Teenage torch singer Lesley Gore burst onto the music scene in spring 1963 with a massive hit song, "It's My Party and I'll Cry If I Want To," a classic rock and roll triangulation saga that still resonates today, and followed it up with more than thirty chart hit singles and albums, many produced by that renaissance man with the golden ears, Quincy Jones.
He discovered Lesley Gore in a Mercury Records A&R meeting where, as the sole black vice president, he had been challenged to cut a hit song rather than the jazz vanity projects he did so well. A tape of the sixteen year old Gore doing straight jazz renditions of "Love, Your Magic Spell" and "A Lot of Livin' to Do" demonstrated a young voice with chops beyond her age, and Quincy's intuition led him in the right direction and he signed her.
Within a year, the collaboration between Jones, Gore and brilliant arranger, Claus Ogermann, yielded five top twenty singles and two hit albums, at the height of the British Invasion that felled many American artists. In addition to great material written by the cream of the Brill Building songwriters and the fabulous arrangements, the team's trump card was Gore's voice - creamy, husky, flexible with an edge.
Gore was allowed to choose many of her songs and began writing some of her material within that first year. She conveyed teenage angst as well as anyone ever has, and she sang with enormous conviction, intelligence and wit, qualities which played well to both teenagers and adults. She could be found performing to thousands of screaming teenagers in "The TAMI Show" among her contemporaries The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, Marvin Gaye and James Brown in October, and headline the jazz shrine, Basin Street East in New York City, the following June.
Many of Gore's songs projected a straightforward defiance and independence unusual for female singers in the mid-1960s. "You Don't Own Me" is considered a proto-feminist classic as well as a great song, and, indeed, the audience that snapped up millions of copies of that song became the first card-carrying feminists a few years later.
This tribute CD is unlike many of the glut of tribute CDs issued the past couple of years in that it is not a group of modern recording acts trying their hands at Gore material. This is actually a compilation of covers of songs Lesley Gore made famous by artists over the years, from a rockin' "It's My Party" by the "South American Beatles," Los Shakers in 1963 to a brilliant post-punk re-imagining of one of Gore's own compositions, "I'm Coolin', No Foolin'," by the estimable Julie Ruin on the pumpin' "Stay Monkey." Credit goes to the compiler, known only by the name Patrick, for wading through the numerous Lesley Gore covers done over the years and coming up with 30 of the most interesting and wide-ranging. There's power-pop Britbeat ("Off and Running" done by Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders); glossy lounge (Martin Denny's "Judy's Turn to Cry"); floridly cinematic ("I Don't Wanna Be A Loser" by Clebanoff); to straight-up jazz (Wes Montgomery's fluid take on "California Nights").
Some covers are pleasant if redundant (Jack Jones' "Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows," Petula Clarks' French version of "She's A Fool") and some are treacly and tired (Italian language "No More Tears" from Orietta Berti and "On A Day Like Today" from Aussie pin-up and Patsy Kensit-soundalike, Sandy Edmonds).
There are many classic girl group takes on Gore's songs, recorded between 1964 and 1967 by acts like The Cookies, Joey Heatherton, Lesley Dunca, The Cake, The Inspirations, Chantelles, Reparata and the Delrons and Bernadette Peters that makes this collection a treasure trove for afficionados of rare girl group tracks.
There are only two covers of Gore's 70s or 80s material, all of which she wrote, but they are beauties, and both were hits: Patti Austin's interpretation of Gore's masterwork, "Love Me by Name," and Irene Cara's "Fame" ballad, "Out Here on My Own," which Gore does in concert these days to great effect.
But the highlights of this tribute CD are the more contemporary re-workings of "You Don't Own Me" by Rasputina (post-modern and Goth), a startling "That's the Way Boys Are" by Y-Pants that will have you hitting the replay button again and again, and a Go-Gos styled "Look of Love" from the All Girl Summer Band.
Lesley Gore is an artist whose musical relevance is long overdue for recognitioin. This wonderful collection will hopefully begin to give her the credit that should be coming her way, as well as providing a terrific listening experience.