Music

Lesley Gore Hits The Radio This Weekend To Celebrate Her Birthday

We talk a lot, here at Monkey See, about movies and television, often giving you (as we did earlier today) a heads-up about what's on tap for tonight or the weekend. One thing that we don't usually cover is radio, ironically enough. (Or, if you assume that you're offering aid and succor to the Enemy whenever your dial is turned to anything that's not NPR, maybe not so ironically.)

But I'd like to break with tradition by directing your attention to Sunday's episode of Little Steven's Underground Garage (check your local listings for time and station), where the host will be interviewing Lesley Gore on the occasion of her 64th birthday.

Gore, who the ever-reliable Wikipedia informs us is best known for 1963's "It's My Party," is an often-overlooked player in early-1960s rock and roll. Part of that may be because her subgenre was girl-group pop. Standing alone alongside actual groups of girls such as the Shangri-Las and the Crystals, being only one of herself made Gore an anomaly, even if the music fit snugly in the tradition of buoyant adolescent melodrama.

But to watch The T.A.M.I. Show (the recent DVD release of which surely has something to do with the timing of the Little Steven interview) is to discover her anew.

The most popular performer on the bill, even if not the most celebrated, after the jump.

The concert movie is justly celebrated for an atomic performance by James Brown, a newly restored Beach Boys set and the Rolling Stones sneering their way to adulation eight months before "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" would actually make them stars.

Partly by design, partly by sheer luck, there isn't a single major subgenre of rock and roll as it existed in the fall of 1964 that isn't represented in the film: Merseybeat, London blues, surf rock, Motown, Southern soul, girl-group and garage rock.

And Gore is, in many ways, the centerpiece of the movie. (Including very nearly the literal one, as her performance serves as the first-act finale.) As is mentioned in the DVD commentary, she was the most popular artist on the bill at the time the concert was filmed. At 18, she may have also been the youngest, but you'd never know it to watch her, and not just because she's dressed like everybody's aunt.

Gore's songs typically had a strength about them that set her apart from the vulnerability of her sequined compatriettes: not just "You Don't Own Me" but "Maybe I Know," "She's A Fool" and "Judy's Turn To Cry" are all informed by a confident defiance. Even the teen-emo subject matter of "It's My Party" comes equipped with a hell-with-you tag of "... if I want to." Even when she's bawling her eyes out, she's still insisting that you don't own her.

It's shocking to think that Gore was barely 20 years old by the time her major hitmaking period ended. Her insistence on going to college likely hampered her ability to concentrate on her music career, and the girl-group era would fade within a few years anyway. In the decades following, she remained connected enough to the business to write songs for movies like Fame (for which she was nominated for an Academy Award) and Grace Of My Heart.

She's a lot more interesting and substantial than the "teen-pop" label that Wikipedia misleadingly bestows upon her would suggest, is what I'm saying. And if she's got some stories that she wants to tell Little Steven, then you might consider tuning in to hear them. If you're not glued to NPR, of course.

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