Had Shirley Owens and Beverly Lee not become bored while babysitting, The Shirelles may never have existed.
Forming as high school classmates in Passaic, New Jersey, The Shirelles came under the wing of manager Florence Goldberg, the mother of a classmate at Passaic high school, who also ran the Scepter label.
The Shirelles were instrumental in defining the girl group sound and were one of the genre’s most successful acts between 1960 and 1963 when they placed six singles in the US Top Ten.
Bridging Doo Wop and uptown New York pop-soul, the group projected a beguiling mixture of tenderness and innocence that was grounded in R&B as much as pop.
Many of their classic early songs featured innovative, string-laden production by Luther Dixon who also penned several of their greatest hits.
Powered by Shirley’s emotional voice (from whom they had taken their name), the girls were responsible for the magnificent and much-copied singles stretching from Tonight’s The Night (1960) to Soldier Boy (1962), and taking in such classics as Will You Love Me Tomorrow? and Dedicated To The One I Love.
Top Brill Building songwriters like Goffin/King, Van McCoy and Bacharach/David supplied the group with material but they also cut a number of delightful less-famous tunes, including Boys (which like Baby It’s You was covered by The Beatles on their first LP).
After mid-1963, The Shirelles were unable to dent the Top 40, although they recorded some excellent songs, including the original version of Sha La La Lee (covered as a hit by Manfred Mann).
The group recorded well into the 1970s, updating their sound into a more soul-oriented mode that was lacking by comparison to their earlier work.
Alston left for a solo career in 1975. Harris died of a heart attack in June 1982 following a performance in Atlanta. The Shirelles were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.
Now go and listen to Amy Winehouse and acknowledge how many elements of The Shirelles she pilfered . . .
Shirley Alston (Owens)
Addie ‘Micki’ Harris