It’s easy to forget not only how fresh the girl-group sound was in the years leading up to the Beatles’ arrival, but also how dominant it was, even during the British Invasion, as a commercial force.
The phenomenon is also representative of a very American theme I explore again and again here, a theme that underpins much of Office Naps; namely, the dissemination of a successful music phenomenon outwards, where, at its logical endpoints, it gets approximated on a local, independent level by a thousand different aspiring artists and groups.
Thousands of records were in fact released through the mid-’60s that were clearly inspired by the girl-group sound. And, of these iterations, there were many that did sound like the Crystals, the Chiffons, the Supremes, the Shangri-Las, et al. (Don’t get me wrong, I love all of these groups.)
But decades of revisionist film treatments of the early ’60s and, worse, restrictive oldies radio playlists, have shrunk our concept of what that sound represents. In reality, the spectrum of girl-group records (if you take them to include rock ‘n’ roll- or R&B-inspired pop records with females harmonizing, or, more broadly, females singing with a certain teen-pop sensitivity) is wider, weirder and more varied than one might otherwise realize. From raw R&B ballads and girl-band rockers to wall-of-sound folk-rock arrangements and early psychedelia, the girl-group aesthetic was reflected in myriad, fascinating ways in the early-to-mid-’60s.
This week’s selections share more in what they lack – namely, the big, sweeping drama and teenage insouciance of the stereotypical girl-group sound. They’re smaller productions but, along the way, they offer much in unusual atmosphere, otherworldly female vocals and a different, fresher narrative.
1. The Accents featuring Sandi, Better Watch Out Boy (Commerce C-5012)
The Accents weren’t a girl-group in the traditional sense, as they featured just one female in the lead singer role, but they evoked the pop sensibilities of some contemporary girl-groups, especially on this haunting selection.
A San Diego outfit, the Accents were formed in 1962 by high school friends Frank Mannix, a bass player, and Don Lovas, guitarist, who’d already played together in the Shadows, a local combo. Precipitating out of other teenaged San Diego groups (including the Galaxies, the Nomads and the Valiants), the Accents would solidify, after a year’s time and a few more line-up changes, with the addition of vocalist and keyboardist Gabe Lapano, saxophonist Doug Myers, drummer Tony Johnson and the group’s new singer, Sandra “Sandi” Rouse.
Released in 1964, “Better Watch Out Boy” was the Accents’ first record. Though something of an anomaly in terms of the group’s normal repertoire, which was oriented towards danceable R&B and Motown-style pop, it is nonetheless pure magic, a stately song of love that, despite its release at the height of the British Invasion’s first wave, seems to belong to some entirely separate, fascinating twilight zone of pop. Sandi’s vocal performance (with Gabe Lapano providing some ghostly harmony support) is in particular a wonder of opposites here: commanding, restrained, cool, warm.
“Better Watch Out Boy” would prove the Accents’ best-selling release, too, charting nationally after being picked up for re-release by the larger Challenge Records. The Accents remained a large live draw in Southern California, making television appearances and releasing a half-dozen other 45s, all consistently good, for Los Angeles-based labels over the next few years, before breaking up in the summer of 1966.
The Accents’ story is beautifully documented by Tony Johnson, the band’s drummer, at their website. You can also find a copy of their CD, which compiles some of their 45s along with live recordings from the era, there.
Sources: The Accents’ website
2. The Santells, These Are Love (Courier CR 115B)
The Santells’ “These Are Love” is a case of the locally-produced 45 where the story of the record label is better known than the group itself.
Courier Records was one of several labels operated in the northern Ohio town of Fremont, near Sandusky, by Robert Brown, a young music enthusiast and aspiring producer. (As an army serviceman, too, he would relocate his label operations to Aberdeen, Maryland for several years in the mid-’60s before returning, again, to Ohio.) Among the wide variety of styles Brown recorded between the early ’60s and early ’70s was some notable rock ‘n’ roll, pop and R&B, including this 1964 track by the Santells, the second of their two 45s on the label.
The Santells had already recorded and released a 45 earlier that year on Courier (“Why Are We Apart?” b/w “There’s a Time and a Place”), with a slightly earlier-sounding R&B group sensibility. It gained little notice, but this 45’s flipside, a cover of Johnny Otis’s “So Fine,” was quite successful, and was soon licensed for re-release in the United Kingdom on Sue Records.
The Santells were almost certainly an Ohio group. However, there is, strangely enough, a second pressing of this same 45, again on Courier, but with a Los Angeles address printed on the label, leading to some speculation that the Santells were a California group. It would have been unusual, but, from a purely stylistic standpoint, “These Are Love” does have a Los Angeles-type sound to it, especially its sparkling and very unusual instrumentation, the personification of ’60s Pacific sunshine.
Sources: Buckeye Beat
3. The Results, I Might as Well Forget Him (Apt 45-25094)
From 1965, “I Might as Well Forget Him” is an unusual lament that comes through in all sorts of gorgeous guitar and hypnotic harmonies.
It is the first of two 45s by the Results. Despite its release by Apt Records, a subsidiary of the New York City-based ABC-Paramount label, the Results are likely a Southern group, and a Georgia-based at that, as its credits are closely tied to three Georgia-connected individuals: Joe South, at this point an aspiring producer, songwriter and session guitarist working out of Nashville and Muscle Shoals, his solo career still a year or two off; songwriter-turned-singer Tommy Roe, who would himself enjoy great chart success with hits “Sweet Pea,” “Hooray for Hazel” and “Dizzy”; and Atlanta music impresario, DJ, publisher, producer and label operator Bill Lowery, who had a hand in many of the state’s post-War commercial recordings.
The flipside of this 45 is “Untie Me,” another Joe South composition that was a hit for Georgia R&B group the Tams in 1962. The Results’ real story is, in fact, almost completely obscured by the credits on their records, as neither this 45 nor their 1966 follow-up 45 (“Funky” b/w “Need Your Love”), another Joe South production, offer any real clues as to personnel, though it seems likely that it’s South himself heard playing guitar on this.