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It’s My Party
The year was 1962 and 15-year old Brooklyn native, Judy Gottlieb was busy planning her sweet-sixteen birthday party. "My parents insisted that my grandparents had to be invited. I, of course, being a bratty teenager, said I didn't want them there. I burst into tears, and my father, Seymour Gottlieb, said, 'Don't cry.' " Judy, of course, answered, "It's my party, and I'll cry if I want to."
Her dad, who owned a restaurant in the Garment District in Manhattan, was a pop songwriter in his spare time and knew a song lyric when he heard it. His daughter’s response would be become an inspiration to a song.
According to family lore, he gave the lyrics to It's My Party—where the mean girl, incidentally, is named Judy—to his songwriting partner, Herbie Wiener, whom he had met in the famous Brill Building in Manhattan, where Tin Pan Alley songwriters peddled their wares. The elder Gottlieb wasn’t aware of what happened to the lyrics until he heard the song on the radio. According to daughter Judy, "Dad said, 'Oh my goodness, that's my song.' "
He and Wiener made an agreement to share Wiener's royalties from the song. Also credited are another writer, Wally Gold, and John Gluck, who probably composed the tune. (1) All three men were employed by the Aaron Schroeder Music firm in the Brill Building. (2)
Meanwhile, across the George Washington Bridge in Tenafly, New Jersey, another young teenage girl by the name of Lesley Gore, who was inspired by the play My Fair Lady, asked her parents if she could take singing lessons across the bridge in New York City. “We were horrified of the stories we heard about the music business,” explained Lesley’s mother, Ronnie. (2) Acknowledging her parent’s objections, Lesley arranged to meet Myron Earnhart, known as “Pappy” to his students.
Earnhart was impressed with Gore’s talent and agreed to take her on as a student with the provision they meet at least once a week. “That’s impossible,” stated her mother. “We live in New Jersey and it’s too much for me to bring her to the city.” Earnhart replied, “I think she’s so terrific that I’ll come and get her if you can bring her over the George Washington Bridge.” So, a compromise was met. According to Lesley’s brother Michael Gore, his parents thinking was, “They let Lesley do the lessons, because they were told by a family friend, (a career) will never happen. Let her get it out of her system. If you say no to her, she will never forgive you. The chances of anybody hitting on this thing are ‘one in a million.’” (3)
From around 1965, this promo picture was used by Mercury Records.
Photo courtesy of Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images.
Lesley continued studying with Earnhart and eventually the teacher took her to a studio where she recorded four songs – just Lesley backed by a piano. “Those demos got to Quincy Jones by a miracle,” Lesley explained. “My cousin, Howard Albert, was a fight promoter who handled a boxer by the name of Emiel Griffith, whose agent was Joe Glaser. Howard, who liked my demos, passed them to Glaser, who liked them, who in turn, passed them to his friend, Irving Green at Mercury Records. Green liked them enough to pass them to Quincy Jones.” (3)
“I met her voice before I met her in person,” stated Jones. “She had an incredible, youthful sound that was in tune like a jazz singer. Not a lot of people sang in tune in those days.” (3)
The two met in early 1963 and hit it off immediately as they quickly developed a mutual respect for one another. About two weeks later, a huge limousine pulled up in front of Lesley’s parent’s house. Out stepped Jones with about two hundred demos that he and Lesley would listen to that afternoon. “We listened to It’s My Party first. I’d never done this before so I suggested we put it in the “maybe” pile,” Lesley recalled. “That was the only song we liked. There was something about the song I liked, something that I could relate to as a 16-year old kid. (3)
Quincy Jones poses with Lesley and the gold record for It's My Party.
Downloaded from Pinterest with no photo credit given.
One day in March of 1963, Phil Spector went up to Aaron Schroeder’s office. He and Schroeder were friends from the days when Spector was producing Gene Pitney. Schroeder, in addition to his publishing arm, also owned Musicor Records, Pitney’s label, and he and Pitney were songwriting partners.
Spector knew that Schroeder’s firm was a reliable source of good material and he often visited, looking for songs for the girl groups on his new Philles label. On this particular visit, Phil heard a demo of the Gold/Gluck/Weiner composition, called It’s My Party. Wally Gold remembers: “He said, ‘Great, I love it. I’m gonna do it with the Crystals.’ We were really excited, because that would ensure that the record was #l!” (4)
The demo that both Spector and Jones heard was sung by New York singer Barbara English, former leader of the Clickettes and the Fashions. "I worked as a receptionist for Aaron Schroeder in the early '60s. They were big time publishers, so I used to see all the songwriters and A & R men coming and going every day. People like Gene Pitney, Burt Bacharach, - all those guys. I also used to record demos for Schroeder to earn some extra money. I must have made hundreds of demonstration records working for other publishers too. My friend, Jimmy Radcliffe, who performed demos for Pitney, and I were the in-house demo singers at Aaron Schroeder Music.”
English continued her story. “It was me that recorded the original demo version of It's My Party and it was Jimmy who produced it. My version of It's My Party came out really great. We probably only did one take, but we'd rehearsed it before. Jimmy tried to persuade Musicor to release it as a record, or to take me into a master studio and redo it, but they weren't interested. This would be 1962.
Then some months later, I heard the song on the radio. I thought that it was me singing at first. Lesley Gore's record sounded just like my demo but with a big budget production. I wasn't really upset or jealous. Well, maybe a little when it got to #1! That kind of thing used to happen all the time. I was just doing my job, which was to sell the songs. I just wish I had written it!" (5)
When Spector left Schroeder’s office, it’s not known if he was aware other artists heard the demo. It was a common practice among music publishers in those days to send out demos to many labels and producers, as long as the song hadn’t been written for a specific artist. Once it was accepted by someone, the publisher would put a “freeze” on the song and notify others in the business that it was going to be recorded. Sometimes, a song would slip through the cracks of this gentleman’s agreement. (4) Such was the case with British singer, Helen Shapiro.
Shapiro had flown to the USA to record her new album, Helen In Nashville, during a short break in her British tour of February 1963. "Going to Nashville was a big thrill,” recalled the teenager from North London. “Elvis Presley's group, the Jordanaires, did the vocal backing with the help of three girls, Milly, Dolly and Prissy. I thought I had really arrived, using Elvis' backing group."
Helen found the experience of recording in Nashville to be much less stiff and formal than in London. "The studio was something of a surprise, though. It was just like a shack or a small barn. There were no musical scores. We just had a rough chord chart, the demo acetates we'd been given to work from and a turntable. We would talk about which song we'd do, stick the demo on the turntable and work out the chords, instruments, and vocals. I was placed in the middle of the studio with a mike with the musicians all around me. I loved it.”
“We recorded three songs (on February 18, released in October of 1963) (14) with the “piece de resistance”, which we were saving until last, a song called It's My Party. Right from the first time we heard the song on the rough demo back in London, we thought we were going to sock them between the eyes with that one. We'd been told that the song was an exclusive for me but by the time we got round to releasing it, Lesley Gore had come out with her version which was an enormous hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Her version was much more punchy than mine but if we'd had any inkling that something like that was going to happen, we'd have released my recording first." (5)
Another promo picture used by Mercury Records taken in the mid-60s.
Photo courtesy of Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images.
It’s not clear if Quincy Jones knew that Helen Shapiro had already cut the song when he arrived for the three-hour session he booked at New York’s Bell Studios on Saturday, March 30, 1963. Armed with two songs written by Paul Anka, It’s My Party and German conductor Claus Ogermann providing the arrangements and musical scores, three or four songs were recorded that Saturday, depending on which source one wishes to believe. Lesley remembered the session in two separate, live interviews.
“We went into the studio at 2:00, came out at 5:00, on budget and on time, with three songs cut and mixed,” she told interviewer, Bob Sirott. (6) “We were recording four-track, which was state of the art at that time,” Lesley recalled. “You had the whole band in the studio. There were about 15 musicians in the studio with two microphones hung overhead. There were about eight or nine backup singers around another microphone, and I was in the booth. Two of the four tracks were for the band, another for the backup singers, and the fourth in the booth for my vocals. It took them about three hours to do four songs,” Lesley stated in another interview. (7)
Speaking to the BBC, Quincy Jones remembered how he found out what was happening with his song: "We recorded It's My Party at about 3 o'clock in the afternoon one Saturday. That evening I went to see Charles Aznavour at Carnegie Hall. I was about to do an album in English with him. Pulling up outside Carnegie Hall comes this limousine and out gets this dude with the black cape on. It was Phil Spector. The guy with him told me that Phil had just cut this smash record called It's My Party with the Crystals. I couldn't believe it."
Later that night, determined to get his version out first, Quincy went back to Bell Sound to collect the master tape. He then phoned recording engineer Phil Ramone and arranged to meet at A & R Studios the next morning when they proceeded to run off a hundred acetates on a lathe. Quincy had copies of the test pressing mailed to every top radio programmer in the country on the following Monday. (5)
“I remember playing It’s My Party,” recalled New York DJ Bruce Morrow. “The phones lit up. I thought I must have said something wrong or improper to have this kind of attention. I picked up the phones and people were asking me to play that song again…who’s that by…where does she come from?” (3)
Lesley recalled the first time she heard her song on the radio. “I was coming home from school on a Friday afternoon (possibly April 5), driving my own car, living in New Jersey at the time. And a record came on the air…on WINS…and it sounded like my record but I really wasn’t sure. I never knew it would be released that quickly.” (6) Her reaction stated in Performing Songwriter was even more revealing. “At first, I didn’t realize that it was my recording, because I never heard my voice on a tiny mono speaker. I said to myself, ‘Wow, somebody else has recorded this song.’ But then as I was singing along, I realized it had to be my recording. I had enough time, in those two minutes and thirty-three seconds, to get to the house of a friend of mine, two blocks away. I pulled up to her house honking the horn, and she put her head out the window. I turned the volume up, and we got to listen to the end of the song together.” (11)
Mercury officially released the record a few short weeks later. Quincy Jones remembered his reaction to the song’s explosion on the record charts. "I had to go Japan (on Wednesday, April 3rd), to do some acting, believe it or not. Three weeks later they called me in Japan and told me that the record was #1." Quincy's memory on the time frame may have been off, but his mission was accomplished. (5)
It’s My Party entered the Billboard Hot 100 on May 11, 1963 at #60. Over the next few weeks, the song rose to #26, #9 before landing on the #1 slot on June 1 where is stayed for two weeks. (8) (9)
Taken in May of 1964 with a flower-covered record at her 18th birthday party at the Delmonico Hotel in New York.
Photo courtesy of Marty Lederhandler/Associated Press.
As was the custom in pop music, Mercury wanted a follow-up to It’s My Party immediately to maintain artist momentum. Jones turned the songwriting team of Beverly Ross and Edna Lewis for a sequel titled, Judy’s Turn To Cry. Recorded on May 14, 1963, the song hit the chart on July 6 and peaked at #5 on August 17 and 24. (8) (9)
The rewards of instant stardom took its toll in an unexpected manner as hoards of fans literally showed up on her doorstep. "You have to take into account that this was a long time ago, and we didn't have things like answering machines," Gore later said. "So when the disc jockey ... would say, 'That was Lesley Gore, the sweetie pie from Tenafly,' well, people just came to Tenafly. You know, I'd wake up and there were people camped out on the grass." (10)
With two songs at the top of the charts and still in high school, Lesley had to look for balance in her private life and a recording career that just took off for the stratosphere. She noticed that her peers now treated her differently. “It was frankly a tremendous intrusion,” Lesley recalled. “People treated me like an idol as opposed to a person. There was a lot of head-turning going on. At 16, it deeply impresses you, and you sort of tend to think that you’re as good as everyone says you are. Certainly when it’s all over, you get your comeuppance, and you realize you’re walking through life just the way everyone else is. I had to learn to be a regular person again.” (12)
“When I graduated from Sarah Lawrence in 1968, my recording career was virtually over by then,” Lesley remembered. “All of my friends were graduating and starting a new life, and I was sort of ending a life. It was a very tumultuous time for me. It was a lot of figuring out what I do from there, how do I do it…it was not easy. (12)
Lesley had a total of 19 chart hits from May of 1963 through October of 1967 for Mercury Records. With eight Top Twenty hits and four singles that sold over a million copies (It’s My Party, Judy’s Turn To Cry, She’s A Fool and You Don’t Own Me), one would believe that Gore earned a comfortable living. “In 1967 when Mercury Records let me go, I was in debt to them to what they claim was $175,000. It took me 25 years to ever see a penny. I didn’t see any money from them until 1989. And I’m one of the lucky ones,” Lesley stated somewhat bitterly. (6)
Gore had been working on a memoir and a Broadway show based on her life when she died of lung cancer on February 16, 2015, at the NYU Langone Medical Center in Manhattan, New York City, at the age of 68. At the time of her death, Gore and her partner, Lois Sasson, had been together for 33 years. (13)
The “party” for It’s My Party has continued over the years as it’s been covered by a number of different artists. The Chiffons added the song as an album track for their One Fine Day LP in August of 1963. (14) It was the Blossoms and not the Crystals who performed Phil Spectors’ version of the song. “We learned it and we were doing it slow - we would 'drag' it. Darlene (Love) sang lead and Phil told us it was going to be released under the Blossoms' name. But Phil never put it out,” stated Fanita James of the Blossoms. (5) The Paris Sisters did a cover in August of 1966; Bryan Ferry added the song to his 1973 album, These Foolish Things; Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin took their remake to #1 in the UK in 1981 and Amy Whitehouse resurrected the song for Quincy Jones’ LP, Soul Bossa Nostra – Q in November of 2010. (14)
Helen Shapiro presents her version of It's My Party.
The Chiffons included It's My Party on their One Fine Day album in 1963.
Lesley sang It's My Party and Judy's Turn To Cry on the T.A.M.I. Show. The concert was held at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on October 28 and 29, 1964.
1) Ellen Tumposky, New York Daily News, Brooklyn woman recalls origins of Lesley Gore’s ‘It’s My Party’ from teen outburst, February 18, 2015. Link.
2) Wikipedia, Lesley Gore, Link.
3) Biography, Lesley Gore: It’s Her Party, First aired December 7, 2001, Link.
4) Bob Shannon, Wayback Machine, Behind The Hits Story: It’s My Party, Link.
5) Cha Cha Charming, Wayback Machine, It’s My Party, Link.
6) 45’s With Bob Sirott, Lesley Gore, 1997 YouTube interview, Link.
7) On The Beat TWC, This segment features an interview with Lesley Gore, moments before her performance at the Center for the Arts in Staten Island, NY. YouTube video posted May 21, 2009. Link.
8) Joel Whitburn, Top Pop Singles 1955-2002, Page 286.
9) Joel Whitburn, Billboard Hit 100 Charts The Sixties.
10) Biography.com, Lesley Gore Biography, April 2, 2015. Link.
11) Performing Songwriter, Five Minutes With: Lesley Gore, January/February 2006.
12) Waldenponders.com, Lesley Gore: It’s Always Her Party, September, 2009, Link.
13) Wikipedia, Lesley Gore, Link.
14) secondhandsongs.com, Link.
45 dust jacket courtesy of Mercury Records.
© 2019 Jerry Reuss