Laura Flam and Emily Siue Liebowitz met through mutual friends and discovered that they both were superfans of girl groups. These groups proliferated from the mid-50s through the mid-60s. Emblems of a much simpler time, they symbolized the rising importance and prominence of youth as consumers and purveyors of popular culture.
The Shirelles, The Crystals, The Blossoms, The Shangri-Las, Dixie Cups, The Ronettes, The Vandellas, The Supremes, and many more were usually teenagers, and generally sang about love and its vicissitudes.
Despite their ubiquity and popularity, and the fact that they made many people, especially men, very wealthy, the names and stories of the girls (most careers in their early 20s) have never been taken into account until now.
Flam and Liebowitz researched and conducted hundreds of interviews to come up with the new book, “But Will You Love Me Tomorrow? An Oral History of The Girl Groups” (Hachette Book Group).
In a recent interview with MSR, Liewbowitz revealed that although she was born over 20 years after the heyday of the girl groups, their music was the soundtrack of her life.
“Growing up in the late ‘80s, early ’90s, it had become literally the soundtrack of most rom-coms. They played it on pop stations. I remember dancing to it at sleepovers. I found that I loved it and would seek it out more and more,” she explained.
The singers were a special breed: young enough to convey the idealism of romance, but old enough to realistically deliver emotions of heartbreak. This distinctive combination held Americans of all ages enthralled with songs such as “I Met Him On Sunday,” “But Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “Be My Baby,” “Then He Kissed Me,” “Where Did Our Love Go?” and so many more.
“There’s so much emotion packed into those songs. A lot of it is who was singing and writing the songs,” said Liebowitz.
Flam and Liebowitz wanted to ensure that they finally gave these artists agency. “We use these songs to express ourselves, to express moments of joy and pain,” explained Liebowitz, “and yet we have no idea who sang them, what they went through, what they stood for, and what they cared about. So, I hope that now our culture shows a little more respect and has space for the women in this book.”
With the goal of centering these women, the format of “But Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” is a brilliant choice. Flam and Liebowitz dispense with editorializing, bringing direct quotes from the women themselves and those they worked with, such as songwriters, sound engineers, producers, studio musicians, and family members.
When they were unable to speak directly to them, they used text from biographies, autobiographies, TV, radio, newspaper, and magazine interviews.
The words of people like Florence Ballard, Diana Ross, Martha Reeves, Ronnie Spector, Darlene Love, La La Brooks, Ellie Greenwich, Cher, and many others bring this era’s music and those involved back to colorful and resounding life.
“But Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” details not just the artistry and business behind the music, but the social and cultural atmosphere that impacted, and was impacted, by the music, such as the invention of the transistor radio.
Another example is the racial dynamics between the mainly Black singers, who often made no money from their work, versus the ethnically White producers and songwriters who ended up wealthy. Liebowitz pointed out, “At the beginning, the record labels’ owners are Italian Americans. So, the Jewish Americans and African Americans are all locked out of traditional modes of upward mobility.
“All were ‘othered’ to different degrees, but also in different ways than they are now. I hope to show a little bit of how that changes as well, how intergenerational wealth is somehow built where there’s White adjacency that didn’t benefit [their Black] peers.”
Another interesting dynamic is the regional element relating to where talent tended to emerge, and there are many others. Stated Liebowitz, “There are so many different ways to read this book, which is why I think it’s a book for everyone. There are so many different aspects to the story, so many things to take out of it.”
“But Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” doesn’t shy away from recounting the era’s dark side either: abusive producers, sexual assault, financial exploitation, inter and intra-group rivalries, mafia involvement, payola, racist violence, segregation, mental illness. Are all part of the story. “But Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” indeed has something for everyone and is both entertaining and essential reading.