“Given that there was that era of girl group music and it’s still very popular, but I think if you looked at the chart from that time you would see many more men on it. Because the industry, they were catering to young girls. I mean, that’s what they thought their audience was.”
– Lesley Gore
- “Our Lips Are Sealed” by the Go-Go’s
Singer Belinda Carlisle explained to WTOP how guitarist Jane Wiedlin came to write their first hit. “‘Our Lips Are Sealed’ started as a letter between Jane in our band and Terry Hall from the Specials, because they were having a love affair. They both put it to music and actually it was a hit for Terry’s band after the Specials, Fun Boy Three … then it was a hit for the Go-Go’s in the States a little bit afterward with a whole different set of chords. So there’s really two versions.”
The Go-Go’s poppy version was their debut single and a Top 20 hit in 1981. “I met Terry Hall, the singer of the Specials, and ended up having kind of a romance,” explained Wiedlin in Songfacts. “He sent me the lyrics to ‘Our Lips Are Sealed’ later in the mail, and it was kind of about our relationship, because he had a girlfriend at home and all this other stuff. So it was all very dramatic. I really liked the lyrics, so I finished the lyrics and wrote the music to it, and the rest is history.”
“Our Lips Are Sealed” by the Go-Go’s
“Our Lips are Sealed” by Fun Boy Three
- “Dancing in the Street” by Martha and the Vandellas
“Dancing in the Street” was written in the Motown hit factory by Marvin Gaye, horn player Ivy Jo Hunter and producer Mickey Stevenson. Martha Reeves was working at Motown as a secretary when she recorded the No. 2 hit in 1964. “One day, there was some sort of union dispute and they needed someone to sing on a demo, so I offered,” said Reeves in The Guardian. “The next thing I knew, I was singing backup on Marvin’s “Stubborn Kind of Fellow” with my old girl band the Del-Phis, who became the Vandellas. A little later, Marvin saw me ogling him – he was such a good-looking man – and said: “How about we try this song on Martha?” The song was ‘Dancing in the Street’ and it became the Motown anthem.”
Mick Jagger and David Bowie covered the tune in 1985. All profits from their Top 10 hit went to charity. “When Bowie and Jagger covered it, I made more money in two years than I had in the previous 20,” said Hunter. “I would have kissed their butts in the middle of Broadway.”
“Dancing in the Street” by Martha and the Vandellas
“Dancing in the Street” by David Bowie and Mick Jagger
- “Manic Monday” by the Bangles
“Manic Monday” was a No. 2 hit for the Bangles in 1986. The song was written by Prince two years earlier for Apollonia 6. “Prince was around when our first record, All Over the Place, came out,” guitarist Vicki Peterson told Guitar World. “We did a video for ‘Hero Takes a Fall’ and he had seen it. He was always on the lookout for young, interesting bands and contacted us while we were recording and told us he had a song for us. I also remember he would sometimes just show up at our shows. We would be there playing and would get a message backstage saying, ‘Prince is here – and he wants to play.’ So I’d be like, ‘Here, take my Les Paul!’ [laughs]. It was crazy.”
“He came to at least two shows and performed with us onstage,” said guitarist Susanna Hoffs in Classic Rock Here and Now. “I think he may have watched us the first time, the second time performed with us, then performed with us again in San Francisco. So he was like an early fan of the band. It turned out to be an incredible thing for us because we were very much like the rest of the world … in awe of Prince, his talent, and magnificent stage presence.”
“Manic Monday” by the Bangles
- “Where Did Our Love Go” by the Supremes
“Where Did Our Love Go” was written in 1964 by Motown’s Holland-Dozier-Holland production team for the Marvelettes. Lead singer Gladys Horton turned the song down, calling it “the worst thing I ever heard.” Enter the Supremes, who at the time were known around Motown as the “no-hit Supremes.”
“Eddie Holland, Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier said, ‘We have a great song for you, and it was called ‘Where Did Our Love Go,'” Supreme Mary Wilson recalled in Yahoo! Music. “So they played it for us and we said, ‘We don’t like that. Listen, we need to have a hit record, OK?’ They said, ‘No, trust us this is a hit record.'”
“They were so annoyed that they agreed to do it that, in the studio, they had a really bad attitude,” explained Eddie Holland in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Story Behind the Song. “Diana (Ross) said it was in the wrong key, that it was too low. (Of course it was – I wrote it in Gladys’ key.) Since the track was already cut, she had to sing it in that key and she’d never sung that low before. It turned out that her bad attitude and the low key were exactly what the song needed! I’d worked out intricate background vocals but the girls refused to learn them. Finally I said, ‘Just sing “Baby, baby, baby”.’ It worked to their advantage and worked perfectly.”
“Where Did Our Love Go” by the Supremes
- “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips
“Hold On” was a 1990 No. 1 hit for Wilson Phillips. The song enjoyed renewed popularity when the group performed it in the 2011 film Bridesmaids. “Hold On” was written by Chynna Phillips and producer Glen Ballard. “Chynna had the inspiration for ‘Hold On’ and wrote the majority of it,” Wendy Wilson told Splinter. “It came from her heart and the feelings she was overcoming at the time. A very sophisticated point of view, and memorable lyric.”
“That song is an anthem and has helped so many people, and for that, we’ve been so humbled just knowing how many people it’s touched,” Phillips said in Digital Spy. “We don’t get tired of people saying, ‘Oh, you’ve helped us get through such a difficult time’ – whether it’s a divorce, the loss of a child or they were suicidal. You have no idea of the stories we hear. The list is endless. So it’s really cool to know that your music has been so impactful on someone else’s life. Everyone can hold on for just one more day. If the song was ‘hold on for one more week,’ people would say, ‘I don’t know if I can do a whole week, but I can do 24 hours!'”
“Hold On” by Wilson Phillips
- “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” by the Shirelles
The Shirelles‘ “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” was written by songwriting duo Gerry Goffin and Carole King. In 1960 it became Goffin and King’s first No. 1 hit. King explained her husband Goffin’s gift for writing lyrics on NPR. “What made him so extraordinary as a lyricist was his ability to say in really simple words big ideas, big feelings, big thoughts. And the thing – for example, ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow,’ you just listen to the lyric of the first verse – ‘Tonight you’re mine completely. You give your love so sweetly. Tonight the light of love is in your eyes, but will you love me tomorrow?’ Is that not what every teenage girl is thinking?”
Shirelles’ lead singer Shirley Owens (later known as Shirley Alston-Reeves) initially refused to record the song. The great New Jersey girl group’s leader believed the song was “too country,” but changed her mind after hearing Luther Dixon’s production.
“Will You Love Me Tomorrow” by the Shirelles
- “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls
The extroverted five-woman group called the Spice Girls topped the charts with their first single, “Wannabe,” in 1997. The song, written by the group members and producers Matt Rowe and Richard “Biffco” Stannard, celebrates female friendship. “Everything I did with the Spice Girls was so … insane!” said Melanie C in Official Charts. “It was incredible and I’m just really, really proud that we did it. We did it for the girls, and we did it for the country on a global scale!”
“Wannabe” features rapping by Mel B and Geri Haliwell. “You know when you’re in a gang and you’re having a laugh and you make up silly words?” Melanie C told Billboard. “We were having a giggle and we made up this silly word, zigazig-ha. We were in the studio and it all came together in this song. It only took about 30 minutes to write and then we demoed it up quickly fast. As soon as we recorded it, we knew we wanted it to be our debut single.”
“Wannabe” by the Spice Girls
- “Fire” by the Pointer Sisters
Bruce Springsteen wrote “Fire” as a song for Elvis Presley but The King died before he received it. The Pointer Sisters version was a No. 2 smash in 1979, but Springsteen was reportedly unhappy because at the time, his biggest hit was “Born to Run” at No. 23.
The Pointer Sisters recorded “Fire” on the suggestion of producer Richard Perry. “Richard had a definite direction he wanted to go: pop/rock. He didn’t want to do any of the old stuff,” Ruth Pointer told Soul Tracks. “We said, ‘We can sing anything so whatever they want, let’s give it to them.’ He had these songs that he wanted us to do like ‘Fire’ and ‘Happiness.’ We were just sort of willing at that point and we didn’t know what was going to happen but we just wanted to be pliable and thought, ‘Get us back out there! Once we get back out there, maybe we’ll take some chances later.'”
“Fire” by the Pointer Sisters
“Fire” by Bruce Springsteen
- “Venus” by Bananarama
Bananarama had recorded three albums by 1986 with little success. The group – Sara Dallin, Siobhan Fahey and Keren Woodward – had performed “Venus” for years. Dutch group Shocking Blue had a No. 1 hit with the song in 1970. Then Bananarama heard a something that would change their interpretation of the song and launch their success.
“As soon as we heard Dead Or Alive’s ‘You Spin Me Round,’ we knew – that’s where we’re going,” Fahey told Classic Pop. “I loved that record. At that point, we were all on the same page. It was like, who produced Dead Or Alive’s single? Let’s do ‘Venus’ like that. We’d been struggling with that third album and we didn’t have a lead single and suddenly we had a single and it turned everything around.”
The producers were the trio of Stock Aitken Waterman (SAW), who did not think “Venus” would make a good dance track. “They were saying, it can’t be done,” Fahey recalled in the Irish Times. “I was like, yes it can! Get those cowbells on there!” The result: a No. 1 hit.
“Venus” by Bananarama
“Venus” by Shocking Blue
- “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes
“Be My Baby” is the premier example of producer Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound.” Spector used a full orchestra with a range of instruments for the Ronettes‘ recording, which reached No. 2 on the Billboard chart in 1963. Lead singer Ronnie Spector was the only member of the Ronettes to perform on the record. Backup singers included Darlene Love and the Blossoms and Sonny and Cher.
“Recording it took forever,” Ronnie Spector told The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2015/nov/17/how-we-made-the-ronettes-be-my-baby-ronnie-spector-phil “In the studio, I had to hide in the ladies room so the musicians could get their work done – I was very pretty and they’d keep looking at me. While I was in there, I came up with all those ‘Oh oh ohs’, inspired by my old Frankie Lymon records. It took three days to record my vocals, take after take. The recording captures the full spectrum of my emotions: everything from nervousness to excitement. When I came in with ‘The night we met I knew I needed you so,” the band went nuts. I was 18 years old, 3,000 miles from home, and had all these guys saying I was the next Billie Holiday.”
“There was a great vibe at those sessions,” Ronnie told Rock Cellar. “All of the great Wrecking Crew musicians were there—Leon Russell, Glen Campbell, Earl Palmer, we had the best musicians to contribute plus add my voice to the mix and people said, “That’s the topping on the cake.” Back then you had to sing live on sessions; it wasn’t like it is today. Phil and I were sort of seeing each other at the time and I had a big crush on him (laughs) so that helped too. That made sing my heart out for him and I did on Be My Baby. And Phil was right there so it was kind of easy to do. (laughs) We loved each other. When love is involved when you’re doing a record it only makes a record better.”
“Be My Baby” by the Ronettes
- “Lady Marmalade” by Labelle
“Lady Marmalade” was written by Bob Crewe and Kenny Nolan about prostitutes in New Orleans. The song was first recorded in 1974 by the group Eleventh Hour but went nowhere. Crewe played the tune for producer Allen Touissant, who decided to record it with Labelle. The group – Patti Labelle, Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash – reached No. 1 with the song in 1975.
Patti Labelle told The Guardian that she had no idea about the song’s racy subject. “We really didn’t know at first. We thought it was a woman just walking down the street – it didn’t register that it might be about something else. We were very innocent, and I had no clue. I was very naive. Then we had some controversy about a nun being upset about the song, and we found out. I felt stupid … no, not stupid but naive. I didn’t know we were singing about a lady of the evening. Young girls today are so well versed because of the Internet, so they’d never not realize, but it was different then. Thank God we did the song, anyway!”
Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mya and Pink returned “Lady Marmalade” to No. 1 with their 2001 version for the film Moulin Rouge!
“Lady Marmalade” by Labelle
“Lady Marmalade” by Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mya and Pink