This month Cleopatra Records offers some important aid in resuscitating the girl-group genre. The new compilation Leader of the Pack highlights the career of the inimitable Shangri-Las.
The album is a push for today's female artists aching to shriek, "It hurts when I girl-group!" It's a display of pillow-clutching pomp hardened with urbane sensibilities — teen sociological studies redolent with the aroma of hair spray and exhaust. For example, war strains our smitten one in "Long Live Our Love" (rather than a predictable rival suitor), while "Leader of the Pack" remains the most potent of era's "death discs." "He Cried" finds assertive lead vocalist Mary Weiss confessing, "And when I told him his kisses were not like before/He cried." The Shangri-Las pined before that dresser mirror, theatrically inflating the moments of everyday teenagedom. But one always got the sense, beyond the tears dabbed for Jimmy or Johnny, they were women who had their shit together.
In some ways, the Shangri-Las and the new English group the Pipettes share a branch in the genre's phylogenetic tree. On We Are the Pipettes, finally released in the States last month, the threesome proclaim themselves "the most prettiest girls you've ever met," decry they've had "enough of sweet," and play the role of flame-stomper in "One Night Stand." Producer Phil Spector once dubbed his girl-group offerings "little symphonies for the kids; the Pipettes, slightly less symphonic, update the kid-centric anthems for tougher days.
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That's not to say the Pipettes are the salvation. However, in a girl-group landscape teeming with Top 40 epigones (the reality-TV readiness of the Pussycat Dolls, the airbrushed Girls Aloud, the marketed "girlicious" qualities of the Sugababes), their inclusion is welcome. And yes, the entire genre was built with manufactured constructs — the image of the chin-stroking, cigar-chomping talent scout/manager persists. But for all the prefabrication, the emotion originally captured was legitimately raw, powerful, and genuine. Leader of the Pack forcefully reminds.