© 2024
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Fresh Air Remembers Lesley Gore Who Sang Hits Including 'You Don't Own Me'


This is FRESH AIR.


LESLEY GORE: (Singing) Sunshine, lollipops and rainbows - everything that's wonderful is what I feel when we're together. Brighter than a lucky penny. When you're near the rain clouds disappears, dear, and I feel so fine just to know that you are mine. My life is sunshine, lollipops and rainbows...

DAVIES: We're going to remember singer Lesley Gore, who died Monday at the age of 68. Born Lesley Sue Goldstein in Brooklyn, she started singing as a teenager and had several hits before she was 18. She stayed in school, though, and got her degree in American literature from Sarah Lawrence College. After her teen hit years, Lesley Gore began writing songs and performed in musical theater, television and eventually in concerts on the nostalgia circuit. And she kept recording music.

Her last album "Ever Since" was released in 2005, the year she came out as a lesbian. Before she died of lung cancer, she was working on a memoir and a Broadway show based on her life. Everyone who listened to Top 40 radio in the '60s knew Lesley Gore's hits - "Judy's Turn To Cry," "She's A Fool," "You Don't Own Me," "That's The Way Boys Are" and, of course, her first hit, "It's My Party," which was produced by Quincy Jones. It was one of the big pop records he produced long before the Michael Jackson days. We'll hear Terry's interview with Lesley Gore in a couple of minutes, but first let's hear the story of how her first hit came about. This is from Terry's 2001 interview with producer Quincy Jones.


QUINCY JONES: During that time, I was recording all the divas and, you know, Nina Simone and Sarah Vaughan and Shirley Horn and Dinah Washington. And we were doing things with Robert Farnon, big string, expensive dates and so forth. And they were beautiful music - musical albums, but Irving said to me one time, he says, you know, all of the pop guys are saying that you and Al Mooney, who are the arrangers, are budget busters because you do all this big music. But we need some more help with the bottom line, with hit records. And I was a little presumptuous and said, well, I don't think it's such a big deal to make a pop hit. And he says (laughter) well, why don't you start making some then? And we were at a meeting at the Oxford House where we had our A&R meetings regularly in Chicago. And he said here's a tape that Joe Glaser sent me and his friend - a fight manager or somebody - has a niece that sang something. Just say you'll listen to it and we'll send it back, you know?

I grabbed it and I thought - I said I'd like to try this because she had a great sound for a rock singer in those days. She could sing really in tune. She was 16 years old. And we went back to New York and talked to Joe Glaser. And he said make her a star and, you know, all of that Hollywood stuff. And we went in on a Saturday and recorded two songs - "It's My Party" and with the B side written by Paul Anka - a young Paul Anka - called "Danny." And on the way to Carnegie Hall I saw Phil Spector. Phil Spector said I just cut a smash, man, with The Crystals called "It's My Party." I said what (laughter)? I had never experienced that kind of competition before. I went back to the studio with the engineer and we mastered 100 acetates to send out to the radio. And the rest, you know - I had to go to Japan right after that and I told Lesley we've got the great record and everything. All we need to do is fix that name because I don't think this name is going to work with a pop record and all so...


You didn't like the name Gore.

JONES: No, I didn't like it.

GROSS: I won't tell Al Gore about that.

JONES: (Laughter) And so I went to Japan to do a television show and doing a little acting and scoring it. And so I got a call from Irving Green later and he said did anybody call you yet? I said no. I said did she get that name together yet? Did she come up with any suggestions? And she said the record's number one. Do you really care (laughter)? I said no.

GROSS: Whatever happened to The Crystals's recording of "It's My Party" that Phil Spector was producing?

JONES: I don't think it came out. I don't think it came out. Lesley's thing must have such impact - I don't know. I may be wrong, but I don't think it came out.

DAVIES: That's Quincy Jones speaking with Terry Gross in 2001. Before we hear Terry's 1991 interview with Lesley Gore, here's that number one hit.


GORE: (Singing) It's my party and I'll cry if I want to, cry if I want to, cry if I want to. You would cry too if it happened to you. Nobody knows where my Johnny has gone, but Judy left the same time. Why was he holding her hand when he's supposed to be mine? It's my party.


GROSS: In Ms. Magazine there was recently a piece with you and k.d. lang having a conversation with each other.

GORE: Yeah.

GROSS: And you said that when you were a kid you'd sing in front of the mirror and you'd slick back your hair like Elvis. But when you finally walked out on stage in the spring of 1963, you went dressed like a nice little girl and performed as you were expected to. Can you compare what you wanted to look like when you started to perform with how you ended up looking?

GORE: Well, you know, I still basically have a very - I'm very - sound oriented image, which has become a major part of our business, is not what I would call my primary interest. So what it was really was sort of this - and you can probably relate - let's say you had a party to go to and I might compare it to having "The Ed Sullivan Show" to do. I would say to my mother or my cousin what do you think I should wear? And we would, you know, then go shopping for something we thought was appropriate because the only influence on my life at that time was my mother. I very often walked out looking sort of like my mini mother.

GROSS: (Laughter).

GORE: You know, you understand what I'm saying.

GROSS: Yeah.

GORE: I didn't have anyone saying to me just put on a pair of jeans and a white shirt, which probably would have felt comfortable to me at the time. But I probably would have had a problem with it because I did believe you get up on stage and you dress up because there are lots of people there and it's importance. And you want to show yourself off to your best advantage. I'm a little bit more savvy now in terms of image, but at 16 you don't necessarily have a clear-cut image of yourself.

GROSS: Well, if you're going shopping with your mother for performances you're not going to end up looking like The Ronettes (laughter).

GORE: Exactly, exactly.

GROSS: So what do you remember of that first recording session when you made "It's My Party"?

GORE: Well, the first thing I remember, which is so different from today, is we recorded four-track. This meant that we had two microphones basically hanging in the studio strategically placed over the band. We had a third microphone in the center of all of the background singers, and they were about eight of them. And then I was in a little booth and that was the fourth mic. So that was pretty much the setup. When we counted off, you heard everything that was going to be there. Today we layer a lot and we track a lot. Then you just went in and did it. When you walked out of the studio you were pretty well mixed and knew exactly what everything sounded like.

DAVIES: We're listening back to an interview with singer Lesley Gore who died on Monday. She was on FRESH AIR in 1991 during a run at the Rainbow and Stars nightclub. Her cabaret act included Gershwin, Porter and also some of the top 40 songs that made her famous, including this one, a song that made Gore, as The New Yorker put it, pop music's original teen feminist.


GORE: (Singing) You don't own me. I'm not just one of your many toys. You don't own me, don't say I can't go with other boys. And don't tell me what to do, don't tell me what to say. And please, when I go out with you, don't put me on display 'cause you don't own me...


GORE: At the time, I know I chose it because I liked the strength in the lyric. But for me it was not a song about being a woman. It was a song about being a person and what was involved with that. Of course, it got picked up as an anthem for women, which makes me very proud. And today when I sing that song - I don't know, maybe it's after the Anita Hill hearings and a number of other things that have - seem to be happening in our world - "You Don't Own Me" takes on a whole other set of meanings for me now.

GROSS: Yeah, I know a lot of people have come to see it as a protofeminist anthem (laughter). So you didn't think of it that way when you were recording it.

GORE: I didn't. What I was impressed with was the strength. I've always hated wimpy women. I've never understood it. So when I first heard this piece of material I knew it was what I wanted to do.

GROSS: Let me play something that's from the '60s from an album called "My Town, My Guy & Me." And this is a standard. This is a Jule Styne-Sammy Cahn song called "The Things We Did Last Summer." Was it your idea to do a standard on this? I want to show a different side of your singing.

GORE: Probably. You know, the very first album that Quincy and I did together, we had to base it on "It's My Party," but we had to throw it together quite quickly and it was called "I'll Cry If I Want To." And it was all cry songs. It was "Cry Me A River." It was the Johnnie Ray's "Cry." So we had established a premise early on whereby I would do standards maybe with just a slight rock 'n' roll edge. But by and large I don't think of "The Things We Did Last Summer" as a rock piece. We did it, I think, just 'cause I love the song. I believe Don Costa did the arrangement and a superlative one.

GROSS: OK, well, let's hear it. I think we'll hear a different side of your singing.

GORE: Sure.


GORE: (Singing) The boat rides we would take, the moonlight on the lake, the way we danced and hummed our favorite song, the things we did last summer I'll remember all winter long. The midway and the fun, the kewpie dolls we won, the bell you rang to prove that you were strong, the things we did last summer I'll remember all winter long. The early morning hike and the rented tandem bike, the lunches that we used to pack. We never could explain...

GROSS: Lesley Gore, do you know what's become of Susan Michaels, who was the president of the Lesley Gore fan club?

GORE: Yes, I do. Susan Michaels was an amalgam of my middle name, which is Sue, and my brother's first name, which is Michael. And it was actually my grandma, my nana - who is no longer with us - who became Susan Michaels and would try to answer all the fan mail personally and hand written. And that's who Susan Michaels was.

GROSS: (Laughter) That's great. Well, Lesley Gore, I want to thank you so much for talking with us.

GORE: Thank you, Terry. I enjoyed it.


GORE: (Singing) The things we did last summer, I'll remember all winter long.

DAVIES: Lesley Gore spoke with Terry Gross in 1991. She died Monday at the age of 68. Coming up David Edelstein reviews the Argentinian film "Wild Tales." This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.