03 May 2008

Lesley Gore (Part One)

Classic Lesley

Queen Of The Rock 'n' Roll Tango!
How Lesley Gore, Quincy Jones and Klaus Ogermann
Created Habanera Rock Royalty
by Donny Jacobs
The tree of Rock'n'Roll has three roots: Country and Western, Rhythm and Blues, and Latin music. That third root is often forgotten about. Judging by the deracinated product churned out by most of today's Rock groups, it's all but disappeared from the genre. Turn on a Rock radio station in 2008, and you can go hours without hearing anything remotely Latin! In the 1950s and '60s, though, rockers routinely served up their product with a side of salsa picante.

What historian John Storm Roberts calls The Latin Tinge reverberates strongly through any number of seminal Rock records. You can hear it in Johnny Otis's "Willie And The Hand Jive", The Diamonds' "Little Darlin'", The Jarmels' "Little Bit Of Soap", The Impalas' "I Ran All The Way Home", Elvis Presley's "Hound Dog", "Big Hunk O'Love", "His Latest Flame" and others far too numerous to mention. The rhythm foundation for most of these sides was the Cuban habanera, which Latin and Jazz musicians recognize as the Tango Beat. Imported via México City around 1870, North Americans first heard it in a hypnotic tune called "La Paloma". By the early 1910s, it was throbbing beneath the melodies of Dixieland favorites like WC Handy's "St. Louis Blues." A North-American tango craze lasting into the 1920s spread its influence even farther. Once the habanera had lodged itself inside American Pop music consciousness, it made a permanent home there; the rhythm persevered through the Big Band era and took part in the musical miscegenation that spawned Rock'n'Roll.

Baby Habanera Rock was probably born in the Gulf Coast region where Black, White and Mexican musicians have interacted for well over a century. However, she appears to have been incubated in the New York studios of Atlantic Records. That's where producers Ahmet Ertegun, Jesse Stone and Jerry Wexler got into the habit of Latinizing backing tracks for Ray Charles, Ruth Brown, Clyde McPhatter's Drifters and other acts from their '50s roster. A few years later, mambo loving A & R men like Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, George Goldner, Bob Crewe, Al Nevins and Bert Berns kicked off a bonafide Latin Rock craze. Their exotic beat concerto productions for such artists as the post-McPhatter Drifters, Ben E. King, Neil Sedaka, Ral Donner, Jay and The Americans, Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons and Solomon Burke were wildly popular. These hits not only fused Argentinean tango with Rock, but also variations of Cuban bolero, rhumba and cha-cha-chá, Brazilian baião, bossa nova and samba, Spanish flamenco and Dominican merengue. By 1965, boogaloo rhythms from Spanish Harlem had found their way into the mix.

Judging by the evidence of best-sellers like La Vern Baker's "Tweedle Dee" (1955), The Bobbettes' "Mr. Lee" (1957) and Sarah Vaughn's "Broken-Hearted Melody"(1959), female artists picked up on the salsa kick early on. Even so, men dominated the trend until 1960, when Girl Groups started crashing the charts. The sound seemed tailormade for femme ensembles, and their producers (Phil Spector in particular) exploited it mercilessly on such platters as "He's A Rebel", "Be My Baby", "Then He Kissed Me", "I Adore Him", "I Have A Boyfriend" and "Sally, Go 'Round The Roses". If the habanera stylings of the early '60s triggered a musical battle of the sexes, then one side was handicapped; when it came to racking up hits with Rock'n'Roll tangos, it seemed to take a group of Shirelles or Crystals or Ronettes to do what a Bobby Rydell or Gene Pitney or Tony Orlando could do solo.

Women soloists like Doris Troy ("Just One Look") or Jan Bradley ("Mama Didn't Lie") did occasionally break through with one-off Latinized chart records, but there was only one female solo act who repeatedly met male hitmakers mano a mano on Habanera Rock turf. That act came in the form of a petite, seventeen-year-old, strawberry blonde Jersey girl who sported an adorable flip hairdo. This girl became the American counterpart of Libertad Lamarque, Latin America's Queen of Tango. Lesley Gore was Queen of Rock 'n' Roll Tango, and the proof can be found in the records she made.

Discovered by Louis Armstrong's longtime manager Joe Glaser, Lesley was personally signed to Mercury Records by the label's president, Irving Green. In short order, she was paired with an up-and-coming arranger/producer named Quincy Jones. That's right, the mastermind behind Michael Jackson's Thriller album cut his A & R teeth on '60s Girlpop! Mutual love of Jazz singers forged a bond between the Black bandleader and the Russian Jewish teenager; they developed a lifelong mentor/protegée relationship. She took to calling him "Q", as his Jazz musician friends did, and he christened her "Li'l Bits". The pet name conveyed his affection for her, but affectionate regard didn't stop Jones from driving her hard in the recording studio. She'd later comment that " if Quincy didn’t see the veins popping in my neck(when I sang), he wouldn’t be happy!”

Jones discovered that his new protegée sounded best with an edge in her singing voice, and he endeavored to bring out that edge as often as possible. Those annoyed, double-tracked vocal readings gave Lesley Gore hits like "She's A Fool", "I Don't Wanna Be A Loser", "Hey! Now" and the superb "You Don't Know Me" an extra kick in the pants that helped them scale the charts. Also helpful were the trendy, tango-tinged arrangements of Klaus Ogermann, a veteran of Drifters and Ben E. King record dates; the German-born conductor numbered among the top Habanera Rock arrangers working in New York City. (By the time he began arranging for Quincy Jones, Ogermann had Anglicized the spelling of his name to "Claus Ogerman", but the original spelling is used in this essay.) Lesley had little trouble adapting to his tricky Latin time signatures, having grown up in a house filled with Latin Jazz records. Her parents were mambo maniacs!

Today, Lesley Gore is counted among the handful of women stars who contributed significantly to Rock'n'Roll during its infancy. At the peak of her career from the early to mid-1960s, she was arguably the most visible female performer on the Rock scene. She won numerous Best Female Vocalist awards and teen popularity polls. By popular demand, she appeared on stage, on TV and in the movies. Her very first hit, "It's My Party", scored a Grammy Nomination for Best Rock'n'Roll Record, and her later musical achievements were honored by Cashbox and Record World magazines. In recent years, she's been designated one of Rock's Legendary Ladies. Yet the legendary Latin orientation of her music has never been acknowledged by Rock historians. It's time to take a fresh look at what they've overlooked.

30 March 1963
Bell Sound Studios, New York City

Lesley Gore
A Quincy Jones Production
Arranged and Conducted by Klaus Ogermann
Engineered by Eddie Smith
5584 Hello, Young Lover (Paul Anka)
5585 Something Wonderful (Oscar Hammerstein II-Richard Rodgers)
5586 It's My Party (Wally Gold-John Gluck, Jr.-Herb Weiner)
5587 Danny (Paul Anka)

The very first Rock'n'Roll tango Lesley Gore is listed as having sung is also one of her finest. "Hello, Young Lover" is Paul Anka's sassy rebuke to a teenage Romeo; Klaus Ogermann loads it with sneering brass accents and stumbling drum beats. The hesistating tempo would be tough for most novice recording artists, but Lesley handles it like a pro. As for the lyrics, she seems to relish their aggressive tone and rattles them off like machine gun bullets.

As good as "Young Lover" is, the centerpiece of this maiden recording session is, naturally, the song everyone's hopes are riding on: "It's My Party". Lesley's controlled hysterics sell this tale of a débutante betrayed by her boyfriend at her own coming-out party; of the four selections recorded at this date, this one shouts "teen angst 1963" the loudest. Young America will respond to the cry by launching the single mix on a rocket ride to the top of the charts. First, though, Quincy Jones must have the disc rush-released in order to beat an impending cover version by The Crystals. "It's My Party" isn't Lesley's best rock-a-tango performance, but it will become her most famous one.

Also recorded at this session is a rather lightweight Anka ditty called "Danny" (destined for the flipside "It's My Party") and a rather tentative take on "Something Wonderful", a love theme from Rodgers and Hammerstein's smash hit 1951 musical The King And I. Both songs will feature on Lesley's third Mercury album.

14 May 1963
A & R Recording, New York City

Lesley Gore
A Quincy Jones Production
Arranged and Conducted by Klaus Ogermann
Engineered by Phil Ramone
5693 The Party's Over (Betty Comden-Adolph Green-Jule Styne)
5694 Judy's Turn To Cry (Edna Lewis-Beverly Ross)
5695 Just Let Me Cry (Mark Barkan-Ben Raleigh)
5696 Misty (Johnny Burke-Erroll Garner)

Seldom can an artist score a follow-up hit with an answer song to her previous single. When she does, she risks getting stereotyped as a novelty act, with subsequent singles being met with diminished interest from the public. Lesley Gore avoided this career pitfall only because millions of teenage girls longed to hear her take revenge on Judy, the boyfriend-stealing rival of "It's My Party." That doesn't change the fact that "Judy's Turn To Cry" was, and is, a highly derivative record.

Had the sequel strategy not panned out, Mercury had an ace in the hole ready to exploit on the single's flipside: Ben Raleigh and Mark Barkan's "Just Let Me Cry". La Milonguita (that's Ms. Gore to you) will mine the catalog of this team consistently during the first year of her recording career; for her trouble, she'll be rewarded with a trio of best-selling 45s. Raleigh/Barkan songs, all demo'd for Lesley by Girl Group empress Ellie Greenwich, will also feature on her flipsides and albums.

"Just Let Me Cry" is her first foray into their song treasury, and a winning one; with a glossy blend of Pop orchestration, Blues-tinged vocals and jerky Latin rhythms, it's the quintessential Rock'n'Roll tango. All it would've needed was a pronoun change to fit snugly into the repertoire of The Drifters or Ben E. King. If you don't quite know what the Tango Beat is, you can hear it clapped out starkly on the bridge of this song. This tasty number won't chart, but its high quality will nevertheless warrant inclusion on Lesley's 1965 Golden Hits collection. For now, it holds forth as a cut on her debut album.

With crying firmly established as her main theme, Gore, Jones and Ogermann conceive a thematic LP called I'll Cry If I Want To. Accordingly, tearjerkers like "The Party's Over" and "Misty" are shortlisted for the track line-up. Lesley responds warmly to the jazzy flavor of this material; Jazz is the music she feels the most affinity for, and Klaus Ogermann's sophisticated arrangements immerse her in her favorite idiom.

18 May 1963
A & R Recording, New York City

Lesley Gore
A Quincy Jones Production
Arranged and Conducted by Klaus Ogermann
Engineered by Phil Ramone
5697 Cry Me A River (Arthur Hamilton)
5698 I Would (Kurt Felz-Edna Lewis-Werner Scharfenberger)
5699 No More Tears Left To Cry (Mark Barkan-Sandy Baron)
5700 Cry And You Cry Alone (Hilda Earnhart)

With a song penned by one-half of her most favored songwriting team, Lesley Gore waxes her first great tango performance. The dramatic "No More Tears Left To Cry" pits the Teen Tango Queen's wailing double-tracked voice against solemn military band-style drum rolls, harpsichord trills and the delicate triangle percussion that will become a Klaus Ogermann trademark. Once you've heard this cut, you know that this singer has found her stylistic niche.

The other standout from this session is an infectious bossa nova reading of Julie London's 1955 hit "Cry Me A River". Lesley's version is just as sexy as London's, but in a different way; where the flame-haired actress's voice smouldered, La Milonguita's dulcet tones float flirtatiously around the melody like a sliver of diaphanous fabric. This Grade A make-out song will be one of the highlights of her début album.

Her cool and detached take on "Cry And You Cry Alone" is pleasant, but memorable only for the touch of vocal melisma she layers over a stylish organ coda. The climate changes from frosty to humid when she vocalizes to "I Would", a German song that lyricist Edna Lewis translates as an Arabian nights musical fantasy. Herr Ogermann consolidates the desert motif with keening Middle Eastern cymbals, evocative sitar accents and a gently loping tempo suitable for camel trains. Session notes don't reveal whether or not Lesley donned harem slippers before singing this number, but it certainly would've been appropriate!

23 May 1963
A & R Recording, New York City

Lesley Gore
A Quincy Jones Production
Arranged and Conducted by Klaus Ogermann
Engineered by Phil Ramone
5701 I Understand (Kim Gannon-Mabel Wayne)
5702 Cry (Churchill Kohlmann)
5703 Sunshine, Lollipops And Rainbows

(Marvin Hamlisch-Howard Liebling)
5704 What Kind Of Fool Am I? (Leslie Bricusse-Anthony Newley)

At this session, the remainder of material for I'll Cry If I Want To is captured. The standout track is Klaus Ogermann's slow tango interpretation of "I Understand," a Sweet Swing number originally waxed by Jimmy Dorsey's Orchestra in 1941. The background music is unobstrusive, but the subtle blend of slip-note piano, Jazz guitar, triangle and castanets still leaves a strong impression on the listener. For her part, L'il Bits imbues Kim Gannon's lyric with as much sex appeal as a seventeen-year-old high school coed could possibly muster. It's a marvelously sensual performance, and very much geared toward an adult audience.

A completely different mood is achieved on "Sunshine, Lollipops And Rainbows", a joyous meditation on new love that's unmistakably youth-oriented. Ogermann sets the song to a breakneck conga rhythm that's so fast, you wonder when Lesley had time to breathe! This giddy number contrasts too much with the forthcoming album's cocktail lounge ambiance, and it's definitely not in sync with the melancholy theme; for those reasons, "Sunshine" is held back from immediate release. However, a little over two years from now, it will score the first major chart hit for future Chorus Line composer Marvin Hamlisch.

10 July 1963
A & R Recording, New York City

Lesley Gore
A Quincy Jones Production
Arranged and Conducted by Klaus Ogermann
Engineered by Phil Ramone
29116 If That's The Way You Want It (Edna Lewis-Gloria Shayne)
29117 She's A Fool (Mark Barkan-Ben Raleigh)
29118 I'll Make It Up To You (Edna Lewis-Gloria Shayne)
29119 The Old Crowd (Gerry Goffin-Carole King)
29120 I Struck A Match (Artie Resnick-Bobby Scott)
29121 Consolation Prize (Edna Lewis-Gloria Shayne)

"She's A Fool", the breakout hit from this session, is so hot, it immediately lights a fire under Mercury Records' promotion staff. Their eagerness to sell this rumbling rock-a-merengue track to radio results in an unmixed master being pressed on vinyl. A recall of several thousand copies will ensue, but nothing can stop this juggernaut of a Raleigh/Barkan song from taking its rightful place in Billboard's Top Five.

Goffin and King's "Old Crowd", which will appear the following year in a bouncy version by The Cookies, claims the flipside and is notable in retrospect for its rocksteady rhythm. It's actually a variation of the habanera with emphasis placed on the last three beats. Klaus Ogermann probably didn't have Caribbean music in mind when he wrote the arrangement, but these kinds of records (other examples include Lou Christie's "The Gypsy Cried" and "Two Faces Have I") likely formed part of the North American music mix that penetrated Jamaica during the early '60s. Some musicologists believe they had a direct influence on the development of Reggae; if so, then the Tango Beat facilitated Bob Marley's rise to international fame.

That reliable Cuban lick rocks the other four selections waxed at this date, and of those, "I Struck A Match", "If That's The Way You Want It" and "Consolation Prize" are all strong single candidates. "Prize" is an especially formidable tango rocker, and a unique one, too; where most Girlpop of this era made girls the victims of male duplicity, this tune turns the tables. It presents its female protagonist as a brazen manipulator of men. Lesley felt that Edna Lewis's lyrics portrayed girls in an unflattering light, and may have insisted that her recording of "Consolation Prize" not be released. What a shame, if she did! Her distaste for the song's premise notwithstanding, she plays the "b*tch" with palpable zeal; her voice sounds deliciously mocking on the chorus. Not only would this song have broken for a hit, it also would've obliterated the sweet débutante image she had at the time and re-cast her as the Bette Davis of Teen Pop!

21 September 1963
A & R Recording, New York City

Lesley Gore
A Quincy Jones Production
Arranged and Conducted by Klaus Ogermann
Engineered by Phil Ramone
29360 Run, Bobby, Run (Mark Barkan-Ben Raleigh)
29361 Young And Foolish (Albert Hague-Arnold Horwitt)
29362 Fools Rush In (Rube Bloom-Johnny Mercer)
29363 My Foolish Heart (Victor Young-Ned Washington)
break in naster numbers
That's The Way The Ball Bounces

(Marvin Hamlisch-Howard Liebling)
29372 After He Takes Me Home (Edna Lewis-Gloria Shayne)
29373 You Don't Own Me (Johnny Madara-David White)
29374 Time To Go (Mark Barkan-Ben Raleigh)
29375 You Name It, He's Got It! (Norman Blagman-Edna Lewis)

The Jazz bent of Lesley's debut album was unique; for the remainder of the 1960s, her voyages into the world of long-playing records will be decidedly youth-oriented. This is especially true of Lesley Gore Sings Of Mixed-Up Hearts, her second LP. It features 95% new material, culled from some of the hottest songwriting teams of the day: Goffin and King, Shayne and Lewis, Madara and White, and of course, Raleigh and Barkan. This productive album date yields a bumper crop of gorgeously-produced sides.

Jones and Ogermann charter a Latin-American cruise for La Milonguita that takes her to the lands of cha-cha-chá(""Fools Rush In"), pasodoble("Time To Go") and bossa nova (the sublime "That's The Way The Ball Bounces") before landing her back in tango territory(the exciting "Run, Bobby, Run"). Everything recorded today is suitable for inclusion on the new LP, but Mercury's A & R executives evidently hear one cha-cha too many in the proposed track line-up. Edna Lewis's swaggering "You Name It, He's Got It!" will be saved for the next album, while her wistful "After He Takes Me Home" will remain unissued for the next 31 years.

One song they didn't dare consign to obscurity was the session's sole waltz-time number, "You Don't Own Me." Legend has it that its composers, Johnny Madara and David White, briefly became Lesley Gore stalkers! Convinced that she was the best artist to record their latest collaboration, they resolved to play it for her by any means necessary. The pair eventually cornered Lesley at Grossinger's Hotel, and reportedly had to chase her into a poolside cabaña before she'd consent to listen to their tune.

Little did they know how ready the Teen Tango Queen was for what they had to offer. She saw in "You Don't Own Me" a vehicle for distancing herself from superficial fare like "It's My Party"; its strident message was anything but disposable. Explaining her decision to record it decades later, she'd be given to understatement: "This was a song that allowed me a little bit more freedom, vocally", she said. The vocal she cut was about freedom, all right! The freedom of a young woman to control her own image and behavior. La Milonguita's voice bears down on the lyric like a flaming missile: Don't tell me what to do!/Don't tell me what to say!/And please, when I go out with you/Don't put me on display! Her bravura performance encapsulates the anger of every girl who's ever been objectified, patronized and/or bossed around by her boyfriend.

When this revolutionary track was paired on a single with Raleigh and Barkan's "Run, Bobby, Run", everyone involved knew they had a chart-topping record. "You Don't Own Me" actually fell one position short of #1 on Billboard's Hot 100, but for all intents and purposes, it did hit the top spot. It also became her signature tune in concert, and in subsequent years, the song would be recognized as an early feminist anthem. Its inclusion on Mixed-Up Hearts didn't translate into particularly brisk album sales, but it did contribute toward making that platter the best Lesley Gore album Mercury Records would ever release.

(Here's an interesting side note about "Young And Foolish", another great song off that album: Albert Hague, its co-writer, will become an actor and star in the 1980s TV series "Fame". That series, of course, was inspired by the successful movie of the same title, which lists Lesley's cousin Christopher as screenwriter, her brother Michael as music director, and Lesley herself as lyricist for two of the film's production numbers.)

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