Bette Midler's Got A Few Girls You Just Have To Meet Midler has delighted in listening to girl groups since she was a kid. On a new album, she takes a crack at her favorites — from the tight harmonies of The Andrews Sisters to the slow groove of TLC.

Bette Midler Takes On Girl Groups, From The Andrews Sisters To TLC

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KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, HOST:

Since she was a wee girl, Bette Midler has delighted in listening to and singing along with girl groups.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEI MIR BIST DU SCHOEN")

BETTE MIDLER: (Singing) Bei mir bist du schoen, please let me explain. Bei mir bist du schoen means that you're grand.

GRIGSBY BATES: That's her as LaVerne and Maxene and Patty - all three Andrews sisters. On her new album "It's The Girls," Midler covers several decades of girl groups, from those tight harmonies of the '30s and '40s to the powerhouse Motown era, all the way to a fairly recent song - "Waterfalls" by TLC. Bette Midler says for her this album is a love story. She fell in love with music through these songs.

MIDLER: Each one of them meant something to me for some reason. "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen" is a song my father used to sing to me. "It's The Girl" was the first 78 record I ever owned.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT'S THE GIRL")

MIDLER: (Singing) It isn't the paddle, it's not the canoe. It isn't the river or skies that are blue. It isn't the love dreams that bring joy to you. It's the girl. Oh, it's the girl.

(MUSIC)

MIDLER: And I had never heard music like that. I was very, very young, maybe five or six years old. But the sound of it it was just mesmerizing to me. There were groups before that, namely The Boswell Sisters, who really sort of set the bar for girl groups. And The Andrews Sisters followed the Boswell's. The Chordettes followed The Andrews Sisters.

So there - it really was a kind of a chronological thing. I did want to represent as many as I could. I did leave a few out. I know some people will say why has she left out The McGuires? How dare she? But the McGuires - I couldn't find a song that really resonated with me, you know, with the kind of, you know, a little bit on the rascally, mischievous side.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GIVE HIM A GREAT BIG KISS")

MIDLER: (Singing) I'm going to walk right up to him, give him a great big kiss, tell him that I love him, tell him that I care, tell him that I'll always be there. Well, what color are his eyes? I don't know. He's always wearing shades. Is he tall? Well, I've got to look up. Yeah? Well, I hear he's bad. Oh, he's good bad but he's not evil. Tell me more.

GRIGSBY BATES: You know, it's funny. I was listening to those and I kept saying they remind me of something. They remind me of something. What is it? What is it? And then I realized it's got the same kind of upbeat, fun vibe to it that "Hairspray" did. And then I realized that your musical collaborator is Marc Shaiman, who worked on "Hairspray."

MIDLER: Yes, he wrote "Hairspray" with his partner, Scott Wittman. And he's an old friend of mine. He came to me when he was 16 years old. He knocked on my door and he said you don't know me, but I'm a musical prodigy, or words to that affect.

GRIGSBY BATES: (Laughter) Modest.

MIDLER: And I have to be in your world. I know exactly what to do with you. And I'm like, this kid is 16. Please leave me alone. And he never gave up and he was incredibly persistent. And at one point I turned to him and he did deliver.

He said to me, when I heard your first record, it lit a fire under me that nothing had ever done before because you were singing so many different kinds of music that I had never experienced. And I immediately went out to the record stores and I gave myself a musical education. And if it hadn't been for that first record of yours, I wouldn't have known any of that music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU CAN'T HURRY LOVE")

MIDLER: (Singing) But mama said you can't hurry love. No, you just have to wait. She said love don't come easy. It's a game of give and take.

GRIGSBY BATES: You sang The Supremes in country-western. I was like, what?

MIDLER: What? That's what I said, what? Well, he brought me that. And I was like - I resisted. I have to say. But, you know, The Supremes are so iconic and so beloved. And it's a challenge to shine a different kind of a light on it. I mean, some of the songs like "Come And Get These Memories," which - I love Martha and the Vandellas. And I wanted to include them. But I would never touch a song like "Heatwave." And I would never touch a song like "Dancing In The Streets" because to me, those are the definite versions of those songs. They will never be improved upon.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COME AND GET THESE MEMORIES")

MIDLER: (Singing) Here's our old favorite record. Can't stand to hear it anymore.

GRIGSBY BATES: This was so interesting, though, because you did not do the normal, you know, kick his junk to the curb...

MIDLER: Yeah.

GRIGSBY BATES: ...Which was Martha's version, you know, like, I don't want it. Come and get it, sucker. See you later.

MIDLER: Yeah.

GRIGSBY BATES: This was really the way people feel when they have a bad breakup, especially when the breakup isn't your idea.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COME AND GET THESE MEMORIES")

MIDLER: (Singing) Because of these memories I never think of anybody - never think of anybody but you.

(MUSIC)

MIDLER: Behind a lot of those lyrics, I felt that "Come And Get These Memories" was always a mini-tragedy. And I felt the same way about "Waterfalls." The first time I heard it, I burst into tears.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WATERFALLS")

MIDLER: (Singing) A lonely mother gazing out of her window staring at her son that she just can't touch. If at any time he's in a jam she'll be by his side, but he doesn't realize he hurts her so much.

MIDLER: I understood it at a different level than maybe a lot of people heard it because I had lost a lot of friends in the AIDS war. And I felt that it was the song of a mother. I thought it was a mother's song when there really is literally nothing you can do. And there's nothing sadder. And, you know, that's really my benchmark. If I cry when I hear a song, I don't care who tells me I'm not going to sing it. I'm going to sing it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WATERFALLS")

MIDLER: (Singing) Don't go chasing waterfalls, please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you're used to. I know that you're going to have it your way or nothing at all, but I think you're moving too fast.

GRIGSBY BATES: Speaking of tear-jerkers just one more time, I was looking at the - the old tape of you on Johnny Carson's last show.

MIDLER: Yeah.

GRIGSBY BATES: The last broadcast of his last "Tonight Show." I'm guessing he asked for you to be there, yes? [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In the audio of this story, it is said that Bette Midler appeared on the last broadcast of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. In fact, she appeared on his penultimate broadcast. There were no guests on Carson's last show. During that final broadcast, Carson presented highlights from his 30 seasons.]

MIDLER: He did.

GRIGSBY BATES: Did you choose the song or did he?

MIDLER: Well, I worked with Marc.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ONE FOR MY BABY")

MIDLER: (Singing) We're drinking my friend to the end of a sweet episode. Make it one for my baby and one more for the road.

GRIGSBY BATES: From the civilian-sitting-in-front-of-the-television-watching-it point of view, it was really classy and heartfelt. And I have to say, I was absolutely astonished to see Mr. Pokerface wipe his eyes after you sang to him because he was so clearly moved and so clearly not wanting to lose it in the last few moments of his last show.

MIDLER: It was a highlight of my career and it was a highlight for all of us. It was a - we did what we set out to do, which was to express to him how much he meant to all of us who had come through his doors that he had sent on our - you know, people that he had let fly. It was - it was quite a feat. It was really a wonderful night. I'll never forget it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ONE FOR MY BABY")

MIDLER: (Singing) For all of the years, for the laughs, for the tears, for the class that you showed - make it one for my baby and one more for the road - long, long road.

GRIGSBY BATES: That's Bette Midler. She's got a new album out. "It's The Girls" is a tribute to some of the girl groups that have inspired her over the years. Bette Midler, eternally divine Ms. M, thank you so much.

MIDLER: Thank you.

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