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Playlist Project: Sylvie Simmons: Grrl Power

She's a Rebel: From Girl Group to Grrl Power
Sylvie Simmons, Music Journalist

It's a man's world—or it was in the music business. Behind every female recording artist, there was a multitude of men making decisions, from signing her to the label, to making her record, to dictating, in many cases, what she should sing or even wear. But like that cigarette ad in the ’70s said, “You've come a long way, baby!” the records in this crate, which cover a twenty year period, chart one of the most remarkable parts of that journey.
 
It starts in 1960, when The Shirelles, four African American school friends, covered the song Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow and topped the charts, launching the classic era of girl group pop. Most of the groups were black, some white, but they all had a shimmering, streetwise, sometimes sassy sound, with doo­wop harmonies and lyrics of teenage passion, yearning, and pain. And they were invariably associated with one of the Svengalis of that time: male producers, writers, and record label­bosses like Phil Spector, Shadow Morton, and Motown's Berry Gordy.
 
By the late ’60s, as pop singles gave way to album-­oriented rock, the girl groups gave way to all­ male bands. There were exceptions—sometimes in rock, and particularly in R&B and gospel—but the next big opportunity for female artists was the early ’70s singer­ songwriter scene. But by the middle of the decade this intimate, confessional movement would give way to a whole different sound and an abundance of new women icons—an empowering, DIY movement called punk!
 
Sylvie Simmons is a London-­born, San Francisco-­based music journalist. A widely regarded writer and noted rock historian, she is one of very few women singled out in the predominantly male rock elite.

Find out more about Vinyl: The Sound and Culture of Records, open through July 27, 2014.