Album cover

Basement Beehive

The Girl Group Underground

Who do we become when we live our dreams? It’s all here—the high hairdos, the dreams and schemes, the tender camp, the wedding bell fantasias and chaste tragedies. Sister acts, studio receptionists, classmates, angelic voices of the 1960s; some legendary, many hidden in the basement of expired rainbows. Gathered on this deluxe double CD are 56 (28 on the 2LP) foiled escape attempts, now free to soar in girl group heaven.

We hear who these girls, these young women are, who they become behind that mic. Voice big, authoritative, divining sure devotion, dejection, and longing. The joy cuts through the rawness. Some of these women, that is all we know of them; all we know is their voice. Not a name. Were they a group, a fantasy, did they go on to other glory, were they receptionists in the studio or some cousin from around the way?

That’s what fascinates me about these Beehive girls, what I imagine most. What was this moment to them, this minute or three we hear them on here. For some we know it was a transformative moment, a first, this space and place, this point in time where they reached out for something with their big voice and the world met them. For some of them it was sheer ambition, others it took goading, others we encounter here at a moment that feels like the dawning of an obvious fate before they swept up the charts or became a voice we would hear sampled for decades. So did because they liked to sing with their friends. You could do it anywhere.

What we encounter in these girls and their life stories is the mutability of young womanhood. We get a survey of the prospects and possibilities of teenage girl life. We see all the impossible doors that had to open again and again for them to even have something small, and as importantly we see what a superhuman feat it was to surmount all the sureness of these sealed girlfates. The young married mothers went on the road and stayed, I wonder what were the circumstances that availed that, when the same circumstances stopped another girl’s career cold. To be your own person as well care for your family, your husband, and then babies of your own was not a thing that was easily reconciled then. Until the mid-’70s, for young women to pursue a careers was still unconventional. You might do secretarial work or study until you got married. If you worked after you were married it might be at your husband’s discretion. It’s hard to imagine the teen-geniuses you heard in this box of Beehives all living grim lives, but merely suggest we consider the baseline state of girl existence then, the premium put on keeping one’s girlhood respectable and modest, as well as the racialized expectations that enclosed their lives.

Girl groups specialized magic was the energized projection of chastity—they stood starkly against all the reckless resolutions and temptation inherent to rock n’ roll. Young women were often essentially passed from their father to their husband, who were tasked with their protection and keep. How far your dreams extended outside your head were pursuant to parental permission, their attitudes and relationships with music, how far your singing strayed from church singing. Marriage and babies were a predetermination, the regular route; straying from it was a sign of a moral corruption, selfishness, or infirmity.

What circumstances had to align for the girls who got further? A husband who loved their voice? A husband in a band? Did her hope float on his ambition? A husband who saw the little bit of ends she was making and deemed the effort worthwhile? A brother who needed a singer for his songs? A mom or sister at home who could take that baby while she toured? A mom at home who lived to see her daughter thrive? A father who did not fret about what applause and stage lights might draw his daughter into?

Did these girls threaten and cajole? Did they bargain? Did they plot? Did they do it anyway? What were the stakes and the trade-offs and the risks? And what of the girls with their dreams deferred, muted by marriage and babies and band break-ups? Did those dreams live out in church choirs and lullabies? What becomes a dream in a time when the fullness of your talents, your desire, the mere existence of your ambition is not yet permissible—how do you live? How do you stake this for yourself? What of yourself do you mute? What ways do you origami-fold your dreams into being?

Girl dreams need a thousand contingencies.

Girl dreams need a thousand contingencies because they had to pass through other people’s expectations. What good girls do. What’s the wrong idea you could give someone about who you are in a song. What is good enough. What is godly enough. Girls are the guardians, but not the gatekeepers, of their own dreams. These girls dreams were liable to be crushed soon as their leapt from their throats.

For decades we have cited the looming Svengalis, high hair, the tender camp of chaste tragedies of the songs, these tenth grade loves and wedding-bell fantasia made brilliant by the eager young voices that carried it; But how much consideration have we ever given of their girls own cunning and their artistry? The premium work being one of authenticity, and authenticity always seemed to mean it has to be yours, it had to come from you, your experience. Not crafted in another room and applied as a loose pop science in a studio. But what about these girls, their groups was this not as real? How to accord them what is due to them, for what imagination they capture these songs? Who do these women, these artists, become in our minds and in music history when we believe what they are expressing is their own thought and feeling?

Girl groups were considered unsellable, unmarketable, and a fad. Managers and many record labels believed they were a gimmick, despite evidence to the contrary. Though the Chantels were the first girl group to prove they had the longevity of more than one hit, and the Bobbettes before them made it to the Top 10 and #1 on the R&B charts simultaneously, with their own composition “Mr. Lee,” yet these precedents didn’t become standards, or accord teen girls their own genius. The Svengalis around girl groups were often the ones that insisted that they perform and record gimmick songs and novelty answer backs; and yet teenage girls were supposed to trust these men’s expertise. Ageism, racism, and sexism of the era often combined to keep these young women from being able to advocate for their own talents.

Careers were run by managers and label men who believed that the role of girls was relegated to fandom; to scream for Frankie Lyman, to scream for their Beatle, to scream for Dion. Their conception was that girls wouldn’t sell to other girls, no matter the image. They did not account for what girls see, they can be; girls as iconic to other girls is the very origin of this thing, but they also provide a sense of permission. Sometimes loving Frankie Lyman is not enough, and you want those screams for yourself. Girls were supposed to be the frenzy, not cause it.

We claim and reclaim these girls post-facto; in 2018 an awakened reconciliation for these talents, talents that were considered interchangeable to the point of disposability then, is progress. We read the stories again and again of names not even being right and try to root them out and, better still, know them. Even here, we have mystery girls, their identities lost to history (Will they ever hear their voices? What would it be to find yourself here decades later?) Often the only verifiable truth of the thing is the tape; the only history is what’s audible, what they conjure in those notes.

What these girls gave in situations where there was no credit, little or no money, a finite chance. What they gave so fully are their voices and their talents, claiming this chance to harmonize along with their sisters, cousins, friends, classmates. To give it everything despite knowing what would likely elude them: credited by name, a chance to pursue opportunity with the same doggedness as the men in their backing band, dynamic material that reflected their lived experiences, the ability to make music the substance of their lives, their hope. Is that not the very definition of true artistry? To abandon the outcome and sing the song for the sheer sake of giving life to the thing? They sing because it’s all they can do.

Basement Beehive.

  • Black (2xLP)

    2 150g black
    1 2-pocket tip-on gatefold LP jacket
    1 20-page 11x11 book

Track List

  1. The Four J’s Will You Be My Love
  2. The Chantells with The Aqua Lads I’ll Never Know
  3. The Passionetts My Fault
  4. The Tonettes I Gotta Know
  5. Vickie & The Van Dykes I Wanna Be A Winner
  6. The Vandelettes A Love Of Mine
  7. The Devilettes I’ll Say Yes
  8. Dot and The Velvelettes Searching For My Man
  9. The Chapells Help Me Somebody
  10. Devotions Same Old Sweet Lovin’
  11. The Hill Sisters My Lover
  12. The Soulettes Find Somebody New
  13. The Mellow Dawns I Don’t Believe
  14. The Cineemas Never Gonna Cry
  15. Unkown Artist Goodbye Baby
  16. Judi & The Affections Dum, Dum, De Dip
  17. The Para-Monts Come Go With Me
  18. The Belles Melvin
  19. The Petites I Believe (The Man Loves Me)
  20. Voices Fall In Love Again
  21. Charles Pikes and the Scholars Unlucky In Love
  22. The Contessas Broken Heart
  23. The Shades I Won’t Cry
  24. The Monzas Where Is Love
  25. Toni & The Hearts Thank You Baby
  26. The Dreamliners From One Fool To Another
  27. The Rayons Baby Be Good (While I’m Gone)
  28. Paulette & The Cupids Teenage Dropout
  29. Bernadette Carroll Laughing On The Outside
  30. Unknown Artist I Love You For All Seasons
  31. The Chapells You’re Acting Kind of Strange [CD only]
  32. The Hill Sisters Oh My Sweet Love [CD only]
  33. Toni and The Hearts Never Change Our Love [CD only]
  34. The Devilettes I’m Leaving You [CD only]
  35. The Chantells with The Aqua Lads Don’t Look [CD only]
  36. Vickie & The Van Dykes Baby I’m Crying [CD only]
  37. Paulette & The Cupids He’ll Wait On Me [CD only]
  38. The Dreamliners The Lonely Fool [CD only]
  39. The Petites Lonely Girl [CD only]
  40. The Passionetts My Plea [CD only]
  41. The Tonettes My Heart Can Feel The Pain [CD only]
  42. The Para-Monts I Don't Want To Lose you [CD only]
  43. Dotty McCullum For As Long As You Want Me [CD only]
  44. The Shades Tell Me Not To Hurt [CD only]
  45. The Monzas Ain’t It The Truth [CD only]
  46. The Voices Forever Is A Long, Long Time [CD only]
  47. The Rayons You Confuse Me Baby [CD only]
  48. The Vandelettes He’s All Mine [CD only]
  49. The Devotions Devil's Gotten Into My Baby [CD only]
  50. The Belles Come Back [CD only]
  51. The Mellow Dawns I’m Sorry Baby [CD only]
  52. The Cineemas A Crush On You [CD only]
  53. The Contessas Gimme Gimme [CD only]
  54. Charles Pikes and the Scholars What Do You Do [CD only]
  55. The Four J’s The Nursery [CD only]
  56. The Soulettes It’s Alright [CD only]
  57. Judi and The Affections Ain’t Gonna Hurt My Pride [CD only]
  58. Bernadette Carroll The Humpty-Dump [CD only]