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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block...

(Soundbite of "Out in the Streets")

THE SHANGRI-LAS: (Singing) Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh...

BLOCK: ...with the siren song of the girl group.

(Soundbite of "Out in the Streets")

THE SHANGRI-LAS: (Singing) He don't hang around with the gang no more, and he don't do the wild things that he did before.

BLOCK: That's The Shangri-Las with "Out in the Streets" from 1965, one of 120 tracks on a new four-CD box set titled "One Kiss Can Lead to Another."

(Soundbite of "Out in the Streets")

THE SHANGRI-LAS: (Singing) Out in the streets...

BLOCK: They're not the songs you might expect, not the big hits like The Shangri-Las' "Leader of the Pack" or The Shirelles' number-one "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" Instead, it's the B-sides, the forgotten gems. And a few that might have been better off left forgotten, like the howler "Peanut Duck," never released when it was recorded in 1965, and nobody knows the singer; maybe it's just as well.

(Soundbite of "Peanut Duck")

Unidentified Woman #1: (Singing) Quack, quack, quack-a-doo, quack-a-dee-dah. (Makes burbling sound) Quack, quack, gee-gee, dee-gee, dee-gee-gee-gee-gee goomba.

BLOCK: You go, girl.

Now the producers use the term `girl group' elastically; it might be a group of one: Cher, Twiggy, Jackie DeShanon. And there are some genre-bending surprises.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. DOLLY PARTON: (Singing) My parents say you're lazy, but you can be smart if you try.

Backup Singers: Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh.

Ms. PARTON: (Singing) And I know you've got a heart 'cause you've never, ever made me cry.

BLOCK: Yep, that's Dolly Parton, with an excursion into throbbing pop from 1966.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. PARTON: (Singing) Don't drop out of my life. Baby, don't be a fool. No, no, baby, no, no, no, no. You're old enough to know you're too young to (unintelligible) so cruel. No, no...

BLOCK: The co-producer of the box set is Sheryl Farber, who says this music deserves respect.

Ms. SHERYL FARBER (Co-producer, "One Kiss Can Lead to Another"): The perception of this music for a lot of people is that it's very innocent and lots of chiffon and, you know, kind of more on the camp side of things, when really this is some of the best pop music that's ever been made.

BLOCK: Let's think of some songs here that would point that out. Is there a group in particular that you have in mind?

Ms. FARBER: There's actually a few groups that were comprised of the same girls. The Cookies is the group that they're most known for, but they were also The Cinderellas, The Palisades...

BLOCK: The Honeybees.

Ms. FARBER: ...The Honeybees. And they just churned out one beautiful song after another.

BLOCK: Well, in their incarnation as The Cookies, one of the songs that you include here is called "I Never Dreamed."

Ms. FARBER: Mm-hmm.

BLOCK: It was written in 1964, written by Gerry Goffin and Russ Titleman.

(Soundbite of "I Never Dreamed")

THE COOKIES: (Singing) My baby wants me and he needs me, and he calls me every night. And he holds me when I'm crying to show me it's all right.

Ms. FARBER: That's a perfect example of just a song that really never got to enough ears for one reason or another. Maybe the label didn't care to push it, but it really could have been another "Be My Baby."

BLOCK: There also seems to be a pattern with a lot of these songs that if they weren't a hit for these girl groups or these girl singers, somebody else would take that same song and make it huge.

Ms. FARBER: Yeah, that happened a lot.

BLOCK: Now there's one song by one of The Cookies, Earl-Jean, "I'm Into Something Good."

(Soundbite of "I'm Into Something Good")

EARL-JEAN: (Singing) Woke up this morning feeling fine, 'cause there was something special on my mind.

BLOCK: Didn't do much for Earl-Jean.

Ms. FARBER: Didn't do much for Earl-Jean, but Herman's Hermits had a huge hit with it. I don't want to say anything bad about Herman's Hermits, but I kind of like Earl-Jean's better. Sorry, Peter Noone.

(Soundbite of "I'm Into Something Good")

EARL-JEAN: (Singing) Something tells me I'm into something good.

Backup Singers: Something tells me I'm into something good.

BLOCK: What were the ways that these groups came together?

Ms. FARBER: I think one of the real misperceptions about this music is that they were just kind of girl singers plucked randomly from, you know, cities. But they actually were really good friends who had found each other in high school and just loved to harmonize with each other. Many times, these girl group songs were doing really well and it became clear to record labels that they could get hits with this music, so there were kind of these search of that talent. And there was so much talent at that time all over in these schools, and these girls could really sing. I mean, there's not one false note on any of these songs.

(Soundbite of "Bye Bye Baby")

MARY WELLS: (Singing) Well, you know you took my heart and then you broke it apart.

BLOCK: There's a great story attached to Mary Wells.

Ms. FARBER: Mm-hmm.

BLOCK: This would be out of Motown. She--the story goes in the liner notes to this disc here--sings the song--she's 17 years old, sings it for Berry Gordy, gets a contract on the spot.

(Soundbite of "Bye Bye Baby")

WELLS: (Singing) Well, bye-bye, baby. Well, I thought your love was oh so true...

BLOCK: That's a lot of voice for a 17-year-old.

Ms. FARBER: Oh, yeah. The emotions behind that. Even if she'd never had a boyfriend...

BLOCK: Right.

Ms. FARBER: ...she somehow knew how to access that feeling.

BLOCK: "Bye Bye Baby" is a song that Mary Wells wrote herself, which was pretty unusual back then.

Ms. FARBER: Yeah, actually. That was--it was a very rare example of. But there are some incredible songwriters that came out of this period. Jackie DeShannon wrote a lot of her own songs and wrote them for other people, as well. And then you have Carole King.

BLOCK: It's great fun to hear very early Carole King, from 1963, well before her own solo career...

Ms. FARBER: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

BLOCK: ...would really take off in the '70s. The song, "Bad Boy."

(Soundbite of "Bad Boy")

Ms. CAROLE KING: (Singing) Mama doesn't like him 'cause he never cuts his hair. Daddy doesn't like him 'cause he says he heard him swear. He's a bad boy, but I don't care.

BLOCK: That common theme from the 1960s.

Ms. FARBER: Mm-hmm. You know, `What are my parents going to say?'

BLOCK: Did you run across songs that seemed to really break the mold, that were talking about something unusual or that you really didn't hear on a lot of girl group songs?

Ms. FARBER: There was a track on here by a girl named Dawn--just Dawn--and she sings this song about paranoia called "I'm Afraid They're All Talking About Me."

(Soundbite of "I'm Afraid They're All Talking About Me")

DAWN: (Singing) I never had much confidence in myself. Was it the way that I was brought up that made me dependent on someone else?

BLOCK: That's an amazing song. What's going on in that song?

Ms. FARBER: It's fantastic. It's just a descent into hellish paranoia.

(Soundbite of "I'm Afraid They're All Talking About Me")

DAWN: (Singing) I hear what they're saying. They're calling my name. They're calling my name. They're getting louder! You gotta help me! Get them out of my head!

BLOCK: Well, Sheryl Farber, thanks very much.

Ms. FARBER: Thank you so much.

BLOCK: Sheryl Farber is co-producer of the box set "One Kiss Can Lead to Another: Girl Group Sounds, Lost & Found." There are photos and more music at our Web site, npr.org.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Woman #2: (Singing) Hey now, girls, I say I'm telling you the natural facts, 'cause finding a good thing, girl, is like finding a needle in a haystack. ...(Unintelligible).

NORRIS: It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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