LESLEY GORE-CALIFORNIA NIGHTS.

LESLEY GORE-CALIFORNIA NIGHTS.

Lesley Gore’s rise was meteoric. Her career began in June 1963, when she burst onto the scene with her debut single It’s My Party. It reached number one in the US Billboard 100 and US R&B charts. This resulted in It’s My Party being certified gold. The following year, It’s My Party was nominated for a Grammy Award. Meanwhile, Lesley’s debut album was selling well. 

Released in June 1963, It’s My Party reached number twenty-four in the US Billboard 200 charts. Lesley’s second single was Judy’s Turn To Cry, which reached number five in the US Billboard 100 and number ten in the US R&B Charts. After the success of Judy’s Turn To Cry, Lesley Gore it seemed could do no wrong.

Five months later, in October 1963, Lesley released her sophomore album Lesley Gore Sings of Mixed-Up Hearts. It stalled at number 125 in the US Billboard 200. At least the singles She’s A Fool and  You Don’t Own Me reached the top five in the US Billboard 100. Maybe this was just a temporary blip? 

It wasn’t. When I Don’t Know Anymore was released as a single between Lesley’s second and third album, the single failed to chart. For Lesley and her record company Mercury, this was a worrying time. Music was just about to change. 

When Lesley released her third album, Boys, Boys, Boys in April 1964, things didn’t improve. They actually got worse. Boys, Boys, Boys only reached number 127 in the US Billboard 200. The only saving grace was the success of the lead single from Boys, Boys, Boys.

That’s The Way Boys Are was chose as the lead single from Boys, Boys, Boys. This proved to be an inspired choice. It reached just number twelve in the US Billboard 100. The next single didn’t fare well. I Don’t Wanna Be a Loser reached just number thirty-seven in the US Billboard 100. Lesley’s career seemed to have stalled.

On the release of Girl Talk in October 1964, it became Lesley Gore’s least successful album. Girl Talk stalled at number 146 in the US Billboard 200. Lesley Gore’s music it seemed, was neither as popular, nor fashionable.

Lesley wasn’t alone. Other high profile singers, including Bobby Vee and Neil Sedaka were struggling. They were no longer enjoying the same commercial success and critical acclaim. There was a reason for this, music was changing.

At the heart of the change was the recent British Invasion. Groups like The Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Small Faces and The Who would take America by storm. Then psychedelia was born. Just like the British Invasion, psychedelia derailed the career of many previously successful  pop singers. Suddenly, artists who enjoyed successful careers were struggling. This included Lesley Gore. 

When Lesley entered the studio to record My Town, My Guy and Me, little did she know that it would be her final album with producer Quincy Jones. He was the man who “discovered” Lesley in 1963, when he heard her demo. Since then, he had produced each of her albums.

My Town, My Guy and Me was the fifth album Quincy Jones had produced for Lesley Gore. He had guided her career through good times and bad. Sadly, there had been more of the latter, than the former. Things improved slightly with My Town, My Guy and Me.

Lesley’s fifth album My Town, My Guy and Me was released in September 1965. The followup to Girl Talk, 1965 My Town, My Guy and Me. Produced by Quincy Jones, reached just number 120 in the US Billboard 200. Despite its lowly chart number, My Town, My Guy and Me was a Lesley’s second most successful album. It was also as good as it got.

As a new year dawned, so did a new era. Quincy Jones was replaced as producer by Shelby S. Singleton Jr. This coincided with one of the worst years of Lesley Gore’s career.

1966 was Lesley’s annus horiblis. She was due to release two albums during 1966. The first was Lesley Gore Sings All About Love. When it was released, it failed to chart. For Lesley Gore, this was a first. She was shocked. Mercury her record company were equally concerned.

Despite the failure of Lesley Gore Sings All About Love, Lesley and Shelby S. Singleton Jr. returned to the studio. They began work on Off and Running. Eventually, what should’ve been Lesley’s seventh album was completed. It was scheduled for release in November 1966. However, Mercury had other ideas.

With Off and Running recorded, Lesley was working towards the November 1966 release date. Mercury however, were having cold feet. With every release, Lesley Gore’s sales were shrinking. It was a long time since Lesley was one of the company’s rising stars. Many felt her time was past, and that she was a relic of Mercury’s past. They thought the company should cut their losses on Lesley Gore, and concentrate on rock and psychedelia. That was where the money was to be made. There was a problem though. Lesley Gore was under contract.

Mercury had a get out. Just because Lesley had recorded Off and Running, didn’t mean they had to release the album. So, Off and Running’ release was cancelled. This wasn’t be the first time an album had been shelved; and it wouldn’t be the last. Certainly not for Lesley. However, for Lesley her pride was at stake. She took the cancellation of Off and Running badly.

By 1967, it looked increasingly likely that Lesley’s hit-making days were behind her. Lesley began to consider the future. She still wanted to be a singer, and had recently recorded a new single, California Nights, with producer Bob Crewe. However, given her recent track record, it didn’t look like California Nights was going to pay the bills. So, she decided to try acting.

Lesley was offered a guest appearance on Batman on an episode shown on January 19th 1967. In the episode That Darn Catwoman, Lesley was cast as Pussycat, Catwoman’s partner. This was a huge break, as Batman was one of the most popular shows on American television. Even better, Lesley would mime her latest single California Nights which was produced by Shelby S Singleton Jr.

This was a masterstroke, one that would transform Lesley Gore’s career. Within a few weeks, California Nights was climbing the charts. Eventually, it reached number sixteen in the US Billboard 100. Lesley Gore was the comeback Queen. Batman and California Nights had rescued Lesley’s career. 

For Lesley Gore, this couldn’t have come at a better time. Her career was at a crossroads. She realised that many at Mercury perceived her music as yesterday’s sound. However, Mercury weren’t ready to call time on her career. Instead, following the success of California Nights, Mercury began compiling Lesley’s seventh album California Nights which was recently reissued by Ace Records. This was make or break for Lesley Gore.

There wasn’t time for Lesley to enter a studio and record a whole album of material. So, Mercury decided to look though the songs that Lesley had recorded at previous Mercury sessions. They had plenty to choose from. Previously, Lesley had worked with various producers, including Bob Crewe and Herb Bernstein, plus Jack Nitzsche and Quincy Jones. Eventually, Mercury settled on the ten tracks that became California Nights. 

Previously, Lesley had worked with Bob Crewe and Herb Bernstein. This session yielded seven of the ten tracks on California Nights. Bob produced five tracks and co-produced Treat Me Like A Lady and The Bubble Broke Herb Bernstein. However, didn’t just produce much of California Nights, he cowrote five of the seven tracks he produced.

This included Treat Me Like A Lady, I’m Going Out (The Same Way I Came In) and Love Goes On Forever, which he cowrote with Gary Knight. Bob Hirschhorn and Al Kasha penned Bad, and Bob cowrote The Bubble Broke with Raymond Bloodworth and Larry Brown. The other two tracks Bob produced were Maybe Now, a Lesley and Michael Gore composition. The other track was California Nights, which Marvin Hamlisch and Howard Liebling wrote. These seven tracks would play an important part of California Nights. Still, though, they needed more tracks

So Mercury they returned to the Jack Nitzsche and Quincy Jones’ sessions. Carole Bayer Sayer and Toni Milne’s Off and Running was chosen. So was Fred Anisfield and Larry Weiss’ Lilacs And Violets. The final track was Cry Like A Baby, which was penned by Joshie Armstead with Ashford and Simpson. Now Mercury had enough material for an album, California Nights.

California Nights was released in February 1967. It reached number 169 in the US Billboard 200. Normally, this wouldn’t be anything to celebrate. However, after Lesley Gore Sings All About Love failed to chart, and the cancellation of Off and Running, Lesley felt positive about the future. 

With good reason. Despite featuring tracks by various producers, California Nights it was a cohesive album. California Nights, with its eclectic selection of songs, proved the perfect showcase for Lesley Gore. There’s ballads and uptempo tracks. Similarly, Lesley flits between pop, jazz and even takes a detour via doo wop. Seamlessly, she copes with the change of style and indeed, producer.  She has the listener’s attention from the opening track,

That’s Lesley’s comeback single California Nights. It’s a joyous, string drenched anthem featuring tender, hopeful vocal from Lesley. Next up is Bob Crewe and Gary Knight’s jazz-tinged ballad Treat Me Like A Lady. They also contribute the defiant I’m Going Out (The Same Way I Came In) and another ballad, Love Goes On Forever. Lesley’s heartfelt vocal sits atop the waltzing arrangement. 

Maybe Now was penned by by Michael and Lesley Gore. It features a reflective, heartbroken Lesley. She lives the lyrics. That’s the case on Bad, another of California Nights’ ballads. Lesley’s at her needy and soulful best, on what’s one of the highlights of the Bob Crewe and Herb Bernstein sessions, and indeed, California Nights.  The final track chosen from the Bob Crewe and Herb Bernstein session was The Bubble Broke. It’s a much more uptempo, poppy song, where Lesley combines power and emotion. In doing so, Lesley shows her versatility. That’s not the end of California Nights though.

There’s still the tracks from the Jack Nitzsche and Quincy Jones’ sessions.. Off And Running is another uptempo, poppy track. A sassy Lesley struts her way through the track. Lilacs And Violets is a string laden ballad, featuring a tender, wistful vocal from Lesley. Cry Like A Baby closes California Nights. It’s ballad, where a Lesley lays bare her broken heart on this sixties sounding track. Having said that, Cry Like A Baby has stood the test of time, and is a reminder of Lesley Gore at her best. However, that’s not the end of California Nights.

There’s still another fifteen bonus tracks on California Nights. These tracks were produced by various producers. Among them are Bob Crewe, Herb Bernstein, Jack Nitzsche and Quincy Jones. Then there’s tracks produced by Shelby S. Singleton Jr., Teddy Randazzo and Alan Lorber. These tracks cover the period between 1963 and 1967. Again, they showcase Lesley Gore’s versatility. 

On California Nights’ bonus tracks, Lesley Gore veers between ballads, uptempo tracks and dance tracks. One of the most intriguing is a cover of Phil Spector’s To Know Him Is To Love Him. It’s transformed into a string-laden ballad produced by Alan Lorber. He then breaks out the strings as Lesley reinvents Goffin and King’s Will You Love Me Tomorrow. The tempo rises, and Lesley delivers this classic with a swing, finger clicks and all. In a similar vain, is Start The Party Again. It’s a Shelby Singleton Jr. production. Originally, it featured on Lesley’s 1966 album Lesley Gore Sings All About Love. This was Lesley’s only Mercury album not to chart. However, Start The Party Again is one of the album’s highlight, and makes a welcome return on California Nights.

There’s much more to enjoy in the bonus tracks. Yeah, Yeah, Yeah (That Boy Of Mine) is inspired by the “girl group” sound. It’s a slice of musical sunshine. That’s What I’ll Do oozes drama; while there’s an air of optimism on the hooky pop of Happiness Is Just Around The Corner. Hold Me Tight was penned by Lesley and Michael Gore, and was produced by Jack Nitzsche. This stomping slice of pop builds up to a dramatic crescendo, which proves the perfect way to close California Nights.

While California Nights briefly rejuvenated Lesley Gore’s career, that was the end of her career at Mercury. Lesley recorded another album, Magic Colours. It was scheduled for release in November 1969. Then lighting struck twice for Lesley Gore.

Very few artists see one of their albums cancelled. It’s almost unheard of for an artist to have two albums cancelled. Lesley Gore suffered that fate. What was due to be her eighth studio album, Magic Colours, was cancelled. Mercury then cancelled her contract. For Lesley Gore, her career at Mercury came to an inauspicious end.

California Nights proved to be Lesley Gore’s Mercury swan-song. While it wasn’t a commercial success, it’s without doubt, one Lesley Gore’s best Mercury albums. Lesley Gore was able to leave Mercury with her head held high. She was a talented and versatile singer, who could’ve and should’ve enjoyed much more commercial success. What Lesley needed, was the right label behind her.

Another label might have paired Lesley with more suitable producers. While she worked with some top producers, they weren’t necessary the right producer for Lesley Gore. Similarly, some of the material Lesley recorded at Mercury wasn’t suited for  Lesley Gore. During her time at Mercury, music was changing, and changing fast. Sometimes, Lesley wasn’t able to move with the times. She was held back, as Mercury hoped that Lesley Gore would, once again, reach the heights of It’s My Party and I’ll Cry If I Want To. That was before the British Invasion. It was a game-changer. Never again, would music be the same.

As music changed around her, Lesley Gore didn’t move with the times. Quincy Jones produced her first five albums. When he was replaced by  Shelby S. Singleton Jr., Lesley fortunes didn’t improve. It was only through a guest appearance on Batman, where she lip-synched California Nights, that Lesley Gore’s career got back on track. Mercury hastily put together Lesley’s “comeback” album. While California Nights wasn’t a huge commercial success, it showed just what Lesley Gore was capable of.  California Nights, which was recently reissued by Ace Records, proved to one of Lesley Gore’s best albums for Mercury, and showcased a truly talented and versatile singer and songwriter.

LESLEY GORE-CALIFORNIA NIGHTS.

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