Like its predecessor, Bouffants, Beehives & Backcombing - Early Brit Girls Vol.1 (RHGB 25), this compilation traces the rise of UK ladies from the R&R era to the early 60s, and heralds the newly emergent Brit Girl sound that was evolving at the dawn of the Beat era. As we have learned, although the arrival of the archetypical 60s ‘dolly bird’ was still a couple of years away, by the turn of that decade a whole ‘new look’ Brit Girl was emerging; a slim, wan, wide-eyed young gazelle, the polar opposite of the fiercely glam, tightly-corseted, frilly-petticoated, carefully-coiffed, severely made-up filly of the 1950s, who’d ruled the roost. During the 60s, even the ‘old guard’ underwent serious makeovers, with the result that establishment figures like Alma Cogan, The Beverley Sisters, Petula Clark, Marion Ryan and Shirley Bassey began to look younger than their mothers for the first time in their lives. And the newcomers to the scene were bringing an entirely fresh look and sound to the party…
Back in the dark ages (aka early/mid 50s), female singers had invariably found themselves cast as the ‘poor relations’ as far as the UK hit parade was concerned, essentially because the prime singles-buying market was teenage girls, who tended only to buy records made by those young men who were the objects of their adolescent fantasies. As a consequence, girl singers - most of whom had come up through either the Variety circuit or the various dance bands - were targeted directly at the older, Mums, Dads & Grans’ market, and their records generally reflected this, tending to concentrate heavily on naff novelty/show tunes or straight covers of mainstream US hits. The problem here was that there was invariably stiff competition - the same four or five girls would frequently find themselves competing with one another on the same song - which in turn often led to split sales and airplay.
For example, there were no less than five UK covers of Rosemary Clooney’s US No.1 ‘This Ole House’ (we’ve chosen Billie Anthony’s, which was the biggest Brit version), ditto Jean Campbell on ‘Two Hearts, Two Kisses’ (which also had three US hit versions to contend with). This would continue well into the R&R era - The Beverley Sisters went up against plenty of rivals on ‘I Dreamed’ and ‘Born To Be With You’, ditto Marion Ryan on ‘Uh-Oh, I’m Falling In Love Again’ and ‘Stairway Of Love’, whilst Alma Cogan’s (surprisingly good) cover of Ruth Brown’s ‘This Little Girl’s Gone Rockin’’ remained unissued at the time, as Janice Peters had already beaten her to it. Talking of UK covers, Maureen Evans first began recording for Woollies’ cheapo Embassy label, selling truckloads of covers of Connie Francis records; ‘Plenty Good Lovin’’ was one of her best (Maureen later, of course, had hits under her own steam).
Of course, there were the occasional novelty R&R records - perhaps none more so than Gale Warning (aka Frances Day)’s frankly ludicrous rendition of ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, whilst Drumbeat favourites The Lana Sisters (aided and abetted by Al Saxon, and featuring a youthful Mary O’Brien, aka Dusty Springfield) offered one of four UK covers of ‘Seven Little Girls Sitting In The Back Seat’. But more importantly, the R&R era also saw some new faces emerging, often singing less mainstream repertoire, e.g. Sally Kelly, Glenda Collins, Patti Brook, Donna Douglas - and also Lorrae Desmond, who somehow contrived to straddle both Skiffle and R&R. Talk of Skiffle brings us to the vastly underrated Nancy Whiskey, whose brief flirtation with the big time came with The Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group and their million-selling ‘Freight Train’ (although we’ve included ‘Johnny-O’, which she sang in the film The Golden Disc).
The transition from the 50s to the 60s was gradual rather than instant, and a handful of ‘establishment’ singers were able to acclimatise to new sounds and styles. None more so, perhaps, than Petula Clark whose singing career stretched back to the late 40s. ‘Sailor’ and ‘Romeo’ were a couple of her biggest early 60s hits, although she would successfully reinvent herself later in the decade when she teamed up with writer/producer Tony Hatch. Another 50s name to successfully re-establish herself in the 60s was Shirley Bassey, although it must be said she made fewer concessions to changing styles. ‘As Long As He Needs Me’ was, of course, from Lionel Bart’s Oliver, while her chart-topping ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’ came from The Sound Of Music. One singer who made the musical transition effortlessly, yet astonishingly enjoyed little renewed commercial success, was the aforementioned Alma Cogan; her 1961 release ‘All Alone’ certainly sounds as though it should have been a hit.
Scot Annette Klooger was another former danceband singer who’d seemingly been around forever - her splendid ‘Amor’/‘Rhumba Cardi’ was a 1960 single, still much in demand among collectors; she later went to live in Australia, where she enjoyed great popularity. In much the same bag musically was glamour puss Diana Dors, who demonstrated that she had a voice to match her other attributes on another eagerly sought-after collectors’ item, viz: her 1960 LP Swinging Dors, from whence we’ve plucked ‘The Point Of No Return’ and ‘Let There Be Love’. Jackie Lee (occasionally backed by The Raindrops) had also been a regular TV and radio singer since the mid-50s - she would register her biggest hits in the late 60s/early 70s - and whilst Kathy Kirby first began recording in 1960, she, too, would enjoy her biggest successes later in the decade.
The ‘turning point’, as far as British girl singers was concerned, came with the arrival of fourteen-year old Helen Shapiro in 1961, who topped the UK charts with two of her first three releases. Her biggest hits can be found elsewhere in this series (check out RHBG 25 and RHGB 28), although ‘Little Miss Lonely’ was another top tenner, whilst ‘Keep Away From Other Girls’ made the Top 40 and ‘Kiss ’n’ Run’ was a popular B-side. Hot on her heels came a host of other precocious teenagers, most notably Hayley Mills, Louis Cordet, Carol Deene, Julie Grant, Valerie Mountain and Billie Davis, whose first 45, a cover of The Exciters’ ‘Tell Him’, became a massive hit in early 1963 (Billie had earlier ‘sung’ on Mike Sarne’s ‘Will I What?’). Less commercially successful, perhaps, but no less enchanting were Cherry Roland, Suzy Cope, Jackie Frisco, Patsy Ann Noble and Candy Sparling.
Just a couple of years older - but somehow a little more ‘grown-up’ in comparison - were the likes of Susan Maughan, Grazina, Jan Burnnette, the wholly magnificent Vernons Girls (who actually dated back to the 50s, and Oh Boy!), former Vernons Girl Lynn Cornell (her ‘Demon Lover’ was one hell of a record), Vernons copyists Jan & Kelly, and The Springfields - not actually a ‘girl group’ of course, but their records acted as a showcase for Dusty Springfield’s remarkable voice, which invariably dominated proceedings.
But to give the last word to Penny (Calvert) - who was, at this time, married to Bruce Forsyth - she sings what is, without doubt, the finest lyric on this collection: in answer to the eternal question ‘Who Does He Think He Is?’, it transpires that he’s “…the biggest egg in the frying pan!”
With special thanks to Mick Patrick, Malcolm Baumgart and Lucky Parker