I may be taking a break from research as last week my supervisor, Mark, took his own life. This news has hit me very hard and need to time to grieve. It may seem to odd to note this passing on a blog that only I look at but I need to recenter my self and my thoughts and this blog helps to to do so.
This week I have found it very difficult to work, think and even speak. On Tuesday I decided I wanted to re-read all of Marks work as a way to ‘speak’ with him again. It was and continues to be a painful experience but also highly valuable. I can start to see more clearly the connections he made between my work and systems of labour. Also, one particularly striking connection was from Ghosts of My Life. During the discussion about Tricky in relation to Jungle he discusses the two-fold dispossession of Tricky’s voice . One via Tricky’s insistence of speaking from a female position (the voice of his mother, grandmother and so on). Plus the use of female vocalists as a way to ‘speak’ Tricky’s words/lyrics. What is made clear here is how Tricky is never in full possession of his own voice. This notion of dispossession can be extended to the material of my own project. However, where Tricky possesses some level of possession with regards to his own voice and his choice to reorganise or use another. This is not the case for my material. Rather what is evidenced is a forced dispossession; a dispossession that aims to reconfigure subjects into objects, that offers no hope for possession. it is this notion of dispossession and possession that I had not thought of before. It is something that I want to continue and seems significant to my own project. I am heartbroken that this connection has been revealed under such tragic circumstances. but my hope is to continue writing as my supervisor had championed me to for so long.
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.
For more information please see: