It was a meeting of two different worlds with one common interest. 29-year-old Quincy Jones, jazz trumpet player, record company executive, music producer and arranger, paid a visit to Lesley Gore, 16-year-old high school student and ambitiously confident singer. For Quincy it was a venture into the world of pop music; really popular pop music, something he hadn't encountered thus far. For Lesley it was the start of something only a handful of teenagers could hope to experience.
So in February 1963 a limousine pulled up at Lesley's home in Tenafly, New Jersey. Jones emerged from the luxury vehicle with a couple of boxes of demo recordings for them to listen to. Mercury Records was interested in the young singer and the unlikely choice of Jones as her producer and mentor was largely due to his enthusiasm after hearing a demo she had sent to the label's New York offices where he was musical director. "It's My Party," an overdramatized teenage scenario featuring a boyfriend-stealer named Judy, was the first song they listened to and became one of four tracks completed at her first session on March 30, 1963 with Quincy Jones producing and Claus Ogerman arranging. Sometime around April Fools' Day, Phil Spector heard about the song and attempted yet another of his many stunts, making his plans to record it with The Crystals known, planning to do what he'd done to Vikki Carr with "He's a Rebel" several months earlier (that is, to cut Lesley off at the pass and grab the hit song for himself before she know what hit her). It didn't work. For one, British singer Helen Shapiro had already recorded "It's My Party," and Quincy had a hundred acetates of the Gore rendition pressed that very week, rush-releasing them to radio stations across the country. The timing turned out to be perfect. Spector moved on to another project.
On April 6, exactly one week after the studio session, Lesley heard the song on the radio for the first time. Murray the K played it on his show on NYC's WINS. She wasn't aware it had even been released! There was no struggle to convince stations to play the song, or the public to buy it. By the start of June, shortly after her 17th birthday, it was number one on the national charts. Gore was an instant star and had to be rapidly fitted for the part. Her next single, "Judy's Turn To Cry" (cowritten by Edna Lewis and Beverly Ross, an old songwriting associate of Spector's), was a quickly-cranked-out sequel (wherein Lesley takes her boyfriend back from bad-girl Judy). Releasing this kind of follow-up can be risky and has often squashed a promising career - after all, who wants to hear a lesser variation of a huge established hit? In Lesley's case, everyone did. The song went top five on the heels of "Party" and the third single continued the teenage triangle theme: "She's a Fool," musically and lyrically more substantial than "Judy's Turn," became her third top five hit in a span of five months. Lesley was the hottest female solo act of 1963, capturing the essence of the popular girl groups of the day, wrapped up in one suburban seventeen-year-old.
The artistic apex of Lesley's career came next, when Dave White (former member of Danny and the Juniors) and John Madara approached her with a song they had written, "You Don't Own Me." Both she and Quincy loved the song's message, and the end result was a striking production, deftly mixing a string section (in a clever use of a minor chord) with a punctuating xylophone for dramatic effect. In the song's lyrics she declared her independence as a woman - no more male manipulation allowed! Lesley had matured a great deal in just a half year's time and it was reflected in her music. The record shot up the charts in early 1964, another number one hit for sure, had it not been for the "next big thing": The Beatles blasted onto the charts in January with "I Want To Hold Your Hand," leapfrogging Lesley to the top in just two weeks' time. She had to settle for number two, and it wasn't such a bad spot to be in.
When the Grammy nominations came out for 1963, "It's My Party" showed up in the category of Best Rock and Roll Recording, the first of Gore's three Grammy nods. While the Beatles and the British Invasion took hold, her string of hits continued at slightly lower levels as she became a close friend and collaborator of songer-songwriter Ellie Greenwich (who wrote the hits "Maybe I Know" and "Look of Love" with Jeff Barry). Ellie sang backup on many of Lesley's recordings in the mid-'60s; the underrated "Off and Running" is closer to a duet than a solo piece and the two worked together often through the years.
Lesley made a couple of notable big-screen appearances, first in the box office hit The T.A.M.I. Show, videotaped (and later transferred to film) in October 1964 over two nights at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and released to theaters in December. The Rolling Stones, James Brown, The Supremes, Chuck Berry, The Beach Boys, hosts Jan and Dean and several of music's other top acts were featured in their prime, with Lesley singing six songs, including the huge hits that had placed her in the same class with the abovementioned star roster. Her performance in the film nicely exhibits her vocal talent and overall appeal. Several months later she was in Ski Party starring Frankie Avalon (with his usual partner Annette in a brief cameo this time around). A less-than-magically-inspired entry in the series that had begun with '63's Beach Party, the film is worth seeing for its sizzling performance by James Brown, introducing his monster hit "I Got You (I Feel Good)" and a minute-and-a-half of Lesley on the bus to the slopes, lip-syncing the Marvin Hamlisch-Howard Liebling song "Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows," her biggest hit of 1965.
A decision to attend Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, New York, limited the time Lesley would be able to devote to her career. It didn't help matters when Quincy Jones seized the opportunity to score films, beginning with The Pawnbroker in 1965, limiting the time he would be able to devote to Lesley. Successive recordings under producers Shelby Singleton, soul music team Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff and several others resulted in some fine work, but without Jones, who had guided her though that important early phase, she gradually lost focus. She had one last major hit in 1967, the Bob Crewe-produced "California Nights," aided by her guest turn on ABC's Batman series as Pussycat, a protegee of Catwoman (Julie Newmar) and comedically romantic interest of Batman's teenage sidekick Robin (Burt Ward). A summer-on-the-beach song as suitable a fit in Gotham City as oil is in water, it nonetheless went top 20 after she performed it on the show in extreme cat-campiness. She was interested in an acting career, yet this was as good as it got, successful insofar as it will reside forever in your memory bank once you've seen it.
Also musically inclined, Lesley's younger brother Michael Gore had been honing his songwriting skills this whole time. He and Lesley collaborated on her minor 1965 and '66 hits "I Won't Love You Anymore (Sorry)" and "We Know We're in Love" (the latter performed in a guest appearance on the final episode of the long-running Donna Reed Show on March 19, 1966). They wrote together off and on for years, culminating in "Out Here On My Own," an Academy Award nominee for Best Original Song (performed by Irene Cara in the 1980 film Fame). In addition, Michael won the Oscar in the same category that year for the title song from Fame, beating his sister and himself in the process.
- It's My Party - 1963
- Judy's Turn To Cry - 1963
- She's a Fool - 1963
- You Don't Own Me - 1964
- That's the Way Boys Are - 1964
- I Don't Wanna Be a Loser - 1964
- Maybe I Know - 1964
- Hey Now /
Sometimes I Wish I Were a Boy - 1964
- Look of Love - 1965
- All of My Life - 1965
- Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows - 1965
- My Town, My Guy and Me - 1965
- I Won't Love You Anymore (Sorry) - 1965
- We Know We're in Love - 1966
- Young Love - 1966
- Off and Running - 1966
- Treat Me Like a Lady - 1966
- California Nights - 1967
- Summer and Sandy - 1967
- Brink of Disaster - 1967
- Small Talk - 1968
- He Gives Me Love (La La La) - 1968