The Shirelles

TrackAlbum / Single
I Met Him On A Sunday (Ronde-Ronde)Tiara T45-6100
Dedicated To The One I LoveTonight's The Night
Tonight's The NightTonight's The Night
Will You Love Me TomorrowTonight's The Night
Mama SaidSing To Trumpets And Strings
Big John (Ain't You Gonna Marry Me)Baby It's You
Baby It's YouBaby It's You
Soldier BoyBaby It's You
It's Love That Really CountsThe Shirelles Greatest Hits
Foolish Little GirlFoolish Little Girl

All of the above tracks were also released as singles

 

The Shirelles photo 1

The Shirelles (l to r): Beverly Lee, Doris Coley (later Doris Coley Kenner and then Doris Kenner Jackson), Shirley Owens (later Shirley Alston and then Shirley Alston Reeves), Addie “Micki” Harris

 

 

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Shirelles playlist

 

 

Contributor: Merric Davidson

The Shirelles … the same four members from inception – Shirley, Doris, Micki, Beverly – and the first major female vocal group of the sixties with twelve Top 40 US hits including two No.1 records. They made around fifty singles between 1958 and 1973 – half of them up to 1963 when the hits started to dry up – and with so many great B-sides it makes it very difficult to pick just ten.

So much so, that I’ve decided to subvert my selection – the list above representing my top ten tracks after many many replays, my favourite Shirelles records, all released as singles – and I’m spending more time on the next ten that didn’t quite make the topper-cut.

There were Shirelles LPs in the early 60s, all on the Scepter label in the US, but I didn’t own any, just accumulated a stack of singles in the manner of the times, mainly from junk shops and second hand racks.

Two of the early albums were released in the UK: the first, The Shirelles Sing To Trumpets And Strings on Top Rank in 1961 (just one of their many UK labels – Brunswick, London, HMV, Stateside, Pye International, Bell … it can’t have helped!); and Baby It’s You on Stateside in 1962 which has an ill-advised version of Chuck Berry’s Back In The USA retitled Twisting In The USA and here it is if you dare!

Their debut album, Tonight’s The Night, was mostly a collection of singles and there was also the obligatory twist album, this one with King Curtis in ’62, Give A Twist Party.

Even though there isn’t the familiarity with the album tracks as there is with the singles, I’ve done my homework and there isn’t one on the first strings-laden album I’d elevate over the singles. (The strings on Will You Love Me Tomorrow are obviously an honourable exception reaching pop perfection.) The orchestration on the second, Tonight’s The Night, is more rock ‘n’ roll – Johnny On My Mind, Lower The Flame, Doin’ The Ronde – and it benefits from the production and songwriting of Luther (“16 Candles”) Dixon; several of his songs are picked out in this post. There’s a lot of very young love on Tonight’s The Night, lip-kissing and heart-flipping, and as a whole it really comes across as a record I would have played to death in 1961. “The dance is over and you are gone…”

The Foolish Little Girl LP in 1963 had some good covers: Jackie Ross’ Hard Times, Jessie Hill’s Ooh Poo Pah Doo, a couple of Van McCoy numbers and the Crewe/Gaudio song, Talk Is Cheap. Good material then, but the purple patch was fading fast.

 

 

THE OTHER ONES

 

The third Decca single from 1958, I Got The Message, written by Shirley Owens and with a fab dirty sax intro. You’ll fear the way she sounds as she suddenly gets the ‘message’. We’re still in the classroom so that boy better beware!

 

Look A Here Baby, the flip side of Dedicated To The One I Love, was written by the group and produced by Florence Greenberg’s son, Stanley, as was the A-side. And it’s a crazy mixed up disc. Finger-snapping, hand-clapping, toe-tapping excellence.

 

Boys (1960), the B-side of Will You Love Me Tomorrow, written and produced by Luther Dixon and Wes Farrell and one of two Shirelles originals to be covered by the Beatles on their first album, Please Please Me.

 

Beverly Lee takes the lead on You Don’t Want My Love, another Luther Dixon song from Tonight’s The Night and it’s quite a departure from the girl group sound, more along the lines of a blues shouter – a bit like a rough round the edges, teenage Big Mama Thornton.

 

Originally recorded by Doris Day in 1958, try also this clip of Everybody Loves A Lover by the Shirelles from the 1973 rock ‘n’ roll movie Let The Good Times Roll. And you can catch the whole film here and watch Chuck and Bo trading licks at the end.

 

The flip of Foolish Little Girl and it’s a great double bill, the top side oh so sad and this one, Not For All the Money In The World, raw and raucous rock ‘n’ pop.

 

Sha-La-La wasn’t a big hit on the US pop charts although it did make #15 on the R&B chart. The song fared better in the UK where it was covered by Manfred Mann and reached #3. It was fine but I much preferred the Shirelles’ sparse rendition of a lame lyric turning it into something special. Sha La La was also on the eponymous first album by Cliff Bennett & The Rebel Rousers.

 

The flip of Sha-La-La, I could easily have elevated this one into the top 10, it’s that good: “Friends all say that I’m a dope, to stay in love when there’s no hope, but I’m a dope who loves him hopelessly. What can I do? Hey, what can I say? Each time I try to say goodbye, His Lips Get In The Way, oh yeah, his lips get in the way.”

 

Look What You’ve Done To My Heart represents the group’s soul period. Recorded in 1969 by Shirley & The Shirelles and released in the States as the flip of A Most Unusual Boy, this song written by Ellie Greenwich became a big hit on the Northern Soul scene. Other UK dance floor ‘hits’ from the Shirelles mid-to-late sixties catalogue include Last Minute Miracle, Playthings, Look Away, March (You’ll Be Sorry). In fact, I think this one (the flip of Sweet Sweet Lovin’ on the Blue Rock label ) may be the best of them all in that vein:

 

 

THE ODD ONE OUT

 

It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. I have a love/hate with this one. “Truly lamentable” thinks Roger Dopson (in his sleeve notes to The Definitive Collection CD). Just scratch your neck and say what the heckThe film was pretty dire – and very long – but we all went to see it in 1963. Didn’t we? The clip above is great fun though and that’s mainly why it’s here.

 

THE TOPPERMOST TEN

 

I Met Him On A Sunday (Ronde-Ronde). Where it all began in 1958. The first – and only – single, on Florence Greenberg’s Tiara label, was written by the four group members for a school show. The lyric, Doo ronde ronde ronde pa pa, is somewhat similar to the later Da doo ron ron, don’tcha think. The above clip includes the record’s B-side, I Want You To Be My Boyfriend. Shortly after release, Florence sold her label to Decca and started the mighty Scepter Records where she would soon pal up with the girls again. A great bit of business.

Dedicated To The One I Love was an R&B hit for the “5” Royales in 1957. The version by the Shirelles, with lead vocal by Doris, is pared back and brittle and brilliant – it was first released in 1959 and reissued two years later when it reached #3 in the States on the back of the success of Will You Love Me Tomorrow. It did nothing at all in the UK. I managed to snaffle a copy of the 1961 Top Rank single and marvelled at it. Still do. There’s a lot more about the original version on this page of this site.

Tonight’s The Night made it into the lower reaches of the Billboard Top 40, winning the race against the Chiffons cover of this Luther Dixon song which was released at the same time in 1960. It’s early Shirelles, it’s not their best, it’s not their best-ever production, it’s not always on point, the band is a little ragged, the voices are a bit off the beat, but it is a truly great pop record.

Will You Love Me Tomorrow – the first breakthrough hit for a Goffin & King composition – and a huge No.1 hit at that – with Shirley Alston’s magnificent, perfect, timeless vocal performance on this sad teen movie in microcosm: “You said that I’m the only one, but will my heart be broken when the night meets the morning sun …” In her autobiography, “A Natural Woman”, Carole King writes: I sang the song live (to Florence and Luther) over my piano accompaniment and tried to sound like Shirley Owens. One of the other Shirelles told me later that when Shirley recorded it she was trying to sound like me sounding like her.”

Mama Said there’ll be days like this, there’ll be days like this, mama said…” Pop lyrics don’t come much better than that, I think you’ll agree. No.4 in the US in 1961.

 

Brilliant production from Luther, Big John (Ain’t You Gonna Marry Me) made it to #2 on the national R&B chart and appears on the Baby It’s You LP. For me, it’s an intensely familiar song that you don’t get to hear too much these days.

Baby It’s You, written by Burt Bacharach, Luther Dixon and Mack David, and the other Shirelles original covered by the Beatles on their first album, Please Please Me. If you were looking to replicate the formula for hit-making of that time, it’s all here in Baby It’s You; it couldn’t have been improved and it’s one of those records that gets better and better the more you hear it. #8 in the US in 1962.

Soldier Boy (written by Luther Dixon & Florence Greenberg) was the second US No.1 hit by the Shirelles in the spring of 1962 and I think it’s fair to say the iconic status of the song, then and now, outweighs its sentimentality. I can’t bring myself to feature its lyrics here but I love it regardless of all that, and that’s it.

It’s Love That Really Counts (In The Long Run) was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, produced by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and is the B-side of Stop The Music (1962). It was covered in the UK by the Merseybeats the following year and reached #24 in the charts.

Foolish Little Girl. “Forget him ’cause he don’t belong to you, it’s too late he’s found somebody new, and there’s not a single thing that you can do…” Heartbreaking – and incredibly catchy. #4 in the US, #38 in UK (but #1 in my book for that week!).

 

The Shirelles carried on making records into the 70s, try their version of the Royalettes’ It’s Gonna Take A Miracle or Randy Bachman’s No Sugar Tonight on Happy And In Love (1971) but the real good times had come and gone.

They hardly made a poor record though (unless you count Mad World!), were more versatile than their early hits had suggested, and will long be remembered for some stone rock pop ‘n’ soul classics.

 

The Shirelles photo 2

 

Addie “Micki” Harris (1940-1982)

Doris Coley (1941-2000)

 

The Shirelles poster 1

 

A FEW TASTY VERSIONS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

– or you could have Brenda Lee, Helen Shapiro, Little Eva, Dusty Springfield, Cher, Jackie DeShannon, Francoise Hardy, Sandy Posey, Four Seasons, Roberta Flack, Melanie, Smokey Robinson, Dave Mason, Barbara Dickson, Andy Gibb & P.P. Arnold, Laura Branigan, Joe Walsh, Cilla Black, Bryan Ferry, Laura Nyro, Bee Gees, Shawn Colvin, Twiggy, Amy Winehouse etc etc and of course …

 

The Shirelles poster 2

 

The Shirelles – A Fan Tribute Website

The Shirelles on Discogs

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: The Shirelles

Rhythm and Blues Foundation Pioneer Award 1994

The Shirelles on Ace Records

The Shirelles biography (Apple Music)

Merric Davidson is a retired publisher who started this site six years ago. He tweets toppermost @AgeingRaver.

TopperPost #822

6 Comments

  1. Dave Stephens
    Nov 23, 2019

    Brilliant! You should do this more often. A couple of comments on THAT song: (1) when I listen to it again it always seems faster than I remember but it works, it works marvellously, and, (2) from a comment in 45cat, ““Will You Love Me Tomorrow” is the closest thing to perfection ever recorded, IMO” and that gentleman does have a point.

  2. Alex Lifson
    Nov 23, 2019

    Great essay! Always happy to see one on an artist that I haven’t thought about in years. Thank you.

  3. Peter Viney
    Nov 23, 2019

    Excellent. A greatly under-rated group. I hadn’t realized where Van Morrison got “My mama told me there’d be days like this” until today. Also, if you did a Toppermost of singles which are essential on both sides Will You Love Me Tomorrow / Boys would have to be there. The Beatles, like the great folk tradition (and both Dylan and Baez) had no issue with singing songs without feeling the need to change gender in the lyrics. The good stuff is the early stuff. I’ve dug out “The Shirelles” RCA from 1972, and it’s full of well-performed covers of soul hits, but veers to Three Degrees more than early Shirelles.

  4. Paul Newman
    Nov 23, 2019

    Marvellous piece, thank you Merric. Boys is one of my favourite records of all time, I never tire of it. I remember discovering it on the back of Will You Love Me Tomorrow on Top Rank and wondering why nobody else seemed to know it. Until the Beatles did a version of course – far inferior to the original but gratifying to know they must also have appreciated this perfect flipside. But lots more to explore and listen to again in your excellent Shirelles selection.

  5. David Lewis
    Nov 24, 2019

    Charles Shaar Murray said it best: if you’re not moved by ‘Will you still love me tomorrow?’ You have no business listening to pop music.
    That’s true of all of these.

  6. Andrew Shields
    Nov 24, 2019

    Merric, thanks for this brilliant Toppermost. Such fabulous music…

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