And the beat goes on
Behind every great song there is a story: how it came to be written, who inspired it, what folly or flight of fancy? Today is day two of a ten-part series on some of the classic pop singles of all time.
Tuesday 03 March 1998
First released: 1960
Highest UK chart position: 4
Highest US chart position 1
Few, if any, would dispute the inclusion of the Shirelles' "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" in Behind the Song. The record is a classic, easily the best record made by any of the famed New York girl groups. It has the catchiest of melodies, a sympathetic arrangement and a sensitive lead vocal from Shirley Alston Reeves, known at the time as Shirley Owens. It was a brill song from the Brill Building where young composers in tiny cubicles wrote hits for the new teen market. One husband-and-wife team was Carole King and Gerry Goffin, and their first song of real significance was "Will You Love Me Tomorrow".
A song about virginity was daring in 1960, even more so when the girl is going to say "yes" as soon as the record ends. Hundreds of performers have recorded the song, although it is strange that so many men have done so - if ever there was a woman's song, this is it. Outside of the Shirelles (pictured right), the most poignant interpretation comes from its composer, Carole King, who, when including it on her 1971 Tapestry album, slowed the tempo and turned it into a plea to save a broken marriage. Dionne Warwick, in a later version produced by Luther Vandross, used the Shirelles as backing singers.
The Shirelles had already had US hits with "Tonight's The Night" and "Dedicated To The One I Love" and, as Shirley Alston Reeves remembers, "When I first heard the song, I didn't think it was right for the Shirelles. Carole King did it more on the country side as it was very laid-back on the piano. There was nothing wrong with the way she was singing it but we were more into R&B than pop. Our producer, Luther Dixon, said, `Just do it as a favour to me'. As soon as I went to the session and heard the music, the song came to life for me. It was a beautiful song and the record company knew it was risque. It was all about, `Will you respect me in the morning?"'
Charlie Gillett notes in his book The Sound Of The City, "Occasionally, Shirley's voice sounded off-key when she went up for a note she could not reach, but at its most effective (all the way through `Will You Love Me Tomorrow') the failure enhanced her plaintive appeal. Gospel-based call-and-response harmonies gave the sound an exciting quality which was novel to those who had never been in a black church." "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" was the first record by a girl group to top the US charts, and its combination of R&B harmonies and strings brought to mind the Drifters' "There Goes My Baby".
In terms of chart positions, the Shirelles were a moment's pleasure in the UK but a lasting treasure in the States. They had chart-toppers with "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" and "Soldier Boy" and cut several other hits, which were often revived by British beat groups.
And "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" lost Shirley her credibility. "Every time we didn't want to do a song, they said, `What about "Will You Love Me Tomorrow"?', and we had to do it."
`Behind the Song' by Michael Heatley and Spencer Leigh is published by Blandford at pounds 14.99. Readers of `The Independent' can buy the book for pounds 12.99 (inc p&p). To order: 01624 675137.
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