Lesley Gore

"I'll Cry If I Want To"(1963)
Just found that Lesley Gore had passed away at the age of 68 - she will forever be associated with her early 1960s hits, though she worked in music ever since.
It was Quincy Jones (yes, same person who worked with Dinah Washington and Michael Jackson, same person who created music for "Roots" and "Color Purple") who discovered her and propelled her to stardom, producing her single, irresistibly catchy "It's My Party" that became her signature song. In less than three minutes the whole teenage drama (with Lesley as spoiled party queen) unrolls before your ears, almost like a movie. It was huge (nr.one all over the world) and it basically kept her working for decades. Single also created demand for album.

Since neither Quincy Jones, nor Gore had more irresistible, catchy pop singles in their sleeves, it was decided that concept of the album would be all about crying and tears. Which is fine, you have to understand they probably had one afternoon to finish the recording. They came up with "Judy's Turn to Cry" which is fun sequel to the story and the rest is divided between jazzy ballads about crying or upbeat, happy, hand-clapping and shoop-shoop copycat relatives of smash single. Many of those I heard later covered by singers everywhere from Spain, Italy, France, Germany and Netherlands so you bet the album was well heard around the world. Naturally, upbeat dance songs sound far more fun than weepy ballads - not because Gore was bad or anything like that, she was wonderful singer with a recognizable, clear, bell-like sound and had a particular, original way of phrasing (am I the only one who hears Liza Minelli somewhere in there?) but she was seventeen and dance tunes were just right for her. Somehow those happy, dance songs still sound great, while over-produced ballads full of strings, annoying backing choruses and harps are dated. Go figure. 

"Lesley Gore Sings of Mixed-Up Hearts" (1963)
Recorded and released in 1963, so this is more of the same. You can't help but imagine poor Lesley Gore being rushed from one recording studio to another, from photo session to a school and than probably doing TV show somewhere in between. Producer was Quincy Jones and he was just right choice to bring all the sweetness and teenage melodrama from young singer, who sounds like a dream - she really had one of the best voices around. As on previous album, everything sink a bit when she is given boring, worn-out covers of ballads like "Fools Rush In" and picks up the moment she bites into a dance song. Listen something cheerful like "Young Lover", "Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows" or "Run, Bobby, Run" and its like a school of 1960s dance moves. However, the centerpiece of the album is actually a ballad - dark, moody and surprisingly brave statement "You Don't Own Me" that went almost as high on charts as "It's My Party". Its not just a glorious, sweeping melody but it had interesting and provocative lyrics that probably surprised many back than - Gore was such a sweet girl that no one found her threatening but the message was clear.

"Boys, Boys, Boys" (1964)
One of those irresistible early 1960s pop albums, where Afro-American producer (Quincy Jones), German arranger (Klaus Ogermann) and a Jewish pop singer (Lesley Gore) joined forces to create soundtrack for a generation. It was already noted elsewhere that Gore was basically a "girl group without a group" and this is still a best description of her music - clear, bell-like, pretty voice backed with lots of hand-clapping, shing-a-lings and shoop-shoops. There is no particular standout track here (except a first self-penned Gore song "No Foolin', I'm Coolin", which is more a curiosity) but the whole album is a very pleasant light pop and fun chapter in girl group discography. Interesting note: Lesley Gore was not a kid - she was fully grown 18 years old young woman but it seems she was shoehorn into kiddie ditties about high school, first loves and boys. I can't help but to feel sorry for her, looking at her pictures she seems very uncomfortable, eyes of old soul looking out from cheesecake photos.

"Girl Talk" (1964)
Just 18 and already caught in a recording industry mill, Lesley Gore released two albums per year at the height of her early 1960s success. Quincy Jones and Klaus Ogermann lead the game again, making sure their young protégé pours her heart out in more teenage melodrama, unrequited love, first love, puppy love and school love. Ellie Greenwich and her husband Jeff Barry (later immortalized with "River Deep, Mountain High") wrote irresistible "Maybe I Know" which must have been one of the sunniest songs Gore ever recorded. As usual, upbeat dance numbers are joy while ballads are overproduced, though French cover "Little Girl, Go Home" is actually very pretty. Lesley Gore was a wonderful singer but her early 1960s albums sound very much alike.

"My Town, My Guy & Me" (1965)
Some internal changes between production/arrangement team means that both Quincy Jones and Klaus Ogermann went to greener pastures and Jack Nitzsche steps in the picture, bringing Phil Spector grandeur with him - this is most Spectorian of all Lesley Gore albums, which actually suits her just fine as beautiful, symphonic "What Am I Gonna Do With You?" shows. You can actually clearly hear what was produced by Quincy Jones (poppy, hand-clapping, shoop shoop) and what by Nitzsche (thunder, lighting, earthquake). I absolutely don't see the point of bringing old, worn-out American songbook pop standards from 1940s into this, but Gore must have wished to distance herself from girl group ditties when she decided to sing "The Things We Did Last Summer" - she is not Streisand. Much better is her return to girl-group melodrama written by Jackie DeShannon "Baby, That's Me" which is truly one of the prettiest Lesley Gore songs ever - its kind of Lesley Gore dressed up in pop-folk, bells tinkling dress of 1960s.

"Lesley Gore Sings All About Love" (1966)
Just a few years ago Lesley Gore was fighting with The Beatles for the top of charts, now at the age of twenty, her singles struggle to hit top 50. With Quincy Jones now busy with other projects, she struggles with other producers (in this case, Shelby Singleton) and inappropriate material, excessive arrangements and frankly boring songs. It seemed as a good idea than to give her covers of "Too Young" and "Young Love" but privately Gore must have cringed inside with all that patronizing. Both younger brother Michael Gore and Valerie Simpson can't breath life into what is uninspired collection of songs and singer herself sounds unsure. "To Know Him Is To Love Him" is beautiful, though. 

"California Nights" (1967)
Producer Bob Crewe here and he brings slightly different, than-current bubble gum sound (kind of Cass Elliott sunny pop) that suits Lesley Gore just fine. Title song and "I'm Going Out (The Same Way I Came In)" are highlights, she chirps like a little birdie and sounds cuddly & sweet but obviously there is a slight problem with ex-teenage party queen not being accepted as a grown-up person. Ultimately its not about managers and producers but about singer herself who can't  find other way to express herself outside of well-mannered, polite image. “The Bubble Broke” was well-meant step into rebellious direction but she is not convincing. 

"Magic Colors" (1967 unreleased)
Inexplicably shelved upon its recording, this album is actually far stronger than Lesley Gore's previous "California Nights" - she sings like a dream (always had), songs are fun and sunny, bubble gum pop, everything is rainbow-colored and groovy, so what was the problem? Apparently this is a cruel world and a competitive business so "Mercury Records" had no problem to drop artist who was only four years ago their main hit maker but recently could not follow the same money-making path. Either you sell millions or we don't need you. Listen closely and album is late 1960s wonder, firmly standing in that particular time (production, music, arrangements) and Gore obviously loved "Mamas and Papas" because same kind of atmosphere is present here. Its not that her singing had changed drastically - if anything, she sounds better than ever before - there are shades and nuances that her younger self could never knew, as much as that now she was sophisticated way above that teenage party queen image and obviously outgrew that chapter. "Magic Colors", "How Can I Be Sure" and "To Sir With Love" uplift this album way above anything she was doing so far and I honestly think this must have been the peak of her 1960s recording discography. 

"Love Me by Name" (1976)
In all the excitement built around the new collaboration between old friends - Lesley Gore teaming up with Quincy Jones again, backed by big recording company - somebody forgot to actually provide most important thing: hit songs. Its really bizarre that so much planning, care and production was used when something so basic as radio-friendly music was ignored. Nothing wrong with ingredients - if anything, Lesley Gore and Quincy Jones are even better now when decade ago when they created hit after hit - but the main course is surprisingly bland, there is simply nothing above average here, except painfully mournful title song (which is stunning, but hardly a hit material). I have a gnawing feeling that this might be one of those highly polished albums where musicians are way too skilled to care for record sales and audience. It is a long way from "It's My Party" to "Love Me by Name" - this time, its almost uncomfortable, clear-eyed look at loneliness, emptiness and sex without love. Title song is still chilling, after all those years.

"The Canvas Can Do Miracles" (1982)
Lesley Gore experienced top of her music career at the age of eighteen and rest was slow decline that even 1976. reunion with Quincy Jones could not prevent. When 1980. movie "Fame" came out, Gore and her brother received "Oscar" nomination for songwriting - it kept her name in media and gave her opportunity to record something new. Alas, "new" turned out to be a album of pop covers, something that was just a little bit before its time (cover albums will become big trend in 1990) and Gore - always sunny, pleasant and warm singer - sticks too closely to originals to actually make any difference. Nothing wrong with material, except that it was already being done by everybody from Carole King, Dolly Parton, Elton John and Carly Simon so new versions should be radically re-imagined in order to get attention. Final results are surprisingly average - almost like Lesley Gore doing Karaoke. It didn't exactly set a world on fire and Gore turned to nostalgia circuit, performing her old 1960s hits.

"Ever Since" (2005)
Well, its been a long time since we last heard from Lesley Gore and she has basically never been allowed to grow up above the spoiled teenage party queen of "It's My Party" years - though Gore actually became even better singer as she matured, no one listened her rare 1970s and 1980s albums and it seems her destiny was to forever sing oldies on nostalgic concerts. Than - out of the blue - new album, of completely new material. Because in our collective memory she is so closely associated with particular sound of her teenage years, it does come as a shock to suddenly hear much older, huskier and slightly worn out voice, not to mention that texture of music has nothing to do with shoop shoop, shing-a-ling 1960s hits - this time is dark, spare, nocturnal small combo backing her trough mostly very melancholic journey. Contrary to all those upbeat ditties she was famous for, Gore sounds as she was waiting all her life to sing this and there is a certain sincerity and determination here that would surprise even Marianne Faithfull. Its a little bleak and gloomy, but very appealing once you wrap your head around the fact this is a completely different person now. This is not "It's My Party" Lesley Gore, but "Love Me by Name" Lesley Gore, waking up in a empty bed after a night with a stranger, feeling empty, lonely, hangover and unloved. There is a whole life between original "You Don‘t Own Me" and new version recorded here. Clever and witty "Not The First" is just one of the highlights here, its written by lady herself but it could have been Burt Bacharach. 

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