Starlets, Halos and Jersey Girl Jive
The Amazing True Story of An Incredible
Morphing Girl Group
by Donny Jacobs
He went away, and you came around
And bothered me every night.
When I wouldn't go out with you,
You said things that weren't very nice!*
When you hear that famous intro coming out of your iPod, recognition hits you in an instant. You're about to hear one of the world's most requested and broadcast Rock 'n' Roll songs: "My Boyfriend's Back!" That deliciously vengeful Bubblegum hit made famous by The Angels 'way back in the summer of 1963. It's arguably the flagship song of 1960s Girlpop, the one number that simply has to appear on any Girl Group compilation that claims to be definitive. How'd this legendary recording come to be? The story behind "My Boyfriend's Back" is actually the story of two singing groups, one male and one female; an incident at a New York soda fountain; and the happy accidentof being at the right place at the right time. Curious? Well, read on . . .
Bob Feldman and Jerry Goldstein were teenage Brooklyn neighbors who, by the late 1950s, had been bitten hard by the Doo-Wop bug. They were just as likely to break into song they were to engage in an afternoon game of softball. As Feldman told the story to interviewer Gil Asakawa, the whole neighborhood was a scene out of an M-G-M technicolor musical: "We used to doo-wop a lot on streetcorners," he said, "and a police car would screech to the corner. A cop would jump out, throw his hat down, and he was our first tenor!" Growing up in an atmosphere like that, it seems only natural that the two boys would begin writing songs together.
Their first taste of professional songwriting came when pioneering Rock 'n' Roll deejay Alan Freed hired them to pen the theme song for his daily TV show, "The Big Beat". From that auspicious beginning, they began cutting demo records and licensing them to record companies. Eventually, Feldman and Goldstein recorded sides for Columbia and Musicor Records as Bob and Jerry. In late 1960, the duo met Richard Gottehrer while hawking their songs to a Manhattan publisher. Noodling around on a piano, they discovered that Gottehrer's writing style meshed perfectly with theirs; shortly thereafter, they decided to make a go of it as a threesome. In time, Feldman, Goldstein and Gottehrer established themselves as independent writer/producers: Their names appear on numerous singles by such early '60s stars as Chubby Checker, Freddy Cannon, Little Eva, Bobby Vee and Pat Boone. By 1963, F-G-G had signed on with Blackwood Music as staff writers. However, their tenure at Blackwood would be brief. A girl group called The Angels was the reason why.
Not unlike many other teen vocal groups of the period, The Angels were family-based. The core of the group was Barbara "Bibbs" and Phyllis "Jiggs" Allbut, two enterprising sisters from Orange, New Jersey. And, like Bob Feldman and Jerry Goldstein, Rock 'n' Roll was in their blood. Singing in their school choir wasn't enough to satisfy their love of performing. "(We) got two other local girls together, and started a group," recalled Jiggs in Alan Betrock's 1982 chronicle Girl Groups: The Story Of A Sound. They named themselves The Starlets. The recruits were bubbly, blonde Bernadette Carroll, and sultry Gina Lollobrigida look-alike Linda Malzone. Linda became the group's lead vocalist, but Bernadette's contribution was just as significant, if not more so; she introduced the group to its first producer, Tom DeCillis.
The Starlets' first commercial recording session yielded a cover of the old Johnny Mercer standard "PS I Love You", backed with "Where Is My Love Tonight?", a Rock ballad written and arranged by Bibbs. The single was sold to Astro Records, a Newark, New Jersey label. While Astro knew how to sell Jazz sides well enough, the company was clueless about the teen Pop market. Tom DeCillis took matters into his own hands; he cut a distribution deal with Canadian-American Records, and the disc (Astro 202) started to make some noise. For two weeks in the Summer of 1960, it flirted with Billboard's Bubbling Under chart, peaking for a regional East Coast hit at #106. "It did OK locally," Jiggs acknowledged, "but it actually served as a demo for us to bring around to major record companies."
The majors didn't take the bait, so The Starlets busied themselves singing background sessions for other local acts. This side gig would prove to be a steady source of income for the Allbut sisters for years to come. Meanwhile, the group's composition changed for the first (but certainly not last) time. Tom DeCillis' wife introduced Jiggs and Bibbs to platinum blonde bombshell Linda Jankowski, who replaced Linda Malzone when she decided to leave. Soon afterward, DeCillis severed his professional ties with The Starlets and took Bernadette Carroll away with him. With his production support, she launched a solo career that culminated in 1963 with the mid-charting cult favorite "Party Girl"(Laurie 3238). However, Bernadette remained an unofficial member of The Starlets, often appearing on their background vocal dates.
Soon enough, though, The Starlets would be no more. A session musician that Jiggs and Bibbs knew arranged for them to meet Gerry Granahan. The ex-lead singer of Dickey Doo and The Don'ts was now a producer and co-owner of an independent label. After hearing The Starlets sing, he was impressed enough to offer them a recording contract. By now, Jiggs was in teacher's college, and Bibbs' budding skills as a musical arranger had gained her acceptance to the prestigious Juilliard School. However, academic considerations proved no match for the chance to become Rock stars! Crossing their fingers for luck, Jiggs, Bibbs and Linda Jankowski abandoned other pursuits to put all their time and energy into being successful Caprice Records vocal artists.
The song they auditioned for Granahan had been a Rock ballad version of "'Til", a number that had first charted in April 1957 for Percy Faith's Orchestra and Chorus. Bibbs had written the attractive vocal arrangement. Sensing a potential hit, Granahan immediately booked a studio date with music director Bob "Hutch" Davie. "'Til" (Caprice 107) would be the girls' first release under their new name, The Angels, and their recording of it was truly angelic. Linda's emotion-charged, heart-on-a-sleeve lead voice, Jiggs and Bibbs' ethereal harmonies, and a majestic string section conducted by Hutch fueled a ride up the charts to #14 Pop in September of 1961.
THE ANGELS CIRCA 1961:
BARBARA ALLBUT, LINDA JANKOWSKI,
Their next release, "Cry, Baby, Cry" (Caprice 112) was even stronger. The Allbut sisters bleated pitiably in the background like lost lambs while Linda Jankowski came across like a juvenile Johnnie Ray. Everyone expected it to do as well or better than "'Til", but this magic platter stalled near the bottom of the Top Forty. Subsequent singles charted even lower, or not at all; the most successful was a cover of Doris Day's 1958 smash "Everybody Loves A Lover". Issued as Caprice 116, it peaked at a heartbreaking #103. An album, And The Angels Sing (Caprice 1001), became a collector's rarity almost as soon at it hit the shelves. The Angels were more in demand than ever, but in the midst of promotional appearances, they discovered their Caprice recording career gone cold and lifeless. "Nothing much happened (after "'Til")," Jiggs confirmed twenty years later. "(So) we cut demos for people, sang backup on a lot of records, did commercials, and radio promos, including a couple for (deejay) Murray The K on WINS."
It was at WINS Radio that the sisters met Peggy Santiglia, who also sang jingles for the station. This girl was bursting at the seams with talent: She was a budding actress who'd landed a bit part on Broadway in Jule Styne's musical satire Do-Re-Mi; a budding songwriter who'd penned Murray The K's "Submarine Races" theme song; and a Girl Group veteran who'd paid her dues in a Belleville, New Jersey trio called The Delicates. With her girlfriends Arlene Lanzotti and Denise Ferri, Peggy had cut sides with producer Don Costa, harmonized with singer/songwriter Jeff Barry, and toured for a summer with teen idol Paul Anka.
THE DELICATES CIRCA 1959:
DENISE FERRI, PEGGY SANTIGLIA,
Peggy's resumé impressed Jiggs and Barbara, but what they dug most was her cool, confident singing style. They were also pleased to learn that she was a Jersey native, like themselves. When a contractual dispute led Linda Jankowski to embark on a solo career near the end of 1962, the Allbut sisters recruited the pretty brunette as their new lead. Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein and Richard Gottehrer produced demos, The Angels sang them, and both trios were bouncing in and out of New York recording studios; it was inevitable that they work together sooner or later. They did so in the Spring of 1963, and this led to F-G-G producing the girls' final single for Caprice Records. That was the situation when Bob Feldman, enjoying an egg cream one afternoon in a Brooklyn soda fountain, got the idea for a great new song. It literally came screaming through the front door!
As Feldman related the story to Gil Asakawa, a young girl ran into the store and told off a startled boy who was sitting at one of the other tables. "(She screamed) 'My boyfriend's back and you're gonna be in trouble! You've been saying things about me in school that aren't true . . . he's gonna kick the (expletive deleted) out of you!' I grabbed a napkin, and started writing down what she was saying." Later, he took the hurriedly scrawled lyrics to his business partners. Over the next three months, the trio would tighten up the concept, and craft a melody to hang it on.
Then, in June, they booked a session with The Angels, who cut a demo of "My Boyfriend's Back" that was no less than fantastic. Blackwood Music subsequently earmarked the rowdy handclapper for The Shirelles, but its composers were adamant that the demo be issued as a finished master. They felt that The Angels' record had a spark that could never be duplicated. A legal standoff ensued, which resulted in F-G-G going independent again. Within weeks, a deal had been inked that freed the girls from their dormant Caprice Records contract and placed them with Mercury Records' Smash subsidiary. "My Boyfriend's Back" was issued as Smash 1834, and the rest is history.
"When we finished 'My Boyfriend's Back', I just knew it was a hit," Jiggs told Alan Betrock, "and there was a real buzz around town about the record. It came out in late July 1963, and just took off like crazy! Within a couple of weeks, it was #1 all over the country." Indeed, the song spread across the national airwaves like wildfire, and catapulted the girls to a level of success they'd only dreamt of with their earlier hits. They opened for Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons; toured both America and abroad; played Harlem's famous Apollo Theatre; appeared on numerous TV shows; and shared the bill with numerous Soul artists, including Bobby "Blue" Bland and Aretha Franklin's sister, Erma Franklin. (The Angels were a bonafide Rhythm and Blues act: "My Boyfriend's Back" crossed over from the Pop charts and broke for a Top Five R & B smash.) The enduring popularity of "My Boyfriend's Back" created a huge demand for personal appearances that would last well past the 1960s. The Angels also increased their lucrative backing vocal work, singing behind artists as diverse as Neil Diamond, Lesley Gore, Tony Orlando, Jackie Wilson, and even Frank Sinatra. Their most famous studio session came in 1965, when they supported Lou Christie on his #1 smash "Lightnin' Strikes" and its controversial follow-up, "Rhapsody In The Rain."
THE ANGELS CIRCA 1963:
BARBARA ALLBUT, PEGGY SANTIGLIA,
Over the course of the next twelve months, F-G-G, Peggy Santiglia (using the pen name "Peggy Farina") and such "celebrity" songwriters as Jan & Dean's Jan Berry, Jay & The Americans' Marty Sanders, and ex-Cadillacs singer Robert Spencer provided The Angels with a steady stream of raucous uptempo novelties, fun-filled sides with titles like "The Guy With The Black Eye"(an obvious sequel), "Wow Wow Wee!"(a wild roller coaster ride set to music), "I Adore Him" (a nod to Phil Spector and The Crystals), "Jamaica Joe"(an excursion into Jamaican Blue Beat, a precursor to Reggae), "The Boy From Crosstown"(a nod to Shadow Morton and The Shangri-Las), "My Boyfriend's Woody" (not what you think) and "Why Don't The Boy Leave Me Alone?" (believe it or not, a prequel to "My Boyfriend's Back"). Each one was duly imprinted with the girls' distinctive vocal stamp. Rock 'n' Roll had become a lot bolder since "PS I Love You", "'Til" and "Cry, Baby, Cry", and so had The Angels. While Linda Jankowski had been an excellent lead vocalist, Peggy Santiglia brought a much-needed missing element to the group: Attitude!
THE ANGELS CIRCA 1965:
BARBARA ALLBUT, PEGGY SANTIGLIA,
On "My Boyfriend's Back", her voice conveyed a (pardon the expression) devilish glee, ideal for portraying put-upon high school coeds bent on revenge. Thanks to her acting skills, she could also be flirtatious, sassy, boastful, or anything else a lyric required. For their part, Jiggs and Bibbs kept the energy level high, cavorting in the studio like adrenaline-crazed cheerleaders. The Angels were still Doo-Woppers at heart, but they weren't sob sisters any longer. On the cover of their best-selling My Boyfriend's Back album, issued in September of '63, they presented themselves as vivacious sex kittens in jungle print blouses and tight satin skirts. Mixing a little spice in with the sugar lent an exciting new gleam to their halos, and F-G-G's songs and productions were tailor-made for their hot new image.
"Starlets, Halos and Jersey Girl Jive" concludes with Part Two.