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THE GREAT LOST LESLEY GORE ALBUM
by Jim Allio
15-June-2001
Copyright (C) 2001 by Jim Allio. All Rights Reserved.

MAGIC COLORS is often referred to as one of the great lost Lesley Gore albums, the other being the OFF AND RUNNING long-player. Both were presaged on the labels of the singles of the same names, and neither were issued in their entirety until July 1994 when the 5-CD Bear Family Lesley Gore box set, IT'S MY PARTY!, was released. Several cuts from both did surface on B-sides or, in the case of OFF AND RUNNING, on Gore's CALIFORNIA NIGHTS LP.

Lesley Gore was at an interesting point in her career when she recorded the MAGIC COLORS project in Hollywood in August and October 1967. That spring, when the Summer of Love officially began with love-ins and be-ins coast-to-coast and, famously, in San Francisco's Haight Asbury/Golden Gate Park area, Lesley re-established the staying power she displayed during the British Invasion three years earlier. She enjoyed one of her biggest-selling records, the Bob Crewe-produced, Marvin Hamlisch co-written "California Nights." The follow-up copycat sequel, "Summer and Sandy" failed to get past #54 in Cash Box and #65 in Billboard, despite doing well in some markets, and the press-heralded second Gore-Crewe album was abandoned.

At any rate, by 1967, Lesley Gore was spending most of her summers and any significant time away from Sarah Lawrence College in Hollywood, typically ensconced in the legendary Beverly Hills Hotel, where I first met her in the spring of that year. So it was natural that she look for a new recording situation in La-La Land, and producer Steve Douglas was an excellent choice. Douglas was the venerated saxophone genius who was a key player in Phil Spector's Ronettes and Crystals Wall of Sound extravaganzas; participated in and helmed many, many great recordings at Gold Star Studios; and was making quite a name for himself producing up-and-coming psychedelic rock bands. The combination of Douglas and Gore's girl group roots as well as their eager exploration of new musical territories made them a potent team.

Their very first session together, August 15, 1967, yielded one of Gore's best loved classic singles, "Brink of Disaster," in which her conscience (portrayed as a New Vaudeville Band megaphone-type inner voice) advises a double-tracked and willful Lesley Gore that she is treading on thin ice - or, specifically, on the 'brink of disaster' - by keeping on with the heartbreaker she ultimately decides to keep playing with anyhow. The song has Spanish flourishes, Beach Boys undertones, a big, big beat, and is belted with an exuberance that belies the lyrics. Like "Maybe I Know," "Look of Love" and many of her earlier hits, "Brink of Disaster" found us rockin' out to Lesley's reckless romantic entanglements.

The B-side, "On A Day Like Today," in which Lesley's love interest has moved on and faces stiff competition from a guy down the hall who is making a play, was like part two of Martha Reeves and The Vandellas' "Jimmy Mack." With its fierce drumming, heart-lifting horns, Association-influenced arrangement, and tough-as-nails committed vocals from LG, this track found a home on many M-O-R (middle of the road, code for adult-oriented) radio stations in fall 1967.

It is interesting to note that the session in which these songs were recorded lasted four and a half hours, yielded two complete and great recordings, and was on the radio within one month. That is unheard of today. Despite great reviews, enthusiastic feedback from radio and significant airplay in many major markets, "Brink" stalled at #82 in Billboard and #87 in Cash Box in October 1967, and is widely considered Lesley Gore's last Mercury Hot 100 chart item ("He Gives Me Love (La La La)", however, did chart in Cash Box and Record World in summer 1968).

Gore and Douglas recorded four more songs in August 1967: "Where Can I Go?," a Lesley and Michael Gore composition that paired a despairing lyric with a relentlessly cheerful melody and placed that combination in a folk-rock meets Broadway march; a re-recording of the Gores' "I'm Fallin' Down," that sounds like a very slight tweaking of the original Bob Crewe production; a second version of the touching Vietnam era ballad, "You Sent Me Silver Bells," which Gore first recorded with Quincy Jones for the OFF AND RUNNING project; and a bluesy, evocative "He Won't See the Light."

By October 1967, "Brink" was on the charts, for however brief a stay, and Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield had submitted the dark, moody "Magic Colors" for Lesley's consideration. They had previously created two heavily played Coca Cola commercials for Lesley, and they were right on time with "Magic Colors." In the inspired hands of Gore and Douglas, the downbeat rocker introduced Spanky and Our Gang to Grace Slick in a moment of cathartic abandon and veered very close to psychedelia. Nightclub drenched versions of "To Sir, With Love," "How Can I Be Sure" and The Tokens' very Summer of Love "It's A Happening World" were sung with sensitivity and intelligence, and rounded out the MAGIC COLORS sessions.

Issued as a single in November, "Magic Colors" did receive airplay on WMCA in New York City and a few other key outlets, but failed to spark, and the consistent, cohesive brilliance of the MAGIC COLORS project was scrapped, not to see daylight until the 1994 Bear Family exhumation. MAGIC COLORS can now be savored and enjoyed in its entirety as the outstanding and wonderful "lost" Lesley Gore pop masterpiece it is.

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    I'LL CRY IF I WANT TO
    Mercury, 1963
    by Jim Allio
    15-Mar-1998
    Copyright (C) 1998 by Jim Allio. All Rights Reserved.

    On "It's My Party," their first single, Lesley Gore and Quincy Jones stumbled onto a character and a story that millions of young people have identified with in the past thirty-five years: the clear-eyed, level-headed, willful teenager who nonetheless is betrayed at her own party by her boyfriend, Johnny, and her chum, Judy.  Already emotionally prescient at sixteen, Lesley details the situation for her audience and decides that tears are the appropriate transient response, but that this, too, would pass.

    You always had the sneaking feeling, listening to the horn-laden Latin rhythms and exuberant vocals of that brilliant first single, that Lesley Gore, having owned her feelings and declared her right to express them, was not going to let any grass grow under her feet.  And she did not.  Within two months, she was already "making out" with a new beau at another party, and right in front of Johnny and Judy, enraging Johnny who punched out the new guy, took Lesley back, and made it "Judy's Turn to Cry."

    You wondered, too, who was the person who mattered the most to Lesley, Judy or Johnny.  Johnny had been the standard since way before Shelley Fabares had him and he grew wings, but Lesley sure seemed to take a great deal of glee in recounting Judy's humiliation.  Hey, what goes around comes around, as we would say in later years.

    Lesley Gore, her producer Quincy Jones, arranger Claus Ogerman and engineer Phil Ramone, undoubtedly were blissfully oblivious of the long-term careers they were setting in motion when they stepped into Bell Sound in New York City on March 30, 1963 to record "Party" and three other tunes, none of which made the cut for their first album together.  However, within sixty days, "Party" was the number one song in the country and Lesley was quickly becoming the most famous teenager in the world.

    There was an interesting tension between Gore's marketed persona of the archetypal suburban teenage girl and the complex, angrier and more emotionally ambivalent person who emerged in her vocals.  Although at the time, Gore's flip hairdo and sunny good-girl vibe made her a welcome antidote to the teen hoodlums that hovered on the pop periphery, she was not as complicit or happy with that image as her handlers may have thought.  But since her managers were her parents, outright rebellion was not immediately forthcoming.  But it sure was there in the music, even on the furiously rushed recording that was her first album.

    To capitalize on the theme of "It's My Party," Jones decided to have Gore record an entire album of tear-stained songs, from standards like "Misty," "Cry" and "The Party's Over" to tear-themed rock numbers written specifically for her by Brill Building stalwarts like Mark Barkan and Ben Raleigh.  Indeed, that team came up with one of Lesley's more memorable "cry" songs, "Just Let Me Cry," that was so sad you couldn't help but feel a bit sorry for the "poor little rich girl" of rock and roll.  Other songs trod the same  path, but the most engaging part of Gore's personality turned out to be the sarcastic, bitchy, implacable woman who emerged on "Cry Me A River" ( sung with surprisingly inventive rhythmic verve for such a youngster), a rockin' cover of "What Kind of Fool Am I?" and the scathing, dry-eyed "No More Tears Left to Cry."

    The cover of I'll Cry If I Want To depicts Lesley seeking shelter from the storm under a spring-blossomed tree, wearing a trench coat to keep her warm, a single perfect tear just rolling down her tender young cheek, surrounded by tear-related song titles with a banner above proclaiming her "the amazing 17-year-old."  Quincy Jones likes to tell the story of how he took Gore on as a challenge to prove he could create pop hits, and of how Gore's mother came into his office one day wearing a huge fur coat, sat right on his heater and told him to make her daughter a star, but nothing would have happened if Lesley Gore wasn't such a wonderful singer.  The bell-like clarity of her voice with its underlying sexy huskiness, accomplished personal vocal style and generally perfect pitch combined with her unusually aware emotional honesty to create a compelling pop recording personality.  With I'll Cry If I Want To, the stage was set for a whole series of wonderful pop rock recordings to follow that endure to the present day.

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    "Someplace Else Now": The Soul of an Artist
    by Pat Swayne
    11-Mar-1998
    Copyright (C) 1998 by Patrick Swayne. All Rights Reserved.
     
    If you havenít heard the album "Someplace Else Now", then you don't know either the depth of Lesley Gore's talent, or the depth of her emotions. Gone are the lighthearted teen-age songs of the '60's. In this collection, you will find songs that are tragic and songs that are disturbing, but you will also find songs that are hopeful, and the incredibly beautiful love song, "Be My Life" (words and music by Lesley). This and three other songs written entirely by Lesley let you peek inside this very private person, and get a glimpse of what she is all about. The music also reveals the true Lesley Gore, because she had more control over the production of this album than any other. From the opening "For Me" to the closing "For You", you will be taken on a musical journey unlike anything you have experienced from Lesley before. This album, more than any other, is Lesley's legacy, and demands that her name be up there with Carole King, Carly Simon, and the other great women song writers of our time.

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    Lesley Gore's Music: A "Scientific" Evaluation
    by Pat Swayne (pswayne@flash.net)
    15 Feb 1998
    Copyright (C) 1998 by Patrick Swayne. All Rights Reserved.
     
    Let me begin by saying I have one standout musical talent: I can tell when something is off pitch. I took a little test once that revealed that I can sometimes tell when a pitch is off by a single percentage point of the frequency, relative to a standard.
    I was listening to a home made tape of my favorite Lesley Gore songs in my car the other day, and I decided to analyze a song rather than just listen to it. The song playing was "She's A Fool". Like many of Lesley's early songs, this one has a few "glitches" here and there, but after listening for a minute in an analytical frame of mind, I started getting goose bumps (really). Here is what I observed about Lesley's singing.
    Pitch: Lesley is always right on, as close as a human voice can get. I doubt if a synthesizer could do any better. (I am, of course, discounting "slides". It is customary to slide into nearly every note in a rock or pop song, and it wouldn't be right without it.)
    Harmony: Like many of Lesley's early songs, this one is "double tracked", and Lesley sings harmony with herself during part of the song. Her harmony is always perfect.
    Key changes: Key changes are one of the more difficult things a singer has to master. There are a couple of them in this song, and Lesley handles them perfectly, without missing a note after the change.
    There are a lot of factors that go into determining whether you like a particular kind of music or not. Perfection alone does not explain why my musical tastes range from Bach to Janis Joplin. But I always knew there was something the scientific side of me liked about Lesley's music. She's good. She's real good.
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