Riot grrrl bands and ‘60s girl groups may seem like polar genres -- with one being an aggressive call to action for gender equality and the other a sugary lamenting of everyday problems -- but the movements share the same ethos of women asserting themselves through music. This overlap is at the core of U.S. Girls’ music, made by Meghan Remy, and is especially apparent on her recently released Free Advice Column EP.
“I was susceptible to getting into riot grrrl because I liked girl groups. And then I got into girl groups again after riot grrrl because of riot grrrl,” Remy told Hive of her influences. “I wanted to find music that had women involved, even if they weren’t writing it. I was looking to build up a strength in my own mind to eventually go on and make music, and get as many women stacked up in my mind who had done it—kind of like an army.”
She’s literally stacked up an army of women in the video for the single “28 Days,” from Free Advice Column, which serves as an homage to the Exciters’ video for “He’s Got the Power.” In Remy’s rendition, she dances around an industrial area with a gang of coiffed, all-black-clad ladies while singing about her battle with her period. The video ends with everyone holding hands and walking into the horizon. It’s a sweet vision of women coming together.
Hive spoke to Remy about her favorite lesser-known girl groups and how she finds empowerment in their music. Check out her favorites below:
“He’s Got the Power” is really crazy. She’s basically screaming the lyrics. I heard that song the first time on this really amazing girl group compilation called One Kiss Can Lead to Another. It introduced me to a lot of people. Dolly Parton even tried to make a girl group song and it’s on it. I would suggest that anyone interested in ‘60s girl groups or pop get it. It has a lot of people that aren’t really well-known.
They were a well-respected girl group -- they weren’t just faces or voices told what to do and how to look, like the Supremes. They wrote all of their own songs and wore pants, which was pretty unheard of at that time. They made two albums The Cake and A Slice of Cake and a lot of their arrangements are pretty crazy. They’ll have a baroque, Medieval song with harpsichords and then the next song will be R&B. They sang on an album by the Soft Machine, a British psychedelic band, and the singer Kevin Ayers has a song about them [“Eleanor’s Cake (Which Ate Her)”].
She sang almost every girl group song that Phil Spector produced, like it explains in the movie "20 Feet From Stardom," and Phil Spector would put whoever’s name on her voice. She never got her due in that time. I think she’s gotten it now. I love all of the songs that she sang that weren’t under her name. Some of my favorites were solo Darlene Love tracks. “Stumble and Fall” is really incredible. “Strange Love” is really impressive.
She wrote a song called “Breakaway” that’s considered a girl group hit, but she went on to have a career after that era ended. It wasn’t common for women to write their own songs back then. Aretha Franklin was doing it and Dusty Springfield, but women were just attempting to assert themselves in music and business. It was like one step at a time: first women had to be accepted to be singing in front of people and then eventually they could start writing their own stuff.
They’re most known as being Lou Christie’s backup singers and made some recordings on their own—though they never had any hits. Their song “Egyptian Shumba” is really amazing. There’s a lot of screaming on it and it has that vibe of sounding like it was recorded in a pyramid. It’s kind of a novelty song.
They dealt with real, dramatic teenage themes and they looked tough, wearing leather and black and straight hair. They weren’t powerpuff. Their songs still stand out today. Teenage girls and young girls are going to find those songs and love them forever. They’re talking about timeless themes. As long as parents and teenagers exist, people will be able to relate to them.
Free Advice Column is out now on Last Gang Records.