On this day in 1966, The Supremes became the first girl group to reach number one with their album ‘The Supremes A’Go-Go’. Fast forward 46 years and Girls Aloud are top of the pops with a healthy amount of buzz around the announcement of their 10th anniversary tour (and endorsements from both hipsters and pop fans). In comparison to the myriad girl groups in the decades in between, boy bands look droopy. Sure there are the heavies (Jackson 5, Take That, The Monkees, O-Town…) but there’s something magical when the synthesis of a girl group is bang on.
From the Shangri-Las and the Crystals via Destiny’s Child and TLC to the Spice Girls and the Sugababes, girl groups have evolved – but there are certain ingredients that appear again and again. (I’m referring to acts who sing and perform rather than play their own instruments, or write. The likes of Sleater-Kinney, Bikini Kill and Savages do not apply.) Here are some suggestions for the sugar, flour and eggs of a perfect girl group.
Get Some Huge Tunes
First and foremost, you’ve got to have massive tunes. Mentioning all the brilliant songs put out by girl groups in the 60s golden age would be like naming all the old pervs in the world obsessed with Pippa Middleton’s bum. Treat your ears to ‘Needle In A Haystack’ by The Velvelettes below. It’s Motown at its finest. And there are bundles of girl groups from that period whose dazzling discographies are woefully forgotten: The Cookies, The Shaggs, The Orlons, The Dynells and more.
Despite rebuffing the traditional use of harmonies, Bananarama had ‘Venus’, ‘Robert De Niro’s Waiting’ and ‘Shy Boy’. The next decade saw Destiny’s Child who have more bangers than a sausage factory. Girls Aloud – ‘The Show’. Atomic Kitten – ‘Whole Again’. En Vogue – ‘Don’t Let Go’. TLC – ‘Waterfalls’. The Shangri-Las – pretty much everything they ever released.
Accept You’ll Need A Queen Bee
Let’s be honest: there is going to be a weak link in your girl group. We can’t all be Diana Ross. Sure, the parts played by Michelle Williams or Mel C are important, but you’ve got to have a queen bee. It’s nature. Also, get used to a revolving door. Line-ups can be changeable: just look at The Supremes (10 members in total over time), Sugababes (Chekhovian saga), The Ronettes (six switches). Be chilled about your bee – there’s a certain unpredictability to her future. She might become Queen of Pop (Beyoncé) or end up playing Peter Pan at the Liverpool Empire (Natasha Hamilton from Atomic Kitten).
The backbone of a good girl group is the ability to hit the right notes in harmony with the others. From the dramatic close harmonies of the Shangri-Las in ‘Remember (Walking In The Sand)’ to the second part of each line of verse in the Spice Girls’ ‘Mama’ and Destiny Child’s glissando “oos” in ‘Bills, Bills, Bills’ this is crucial.
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Fierce Up Your Style
All Saints, the greatest British girl group of the 90s, are single-handedly responsible for thousands of girls (and boys, probably) wandering around the streets of Britain in the 90s dressed for war, decked out in camouflage trousers and trench coats, and protruding stomachs if pregnant. Strength in numbers dictates that groups can get away with a commitment to outfits that would beckon the fashion police for a normal punter. Destiny’s Child’s fishnet outfits, inspired one assumes by Twelfth Night’s Malvolio are worn with such brio that they look like Gucci rather than Peacocks. Also, you might not know that it was actually Martha And The Vandellas who pioneered the skirt over trouser trend brought back by Gwen Stefani in the 90s.
Forgot about that one on the right
OK, so ‘Pure Shores’ isn’t exactly Paradise Lost but girl groups be praised for lyrics that, for example, promote safe sex (‘2 Become 1’ – Spice Girls), challenge the patriarchy with emotional blackmail (‘Give Us Your Blessings’, Shangri-Las) and bite back at the media’s obsession with plastic surgery and image (TLC’s ‘Unpretty).
I’m not saying assault a nightclub toilet attendant (Cheryl Cole of Girls Aloud was found guilty of assault, not a racial attack) but you want to have a bit of spice in your story. Mary Weiss getting caught with a gun on her person by the FBI didn’t exactly hurt the Shangri-La’s badass rep. Consider a basic fall-out; it’s worked out for the Sugababes.
Don’t Think Too Hard About Your Name
The Sugababes? Atomic Kitten? ALL SAINTS? The stinkier, the better.