70) The Shirelles – “Soldier Boy”

One of the problems I have writing this blog is that of objectivity.  Of course, the question of whether or not a record is any good is oftentimes subjective; I know from reading the statistics on my blog that many people stumble upon this blog via Googling songs that they clearly like a lot more than I do.  Even what I’d write off as a “bad song” has its fans, many of whom also have personal attachments to the song that go beyond the question of taste.  Nevertheless, I listen to each song at least a dozen times before writing about it (unless it’s so truly awful that it’s painful to listen to), and try to analyze it as fairly as possible.  There have been several cases where I’ve changed my mind about a record between hearing it for the first time and polishing off the final draft.  No huge changes, at least yet, but a few points in either direction on the ratings scale, in an attempt to be as fair as possible to the musicians, songwriters, producers and fans. All of which makes me conscious of the musical prejudices I know I carry into this.  Even a brief glance over the ratings I’ve given so far in this blog make it obvious that I, for example, prefer rockabilly and R&B to teen idols and easy listening.

If there’s one genre that I feel particularly self-conscious writing about, though, its girl groups.  I’ve listened to hundreds of tracks in this genre (which isn’t strictly limited to actual girl groups, but also includes solo girl singers and groups with male members that follow the girl group template), and the number of records I didn’t derive at least some enjoyment from I can count on one, maybe two, hands.  So when a girl group single tops the Hot 100, I’ll give it a high rating, to the surprise of no one.  And when a pop song tops the chart that isn’t girl group, well, then I’ll compare it unfavorably with the girl group sound (as I did with “Johnny Angel“).  I confess it’s a thoroughly myopic look at a genre, as annoying as those reviewers on IMDb who give top marks to all sci fi movies and zeroes to romantic comedies.  But I genuinely think that this music was among the greatest pop music ever recorded, and given the musical heavyweights who have adopted elements of this sound (The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen and The Ramones, for starters), I feel somewhat validated.

But when there is that rare girl group single that I don’t favor, well, there’s a good chance that it is genuinely, unequivocally bad.  And that goes double when it’s by a group that I otherwise adore.  In this case, it’s The Shirelles, who previously struck gold with the inarguable classic and first ever girl group number-one, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.”  Give The Shirelles a top-notch Goffin and King composition, and they virtually create a market for girl group recordings.  Give them a mediocre song sung cloyingly and, well, they still have a #1 hit (albeit their last big hit, bar “Foolish Little Girl” a year later).  Their second and final number one, “Soldier Boy,” doesn’t just pale in comparison to that epoch-making single; it also pales next to their previous Top 10 hit, the slinky yet soulful “Baby It’s You,” and next to a good deal of the non-girl group pop of the era.  Even the always-dependable Shirley Owens sounds bored on the record, as if she recognizes that her talents are being wasted, her voice lacking its usual warmth and engagement.  The lyrics express an admirable sentiment (girl tells boy that she’ll be faithful while he’s in the army), but are dull, while the melody is too jaunty and trite to fit the subject matter.  The arrangement as a whole is pedestrian and doesn’t play to The Shirelles’ strengths.  Which is perhaps the record’s biggest crime: making The Shirelles sound like a generic girl group thrown together to cash in on a trend, rather than originators and leading lights of the genre. 4

Hit #1 on May 5, 1962; total of 3 weeks at #1
70 of 970 #1’s reviewed; 7.22% through the Hot 100

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5 Comments

Filed under 04, 1962

5 responses to “70) The Shirelles – “Soldier Boy”

  1. I actually really like this song, and think it probably influenced my musical tastes more than I ever realized. The sway-worthy vocal harmonies and simple lyrics are typical of the modern bands I love (Au Revoir Simone, Camera Obscura, The Postmarks). If this song were released today it would be backed with Casio keyboards and handclaps, and I’d be lining up early outside Mohawk to see The Shirelles play live.

  2. But-but-but The Shirelles have much better songs! Ah well, horses for courses, if everyone liked the same songs the world would be a dull place, etc.

  3. Not their best, but I love the guitar solo.

  4. wichita lineman

    Andres – there aren’t any harmonies! The Shirelles singing in unison, what a waste.

  5. GeorgeL

    I thought I was the only person who didn’t care for this song. Admittedly, I am not a huge “classic girl group sound” fan, but this one has never done much for me.

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