She's So Fine: Reflections on Whiteness, Femininity, Adolescence and Class in 1960s Music

November 11, 2010

If you thought musical tales of misogynistic violence were the sole preserve of heavy metal bands, think again. As this edited volume illustrates, such narratives were also evident in songs such as He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss), a hit record in 1963 for the Crystals, a female pop quartet. This is just one of the fascinating discussions offered by a rewarding and excellent book.

Framed within the overarching analytical themes of whiteness, femininity, adolescence and class, editor Laurie Stras has assembled eight essays that cover an academically neglected form of popular music: girl pop groups and singers in the US and Britain in the 1960s, a historical period that represented "an unprecedented instance of teenage girls occupying centre stage of mainstream culture".

The collection consists of an impressive group of case studies of female performers including the Bobbettes, the Chantels, the Shirelles, the Angels, the Ronettes and the Shangri-Las, with discussion of solo singers such as Brenda Lee, Dusty Springfield, Sandie Shaw, Mary Hopkins, Cilla Black, Lulu, Marianne Faithfull and Tina Turner.

Inevitably, edited collections risk presenting potentially incongruent approaches to the subject matter, with differing methodologies, approaches and analysis failing to mesh into a coherent whole. However, She's So Fine assuredly sidesteps this trap. With the scene firmly set by an authoritative introduction, its chapters include musicological and sociological analysis, as well as historical and biographical discussions of particular performers (Norma Coates' Marianne Faithfull chapter is particularly good in the latter regard). The book's appeal should take it well beyond an academic readership to those interested in 1960s pop and the featured artists.

The book's standout chapters include those written by Jacqueline Warwick, Annie J. Randall and Susan Fast. Warwick analyses He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss), detailing the ways in which Gerry Goffin's lyric appears to condone male domestic violence in a mainstream pop-song setting, while Randall charts Dusty Springfield's emergence from the Mod "revolution" and her later reign as Britain's "White Queen of Soul". Both chapters approach the issue of gender in differing, but highly convincing ways.

Fast links gender with ethnicity in her comprehensive analysis of Tina Turner. Focusing on the singer's time in the Ike and Tina Turner Revue, Fast explores the ways in which she challenged the racialised and gendered expectations of black women in mid- to late-1960s US culture by using the influences of James Brown and Little Richard in her dynamic vocal and stage mannerisms. By combining musicology with astute biographical and cultural analysis, Fast reminds the reader of the soul and rock'n'roll-influenced, gender barrier-breaking Turner that preceded her rather blander Simply the Best-era incarnation in the 1980s.

In her introduction, Stras observes, "Let me say this but once: girl singers are important". And if you ever doubted it, She's So Fine may change your mind.

Well structured and superbly researched, this collection not only makes a significant contribution to popular music studies, but inspired me to take a trip to my local record store to buy some of the music it considers, with Dusty Springfield, the Shangri-Las and 1960s-era Tina Turner now firm favourites.

Thus She's So Fine not only provided me with a highly enjoyable and edifying reading experience, but it improved my musical taste. What more could you ask of a scholarly text?

She's So Fine: Reflections on Whiteness, Femininity, Adolescence and Class in 1960s Music

Edited by Laurie Stras. Ashgate, 284pp, £55.00. ISBN 9781409400516. Published 28 August 2010

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