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Shirelles Very Best

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The Shirelles
The Very Best of The Shirelles

Rhino Records
R2 71807



(Lowman Pauling/Ralph Bass)
Arranged & Directed by Stan Green
Issued as Scepter single #1203, 4/59; Pop #83
Reissued as Scepter single [same #], 12/60; Pop #3, R&B #2


(Shirley Owens/ Addie Harris/ Doris Coley/Beverly Lee)
Orchestra Directed by Stan Green
Issued as Tiara single #6112, 2/58
Reissued as Decca single #30588, 3/58; Pop #49

(Luther Dixon/Shirley Owens)
Arranged & Conducted by Horace Ott
Issued as Scepter single #1208, 8/60; Pop #39, R&B #14


(Carole King/Gerry Goffin)
(Originally titled "Tomorrow")
Arranged by Carole King
Conducted by Luther Dixon
A Ludix Production
Issued as Scepter single #1211, 11/60; Pop #1, R&B #2

(Luther Dixon/Willie Denson)
Issued as Scepter single #1217, 3/61; Pop #4, R&B #2

(Bob Brass/Irwin Levine)
Issued as Scepter single #1220, 6/61; Pop #41, R&B #26

(Carole King/Gerry Goffin)
Issued as Scepter single #1220, 6/61; Pop #54

(John Patton/Amiel Sommers)
A Ludix Production
Issued as Scepter single #1223, 9/61; Pop #21, R&B #2

(Mack David/Barney Williams/ Burt Bacharach)
Arranged by Burt Bacharach
A Ludix Production
Issued as Scepter single #1227, 11/61; Pop #8, R&B #3

(Luther Dixon/Florence Green)
Issued as Scepter single #1228, 2/62; Pop #1, R&B #3


(Luther Dixon)
Arranged by Bert Keyes
Issued as Scepter single #1234, 5/62; Pop #22, R&B #20

(Van McCoy/Willie Denson)
Arranged by Bill Ramal
Produced by Van McCoy
Issued as Scepter single #1237, 8/62; Pop #36

(Robert Allen/Richard Adler)
A Ludix Production
Issued as Scepter single #1243, 11/62; Pop #19, R&B #15

(Helen Miller/Howard Greenfield)
A Stan Green Production
Issued as Scepter single #1248, 3/63; Pop #4, R&B #9


(Charles Partee/Joe DiAngelis)
Issued as Scepter single #1255, 5/63; Pop #26

16. BOYS
(Luther Dixon/Wes Farrell)
Conducted by Luther Dixon
A Ludix Production
Issued as Scepter single #1211, 11/60

Note: Numbers following original single release information denote peak positions on Billboard's "Hot 100" and "Hot R&B Sides" charts, respectively courtesy BPI Communications and Joel Whitburn's Record Research Publications.




Compilation Produced for Release by GARY STEWART & BILL INGLOT
Project Assistance: CATHLEEN CLARE


When four teenage girls from Passaic, New Jersey, formed a vocal group in 1957, they had no idea how great and far-reaching their influence would be. Shirley Owens, Beverly Lee, Addie "Micki" Harris, and Doris Coley, who would soon become The Shirelles, had no way of knowing that their music would influence legions of female performers.

"The Shirelles opened the door and paved the way for a lot of the girl groups," explains Lee. "It was like a domino effect. In the '50s, most of the vocal groups were male. We were the guinea pigs,”

While The Shirelles were hardly the first girl group, they were certainly pioneers, coming along at a time when all-female pop/R&B groups were the exception instead of the rule. And when The Shirelles exploded in the early 1960s with such megahits as “Will You Love Me Tomorrow," "Dedicated To The One I Love," and "Mama Said," the genie was out of the bottle. The Shirelles' popularity quickly brought about the early-to-mid-1960s girl group phenomenon that gave us The Ronettes ("Be My Baby"), The Angels ("My Boyfriend's Back"), The Crystals ("Da Doo Ron Ron [When He Walked Me Home]," "He's A Rebel," "Then He Kissed Me"), The Shangri-Las ("Leader Of The Pack," "Remember [Walkin' In The Sand],,), and The Dixie Cups ("Chapel Of Love"). The Shirelles' influence was especially strong on The Chiffons, who made their debut with a remake of The Shirelles' ”Tonight’s The Night" and scored hits with "He's So Fine," "Sweet Talkin' Guy," and "One Fine Day."

But The Shirelles' influence didn't end with those post-doo-wop sensations. Over at Berry Gordy's Motown empire, Diana Ross And The Supremes, Martha & The Vandellas, The Marvelettes, and Mary Wells certainly paid close attention to The Shirelles.

"Diana Ross and Mary Wilson (of The Supremes) have mentioned our influence," Lee notes. "If there hadn't been The Shirelles, I don't think there would have been a Supremes. We were definitely before our time."

In the City of Brotherly Love, the influence of The Shirelles (as well as The Supremes) didn't escape the queens of Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff's Philadelphia International empire: The Three Degrees, best known for their 1974 hit "When Will I See You Again." Directly or indirectly, '70s soul divas ranging from The Honey Cone ("Stick-Up," "Want Ads," "One Monkey Don't Stop No Show Part I") to Love Unlimited (whose Barry White-produced hits included "Walkin' In The Rain With The One I Love" and "I Belong To You") benefitted from The Shirelles' long-lasting influence.

In the late '70s and early '80s, The Shirelles and their offspring clearly influenced such '60s-conscious new wave rockers as Blondie's Debbie Harry and the Go-Go's. And in the '90s, Beverly Lee hears traces of The Shirelles in soul/hip-hop belters En Vogue. "With En Vogue and some of the other girl groups that are out now," Lee asserts, "they're getting back to the type of girl-group harmony that The Shirelles popularized."

At their commercial peak in the early '60s, The Shirelles were especially popular among adolescent girls, who accounted for most of their record sales. Their popularity in the booming, incredibly lucrative teen market wasn't hurt by the fact that lead singer Shirley Owens (now Shirley Alston) and mostly backup vocalists Beverly Lee, Doris Kenner (who started out as Doris Coley and is now Doris Jackson), and Addie "Micki" Harris were either 16 or 17 when they formed a group in 1957. Calling themselves the Poquellos, the girls performed doo-wop oriented material at high school dances and parties in their native Passaic. One of the songs they performed, an original titled "I Met Him On A Sunday (Ronde-Ronde)," caught the attention of schoolmate Mary Jane Greenberg  whose mother, Florence Greenberg, owned the small Tiara Records. "We were the first female group to write some of our own material,” Lee stresses. “We did have some say-so in our writing."

Florence Greenberg liked what she heard, signed the girls to her label, and recorded the song for release as a single. What Greenberg didn't like was the group's name, and she insisted that they find another one before she release the single. Greenberg suggested The Honey Tones, a name they quickly rejected. Greenberg was agreeable when the singers came up with the name Shirelles - a name that was closer to The Chantels, the hottest girl group at the time and a definite influence on The Shirelles. Groups like The Shirelles, The Chantels, The Bobbettes (“Mr. Lee"), and The Teen Queens ("Eddie My Love") didn't have a great deal of competition from other females. The vast majority of successful '50s vocal groups - The Drifters, The Five Satins, The Coasters, The Penguins, The Moonglows, The Spaniels, The "5" Royales, among many others - were male. Some admirers went so far as to exalt The Shirelles as "The Female Drifters."

Greenberg leased the infectious "I Met Him On A Sunday (Ronde-Ronde)" to Decca Records, and the doo-wop classic climbed to #49 on the pop chart in 1958. The Shirelles recorded two more singles for Tiara/Decca, "My Love Is A Charm" and "Stop Me" /"1 Got The Message," neither of which charted. In 1959, Greenberg formed Scepter Records and released the Shirelles singles “Doin' The Ronde" and "Please Be My Boyfriend" - neither hit. That year, Greenberg hired producer/songwriter Luther Dixon, a graduate of The Four Buddies and producer of The Crests' teen anthem "16 Candles," to work with The Shirelles. The group enjoyed its next hit with the soaring doo-wop ballad "Dedicated To The One I Love," previously a hit for The "5" Royales.

The Shirelles' version initially went to #83 pop, but Greenberg and Dixon knew the song could do much better. Reissued and promoted aggressively in 1961, "Dedicated To The One I Love" went to #3 pop and #2 R&B.

In 1960 The Shirelles went from being moderately successful to enjoying super-group status. After hitting #39 pop and #14 R&B with "Tonight’s The Night" - which oozes with anticipation of romance and intimacy - The Shirelles enjoyed their first million-seller with the #1 pop/#2 R&B hit "Will You Love Me Tomorrow." While the Carole King/Gerry Goffin song didn't actually mention sex, it spoke to many young women's desire for intimacy to mean commitment - if we make love tonight, will you still love me tomorrow?

“Will You Love Me Tomorrow" was not only a victory for The Shirelles and Scepter; it was also a triumph for the highly prolific King/Goffin team, which went on to write many other '60s classics. By herself, King subsequently become a hugely successful pop singer in the '70s with "It's Too Late/" "Jazzman," and other hits.

The Shirelles' winning streak continued in 1961, when "Mama Said" soared to #4 pop and #2 R&B; "Baby It's You" reached #8 pop and #3 R&B; and "Big John" made it to #2 R&B and #21 pop. That year, both sides of the single "A Thing Of The Past" /"What A Sweet Thing That Was" became moderate hits - the former made it to #26 R&B, while the latter climbed to #54 pop. Demonstrating just how phenomenally popular The Shirelles were in 1961, legendary rock 'n' roll deejay Alan Freed organized a June show at the huge Hollywood Bowl and asked The Shirelles to headline over such hit-makers as The Fleetwoods, Bobby Vee, Brenda Lee, and The Ventures.

The next year, 1962, proved to be another banner year for The Shirelles. The sweeter-than-sugar ballad "Soldier Boy" spent no less than three weeks at #1 on the pop chart, and hit #3 R&B; the poignant "Welcome Home Baby" went to #22 pop; and an inspired remake of Doris Day's late-'50s hit "Everybody Loves A Lover" went to #19 pop. (The single may be the only song associated with Doris Day that became a #15 R&B hit!) That year also saw the release of the melancholy "Stop The Music," an inviting slice of teen drama that hit #36 pop, but deserved better.

"Soldier Boy" was atypical of The Shirelles in that it emphasized pure, unadulterated sweetness. From "Mama Said" to "Dedicated To The One I Love" to "A Thing Of The Past," The Shirelles brilliantly combined sweet girlishness with soul, sass, and grit - a combination no doubt influenced by The Chantels. The Shirelles tended to be sassier and more robust than the groups they influenced. Compare "Tonight’s The Night" to The Ronettes' "Be My Baby," "Dedicated To The One I Love" to The Dixie Cups' "Chapel Of Love," or "Big John" to The Angels' "My Boyfriend's Back," and The Shirelles' tougher qualities become obvious.

Lyrically, "Soldier Boy" parallels such World War II anthems as "I'll Walk Alone" and the Andrews Sisters hits "Don't Sit Under The Apple Tree" and ''I'll Be With You In Apple Blossom Time" - it's a young woman's vow to stay true to her sweetheart while he's away serving his country. With the Vietnam War just around the corner, “Soldier Boy" would hit home for many American women for the next decade and a half.

Unfortunately, The Shirelles' winning streak ended in 1963 with "Foolish Little Girl," a #4 pop/#9 R&B smash that turned out to be their last Top 10 hit, and the moving "Don't Say Goodnight And Mean Goodbye," which went to #26 pop. "Boys," possibly The Shirelles' most rockin' song, was an infectious gem that deserved #1 status, but would receive more attention when covered by The Beatles on their first album - which also contained an interpretation of "Baby It's You," Legendary Beatle John Lennon made no secret of the fact that The Shirelles were his favorite girl group.

The Shirelles enjoyed minor hits in 1964 with "Thank You Baby," "Tonight You're Gonna Fall In Love With Me" and “Sha-La-La." Not to be confused with Al Green's 1974 soul smash, the latter would soon become a bigger hit for Manfred Mann of "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" fame. Another minor Shirelles hit of 1964, “Maybe Tonight," was written by Van McCoy, who penned Gladys Knight & The Pips' pre-Motown hit "Giving Up," and who would prosper from the '70s disco boom thanks to his 1975 chart-buster "The Hustle."

But never again would there be another "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" for The Shirelles. Their songs would later be covered by everyone from The Mamas & The Papas (whose 1967 version of "Dedicated To The One I Love" made it a hit for the third time) to Roberta Flack ("Will You Love Me Tomorrow"). But The Shirelles themselves would never recapture the top-of-the-charts success they enjoyed in the early '60s.

In 1964, The Shirelles' long association with Scepter Records and Florence Greenberg, who had been managing them since 1959, went sour because of legal disagreements. The group wanted to leave Scepter, but long and involved legal proceedings kept the singers from signing with another label. While fighting it out with The Shirelles in court, Scepter continued releasing Shirelles material from its vaults.

But singles like "Are You Still My Baby,” which went to #91 in 1965, weren't a high priority for Scepter. The company was giving most of its promotional muscle to Dionne Warwick, who acted as sort of an unofficial fifth Shirelle and periodically filled in for Shirley Owens during live performances. Warwick, who burned up the charts with "Anyone Who Had A Heart," "Walk On By," and other Scepter singles, had become Scepter's #1 priority.

Over the years, The Shirelles would record for a variety of labels with very little commercial success and hardly any radio airplay. Lee blames this situation in part on the loss of Luther Dixon, who wrote "Tonight’s The Night" with Shirley Owens and co-wrote "Mama Said,” "Soldier Boy," and "Boys."

"When Luther Dixon left Scepter," Lee recalls, "there weren't many people who knew how to produce or write for The Shirelles. It was almost like the Dionne Warwick/Burt Bacharach relationship. Burt knew Dionne, he knew how to write songs for her and what notes would come out of her. Luther Dixon knew how to write material for The Shirelles, whereas the other producers and songwriters didn't know what to do with us. I would say that after Luther Dixon, we didn't have the right producers. We weren't presented the correct material. It's all in the mixing - when you're baking a cake, you have to put in the right ingredients for it to come out right. No one understood The Shirelles the way Luther Dixon did."

In 1967, The Shirelles signed with Mercury and recorded the singles "There's A Storm Going On" and ''I'll Stay By Your Side," neither of which charted. That same year, Scepter released one of many Shirelles recordings it had in its vaults, "Last Minute Miracle," and saw the song reach #41 on the R&B chart.

With Doris Kenner's departure in 1968, the group became a trio and began calling itself Shirley & The Shirelles. In 1969, the trio recorded "Look What You've Done For My Heart" for Bell. The single enjoyed some airplay in England, but charted neither there, where they had been extremely popular, nor in the States. Nor did The Shirelles see any chart action after signing with United Artists and providing a remake of "Dedicated To The One I Love."

One can only speculate as to what might have happened with the right label and the right producers. Could Motown - armed with such songwriters as Smokey Robinson, Holland/Dozier/Holland, and Nick Ashford & Valerie Simpson, and headed by the relentlessly aggressive Berry Gordy - have brought The Shirelles back to the top were the label interested in doing so? Could Philadelphia International have done for The Shirelles what it did for The Three Degrees? The Shirelles did have access to material by soul legends Marvin Gaye and Bill Withers when they signed with RCA in 1972, but none of the albums they recorded for the label sold.

One thing Lee insists The Shirelles adamantly refused to do was record disco - even if that decision meant staying off the charts. “We were offered disco songs," Lee recalls, “but we didn't want to do disco. We didn't want to record just any type of material in order to be recording. The Shirelles were never interested in being the flavor of the month.”

In 1975, Doris returned to the group, and Shirley left to pursue a solo career. Calling herself Lady Rose, Shirley recorded solo albums for the Prodigal and Strawberry labels. Big sellers they were not.

Although The Shirelles didn't have much luck recording for labels after leaving Scepter, their live shows remained successful audiences still wanted to hear their early hits. "We were very fortunate," Lee asserts. "Because our songs were considered classics, we were able to continue playing very good venues and working off of those songs."

Addie “Micki” Harris continued touring with the trio until 1982, when she died of a heart attack after a show in Atlanta. The following year, the surviving Shirelles joined the one-time unofficial Shirelle Dionne Warwick for a remake of “Will You Love Me Tomorrow."

In 1994, two groups calling themselves The Shirelles - one led by Beverly Lee, the other by Doris Kenner Jackson - have been touring. According to Lee some labels have recently expressed interest in recording The Shirelles, but Lee hasn't been greeting them with enthusiasm.

"We’re getting offers.” Lee explains, "but what we’re getting, I do not like. Most of the time, it's to record our early songs. How do you outdo a classic?"

But whether or not The Shirelles ever record again, their tremendous impact on popular music remains. This collection's recordings capture The Shirelles at their creative and commercial peak, and show why the group has had so strong an impact and may continue to be influential for some time to come.

- Alex Henderson


Alex Henderson’s work has appeared in Billboard, Spin, Hits, JazzTimes, CD Review, BRE, Black Beat, and numerous other national publications.

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