It was a meeting of two different worlds with one common interest. 29-year-old Quincy Jones, jazz trumpet player, record company executive, music producer and arranger, paid a visit to Lesley Gore, 16-year-old high school student and ambitiously confident singer. For Quincy it was a venture into the world of pop music; really popular pop music, something he hadn't encountered thus far. For Lesley it was the start of something only a handful of teenagers could hope to experience.

So in February 1963 a limousine pulled up at Lesley's home in Tenafly, New Jersey. Jones emerged from the luxury vehicle with a couple of boxes of demo recordings for them to listen to. Mercury Records was interested in the young singer and the unlikely choice of Jones as her producer and mentor was largely due to his enthusiasm after hearing a demo she had sent to the label's New York offices where he was musical director. "It's My Party," an overdramatized teenage scenario featuring a boyfriend-stealer named Judy, was the first song they listened to and became one of four tracks completed at her first session on March 30, 1963 with Quincy Jones producing and Claus Ogerman arranging. Sometime around April Fools' Day, Phil Spector heard about the song and attempted yet another of his many stunts, making plans to record it with The Crystals in order to do what he'd done to Vikki Carr with "He's a Rebel" several months earlier (that is, to cut Lesley off at the pass and grab the hit song for himself before she knew what hit her). It didn't work. For one thing, British singer Helen Shapiro had already recorded "It's My Party," and Quincy had a hundred acetates of the Gore rendition pressed that very week, rush-releasing them to radio stations across the country. The timing turned out to be perfect. Spector moved on to another project.

On April 6, exactly one week after the studio session, Lesley heard the song on the radio for the first time. Murray the K played it on his show on NYC's WINS. She wasn't aware it had even been released! There was no struggle to convince stations to play the song, or the public to buy it. By the start of June, shortly after her 17th birthday, it was number one on the national charts. Gore was an instant star and had to be rapidly fitted for the part. Her next single, "Judy's Turn To Cry" (cowritten by Edna Lewis and Beverly Ross, an old songwriting associate of Spector's), was a quickly-cranked-out sequel (wherein Lesley takes her boyfriend back from bad-girl Judy). Releasing this kind of follow-up can be risky and has often squashed a promising career - after all, who wants to hear a lesser variation of a huge established hit? In Lesley's case, everyone did. The song went top five on the heels of "Party" and the third single continued the teenage triangle theme: "She's a Fool," musically and lyrically more substantial than "Judy's Turn," became her third top five hit in a span of five months. Lesley was the hottest female solo act of 1963, capturing the essence of the popular girl groups of the day, wrapped up in one suburban high school student.

The artistic apex of Lesley's career came next, when Dave White (a former member of Danny and the Juniors) and Johnny Madara approached her with a song they had written, "You Don't Own Me." Both she and Quincy loved the song's message, and the end result was a striking production, deftly mixing a string section (in a clever use of a minor chord) with a punctuating xylophone for dramatic effect. In the song's lyrics she declared her independence as a woman ('...don't tie me down, 'cause I'd never stay!'); no more male manipulation allowed! Lesley had matured a great deal in just a half year's time and it was reflected in her music. The record shot up the charts in early 1964, another number one hit for sure, had it not been for the "next big thing": The Beatles blasted onto the charts in January with "I Want To Hold Your Hand," leapfrogging Lesley to the top in just two weeks' time. She had to settle for number two, and it wasn't such a bad spot to be in.

When the Grammy nominations came out for 1963, "It's My Party" showed up in the category of Best Rock and Roll Recording, the first of Gore's three Grammy nods. While the Beatles and the British Invasion took hold, her string of hits continued at slightly lower levels as she became a close friend and collaborator of songer-songwriter Ellie Greenwich (who wrote the hits "Maybe I Know" and "Look of Love" with hubby Jeff Barry). Ellie provided backing vocals for many of Lesley's recordings in the mid-'60s; the underrated "Off and Running" is closer to a duet than a solo piece and the two worked together often through the years.

Lesley made a couple of notable big-screen appearances, first in the box office hit The T.A.M.I. Show, videotaped in October 1964 over two nights at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, then transferred to film and released to theaters in December. The Rolling Stones, James Brown, The Supremes, Chuck Berry, The Beach Boys, hosts Jan and Dean and several of music's other top acts were featured in their prime, with Lesley singing six songs, including the huge hits that had placed her in the same class with the abovementioned star roster. Her performance in the film nicely exhibits her vocal talent and overall appeal. Several months later she was in Ski Party starring Frankie Avalon (with his usual partner Annette in a brief cameo this time around). A less-than-magically-inspired entry in the series that had begun with '63's Beach Party, the film is worth seeing for its sizzling performance by James Brown introducing his monster hit "I Got You (I Feel Good)" and a minute-and-a-half of Lesley on the bus to the slopes, lip-syncing the Marvin Hamlisch-Howard Liebling song "Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows," her top hit of '65 and second Grammy nom in the category Best Contemporary Rock and Roll Performance, Female.

"My Town, My Guy and Me," an original song by Lesley (with Bob Elgin and Paul Kaufman), made the top 40 in the fall of '65. Musically-inclined younger brother Michael Gore had been honing his songwriting skills and waiting for his chance. He and Lesley collaborated on her minor 1965 and '66 hits "I Won't Love You Anymore (Sorry)" and "We Know We're in Love" (the latter performed in a guest appearance on the final episode of the long-running Donna Reed Show, March 19, 1966). The Carole Joyner-Ric Cartey song "Young Love" (which had been massive simultaneous hits for Sonny James and Tab Hunter in 1957) was placed in an appropriate teen female context by Lesley. A decision to attend Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, New York, limited the time she would be able to devote to her career. It didn't help matters when Quincy Jones seized the opportunity to score films, beginning with The Pawnbroker in 1965, as his own expanding career brought new challenges.

Successive recordings under producers Shelby Singleton, soul music team Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff and several others resulted in some fine work, though without Jones, who had guided her though that important early phase, she gradually lost focus. One final major hit came in 1967, the Bob Crewe production of "California Nights," aided by a guest turn on ABC's Batman series as Pussycat, a protegee of Catwoman (Julie Newmar) and comedically romantic interest of Batman's teenage sidekick Robin (Burt Ward). A summer-on-the-beach song as suitable a fit in Gotham City as oil is in water, it nonetheless went top 20 after she performed it on the show in extreme cat-campiness. She was interested in an acting career, yet this was as good as it got, successful insofar as it will reside forever in your memory bank once you've seen it. Follow-up "Summer and Sandy" continued the sun-and-surf theme.

Lesley Gore

Her final Mercury release, a late summer '69 remake of Laura Nyro's "Wedding Bell Blues," came weeks before another version by The 5th Dimension took hold, ultimately reaching number one. Lesley spent a little over a year with Bob Crewe's Crewe label, forgoing the teen image for a more adult look and sound. "Why Doesn't Love Make Me Happy" was followed by a remake of The Fleetwoods' signature tune "Come Softly To Me," a duet with recent hitmaker Oliver under the names Billy 'n Sue. One last single for Crewe, the spirited "Back Together," credited her simply as Lesley. An original ballad, "She Said That," co-written with Broadway and TV actress Ellen Weston, appeared in '72 on Motown's Mowest label. A stint at A&M in '75 and '76 reunited her with Quincy Jones, resulting in more Gore-Weston songs: the solo "Immortality" and a soul/disco collaboration with The Brothers Johnson, "Sometimes."

Brother Michael and Lesley Gore created music together off and on for years, culminating in "Out Here On My Own," an Academy Award nominee for Best Original Song (performed by Irene Cara in the 1980 film Fame). In addition, Michael won the Oscar in the same category that year for the title song from Fame, beating out his sister and himself in the process.

- Michael Jack Kirby



It's My Party She's a Fool You Don't Own Me That's the Way Boys Are I Don't Wanna Be a Loser Maybe I Know Look of Love Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows My Town, My Guy and Me Summer and Sandy