The ten classic girl groups
From the slick to the shambolic, Chris Campion sings the praises of pop's greatest sister acts
Sunday July 15, 2007
Observer Music Monthly
1. The Paris Sisters
Glamour, mystery, intimacy. Songs that speak of heartbreak and hysteria delivered in glacial tones. Female emotions hemmed-in and restrained. These are the hallmarks of the classic girl group. The Paris Sisters (Priscilla, Sherell and Albeth) all but defined the ethereal femininity of the girl group sound with a string of haunting and enigmatic early Sixties hits - including 'I Love How You Love Me' - produced by Phil Spector. Indeed, they were the first girl group he produced. Infatuated with the youngest, prettiest Paris sister, Priscilla (then 16), he placed her dreamy and seductive voice upfront. The Paris Sisters had one of the longest and most versatile careers of any girl group. They started out as child clones of the Andrews Sisters in the Fifties, singing with Sinatra and Elvis at Dunes in Las Vegas. Their later material, some self-written by Priscilla and produced by Jack Nitzsche, then became increasingly artful.
2. The Shangri-Las
With their black leather and go-go boots, the Shangri-Las were the moody, broody rebels of the girl group pack, singing bruised and bloodied teenage melodramas under the tutorship of writer-producer George 'Shadow' Morton.
3. The Ronettes
Phil Spector came into his own managing and producing these three street-smart girls from Spanish Harlem, who ended up in years of litigation with the 'Wall of Sound' maestro over his failure to pay royalties for their million-selling hits.
4. The Supremes
Behind the glitz and the upbeat pop-soul of their Motown hits, drama ruled. When Diana Ross took centre stage, original member Florence Ballard took to drink and was forced out of the group, later dying in virtual poverty at the age of 32.
5. The Cake
The daughters of Sgt Pepper , these three hip and sassy NYC girls wrote and performed baroque folk, psychedelic madrigals and blue-eyed soul with rock attitude. The Cake were formed in 1966 and baked by '68 but stayed fresh and way ahead of their time.
6. The Shaggs
Either the worst rock group ever or so musically inept they were avant-garde. Either way, this sibling trio from New Hampshire were a charming shambles, beloved by Kurt Cobain and Frank Zappa. Album Philosophy of the World is an outsider classic.
7. The Go-Gos
This riotous quintet of new wave Valley girls emerged from the Seventies LA punk scene and scored two firsts. They were the first girl band to hit the top of the Billboard album charts and the first to spawn a (rather tame) celebrity sex tape.
The third biggest-selling girl group of all time scored with the same mix of pop, rap, R&B and street attitude later mined by Destiny's Child. Bouncing back from self-declared bankruptcy, the group was hit by the untimely 2002 death of Left Eye Lopes.
9. Girls Aloud
Footballer husbands, perma-tans and paparazzi attention: such are the accoutrements of a successful modern girl group. Girls Aloud have all these, plus the talents of production team Xenomania, helping them punch above their weight.
10. Spice Girls
More marketing brand than bona fide girl group, the Spice Girls espoused spurious feminist principles to mask basic greed. They sold everything from scooters to crisps and made a packet in the process. But not enough to forestall the reunion.