Review: It’s The Girls – A Musical Joyride

The Guardian
Bette Midler pays tribute to girl groups on It’s the Girls
December 27, 2014

12-26-2014 11-49-32 AM

For her first new studio recording in several years Grammy Award-winning chanteuse Bette Midler has chosen to pay tribute to the girl groups she listened to and was inspired by growing up.

The fruit of her labours, It’s the Girls, is a musical joyride through several decades of pop music starting in the late 1930s with a cover of The Andrews Sisters hit Bei Mir Bist Du Schön and concluding in the 90s with a reworking of TLC’s Waterfalls.

The bulk of the material, however, was pulled from the charts of the 1950s and ”˜60s, which was prime time for girl groups like The Ronettes, The Shangri-Las, The Marvelettes, The Supremes and the Shirlelles.

Midler and producer Marc Shaiman initially chose 50 of their favourite songs and then began what Midler has described as the agonizing process of editing the list down to only 17.

Fifteen of those songs ultimately made it onto the record.

I have no idea what songs they dropped but generally speaking the songs they kept are a real treat.

The songs that made the cut include classics like The Ronettes’ Be My Baby, The Chiffons’ One Fine Day, The Shirelles’ Baby It’s You and The ChordettesMr. Sandman.

There are gems as well from The Exciters, The Crystals, Martha & The Vandellas, the DeCastro Sisters and The Supremes, among others.

The arrangements, for the most part, don’t differ that dramatically from the original, but here and there Midler did take some liberties.

In the case of The Supremes’ You Can’t Hurry Love, for example, Midler took it down a country road. The horn parts in the original version are gone, replaced with fiddle, banjo, Dobro and harmonica. That may seem like an odd thing to do, but it actually works.

Midler shines on tracks like The Shirelles’ Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, The Andrews Sisters’ Bei Mir Bist Du Schön, The Chordettes’ Mr. Sandman and The Decastro Sisters’ Teach Me Love. Her voice is so well suited to the material you’d think several of these songs were written for her.

Midler did many of the vocal harmonies here herself but also used a number of great backing vocalists, plus some special guests, including the legendary Darlene Love. Love joined her for He’s Sure The Boy I Love, which she originally recorded with The Crystals.

You get the sense that this record was special for Midler.

On her website she puts it this way.

“A long time ago I fell in love with voices in harmony,” said Midler. “In particular, the sound of female voices singing together. There were so many great girl groups in those days, I still listen as avidly as I ever did. This record is a small attempt to honor them for all the joy they brought to me and the world.”

The only problem I have with this record is that it isn’t longer.

There are several other songs I would like to have seen here, most notably The Ronettes’ Walking In The Rain, and The Marvelettes’ Please Mr. Postman, which went on to be a hit for The Beatles. Martha and The Vandellas’ Dancing In The Street or Heatwave would also have been good additions. My Boyfriend’s Back by The Angels would have fit nicely as well. I’m sure other fans of the girl-group era could suggest others.

But you can’t do them all – not the first time anyway.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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