Gerry Goffin and Carole King wrote some of the greatest pop songs ever, two of which we’ve already examined here (also, this one). But in 1962, they hit a bit of a rough patch. That year saw the release of their notorious Crystals single “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss),” which flopped, as well as the questionable “Go Away Little Girl,” which unfortunately didn’t. I’m not sure whether it would be worse to interpret the namesake “little girl” as underage or not. Either way, it’s creepy. Ostensibly, the singer is imploring her to “go away” because he’s dating someone else, but the lyrics are just ambiguous enough to make you wonder: “I’m not supposed to be in love with you,” “When you are near me like this, you’re much too hard to resist,” and so forth. Actually, it might not be so bad if not for Steve Lawrence’s smarmy vocals – he was only 27 when the single became a hit, but his faux-sincere croon pegs him as far older. The melody is also surprisingly weak for a Goffin/King tune. Whatever problems “Take Good Care of My Baby” might have had, at least it was catchy. “Go Away Little Girl” just plods along, with none of the lightness and verve of their contemporaneous pop songs. It sounds less like chartworthy pop and more like a performance from a particularly soporific episode of The Lawrence Welk Show. Ironically, Lawrence Welk’s own number one was a whole lot more fun than this. 2
Hit #1 on January 12, 1963; total of 2 weeks at #1
83 of 976 #1’s reviewed; 8.50% through the Hot 100
On the surface, there’s not much difference between “The Loco-Motion” and “The Twist.” Both are pop songs promoting previously non-existent dances, with lyrics that devoted to detailing (albeit vaguely) the requisite motions. But what makes “The Loco-Motion” so superior to “The Twist” is the fact that it is the better song. “The Twist” starts with a basic 12-bar blues form and doesn’t do much with it. There’s no middle eight, no instrumental break, no clever lyrics – nothing to distract from the song’s repetitiousness. But while “The Loco-Motion” uses a standard pop song format as its launching point, note how Gerry Goffin and Carole King toss in a few tweaks. After the drums that kick off the track, the first sound on the record is a weird, flat drone, courtesy of some brass instrument. The drone doesn’t call much attention to itself, but it lays down the foundation for Goffin’s layered production. There’s the unexpected chord changes that bridge the more straightforward verse and chorus (“Do it nice and easy, now, don’t do it slow/A little bit of rhythm and a lot of soul”), and the exaggerated syncopation (“come on, come on – DO the loco-motion with me”). On top of that, so many interesting parts – the backup singers, the handclaps, the horn break – click into place.
But perhaps the most charming element of the song is Little Eva herself. The old story goes that Goffin and King recruited their babysitter to record “The Loco-Motion” as a demo meant for an established artist, but the label liked her take so much that they released it as is. In actuality, the songwriters were already aware of Little Eva’s singing voice before they hired her. Nevertheless, it’s her raw phrasing, with its imprecise enunciation and distinct lack of professional sheen, that catches the ear. While the girl group genre had its share of strong, pure-toned vocalists like Shirley Owens and Darlene Love, much of its appeal stemmed from the idea that these singers could be your life. These are teenage girls, singing about the same problems that you have, who sound like just like you (only better). It’s the imperfections and vulnerabilities in their voices that make them believable. When Little Eva sings, you can trust that she knows the newest dance – even if it doesn’t really exist. 8
Hit #1 on August 25, 1962; total of 1 week at #1
76 of 975 #1’s reviewed;7.79% through the Hot 100
Gerry Goffin and Carole King are rightly recognized as being one of the best songwriting duos in pop (even the more-celebrated Lennon and McCartney covered “Chains”). But for every “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” which gave voice to the conflict and confusion of being a teenager in love, is another track that doesn’t quite scale those heights: specifically, the gloopy, toothless “Take Good Care of My Baby.” The lyrics tell the story of a guy whose girl has left him for another guy. Fair enough. But instead of trying to get her back or just bidding her farewell, we get a passive-aggressive plea – sure, you can have her, but if you get bored or whatever, he’d like her back, please. Oh, just remember – take good care of HIS baby.
Part of it may be personal prejudice – in general, I think girls are better suited to singing this kind of pop than guys are. Maybe I could appreciate the song better if it were boomed out by Shirley Owens or another girl group singer (though it still wouldn’t be a classic). Bobby Vee’s voice is a little too pinched and nasal, his delivery too earnest and vibrato-laden, to be appealing. “Don’t be stupid, don’t be limp/No girl likes to love a wimp,” The Mo-Dettes sang in “White Mice.” There’s a fine line between adorably sensitive and just pathetic. Unfortunately, this record falls into the latter category. 4
Hit #1 on September 18, 1961; total of 3 weeks at #1
58 of 969 #1’s reviewed; 5.99% through the Hot 100
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