Over the xmas break I have taken some time away from writing. At the end of November I sent my supervisor a 15000 word paper outline the problems of the term ‘girl group’. Having taken a small break (from writing, not thinking!) I feel I have more questions and points to raise about this term.
One of the central aspects of these groups or figures associated with this term (performers) is decentralisation. This decentralisation occurs in two key areas. First, the decentralisation of personnel due to the organisation and insistence of the ‘group’ image. The insistence of the group makes it unclear who might be recognised as ‘lead’. Or in the cases where there are more distinct lead vocalist (see the Ronnettes) the insistence of the ‘group’ rather then a lead and backing (Diana Ross and The Supremes) allows for this decentralisation to take place. The transformation from decentralised to centralised in the Supremes-Diana Ross and the Supremes alteration is merely in name whereby the sonic organisation of material , i.e vocal, remains largely the same. Furthermore, the insistence of the ‘group’ enables the reorganisation of personnel (see Cyrus) whereby figures and voices can be replaced and reorganised with little fanfare. These reorganisations have evidently gone largely unnoticed by the listening or even viewing public (see Ronnie Spector’ replacement during live tour).
Second, this decentralisation is mirrored by the song writing teams that often produced the songs that would eventually be recorded. The group stand-in for the song-writers but the groups remain only symbolic figures for the songs. At times (see Greenwich, Thompson et al) it is the group that is the ultimate symbol (one voice being used and arranged as a group). This suggests it is the concept of the group rather then a group itself. Why is the ‘group’ at this time so important? Also, when considering the changes in radio airplay and distribution due to the demands of the new ‘top forty chart’ there is evidence of decentralised labour patterns whereby the idea of the group become the ultimate stand in.
Also, what proportion of vocalists or groups of vocalists had experience as backing singers for others prior to or following specific ‘girl group’ releases (The Cookies, The Blossoms, The Adantes?)
Just thinking about the Payola investigations of the late 1950s and how if the practice wasn’t illegal (outside of NY) how could Freed be tried? Also, what were the records that were under interrogation? Freed, known for his ‘Moondog’ and ‘Rock’n’Roll Party’ radio shows, promoted blues and R&B. What tracks was he ‘promoting’? Can we think about this differently? Freed was under pressure due to these promotions and their consumption by young people – yet his refusal to play the white cover version of Tutti Frutti could be perhaps considered an act of activism? is this what was being attacked? could we understand the investigations as a way to block the dissemination and rising popularity of black artists and black music?
- Created Tiara to release “I Met Him on A Sunday” – The Shirelles. This became a ‘hit’ (regional at least) and led to Greenberg selling the group and the label to Decca.
- The group were subsequently returned to Greenberg when Decca felt they were only a one hit wonder.
- This led Greenberg to create Scepter and continued to release with the Shirelles.
- How did she work with/at the Brill Building?
I am now back in the UK from being in Austria for the past fortnight setting up and presenting ‘Losing Chorus’. Although my PhD is not practice based the exhibition and discussions that the exhibition opened up have really helped me think about my research with more focus. One of the points that emerged with more focus was around the politics of disguise – can we understand the changing and replacement of vocals in groups such the Crystals or even the Supremes as a kind of forced disguise (?) Perhaps disguise is not the correct word – obscure, replacement, mimesis, ventriloquise…I am still so uncertain at the moment – but it would be interesting to find out how complicit performers were in the (re)arrangements.
i have also been thinking a lot about the difficulty in pinpointing the ‘beginnings’ of what is understood as ‘girl group’. The term forces a history that is so unsettled and fragmented – that when you begin to hone in on it it disappears. I will continue with these thoughts this evening – my mind s still very fuzzy on what I actually mean….
Although I just want to note down some of things I want to consider for today:
How did the payola scandals impact black run record labels? ( were they targeted?)
what is the relationship between the Chantels and the history of RnB groups? (Nelson George)
I am currently in Linz, Austria preparing for a new exhibition – Losing Chorus. The exhibition explores the non-symbolic aspects of vocalisations produced on ‘girl group’ records.
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