How’s THAT for an attention-grabbing title?

“Be My Baby” and “Leader of the Pack” are two of the best-known archetypal “girl group” songs of the early 60’s.

Shangri-Las – Leader of the Pack

The Ronettes, the Shangri-Las and other similar groups from this period, as well as Spector and The Wall Of Sound, are such hugely-foundational pieces of pop and rock music that my recommendation to everyone is simply to somehow get your paws on a copy of One Kiss Can Lead To Another. It’s an anthology every bit as crucial as the Nuggets series.

I’m going to talk about the groups that have reclaimed and revived the spirit of this music, again and again. Its combination of sugar-sweet melodies, rhythmic simplicity, hormone-addled primal emotions and echoey noise has proved to be an irresistible inspiration to successive generations of punk and post-punk musicians (and all of us who are teens at heart).

Unlike the original girl groups, these groups are not always entirely comprised of girls, and they also generally write their own songs and play their own instruments; but despite the differences, they help ensure the sound and the spirit that they love so much would keep on reverberating down through the decades.

First up: Scotland’s Shop Assistants, here covering the Shangri-Las in 1986:

Shop Assistants – Train From Kansas City (Shangri-Las Cover)

Shop Assistants borrowed heavily from fellow Scots The Jesus and Mary Chain – themselves huge girl group fans who’d re-used the iconic “Be My Baby” drumbeat on no fewer than three songs on their 1985 debut – and their epiphany that the Wall Of Sound’s traditional orchestra could be handily replaced with the white noise of the Velvet Undergound’s guitars:

Shop Assistants – You Trip Me Up (JAMC Cover)

Shop Assistants, and the larger independent scene that they were part of, were often willfully primitive, amateurish, lo-fi and noisy, or had…idiosyncratic approaches to the concept of tempo:

Talulah Gosh – Talulah Gosh

But not all of the newer generation of bands inspired by girl group sounds were so shambolic. The Primitives were sometimes thumbnailed as “Debbie Harry fronting the Mary Chain” (and of course, the consummately-professional Blondie had also played with classic girl group iconography and oldies song structure).

Their version of the formula resulted in some highly-polished pop songs that still have bite, like 1988’s “Crash”:

The Primitives – Crash

By 1990 in the US, DC’s Black Tambourine would be pursuing a similar course as the Shop Assistants, inspired in part by another black-leather-jacketed, buzzsaw-guitared band of Spector-and-girl-group fetishists: The Ramones.

In a way, this wave of post-punk girl-group-inspired bands feels like a reclamation, wresting the wheel back from the men who had paradoxically ruled the genre for so long. Feminism had made serious inroads into mainstream culture since the original girl groups of the early 60’s; fittingly, these newer girl-group-inspired bands are much less lyrically…passive when singing about about their subjects, or their romantic rivals:

Black Tambourine – Throw Aggi Off The Bridge

Shop Assistants – I Don’t Want To Be Friends With You

In recent years, the sound has come around again (third wave now? Or maybe it never really left):

Vivian Girls – Tell The World

But it never loses sight of its roots; with lots of songs about pleading, and running, addressed to or about their baby:

Vivian Girls – Where Do You Run To

Dum Dum Girls – Take Care Of My Baby

And boyfriends, and waiting by phones, and outsized teen emotions:

Best Coast – Boyfriend

And outright rewrites of classic girl-group tropes, like the teenage tragedy song (see also: “Leader of the Pack”):

The Manhattan Love Suicides – Head Over Heels

Speaking of “teenage tragedy”, The Smiths were also girl-group aficionados who wrote songs about adolescent automotive catastrophe. Here they get their payback with this beefed-up (HA!) tribute:

Dum Dum Girls – There Is A Light That Never Goes Out (Smiths cover)

This stuff floats in a nexus between garage, indie pop/rock, and (fittingly, given its own affinities for walls of sound) shoegaze.

Given the last, and the fact that modern bands can also be more explicit in their “overwhelming love as drug” metaphors, it’s no surprise that there can sometimes be a psychedelic edge to this stuff:

Black Tambourine – For Ex-Lovers Only

Dum Dum Girls – Coming Down

Beaches – Send Them Away

To maybe bring things full circle – Stephin Merritt is a prolific and accomplished songwriter who often gives his songs to girls to sing, and sometimes constructs Spector-esque pocket symphonies using unusual or old-fashioned instrumentation. In some ways, then, he’s a bit of a throwback to the assembly-line way things were often done at the time of the original girl groups.

In 2008, under his main guise of the Magnetic Fields, he released Distortion, an avowed, unabashed tribute to the JAMC’s Psychocandy (and therefore, to the girl groups which were its inspiration).

It contains the hilariously bitter “California Girls” (no California girls were hurt in the making of this song):

Magnetic Fields – California Girls

Add in any I’ve missed, or just old favorites, in the comments!


Glyph is worse than some and better than others. He believes that life is just one damned thing after another, that only pop music can save us now, and that mercy is the mark of a great man (but he's just all right). Nothing he writes here should be taken as an indication that he knows anything about anything.


    • You know that I only realized recently (like, a couple months ago) that “Five String Serenade” was actually a cover?:

      Much as I love Mazzy Star, I’m not sure I hear much of the “girl group” sound there, at least explicitly- they are MUCH more narcotic (though to be fair, I have absolutely no idea what their songs are about, they could all be Ronettes songs for all I know)…are you thinking of the JAMC connection?

      Trivia time: Dave Roback, guitarist in Mazzy Star was previously in the pretty-great jangle/psychedelic rock band Rain Parade:

      This Can’t Be Today:
      What She’s Done To Your Mind:

      • Yeah i don’t think they have a real old school girl group sound. Definitely more of a strung out girl and psychedelic guitar sound. I think the female voice really makes the song though, makes it much dreamier and out there instead of just dark and depressing. If anything J + MC is the connection to girl groups, which is what made of think of MS and Mojave 3.

        Rain Parade was a really good band. I played them a ton when i was dj in college in the 80’s. Crashing Dream was my favorite album of theirs. You here Mazzy Star coming out of that album.

        • Just ordered Crashing Dream on yr recommendation (I only have Emergency Third Rail Power Trip & Explosions In the Glass Palace).

          Dangit, for a free website, the LoOG sure ends up costing me money.

    • Mojave 3 was (is? are they still around? I think Halstead does solo stuff now…) good. I put this one of theirs on quite a few mix tapes:

      Since I am apparently going with trivia time, Halstead & Goswell’s previous band Slowdive was more psychedelic, but quite good. Maybe my second favorite of the so-called “shoegaze” bands of that era.

      “When the Sun Hits”:

      • I’ve been meaning to play some Halstead on Spotify to see how much i like his solo stuff. I’ve got stuck on the new National album.

        • I have Halstead’s Sleeping On Roads because I liked its beautiful cover, but I have never really listened to it much.

          Playing it now, it kind of sounds like The Clientele (who RULE) – kind of 60’s folk-pop?

  1. Okay just one more.
    The Beautiful South- sugary sweet, at least on the surface, english pop band.
    Lots of great duets.
    This one is the most reminiscent of the older girl groups i think.,a-little-time,kpkrl.html

    Totally unasked for trivia. The Beautiful South were a very successful pop group in england but never hit it here. The band was formed out of the remnants of The Housemartins, a good alt group from the 80’s. Another member of the Housemartins was Norman Cook, who became Fatboy Slim.

    • I had a Beautiful South album at some point, but it is long since lost and I don’t remember a single song.

      But Housemartins, yeah – as an American Smiths fan I was sort of contractually-obligated to listen to them too.

      “Happy Hour” (this one came up on shuffle the other day):

      “You Better Be Doubtful” is one I still play too…but it’s not on YT.

      • I always like the People That Grinned Themselves to Death. Good band.

  2. Oops forgot to mention the BS. They have some good very catchy songs with, typically, bitter cutting lyrics.

  3. The Prmitives link does not work.

    Is the Leader of Pack video supposed to be funny or not? The guy on the motorcycle can’t seem to keep a straight face but things were strange back in the 1960s. They lacked high-tech and couldn’t make a serious music video of the song.

    I like the Train From Kansas City as song by Neko Case:

  4. I don’t have anything to say other that, having finally listened to all the songs here, this was awesome. I think I’ll go through them again.

    • Thanks! Dunno if you saw, but in one of those Dum Dum Girls clips, they were in yr neck of the woods.

      I think what’s so fun about this, like the Nuggets sets of psych/garage stuff (or any other sort of genre ghetto, like twee, or shoegaze, or anything), is that in a way, a point gets reached where any single artist really becomes kind of irrelevant.

      Oh sure – some are better at it than others (Dum Dum Girls particular seem to grow by leaps and bounds with each release, both in the songwriting and in the playing/singing), but one-hit wonders abound too, and can be accorded as much respect as anybody else.

      The respect is based not on longevity or productivity, so much as on making at least one perfect song – and knowing that that song now stands as part of a vast galaxy of other such songs.

      You can make a mix of this stuff, and you may not be able to tell the songs’ artists apart without liner notes – maybe not even tell what *era* each is song from.

      That whole sort of faceless holistic aspect: the lineage, and traditions of the craft; song after song after song all saying the same things, because those things never really change. Which sounds like a criticism but it’s not, to say that all these songs are really kind of just one song.

      There’s something timeless in those sort of teen emotions and the sound used to express them.

      • Yeah, I saw they were live at sxsw in the first video. At some point, sxsw will become a musical singularity.

    • Thanks Professor! I had to sneak that Smiths in there, but it was a cover*, so hopefully it didn’t hurt you too bad.

      *Last time I saw Dum Dum Girls, they opened with a dark-as-hell cover of the Stones’ “Play With Fire”, and closed with that Smiths cover. You better believe Glyph was in heaven that night.

      • There is a theoretical, but as yet unproven, possibility that a Smith’s song might be tolerable if sung by someone other than Morrissey.

  5. Another thing that is interesting in the videos is looking at the progression of what was acceptable to wear on TV. The Rondettes and Shangri-Las were wearing very formal clothing, very conservative.

    When did it finally become acceptable for rockers to wear jeans and a t-shirt on TV? Around 67?

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