LESLEY GORE '60s singer shows it's still her party
Lesley Gore was Britney Spears to the preteen set of the early 1960s.
By JIM FARBER
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
NEW YORK -- The voice sounds deeper than before, the phrasings more thoughtful, the arrangements more spare by a mile.
In Lesley Gore's new version of "You Don't Own Me" -- cut more than 40 years after its initial recording -- she lends a pop classic new life.
"Without the loud backing track, I could ring more meaning from the lyric," Gore explains. "It's a song that takes on new meaning every time you sing it."
It's also a song that has helped Gore's career endure -- after a fashion.
In the early '60s, Gore was the Britney Spears of her day, the dreamy and defiant role model for the training-bra set.
Unlike Spears, Gore cut a string of great pop records, most of them produced by no less formidable a figure than Quincy Jones.
As the most commercially successful teen female singer of the girl group era, Gore racked up 10 hits from 1963's No. 1 "It's My Party" through 1967's "California Nights."
But once radio play receded, her record company "said sayonara," as Gore puts it.
That was in 1968. Although Gore has never stopped performing, she hasn't put out an album of new material in nearly 30 years.
The 59-year-old singer breaks that studio silence with the new "Ever Since," a collection of jazz ballads and folk-pop pieces sung with the seriousness of art-songs.
Besides the redo of "You Don't Own Me," the album also includes Gore's recording of "Out Here on My Own," an Oscar-nominated song written with her brother Michael for the 1980 screen musical "Fame."
Gore became famous when she was 17. At the time, Quincy Jones was chief A & amp;R director or Mercury Records.
"He was smart enough to see this whole new youth market coming up," Gore says. "He had been recording [older stars] like Dinah Washington and Brooke Benton. So he put out a call for young singers. And one of my piano demos made it to Quincy's desk."
Jones picked her demo from a pack of 200 and rushed her into the studio to sing "It's My Party."
The urgency stemmed from a rumor that Phil Spector was about to record the same song with the Crystals.
"If that song hadn't been a hit for me, I never would have seen a studio again," Gore says.
She scored a sequel with "Judy's Turn to Cry" which, together with the breakthrough song, gave Gore the image of a brat.
Mercury Records finessed that into a "poor little rich girl" persona.
"There was this PR person from Mercury who had my family come to Detroit for promotion," Gore recalls. "They posed us in this hotel lobby with a huge armchair and fireplace, and the next thing I know I see this in a teen magazine and this lobby is supposed to be my home. I knew then it was out of hand."
Gore admits she was a sheltered girl from Teaneck, N.J., and found teen stardom a mixed bag, and not something she expected to last. So she enrolled in the arty Sarah Lawrence College.
On weekends, she performed around the country. One stop, an all-star concert in Los Angeles, was captured in the movie "The T.A.M.I. Show" -- she shared the bill with the Rolling Stones, the Supremes and James Brown.
It made a jarring contrast with Gore's college life. "I loved school, but they laughed at me," she says.
"It was much hipper to be Joan Baez than to be Lesley Gore at that point."
Yet 1964's "You Don't Own Me" went on to become an early feminist anthem. Years later, Joan Jett turned the song into a hard rock hit.
"It's a much different kind of song than 'It's My Party,'" Gore says. "With ['Party'] you're always in fourth grade with a big pimple on your nose. But 'You Don't Own Me' has grown."
That's why it deserves Gore's intense new rendition.
All of her new album mines that serious vein. "We didn't want it to sound like it was fixed in any time," Gore says.
"It could be 1960. It could be 2016. We hoped it would be timeless."