Girl Groups Week No1: Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? - the Shirelles
Which to begin with, demands a definition.
People often use the term girl groups to describe groups like Bananarama and Spice Girls and since then any all-girl singing group with more than two members. Of course they are using the terms wrongly.
Girl Groups was a phenomenon that took place in the US in the late 50's and early to mid 60's and was a result of changing social, historical and musical criteria.
The fifties saw the breaking through into mainstream US teen culture of black music through the work of pioneering deejays such as Alan Freed and Wolfman Jack and through early rock and roll (Chuck Berry, Little Richard etc) and doo-wop. Doo-wop was a very democratic form, born on street corners where young black men would sing and do a turn without instruments. A conscious black riposte to the outmoded but still popular barber's shop quartets of middle aged white male society, the typical doo-wop group comprised lead tenor, bass, tenor, alto, soprano and these were a massive success after the commercial success of "In the Still of the Night" in 1956 by the Five Satins. Doowop was democratic (anyone could do it), part of the youth culture in that it was yearning, romantic, hip and dangerous (ie black or latino) and distinctly urban.
The along came the Vietnam War in 1955, and with it, conscription. By 1958 the first girl group to merit the name, the Shirelles, released its first single "I met him on a Sunday". Girl groups were the girl equivalent of doo-wop groups, but with the natural drawback of a much narrower voice range than the males, giving essentially a one pitch sound. Previous all women singing groups like the Beverly and Andrews sisters were associated with the dance band sound and also with the pro-establishment dated grown-up morale boosting of the second world war.
Instead, now you had a cold ward / Vietnam war environment breeding a new rebellious female teenager dabbling in (horror of horrors) black music and trying to stay out late at night while retaining her honour in the face of pleas from young men on the eve of departure to Vietnam.
This is not just pop, this is teen social problems, this is being strong, this is rebellion, this is tenderness, this is vulnerability, this is growing up fast.
The first ever girl-groups record "I met him on a Sunday" ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EXB_muHAhx0 )
contains the main components of the girl groups but also I love the fact that the original version feels so sad and tacky, possibly recorded in someone's garage, like it should, the fossil of the first flowering of a new and original artform. They sound nervous at first, vulnerable, but with homespun street cornery handclapping and finger flicking, with a doo wop chant "doo ron, de ron de ron, de poppa doo ron de ron de ron.....
Well I met him on a Sunday
and I missed him on Monday
but I found him on Tuesday
well I dated him on Wednesday
and I kissed him on Thursday
and he didn't come Friday
when he showed up Saturday
I said "Bye bye baby"
She risks all to give him a kiss on Thursday (second date) and when he doesn't show the next day, that's it! She's not going to fall for that twice, Bye Bye Baby! Here is the main girl group theme in a nutshell: the lives and character of young American women of female in the fifties. Vulnerable, young but tough with street nouse.
Then the bombshell: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cnPlJxet_ac which sets the girl group bar very high indeed:
Two year's later an 18 year old Carole King (the best of the three great female songwriters of the period Cynthia Weil and Ellie Greenwich being the others) is writing for them and pens "Will You Love Me tomorrow" which asks the same questions with more commitment, passion and yearning. One can feel the momentousness of the question weighing her down, this is an extraordinary jump in what we are used to in songs up till now, teenage angst but a really tough decision and overt references to sex:
"is this a lasting treasure
or just a moment's please?......
Tell me now, and I won't ask again,
will you still love me tomorrow?"
and you know from her voice she's going ahead with it, and you know he's going to say yes whatever the real answer is, or will be. And there is that age-old dilemma (especially then) - if you say yes too easily, will he think you are a slut, if you say no will you lose him? Lead singer Shirley Owens strikes the perfect note between innocence and worldly wisdom, making the song break your heart every time you hear it.