lesley Gore, which was great. She was so candid. Margaret Ross Williams, the lead singer of The Cookies, sang to me on the phone, and of course her voice was as beautiful as ever. Moe Tucker gave me a great quote, and so did Debbie Harry.
KR: Is there anything on this set you’d characterize as a “guilty pleasure”?

SF: “Egyptian Shumba” by The Tammys is one of the weirdest records ever! Cairo meets Coney Island. Lots of squawking and yelping like they are in the jungle. It’s really fun.
KR: Tell me about the packaging.

SF: The box is a groovy black and white hatbox. I got the greatest feedback on the box from one of the artists on the set, Fanita James. Fanita sang in “The Blossoms” and sang “Good Good Lovin,” and she was also one of the singers on the classic television show, “Shindig.” Fanita told me, “I’m just so happy that you put the music in a hatbox because that’s how we used to carry our wigs to the gigs– in a hatbox.”

Also, the book looks like a diary. And Hugh Brown photographed ’60s powder compacts for the CDs.
KR: Anything noteworthy about the liner notes?

SF: We have notes written by famed music journalist Gerri Hirshey. And Gene Sculatti, one of the pioneers of the group who first started to re-appreciate this stuff in the ’70s, has also written notes. The track-by-track is written by Sheila Burgel, who runs this great Web site chachacharming.com. She’s incredible. She actually has almost every 45 that’s on this box!
KR: What was the most inspiring aspect of working on this box?

SF: Helping get these women’s songs and voices heard, and seeing how songs have such universal and timeless powers that they really, truly do live forever. I also have to say that the uniformly positive reviews are inspiring as well, since most of them were written by men!
“One Kiss Can Lead to Another: Girl Group Sounds, Lost & Found” can be ordered from www.amazon.com.

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