Earlier today came the overwhelmingly sad news of 60’s pop icon Lesley Gore‘s untimely passing, succumbing to a battle with lung cancer. Discovered by producer Quincy Jones, Gore was one of the earliest voices of teen angst and remains the archetypal progenitor of the mold that would later cast similarly melancholic artists like Morrissey. There were others that sang of sadness before her, but she was the first that truly depicted the dramatic ups and down of puberty without cynicism or sarcasm, and her records were something of a shoulder to cry on for countless teenagers. In honor of her indelible legacy on pop music, below are just a few of her greatest musical achievements.
Number Six: “It’s My Party.” This is the song that started it for Gore, and is still one of her most instantly recognizable hits. It’s an extremely effective and painful tale of heartbreak, bolstered by Quincy Jones innovative production, setting the gold standard for girl group pop. The song went straight to number 1 in April of 1963, and would solidify the unbeatable combination of Gore’s singing and Jones’ production.
Number Five: “You Don’t Own Me.” “You Don’t Own Me” remains extremely relevant in today’s climate. The song quickly became an anthem not just for feminism but human rights in general. It was even used in a 2012 lip sync video starring celebrities like Tavi Gevinson, Lena Dunham, and Carrie Brownstein in support of Planned Parenthood. The lyrical content is enough to cement Gore’s lasting legacy, but the song itself is nothing short of perfection.
Number Four: “The Old Crowd.” The sad, bittersweet intro to “The Old Crowd” would be enough to earn this song a place on the list, but the rest of the song remains just as much of an emotional sucker punch to the gut. Detailing the typical teen story of friendships dissolving after high school and the longing to return to earlier, carefree days, the song is also a brilliant bit of observational exposition as Gore lists her old friends with stunning detail.
Number Three: “That’s The Way Boys Are.” Lyrically speaking, this may actually be Gore’s biggest disappointment. Released after the anthem “You Don’t Own Me,” the song feels like a conscious step back from her producers, especially considering the song was written by two men – Mark Barkan and Ben Raleigh. Regardless of its content, the structure of the song itself is absolutely perfect, from the radiant backing vocals, the chord changes that tear your heart in two, and Gore’s own reverb washed vocals that hint at more sadness and regret within the protagonist than the lyrics actually ever reveal.
Number Two: “Judy’s Turn To Cry.” Gore was also capable of extremely fun pop, and nowhere else is it more evident than on this 1963 sequel to her previous hit, “It’s My Party.” Whereas the previous told the story of the narrator’s boyfriend, Johnny, leaving her for Judy, Gore gets her revenge here when she kisses another guy. In a fit of jealous rage, Johnny punches the boy and gets back with Gore. It may be one of the earliest and cruelest examples of Schadenfreude in music, but the charm of it is undeniable.
Number One: “Just Let Me Cry.” While not as big of a hit as “It’s My Party” or “You Don’t Own Me,” this song is arguably her greatest masterpiece. There are countless examples of great girl group pop from the 60’s, but there are few that succinctly encapsulate every facet of it in one concise package. Utilizing common tropes within the genre from the hand claps, backup vocals, and rolling drums, they’re all pushed together into something entirely new, serving as the perfect backing for Gore’s fantastic vocals. Undoubtedly, this song will serve as the soundtrack in the coming days for anyone heartbroken over the loss.
FDRMX Eyes: Check out pop band Millennial Youth Pirates’ music video below. “Dance Love” features vocals from Mindy Gledhill and a brilliant dance number.