Sporting miniskirts, kohl-rimmed eyes and impossibly teased, miles-high hair, The Ronettes became the “bad girls” of pop (or rock, depending on who you talk to), topping the charts of the ‘60s with hits like “Be My Baby” and “Baby, I Love You.” The New York City act was a family affair, with sisters Veronica Bennett (later known as Ronnie Spector) and Estelle Bennett alongside cousin Nedra Talley. The ladies outlasted the “good girl” bands of the era like The Crystals, thanks to the songwriting prowess of troubled producer Phil Spector (currently serving time for the second-degree murder of actress Lana Clarkson) and an alluring blend of vulnerability, sex appeal, and streetwise swagger. They became Spector’s most popular act. His interest in the group was personal, and obsessive, too. He married singer Ronnie in 1968. Their abusive relationship was detailed in her autobiography Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts, and Madness , where Ronnie revealed she was kept prisoner in their home, her life threatened and shoes hidden so she would remain inside. This was around the time that Ronnie developed a serious drinking problem. During their heyday, Spector prevented The Ronettes from speaking to The Rolling Stones or touring with The Beatles again after their 1966 fourteen-city stint (Ronnie had a relationship with John Lennon for a time, and Estelle dated George Harrison). Spector’s control over the group led to their decline when he refused to release a catalog of songs. Eventually the women agreed to go their separate ways. Of course, this timeline barely scratches the surface when it comes to the ups and downs of the trailblazing group’s history.
“Madness!! Auditions. Folk & Roll Musicians-Singers for acting roles in new TV series. Running Parts for 4 insane boys, age 17-21. Want spirited Ben Frank’s types. Have courage to work. Must come down for interview,” read the 1965 ad seeking cast members for The Monkees TV series, about a fictional rock group, inspired by the Beatles’ film A Hard Day’s Night. The actors, who became known as the “Prefab Four,” wound up forming a real band after growing tired of faking the funk. Previously, songwriters like Neil Diamond and Carole King were a few of the artists who composed songs for the group, while other musicians played their instruments. The Monkees would struggle for credibility and artistic control throughout their career, despite finding a massive fan base. In a 2004 interview, Micky Dolenz described how the band helped bring the counterculture to mainstream America:
I equate it to Will Smith bringing rap into American living rooms with The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. That was very similar. Before that, the only time you’d see people with long hair on television they were getting arrested or at protests or smoking dope at love-ins. And then all of a sudden the Monkees come along with long hair representing, in a way, all those millions of kids out there who were good kids.
There was a television biopic about the band in 2000 and a stage musical appeared in 2012, but the pioneering, mop-topped quartet has yet to see a big-screen biopic hit theaters.
They were one of the earliest bands to define the girl group sound of the era. The Chiffons played the famous Apollo Theater with James Brown, topped the charts with singles like “He’s So Fine” and “Sweet Talkin’ Guy,” and worked with hit-makers Gerry Goffin and Carole King. Later, the group opened for the Beatles during their first American concert and for The Rolling Stones on their first U.S. tour. What they lack in cinema-hungry, off-stage controversy (apart from a copyright lawsuit against George Harrison for “accidentally” plagiarizing the music of “He’s So Fine”), they make up for in enviable and influential harmonies that deserve more time in the spotlight.
Impeccably dressed, boasting sharp dance moves (the “Temptations Walk” became a thing), tight harmonies, and swoon-worthy vocal arrangements, The Temptations helped to usher a new wave of African-American musical genres to the mainstream. The Motown chart-toppers were the first group from the label to win a Grammy, thanks in part to their work with the legendary Smokey Robinson as a producer and writer (“My Girl”). They were stellar performers above all else, reaching international stardom, but the group had their share of drama. By the late 1960s, soulful second tenor David Ruffin, who was frequently front and center (“Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”) was struggling with a cocaine addiction and demanding special treatment, even going so far as to insist the name of the group be changed to David Ruffin & the Temptations. He was fired and replaced by former Contours member Dennis Edwards, but would frequently show up at performances where he would storm the stage and take over his old songs. The Eddie Kendricks rift, Paul Williams’ health and alcohol problems, and a battle with the record label over money also plagued the band. The Temptations were the subject of a 1998 TV biopic, but it’s about time for a big-screen revision.
Two sets of tough girl teen sisters from Queens, New York — who started performing at teen hops and school talent shows without a group name — found overnight success with “Remember (Walking In The Sand)” (featuring music from a then unknown Billy Joel on the demo) and “Leader of the Pack.” The Shangri-Las named themselves after a Queens restaurant and left high school to start their new careers. They performed with all the hottest bands from the era, including the Beatles and James Brown (and later The Iguanas, featuring a young Iggy Pop). The band toured with The Rolling Stones in 1964 and became Revlon cosmetics cover girls. The group’s bad-girl rep was fostered by swirling rumors about run-ins with the law. Just as they appeared in a blink of the eye, the group quickly disbanded in 1968, reportedly furious over a royalties dispute. The bands influenced by The Shangri-Las and their teen alienation-centric lyrics reads like a who’s who of cool: The New York Dolls, Blondie, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Sonic Youth, Bat for Lashes, Kathleen Hanna, and Marianne Faithfull to name a few.
Martha and the Vandellas
Martha and the Vandellas spent nearly a decade topping the charts (“(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave”, “Nowhere to Run”, “Jimmy Mack”, “Bless You” and “Dancing in the Street”), soaring to popularity with knockout power vocals, a hint of gospel, and that trademark Motown sound. When personnel changes took hold of the record label, and fellow girl group The Supremes became the focus, Martha and the Vandellas’ popularity started to dip. (How there haven’t been more films about the tensions between various Motown acts and the Diana Ross-fronted group is beyond us.) Tensions began to mount within the group, resulting in a slew of hot-tempered fights on stage and a series of firings.
Apple-cheeked Mormon siblings The Osmonds (six brothers, starring the rare appearance of sister Marie who focused on a solo career) started performing when they were wee tots (television and Disneyland). While the bulk of their success didn’t hit until the 1970s (eventually resulting in a popular TV series), their rise to fame during the free-loving ‘60s, and the transition from variety show darlings to a rock-pop act, didn’t come easy due to their religious values. The band was given the TV movie treatment in 2001, but the teen idol pressure-cooker tale of perfection seems like it has potential for another adaptation.
Detroit-area performers and high-school glee club pals The Marvelettes were one of the first major acts to come out of Motown and one of the first all-girl groups to go to number one (also one of the first Motown groups to do so). Hits “Please Mr. Postman,” “Don’t Mess with Bill,” and other favorites found them working with Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye. Rival Motowners The Supremes covered “Please Mr. Postman” that same year, but their version of the single tanked, leading to further tensions between the groups. Although The Marvelettes helped put Motown on the map, The Supremes eventually hogged the spotlight, and the group struggled to be promoted by the label. Illness and breakdowns further added to their decline.