The second volume of Ace’s Shirelles reissue project finds our heroines firmly entrenched as America’s premiere group.
Shirley, Doris, Beverly and Micki (“Mouse” to her friends) were on top of the world as they rang in 1962 at the Apollo Theater’s holiday show – the youngest-ever women to headline Harlem’s fabled showplace. 1961 had seen them rise to dizzying heights with seven major hits, numerous TV appearances and non-stop touring, including an appearance at the Hollywood Bowl. The craze they had incited was booming – the Apollo bill featured the Marvelettes, who had recently become the second girl-group chart-toppers.
The Shirelles’ third LP, “Baby It’s You”, took its title from their current Top 10 single and, when it debuted on Billboard’s Top Pop Albums, the girls became only the third black American group (after the Platters and Teenagers) to chart an LP in that singles-oriented era. Every cut here shines, including ‘Soldier Boy’, which swiftly ascended to #1, and Shirley’s favourite hit ‘A Thing Of The Past’ (she name-checks “Bevy and Tommy” during the fade – a sly reference to Beverly’s romance with Scepter label-mate Tommy Hunt). Influence on the burgeoning British group scene is evident on ‘Big John’ (those “yeah yeah yeah’s” obviously inspired four young Liverpudlians, who also covered ‘Baby It’s You’), ‘Putty In Your Hands’ (the Yardbirds} and ‘Things I Want To Hear’ (which the Stones purloined for ‘Tell Me’). Doris croons fetchingly on Goffin-King’s ‘Make The Night A Little Longer’, then barnstorms through ‘Twistin’ In The USA’, a Chuck Berry re-write and staple of the Shirelles’ rollicking stage show.
Sax wizard “King” Curtis Ousley often backed the girls live and on record and had scored some instrumental hits, but “The Shirelles & King Curtis Give A Twist Party” was an inexplicable choice for a followup LP. At least one young fan (OK, me) was sorely disappointed to find the group performing only six of the tracks. Recent hit ‘Welcome Home Baby’ is heard here with an alternate, more subdued vocal by Doris, who also contributes a blistering take on New Orleans classic ‘Ooh Poo Pah Doo’.
Scepter’s perpetual recycling drive crested as tracks from “Baby It’s You” found their way to Big Maybelle, Dionne Warwick, Tommy Hunt, Chuck Jackson and Tammy Montgomery (another Apollo holiday co-star). The Shirelles even used the same backing track for both ‘Irresistible You’ and ‘Love Is A Swinging Thing’. One of this CD’s bonus cuts, ‘Hurry Home To Me’ by Valli, is a mystery to the Shirelles, who weren’t aware of its existence until a meddling friend (OK, me) played it for them years later. The differences between the 45 and LP takes of ‘Baby It’s You’ are miniscule, but demonstrate that lead singer extraordinaire Shirley could twice render that impossibly sexy, intimate vocal.
The “Baby It’s You” cover depicts producer Luther Dixon embraced by his four muses. They should have held tighter, as Dixon jumped ship shortly thereafter. The twist party would soon end, but there would be a few more firsts and triumphs in ‘63.
By Dennis Garvey