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Mixing It Up With the Past's 'Girl Groups' : VARIOUS ARTISTS. "Growin' Up Too Fast . . . the Girl Group Anthology" Mercury Chronicles (**)

July 05, 1996|ROBERT HILBURN

"Girl groups." That's such a politically incorrect term these days that it would take someone as contrary as the feminist punks known as the riot grrrls to adapt it for a movement slogan.

At one time, however, girl groups was the name for a distinguished pop tradition--or at least that's what the folks behind this two-disc retrospective would have you believe.

In truth, the girl group movement was at its peak in the early '60s when rock was adrift, having lost the energy and excitement of the pioneering '50s and not yet blessed with the imagination and experimentation of the Beatles and the electrified Bob Dylan.

Measured against the music of the adjacent years, the girl group hits--melodramatic tales of romantic turmoil through the eyes of teenage girls--were considered charming but ultimately disposable novelties. The records also suffered from the stigma of being crafted mostly by male writers and producers.

For fans wanting to sample the girl group tradition, "Growin' Up" promises more than it delivers because the recordings are limited to those owned by PolyGram Records. Unfortunately, that list does not include many of the landmark records outlined in the booklet that comes with the album.

As the booklet details, the first teen girl acts to break into the charts were the Teen Queens ("Eddie, My Love" in 1956) and the Bobbettes ("Mr. Lee" in 1957). They were followed by the Chantels ("Maybe" in 1958) and the Shirelles (whose string of '60s hits included "Tonight's the Night" and "Will You Love Me Tomorrow").

But the most spectacular records in the style were those made in the '60s by legendary producer Phil Spector: hits--from the Ronettes' "Be My Baby" to the Crystals' "Da Doo Ron Ron (When He Walked Me Home)"--that were so superbly crafted they are often excluded today when girl group hits are discussed because the term seems too disrespectful.

Whereas the musical textures of those early girl group recordings (none of which are included in this album) were mostly drawn from R&B, the acts featured in this set leaned chiefly toward a lighter and far less absorbing teen pop style.

While some of the records, including the Angels' "My Boyfriend's Back" and the Shangri-Las' "Leader of the Pack," are considered classics in the genre, the majority of the 50 songs on this collection--mostly recorded in 1963 and 1964--are too plain to deserve a second listen. Among the groups (and the solo artists who sometimes worked in the girl group tradition): the Paris Sisters, the Pixies Three, the Bobbi-Pins, Lesley Gore and Connie Francis.

For someone interested in the era, better choices would be some of the Spector collections or even the Shangri-Las package below.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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