New Musical Express

THE SMITHS IN CORK, 1984

 

It was shortly after midnight, early on Wednesday morning, July 29th, 1987, and it was Mark Cagney, host of ‘The Night Train’ on RTÉ Radio 2FM who, as serenely as ever, broke the news.

Home alone, and with the rest of my family off on holidays, I’d been in the habit of keeping the radio on longer and louder than usual ;- long enough, as it happened, to hear Cagney tell the nation’s more urbane taxi drivers, shift workers and anoraks that Johnny Marr had left The Smiths. And he more or less left it at that, light on detail, didn’t cite his sources and segued as seamlessly as he always did into his next track, which was more than likely a moderately left field, highly styled album cut, to which he was forever drawn. And, if I slept at all that night, I slept with my mouth open and my jaw hanging.

Cagney had one up on us. He’d either heard soundings of or had sight of that week’s issue of the London-based music magazine, New Musical Express, in which one of its senior writers, Danny Kelly, citing reliable sources in Manchester, revealed that Morrissey, The Smiths’ singer and Marr, the group’s guitarist and co-writer, had fallen out and hadn’t spoken in months. But while it was a terrific flyer, the story was vague enough on the future of the band and Kelly later admitted he may have ‘augmented’ his story with lines pulled from the back of his own head. The gut of the scoop was clear, though :- on the cusp of the release of their fifth album, all was not well with The Smiths. And this time it was serious.

Although the influential British music weeklies – NME, Melody Maker and Sounds – all regularly hit the streets around central London by lunchtime on Tuesdays, it was usually Thursday morning or later before those titles were available on the shelves in Easons, on Patrick Street in Cork, where I routinely picked up mine. And so I had an anxious wait before I finally got my hands on NME’s speculative exclusive, headlined ‘Smiths to split’.

History – and Johnny Rogan, the band’s forensic biographer – now tells us that, although The Smiths weren’t formally taken off of life-support by Morrissey until mid-September, 1987, Marr confirmed directly to Kelly within days of his initial splash that yes, he’d left the group he founded in Manchester barely five years previously. And so, in its issue dated August 8th, 1987, Kelly had his second back-to-back Smiths scoop, this time flush with quotes from inside the band.

For six weeks that summer, my first as a university student, would-be music writer, part-time laundry worker and full-time dreamer, there was really only one story. One which, under sustained scrutiny, was scarcely believable in the first instance and which was always likely to end badly ;- few groups have, I think, fallen asunder as carelessly and as needlessly as The Smiths, undone in the end by the lack of clear decision-making and delegation that had, since the group’s inception, characterised much of its off-stage activity.

I’ve written at length about The Smiths over the years, with varying degrees of success but with no little confidence, simply because they were the first band I so obsessively lived through and the first band I ever felt like I had shares in. I certainly spent enough on them and, because I’d invested so heavily in them in other respects as well, I  tended to defer to Max Boyce’s stock punchline when it came to analysing them :- I know because I was there.

And I certainly was there, if not at the very start, then certainly close enough to it, having had my head turned as soon as I heard The Smiths on both Dave Fanning’s Rock Show on RTÉ Radio 2, John Peel’s BBC equivalent and, bizarrely, having caught sight of them on late night television performing ‘This Charming Man’ on a one-off European music initiative featuring emerging music from across the continent. Captured alongside a feeble, long-lost British outfit, The Immaculate Fools, and a number of freakish cross-continental acts trying, as can often be the case, just a tad too hard, The Smiths stood out as a distinctive star turn simply because, in the abject normality that defined every single aspect of them, they were clearly anything but normal.

I was there too in the old Savoy on Patrick Street when The Smiths played in Cork twice, on May 20th and November 18th, 1984 and when, within actual touching distance of them, they sealed the deal, almost face-to-face, as the most important and influential band of my generation.

Both of those shows took place as I was gearing up to leave secondary school and, with half an eye and two working ears on what was around the corner, fancied myself as a veteran of the local music circuit, having already been to all of one indoor live show and a couple of random outdoor events. But although I’d been squirreling and collecting for a number of years, back-filling the gaps in my developing ELO library, acquiring and swapping new material as regularly as I could and rowing in squarely behind Sindikat, a band from our school who’d done the unthinkable and formed under our noses, The Smiths were the first group whose releases, always flagged well in advance in the music press, I regarded as genuine events and to which I counted down.

And in this respect, the radio was another vital spoke :- Peel, and his long-time producer, John Walters, memorably hosted four separate Smiths radio sessions between 1983 and 1986 and, like Fanning, would play all of the group’s releases well in advance of their availability in the shops. For which you’d have a second or third-hand cassette on eternal stand-by in the old three-in-one in case either of them dropped an unexpected pre-issue, without warning.

 

 

It was Fanning, of course, who alerted us to those first Smiths shows in Ireland – I still consider this sort of carry-on to define the term ‘public service broadcasting’ – when he announced that they were on their way to play dates in Belfast, Dublin and Cork in support of their debut album. And yet for all of the urgency that under-pinned the band’s recorded material, myself and my friend, Philip, didn’t really know what to expect when we fetched up outside The Savoy on a Sunday evening in May, 1984, in our long rain-coats, tickets in hand and mad for road.

But from early – and we were there very, very early – it was clear that The Smiths were much more than a little-known secret shared by a handful of us up on the northside. One of the more interesting aspects of the band’s history was how, throughout its career, it attracted fans from right across the social strata, much of it male-skewing and with a prominent contingent of hard shams in among the more introspective, centrally-cast indie-kids. Among whom was another friend of mine, Marc Buckley, another acolyte who arrived at The Savoy, as did numerous others, clutching a bunch of freshly cut flowers and wearing a considerable quiff.

Philip and myself soon found ourselves chatting to a pair of friendly girls we’d met on the tiled stairs and, for whatever reason, we told them we were supporting The Smiths a little later. And there were, of course, numerous similarities between ourselves and The Frank Chickens, the gobby Japanese lesbians who were actually due to open proceedings.

The Chickens, as with many of Peel’s more random curios over the decades, sounded far better in theory that they did in practice and, with their unsteady backing tracks, loops and high-octane, skittish twin vocals, failed to convince the locals, who’d started to assemble in numbers by the time they’d finished a quite bizarre set. They left the stage to the usual heckles and, responding to a not unreasonable suggestion from half-way back that they were, perhaps, not up to championship standard, replied – ‘We think you’re shit too’ – before beating a hasty retreat under a hail of gob, never to be seen in Cork again. A scene we’d witness again, in the same venue and in much the same circumstances, before the year was out.

But once The Smiths took the stage to the jagged, slash-cut opening bars of ‘Still Ill’, and Morrissey emerged from the shadows, his outsized shirt already opened to the navel, The Frank Chickens had been consigned to the footnotes of what was to become a spectacular history. Over the course of a sharp, frenetic and powerful sixteen song set, The Smiths just burned the house down :- in the long and diverse history of live shows in Cork, it is easily among one of the most lethal.

Because while that show has remained vivid in the memories of most of those who attended it, many of them left there that night intent on starting their own bands immediately afterwards, boldly going for it and  just taking their chances. And those among the audience that were already involved in fledging groups around the city, and there were many, left with plenty of food for thought :- if this was where the bar was now set, then what, really, was the point ?

The set-list for that first Cork show is widely available on all of the usual on-line resources and, of course, Johnny Rogan’s exhaustive ‘The Severed Alliance’ is incomparable in terms of context and background. But although Morrissey so physically dominated that Cork show – and I couldn’t believe how imposing he was, and how he so used his body for emphasis – neither could I get my head around how small and slight Johnny Marr was. And, of course, how his nimble hands made one guitar sound like three.

The songs were already well-known to anyone who’d bought the band’s unconvincing debut album, ‘The Smiths’, and who was familiar with the terrific additional content on their singles. But they also introduced one new number, a protracted, funked-up, bass-prominent beauty called ‘Barbarism Begins At Home’, during which Morrissey baited the audience with flowers throughout the long instrumental passages and Andy Rourke stepped into the spotlight to reveal just how important his industry and frame of reference was to the band’s sound. And we were just learning all of the time.

 

 

The Smiths returned to The Savoy six months later, during which time they’d been sucked slowly in from the margins. But although the group would go on to regularly feature at the business end of the album charts, they never really enjoyed the consistent successes they craved with the shorter form, which was one of Morrissey and Marr’s primary ambitions for their group from the get-go.

Even so, the singer had already been rumbled by the tabloids who, picking up on the platinum-plated copy he routinely provided in interviews, had become as regular a freak feature in The Sun as he was on the hit parade, portrayed variously as a dangerous, anti-royal traitor, a sexual deviant and a macabre, terrorist-loving, tree-hugging weirdo. Or, if you like, the Jeremy Corbyn of his time.

The Denis Desmond/MCD-promoted, nine-date, eight-town tour of Ireland during November, 1984, took place less than one month after the IRA bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton, where the British Conservative Party was holding its annual conference, and during a particularly dark period in modern Irish history when loyalist and republican terrorism across the island routinely dominated the news agenda. And at a time too when many formidable contemporary bands just simply wouldn’t – or were advised not to – play in the north of Ireland.

With The Smiths on the road in support of their stop-gap, compilation album, ‘Hatful Of Hollow’, Morrissey gave the London press a series of typically headline-grabbing quotes during the media campaign to promote it, one of the most notable of which referred to Margaret Thatcher, then Britain’s Prime Minister, and who had survived the Brighton bombing, which killed three people and injured thirty more.

‘The sorrow of the Brighton bombing’, Morrissey claimed, ‘is that Thatcher escaped unscathed. I think that, for once, the IRA were accurate in selecting their targets’.

And it was against this backdrop, six weeks after U2 released ‘The Unforgettable Fire’ and five months after Bob Dylan’s show at Slane Castle was marred by riots around the County Meath town, that The Smiths returned to Ireland. During which they played shows in Letterkenny, Belfast and Coleraine, as well as the usual stop-offs, fetching up in Cork for the second and last time on Sunday, November 18th, 1984, one week before Midge Ure and Bob Geldof recorded the Band Aid single, ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ and a week after Madonna released her remarkable breakthrough album, ‘Like A Virgin’.

The mood inside The Savoy, second time around, was just as frenzied and excitable as it had been earlier that year, and maybe overly-so. The crowd itself was far bigger, as you’d expect, and the promoters had put an extra 50p on the price of the tickets [from memory, and I stand corrected on this, up from £6 to £6.50]. And, once again, myself and Philip were there, close enough to see the magicians work the stage, far enough away to avoid the on-going bash-ball inside the moshing zone. The support this time was provided by James, yet another fledgling and already highly regarded Manchester band [is there ever any other kind ?], who’d released a fine first record, the ‘Jimone’ EP, on the Factory label and who, during their formative years, enjoyed Morrissey’s very public patronage. For better and, possibly, for worse.

The Smiths’ set had changed quite drastically in the interim. And although they were ostensibly promoting ‘Hatful Of Hollow’, the band was also road-testing several of the tracks that would buttress its second studio album, ‘Meat Is Murder’. Taking their opening positions to the foreboding sounds of Prokofiev’s dramatic overture, ‘Romeo And Juliet’, they opened bravely with one of their more introspective cuts, ‘Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want’, which had featured as a quality b-side on their ‘William, It Was Really Nothing’ single earlier that summer, and into which they quickly segued.

Foremost among the clatter of new material was a frantic take on ‘What She Said’ and, close to the end, a bionic, souped-up ‘I Want The One I Can’t Have’, by which time the atmosphere inside the hall had turned sharply. Marr had become the unwitting target of a hail of spit half-way through, an unfortunate knuckle-walker’s pastime that many of us suspected, wrongly, had died after The Sex Pistols signed to a major label.

 

 

And after two audible warnings – at one point he arched his callow body back and looked like he was going to lash out – he eventually walked off just shy of the hour mark, taking the rest of the band with him. The Smiths returned, reluctantly enough it seemed to me, to do a two song encore, finishing on a high with ‘What Difference Does It Make’, but Marr had the last word :- he leaned into a vocal mic on the way off and told the crowd, not incongruously, how he’d ‘come to play and not to be spat at’, before leaving again, this time for good.

As the house lights came up around The Savoy, a section of the crowd, some checking their watches, began to vent, boo-ing initially – more, I suspect, in the direction of those who’d caused the walk-off than at the band itself – and then, once it was obvious that the show was over and that The Smiths weren’t returning, broke into a ridiculous chorus of ‘We want James’.

So while the Cork crowd was given an early flavour of some of the more sinewy cuts from ‘Meat Is Murder’, it also experienced the shortest Smiths set, by at least three songs, of that leg of the tour. But not before Morrissey, as the band set up for its encore, returned to the stage with a small sapling, which he wielded like a bicycle chain during ‘Hand In Glove’, and then deposited with gusto into the audience.

The Smiths certainly knew how to make an exit like they knew how to make an entrance. And they never returned to Cork again.

 

 

 

THE SPICE GIRLS :- CREATING THE SPICE

During the summer of 1996 I was about to launch Popscene, a music television show for teenagers,  I first heard mention of The Spice Girls. All manner of new music would arrive into the office on a weekly basis from well-meaning pluggers and publicists, much of it of dubious quality, even for our target audience. But there was something very immediate and zesty about The Spice Girls, and I was reeled in right away.

By way of context, this period was characterised by a return to moderate prominence of the British pop single even if, in hindsight, this was more the last sting of a dying wasp. On the one hand, Oasis and Blur slugged it out in what was quite possibly the last ever genuine race to the top of the singles chart while, on the other, one makey-uppy boy-band after another
battled for the amateur lightweight belts.

The Spice Girls were an all-girl group in a market dominated by young men. They were a fully-formed antidote to Boyzone’s oily cabaret shtick and, immediately on landing, already had a couple of pretty ace singles in their locker. The way I saw it, three minutes of the girls meant three less minutes of the Boyz, and this was a good thing.

Almost twenty years on, no one remembers a single Boyzone song apart, maybe, from the covers and the one with Rowan Atkinson in the video. But while The Spice Girls may have eventually burned out as quickly as they once burned bright; it’s fair to say that they’ve hardly been forgotten. Everyone can hum one of their tunes, if pushed; – pop songs rarely come better than ‘Wannabe’, ‘Say You’ll Be There’ and ‘Two Become One’.

But even as their debut album was emerging, The Spice Girls were already off-limits. Although most of the big international record companies still operated local offices and centres of distribution in Dublin, the band’s publicity was so controlled that the closest Popscene came to them was when we recorded a Spice Girls tribute act in a nightclub in Leicester Square in London. I subsequently worked with Mel C and Emma Bunton during my time on the bigger RTÉ entertainment shows, long after the band had split. Both were decent, affable and excellent company, even if their solo material was far less memorable.

I wrote at length and with no little gusto about The Spice Girls in The Sunday Tribune throughout 1996 and 1997. Apart from the opportunity to proselytise, I also had the chance to land a few decent reducers on Louis Walsh and his charges, who were utterly exposed in ‘Wannabe’’s after-glow. This may often have amounted to simply shooting fish in a barrel but I welcomed any chance to harpoon the country’s self-styled Svengali and his ten-legged squid.

Matt Cooper had recently been appointed editor of the paper when he asked me to knock out a long feature on The Spice Girls for the issue of November 24th, 1996, and we’ve re-produced most of it below. This cover story was splashed across three pages inside under the headline, ‘The Spice Of Life’. With the band out of bounds and the internet still in its infancy to most of us, the piece is comprised largely of opinion, bulked out with various quotes from elsewhere, especially from Amy Raphael’s excellent book, ‘Never Mind The Bollocks – Women Re-Write Rock’.

I also quoted Simon Price, whom I met when we were both working at Melody Maker magazine and who, as well as being the definitive authority on The Manic Street Preachers, was also a serious advocate of Engine Alley. And in the original piece, also quoted Stephen Dalton, whose interview with The Spice Girls had run in a recent issue of Vox magazine.

The piece was augmented by a support-column on the great all-girl bands of our time. Headlined ‘Girls On Top’, much of it was written by my colleague, Paul G. Sheridan, whose knowledge of popular music history and whose store of factual information is encyclopaedic. And who, because of this, did what I shamefully failed do in the body of the main piece :- mention The Supremes, the greatest all-girl group in popular music history.

The Spice of Life

Popular music has always been about ever-decreasing novelties, about the moment meeting the idea and about clever opportunism having it’s five minutes before it implodes. These days, with an apparent re-birth in the role of the pop-single and in the power of the song, pop has never been more easily bored. As movements and poses come and go far more frequently, so too are many more songs far too easily forgotten and lost.

It’s the chance that you take, of course, it’s the price that you pay and it’s the primary rule that seeps right through popular culture. Popular music waits for no one, so tough.

Given the almost incessant swarm of manufactured pop bands over the last six years, most of them exclusively boy-led, it seems strange that it’s taken so long for the all-girl alternative. That said, popular music has traditionally been a man’s world, with few women ever acceding to power at managerial, directorial and production levels. But as Amy Raphael wrote over two years ago in her quite stunning study, Never Mind The Bollocks ; Women Re-Write Rock, ‘rock needs to be constantly
challenged by women. With the 1990s hot-pot of sexual confusion, women are able to construct their own images in a way they couldn’t before. The fact is that gender will remain an issue as long as the music industry is dominated by men, and female musicians remain an exception to the rule’.

As the end of the year looms then, and as the last 12 months are seen in some sort of linear context, two band names will dominate any worthwhile form reports. Those names are Oasis and The Spice Girls.

Everyone knows Oasis of course and, come the beginning of The New Year, one domestic household in three will have one or both of the band’s albums. But in terms of achievement and delivery, particularly given popular music’s established and stuffy red tape, the year belongs largely to The Spice Girls, this decade’s defining girl-band and pop’s shiniest and brightest new toy.

They are, to those who’ve been buried away, a five-strong, garrulous pop thing that have casually sauntered to the top of the British singles chart with both of their first releases, ‘Wannabe’ and ‘Say You’ll Be There’, and with their already platinum first album, ‘Spice’. The intensity and scope of their impact has even surprised their record company, Virgin Records, and while The Spice Girls are still officially un-released in America, they have already been play-listed as an import act on several pivotal radio stations. So that even now, in its first week of release, it would seem that ‘Spice’, unlike recent records by Boyzone and East 17, does actually travel well and translates easily onto a world market and the bigger pop picture.

For the sake of reference, however, The Spice Girls are no casual or over-night arrival. Aged between their late teens and their earliest 20s, all five girls – Emma, Victoria, Melanie C, Geri and Melanie B – know too well the fringes of showbusiness. They have all worked the circuit variously as dancers, session singers and actresses and at least one of them has porn-modelled. But contrary to many of their mascara-soaked pen profiles, they do actually sing, they do actually play and they do actually write for themselves. And in a genre that has traditionally played the passive role and that has more often than not chosen the safest and most-tested road, they shine like diamonds in the mire.

New Musical Express has already labelled them ‘the Take That it’s alright to like … if you’re a bloke’ but The Spice Girls’ appeal, based largely around New Laddism and saucy street-sass, has already broken through pop’s most rigid gender definitions. Their sales figures and market breakdown spit blatantly in the eyes of form and type, and they have defiantly impacted on the teenage girl audience as they have done on the teenage boy one, selling themselves as role models to those, particularly girls, who are kicking against the pricks.

Simon Price, reviewing ‘Spice’ for Melody Maker magazine concluded that ‘with their crayon-simple, girl-power self-sufficiency, The Spice Girls are infinitely more useful than anything that’s come from the indie sector to the vast majority of teenage girls who a) aren’t lesbian and b) don’t like lo-fi guitar music. Like Cyndi, they just wanna have fun. Like En Vogue,
they’re saying you ain’t never gonna get it’.

And he’s right to a point, because while The Spice Girls deliver brazen, dance-floor pop music that’s mildly familiar and still very positively doused in spice, they also run far deeper, playing noble wordgames and kicking sand at the industry as they go. ‘We wanted the whole philosophy of The Spice Girls to be just like a cult’, says Geri, the band’s central focus and mouthpiece. ‘We’ve just tapped into how girls are feeling. It’s like feminism, but you don’t have to burn your bra’.

This is arguably the first time that British popular music has come across anything as genuinely unique as The Spice Girls and their approach to the culture’s manners. Granted, the last 15 years has thrown up a cluster of irregular girl band one-offs, from Girlschool to The Belle Stars to Bananarama to Elastica, but none have managed to stick for so long and so quickly.

But then England has never saved any real all-girl pop traditions of note. Throughout the early and mid-1960s, as America’s Shirelles, Shangri-Las and Ronettes seriously ran The Beatles in terms of sales and market share, where three-way girl-pop had all of the best tunes, England pushed the solo option – people like Cilla Black and Sandie Shaw and Lulu, none of whom have either dated as gracefully or impacted so loudly.

But as Amy Raphael concedes, ‘pre-punk, women had a much more defined and confined role in pop music. Behind the girl group sound were male songwriters, managers and Svengalis who shaped and engineered their careers and who dropped them as soon as they passed their sell-by date’.

But while The Spice Girls are managed by one of popular music’s leading male shakers, Simon Fuller, virtually everything else, from their songs to their attitude to their approach, would appear to be genuinely homespun. ‘We generally do all of the writing’, says Victoria. ‘We just work with different producers. But even on the production side of it we have a lot of input. We say what we want, basically, and producers are there to twiddle knobs. We haven’t got the time to twiddle knobs’.

‘We’re trying to break down all of that history, from Phil Spector and The Ronettes onwards’, Geri adds. ‘There was always the producer, he was the guy, and then there were the three different puppets doing what he was saying. So with us, times are certainly changing’.

The Spice Girls would certainly like to think, from their press-pack clippings at least, that they’ve shaken the industry to the point where they have reversed the traditional roles, squarely to the point where they very positively call the shots. Which, history has taught us, doesn’t really happen of course, not now and not ever. Instead The Spice Girls have added a brand new dimension to their art, stuffing their records and their approach with a personality that has traditionally been deemed far too dangerous for the genre. Unlike, say, Take That and Boyzone, The Spice Girls hit far harder and way farther beyond mere opportunism and safe-bet cash-ins.

Playing largely on their own sexuality and on traditional values and perceptions they have, with their words, poses and the sheer vigour of their pop music, very definitely challenged the pop stereotype. So that while Boyzone come over all true to form, accepting all of the house-rules and playing the tired card, never once venturing the risk, The Spice Girls are in a boat drifting outwards and onwards. Virtually all of their songs smell of the spirit of the streetwise teen, brassy takes on safe sex, cheating boyfriends and the new girls’ struggle.

Melanie B claims that ‘we make a proper point of making sure that we have something there in our lyrics that is slightly opinionated, that is giving off a vibe or giving off a message because otherwise, to us, there would be no point in writing a song’. ‘Obviously, primarily we’re doing this for the girls’, Geri pops, ‘because we feel that they needed it’.

Even this country’s opportunistic emphasis is trained right now to ‘girl power’ and already a handful of all-girl, power pop gangs like Syren, Just Girls, Four Available Blondes and D’Sire have posed for their debut photographs and unveiled their debut dance-steps. However all of them, sadly, are on a train marked ‘nowhere fast’, if only because The Spice Girls have set such a mammoth, instant precedent. A band that, to all intents, only ever happens once.

Like The Village People somewhere back in the mists, there really is one Spice Girl for everyone in the audience. As Simon Price points out in Melody Maker ‘every great pop group has you arranging your favourite members in order’ and The Spice Girls [or, if you like, The Sporty One, The Posh One, The Cute One, The Mad One and the sussed Ginger One] are already up there with, say, Duran Duran, The Bay City Rollers and Oasis. They have also tapped viciously into a particular set of primal if neglected mind-values and call life like they see it, however fashionably or not.

‘Men don’t rule our lives’, Melanie B told Smash Hits’ Damon Syson earlier this year. ‘They should be like mates and they should never try to come between you and your friends. Boyfriends don’t last forever but girlfriends do’. It’s as worthy a starting point as any. And while The Spice Girls, behind the hyperbole and the well-placed one-liners might easily be less than the sum of their parts, they’re at least challenging the easy perceptions of pop’s norms, and the role of women therein.

Ultimately of course they’re on a restricted time-scale and have, arguably, three years before the market gets over-familiar, over-bored and simply moves on elsewhere. But then The Spice Girls have already paid in at the door, and know the drawbacks of where they are and what they’re doing. Their aim has long-since been ‘to conquer the world, have fun and spice things up a bit’ and, on those terms, they’re on their way. They may never get to change the world but they’re very definitely the sound of today and tomorrow, next week and next year.

As Melanie B says, ‘we’ve got so many things that we want to show, we’ve got so many things that we want to give to people. We’re here to stay, whether you like it or not’. Time and distance and pop’s fickle market deciding exactly how long and how far, one assumes.

Girls on Top: Fore-runners to The Spice Girls : a guide to the all-girl bands of our time.

The Shirelles :- The New Jersey quartet, formed in 1957, covered the Five Royales’ ballad, ‘Dedicated To The One I Love’, which was to become a huge, world-wide hit for The Mamas And The Papas eight years later. In early 1961 their biggest hit, ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’, penned by Goffin and King, was the first all-girl single to top the U.S. chart. ‘Soldier Boy’ was their second in 1962 and the group, who never officially disbanded, still tours the oldie circuit.

The Bangles :- This Californian four-piece group featuring Susannah Hoffs, sisters Vicki and Debbi Peterson, and Michael Steele, had their first big hit in 1986 with the Prince-penned ‘Manic Monday’, which topped the U.S. charts. Follow-up in the same year ‘If She Knew What She Wants’ did well but next single, ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’, became their biggest hit to date in the Autumn of ’86. All singles up to this point were taken from the album, ‘Different Light’. The hits continued with notable successes ‘Walking Down Your Street’ [1987] and a re-working of Simon And Garfunkel’s ‘A Hazy Shade of Winter’ [1988] and the 1989 chart-topper on both sides of the Atlantic, ‘Eternal Flame’. That same year, the group split, but lead vocalist Susannah Hoffs has enjoyed moderate chart success since.

Wilson Phillips :- Carnie and Wendy Wilson, daughters of Beach Boy Brian Wilson, and Chynna Phillips, daughter of John and Michelle Phillips of The Mamas And The Papas, won the Tokyo Song Festival in 1990 with their performance of ‘Hold On’, which went to the top of the American singles chart later that year. Their follow-up, ‘Release Me’, gave them a second U.S. chart-topper later that year, while they completed the hat-trick with ‘You’re In Love’ in 1991. They have remained largely silent since.

The Crystals :- One of the groups from under the wing of legendary producer, Phil Spector, The Crystals came to prominence towards the end of 1962 with ‘He’s A Rebel’, a U.S. Number One, and followed up with the evergreen ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ and ‘Then He Kissed Me’, the following year.

The Ronettes :- Formed in 1961, sisters Ronnie and Estelle Bennett, and cousin Nadra Talley, came to the attention of Phil Spector and from that liaison came their first two hit singles, ‘Be My Baby’ and ‘Baby I Love You’. The next three singles were not quite as mammoth but remain popular, even now – ‘[The Best Part Of] Breaking Up’ , ‘Do I Love You ?’ and ‘Walking In The Rain’ – all released in 1964. 1965 saw the group have two further minor hits and also saw Ronnie Bennett marry Phil Spector. The group disbanded in 1966.

The Shangri-Las :- This New York group featured sisters Mary and Betty Weiss and twins Marge and Mary-Ann Ganser who, in 1964, had their first hit with ‘Remember [Walking In The Sand]’, followed at the beginning of 1965 with the world-famous, death-orientated ‘Leader Of The Pack’ becoming an even bigger success, despite a BBC Radio ban because of it’s lyrics. They continued to issue singles until 1966, but most were only minor hits in the U.S.

Martha And The Vandellas :- Martha Reeves and two ex-high school partners had their first big hit in 1963 with the Holland-Dozier-Holland composed ‘Heatwave’, followed by ‘Quicksand’. The following year, however, they enjoyed their biggest hit to date with the William Stevenson/Marvin Gaye composed ‘Dancing In The Street’, to this day one of the most popular dance records of all time. Other notable successes included ‘Nowhere To Run’ [1965], ‘Jimmy Mack’ [1967] and ‘Forget Me Not’ [1971].

Bananarama :- The most successful girl-band of the 1980s with a total of 27 hits to their credit, Sarah Dallin, Siobhán Fahey and Keren Woodward enjoyed 10 Top Ten hits – but never a chart-topper. These consisted of a mixture of cover versions of classic ‘60s and ‘70s hits as well as Stock/Aitken/Waterman material. In 1982, the year they came to prominence, they enjoyed success with The Fun Boy Three thanks to ‘It Ain’t What You Do [It’s The Way That You Do It’] and ‘Really Saying Something’, and achieved a major Top 5 hit by themselves with ‘Shy Boy’, as well as numerous hits between 1983 and 1984. In 1986 they were recruited into the dreaded Stock, Aitken and Waterman stable, with all their records sounding the same as those from Kylie Minogue, Sinitta and Rick Astley etc. In 1988, Siobhán Fahey left the band, and Jacqui O’Sullivan stepped in, only to depart three years later. There were no more hits after 1993.

The Supremes :- The most successful all-girl group, comprising Diana Ross, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard, had no less than 12 chart-topping hits from 1964 to 1969 in their native U.S., notably ‘Where Did  Our Love Go’ and ‘Baby Love’ [1964], ‘Stop [In The Name Of Love]’ [1965], ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ and ‘You Keep Me Hangin’ On’ [both1966], ‘Love Is Here And Now You’re Gone’ and ‘The Happening’ [both 1967], ‘Love Child’ [1968] and ‘Someday We’ll Be Together’ [1969]. But none reached the top in Ireland and only ‘Baby Love’ reached No. 1 in the U.K. Most of these hits were penned by Holland, Dozier and Holland. Always the focal point of the group, Diana Ross was elevated to featured status in 1967, the group now billed as Diana Ross and The Supremes. That same year, Cindy Birdson replaced Florence Ballard, and Diana Ross left in January, 1970, for a solo career. Jean Terrell replaced Ross, and the trio reverted to simply The Supremes to enjoy hits in their own right. From 1972, the group went through many personnel changes, and the hits dried up by the mid-1970s.