This is the inauguration of the girl group age. Sure, The Chantels had scored a #15 hit in 1958 with “Maybe,” but it was The Shirelles whom everyone copied. Sub out the vocals in “Maybe” for those of a male doo-wop group and the record’s more or less the same. But listen to “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and you hear the birth of a new genre. Lead singer Shirley Owens derided it for being “too country,” but it’s not exactly “El Paso.” The guitar and drums feel like rock and roll, the strings echo classic pop and the vocals are a tamer descendant of R&B. It’s this mix that would become the classic girl group sound, enlushened by Jack Nitzsche and Phil Spector and copied by any fly-by-night producer with a quartet of starry-eyed high school singers.
But “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” wasn’t just revolutionary sonically. The lyrics describe a common teenage dilemma rarely talked about, at least in early ’60s pop songs: does this guy really love you, or does he just want to sleep with you? “Is this a lasting treasure/ Or just a moment’s pleasure?” may not be explicit lyrics, but there’s no question as to what they refer. But it’s the song’s light touch, devoid of moralizing, that makes the lyrics so honest.
I wasn’t alive when “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” was released, so I don’t know how controversial it was on its release. The Shirelles’ prom-dress elegance and the conflicted nature of the song’s lyrics must have gone a long way toward gaining mainstream acceptance. But I think it was the innovative fusion of musical styles and the resonance of the subject matter that made the song a #1 hit and all-time classic. 9
- “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” was the first #1 hit by Brill Building songwriters Gerry Goffin and Carole King.
Hit #1 on January 30, 1961; total of 2 weeks at #1
44 of 967 #1’s reviewed; 4.55% through the Hot 100