Growing up in Liverpool in the 60s was a real music education for me. As a teenager, haunting the city’s clubs – the famed Cavern and the not so famous Iron Door, the Downbeat, the Mardi Gras and more – I was lucky enough to hear dozens of exciting young bands (some who went on to some kind of success!) It was through these bands that I had my introduction to US black music. Their performances were peppered with enthusiastic covers of songs originally released by people like Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, the early Motown crew, the Isley Brothers, the Impressions and artists from the Chess, Stax and Atlantic stables. One inspirational name that kept cropping up was the oddly named “Shirelles”. Almost all bands offered songs originally recorded by this group… the most common being the beautiful ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’. (Remember, the Beatles included 2 Shirelles’ songs on the first LP; the Merseybeats’s first hit was a cover of their ‘It’s Love That Really Counts’ while the Undertakers just missed chart action with their take on ‘Everybody Loves A Lover’).
These songs were just so good that I needed to learn more about these Shirelles and get hold of their original recordings. Easier said than done in the early 60s but I learned that this girl group hailed from New Jersey and their wonderful lead singer was Shirley Owens (later known as Shirley Alston Reeves) – hence the group’s unusual name. Active since 1958, they’d enjoyed some US success and though they’d graced the UK charts with ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ in 1960 they were still largely (and sadly) anonymous.
Over the years most of their classic recordings have been reissued but if you’re still not familiar with the group or indeed just want a comprehensive reminder of how wonderful they were can I point you to this new 32 track retrospective that collects together all the Shirelles’ singles (A and B sides) issued between 1958 and 1962. It starts with their 1958 Decca breakthrough, ‘I Met Him On A Sunday’ and ends with their ’62 hit ‘Everybody Loves A Lover’ which they recorded for Scepter, the label with which they’ll always be associated. In between there are plenty of big tunes including the evergreen ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’, ‘Baby It’s You’ and ‘Boys’ (those last two were the ones the Beatles covered… I’ve always thought that ‘Boys’ was an odd choice for a male group- but there you go!).
All cuts offer that wonderfully nostalgic “girl group” sound. Indeed, there’s a sound argument to make that the Shirelles created that very sound – the sound of teen angst delivered with a mix of naivety and worldliness floating on sweet harmonies and memorable melodies. Little wonder dear Dusty Springfield was a prolific plunderer of the Shirelles’ catalogue and in Shirley Owens the group had one of the most distinctive female leads in the history of pop and soul. Great stuff!