By a quirk of historic symmetry many of the female pop stars whom I became aware of as a little boy in the 1960’s are now in their 60’s. The joy of You Tube now offers the opportunity to revisit those sixties performers and performances. They have certainly stood the test of time. I am never one to dwell on the Good Old Days, and am always keen to seek out new talent. Yet there is no doubt that these young women used their talent to capture the zeitgeist of the moment in a way that has seldom been replicated subsequently.
Wholly by accident it includes artists from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, reflecting the breadth of talent that was emerging then. What follows is my guide to my favourite female artists of the era, and why:
It is easy to forget now what a good singer Cilla Black was with a versatility that modern X Factor aspirants would kill for. Up until the mid 60’s it was still common for the song to be more important than the singer with hit songs routinely covered by different artists . Cilla (and others) would routinely tackle songs for the British market made famous by the likes of Dionne Warwick in America, and vice versa.Legend has it that she was discovered by John Lennon as a cloakroom attendant at The Cavern Club and then recommended to sixties svengali pop manager Brian Epstein.
Cilla also carried her own show “The Cilla Black Show”, the signature song for which was, “Step Inside Love”, written by Paul McCartney, it is a delightful reminder of a very able young talent.
Sandie Shaw is popularly remembered as the singer who always sang barefoot and for her song in the Eurovision Song Contest “Puppet on a String”. I thought that she was a fantastic talent ,and the clip I have chosen to showcase that talent is a 1969 performance of the Bacharach/David composition, “Planes and Boats and Planes”. She looks beautiful and conveys the emotion of the song far better than any other reading I have heard. The lyric is amongst Hal David’s strongest, She manages to both command and perfectly articulate the song’s story without over dramatising it.
Cilla was a Liverpool coat check girl, Sandie Shaw a Dagenham girl both teenagers when fame called, Pet Clarke by contrast was in her thirties and a seasoned performer as pop broke. Never as hip as the new girls, she still set a standard when it came to vocals, this clip not only features one of her best songs “Downtown” but also has her dressed in a modern style, eschewing her usual flowing evening dresses ,to compete with the bright young things. Written by Tony Hatch, and originally destined for the Drifters, Pet Clark wisely intercepted it before it reached them and made the song her own..
Some say that Dusty Springfield is the greatest female pop singer of the last half century, and there is a strong case for that claim. Reinvented by the Pet Shop Boys ,she enjoyed a deserved second time in the sun in the 80’s. She recorded numerous great songs, the one here is, “I Only Want To Be With You”, circa 1963 a Hawker/ Raymonde composition. Ivor Raymonde went on to work with the Walker Bros and Alan Price for whom his skill for big orchestral arrangements found a natural home, his son went on to become a member of the Cocteau Twins.
Lulu still performs today, her signature song “Shout” a standard ever since she gave the defining performance of the Isley bros penned classic. Yet the song I have chosen is “I’m a Tiger”, because as a child, it had immense appeal, and the video is very twee. Written by 50’s rocker Marty Wilde, who also wrote “Jesamine” for the Casuals. Her cover of Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World” is a definitive reinterpretation and Take That introduced her to the 21st Century with “Relight My Fire”.
Marianne Faithful is an uneasy inclusion here. Vocally she is not in the same league as the others but her association with, and notoriety ( Mars bars have never been the same since), as a camp follower of the Rolling Stones means that she is difficult to omit from the list. She was undoubtedly very beautiful and an iconic figure of the fashion scene alongside the likes of Twiggy. “As Tears Go By” has to be her calling card here because of the Stones patronage, and an emotional reading it is too.Although short of greatness, it captures the era perfectly.
Mary Hopkin was most famous for her reinterpretation of a Russian folk song “By The Long Road” as “Those Were The Days” which captured the acoustic folky sound popularised by Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. The lyrics by Gene Raskin actually lament the passing of Dylan Ochs and Paxton’s early days in New York’s folk scene. Her twee image belied the reality. She was produced by Paul McCartney and went on to work with David Bowie and Thin Lizzy, and having married Tony Visconti the celebrated record producer, became friends with the hip glitterati of three decades.
As the decade closed Clodagh Rodgers rose to prominence culminating in a Eurovision appearance. From Northern Ireland her short skirts made her an instant dads favourite. Her middle of the road style was easy on the ear and had been honed throughout the decade including a spell in Nashville under the tutelage of Jim Reeves, her smash hit was “Come Back and Shake Me” penned by Kenny Young who had previously written “Under The Boardwalk” and worked with Nancy Sinatra and Herman’s Hermits. She is a useful coda to this piece, for thereafter, the pure pop sound which suited so many female voices and solo artists faded as Heavy Metal, Prog Rock and Glam Rock took a grip as the 70’s unfolded, marginalising female solo singers, favouring groups, until Disco rode to the rescue.