To the boomers who grew up in the early 60’s with their teenage ears glued to transistor radios and watched the Ed Sullivan Show in black and white – To all you present day millennials who shop in stores that pipe classic rock down aisles all day long, and to anyone else who has ever heard a radio jock shout “Here’s a golden oldie…”, Leslie Gore is an essential part of our American pop culture DNA. All because of one song that Gore so famously performed live on the T.A.M.I. Show in Santa Monica, October 1964.
Lesley Gore was just sixteen years old when she recorded “It’s My Party” in the Spring of ‘63. That song became an overnight sensation and a number one summer hit that hung in there for weeks. Gore rocketed to teen queen stardom and quickly recorded another smash – the revenge sequel…“Judy’s Turn to Cry”… followed by a steady stream of hits over the next two or three years. There were times when Gore’s singles went neck to neck with the Beatles for the top two chart positions. Quincy Jones produced most of Gore’s big ones for Mercury Records and hired professional song writers like Paul Anka, Neil Sedaka and Carol King to pen romantic pop songs that would appeal to all American white heterosexual teenagers. One pair of songwriters actually penned a throw-away tune, “Sometimes I Wish I Was a Boy” that Gore recorded with Jones at the helm in ’64.
As the girl group thing began to wane as the Summer of Love rolled around at at the end of the 60’s. Gore also evolved and attempted to keep up with the times and Mercury assigned her a new producer Bob Crewe. (Remember “The Bob Crew Generation?”) Girl pop was out. Folk was in. She began focusing on her own songwriting skills, often composing with her musician brother, Michael who had a band in New York City and was well connected.
Academy Award nominee
By 1969, Gore’s pop hits ceased to chart but she toured for years on the “Oldies” circuit including a stop right here at the Santa Cruz Civic as part of a packaged tour. Gore moved on to acting and songwriting in New York where she worked with Michael composing several songs for the late 70’s Broadway Musical “FAME” that were included on the Academy Award winning soundtrack of the 1980 movie version. Gore was nominated for a song she co-wrote, “Out Here on My Own”.
Lesley Gore was also an activist in the lesbian and bisexual community. Gore announced ten years ago that she had been living with her longtime partner, jewelry designer, Lois Sasson, since 1982. The singer was involved with the long running PBS show, In The Life, an award winning lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender tv news magazine that ran for 18 years.
Her definitive song
Gore recorded her last album called “Ever Since” in 2005, – and it’s one of her best. It’s highlighted by a new if not definitive version of a particular song that Gore didn’t write and had previously recorded it some 40 years prior. For Lesley Gore, who died in February at age 68, her updated remake of “You Don’t Own Me” is proof of the legacy she left behind, long after the party was over. – Eric Berg