August 01, 2005

PARTY ON

Sixties teen icon and singer-songwriter LESLEY GORE records her first album in 30 years

goreAttention, all music aficionados! Don't put 60s teenage singing sensation Lesley Gore in a box labeled "It's My Party" for all eternity. She's got a great new album, Ever Since, on indie label Engine Company Records, her first in almost 30 (yes, 30!) years - and a string of summer sold-out shows at New York's Joe's Pub, to mark the roll-out of the project. Lesley Gore, one-time Tenafly, New Jersey high school junior who catapulted to becoming 1963's version of Avril Lavigne or Britney Spears, went from virtual obscurity to having a #1 hit (produced by no less than Quincy Jones), literally within weeks. This led to a string of hits and albums for a decade and a half, most produced by Jones, engineered by Phil Ramone, orchestrated and arranged by Claus Ogerman. Need more factoids? She played "Pink Pussycat" opposite Julie Newmar's Catwoman on TV's Batman in 1966, during which time she was attending Sarah Lawrence College. Gore worked with another legendary producer, Bob Crewe, in the late 60's and early 70's, recorded an album for an offshoot label of Motown and then reunited with Quincy Jones, this time on A&M. In both later albums, she emerged as a songwriter, those talents reaching new heights with her 1980 Academy Award nomination for Best Song (with her composer brother Michael Gore) from Fame's, "Out Here On My Own." Gore's own version of the Irene Cara hit appears on the new record, along with a poignant reprise of the classic anthem of female independence, "You Don't Own Me." A longtime fan, ASCAP's Brendan Okrent talked to Gore recently in New York City.

PLAYBACK:
It's exciting that you have this new record. Why'd you make us wait so long?

GORE:
I haven't really put myself out there in this way for a long time. With a whole new album and a new approach, we're hitting the clubs, doing a lot of radio. Radio's been so generous with their time and all the interviews. I've known Blake Morgan since he was about ten, because his mother is a dear friend of mine. He started this little record company, which has put out a dozen albums in the past three years. When I heard his own album, Burning Daylight, I was so deeply impressed that we started seriously discussing doing an album together. One of the very first things Blake did was bring me a copy of "Ever Since" (the title track written by Mike Errico). I heard that song and I said, "Yes! This is a song I want to interpret!"

PLAYBACK:
It's an absolutely stunning song, and you completely nailed it!

GORE:
What we're doing now is so grassroots. We're playing out, selling a few records at a time and from the website right now. That's fine. It's the antithesis of what I started doing at Mercury in the 60s when I had an organization behind me. But this is very organic and satisfying. I just hope the album will mean me being taken more seriously as an artist. If there was one thought in my mind when we made the album, that would be it. One of the other buzzwords is "timelessness." I would like someone to be able to put this baby on and not necessarily know whether it was recorded in 1950 or 2050. As a result, there's an immediacy and organic-ness to the album.

PLAYBACK:
What did you learn from guys like Quincy, Phil and Claus?

GORE:
I was a smart kid, and I realized I was in the company of genius. When I was in a room with Quincy or Phil Ramone, I shut my mouth and kept my eyes wide open. Quincy has this incredible way of dealing with people to get a performance out of them and make them feel secure. He uses little nicknames for people — you know, that make people feel really special. He just had a wonderful knack of doing that. And Phil Ramone — this was a guy on the edge of technology. From the day he walked into the studio, he was always looking for another way to do the same thing. It was exciting to be around him. Phil was the recording engineer on everything except the original "It's My Party" session. He was busy that day. Quincy and Phil were like brothers, but we couldn't get into A&R (Phil's studio) that afternoon. So we did "Party" at Bell Sound. Everything after that, maybe 12 or 13 albums, we did at Phil's studio.

PLAYBACK:
A lot happened to you really quickly, didn't it?

GORE:
It did, it really did. That's why Quincy was there. He showed me what Sarah and Peggy did. I aspired to be like these people. When I was a kid and Quincy was working out of New York he would call me on a Friday afternoon and say, "Meet me at Basin Street tonight.... Peggy's doing a nine o'clock." He took it upon himself to make sure I knew how important it was to perform live and what that's all about. He really helped me make that transition, or at least make me conscious that I had to make that transition from the safety of a recording studio to getting out in front of people and taking risks. Live performing! That's what it's all about. And that's where it all becomes significant.

PLAYBACK:
You really were the Avril Lavigne or Britney Spears of your time. Any other advice you'd like to impart to the young Lesley Gores of today? After all, you did it all first!

GORE:
Don't take yourself so seriously. I was sheltered because I continued on to college by choice. That was really a blessing for me. It gave me time to evolve. You know what it's like when you're a #1 artist? There are so many people fawning over you. It's not real. You've gotta be careful! What people don't understand is that it's really about the work.

PLAYBACK:
When you began in this business, it seemed a lot more art than commerce. Do you have any thoughts on the way the music business is now compared to back then?

GORE:
I think people need to be a whole lot smarter than I was. It wasn't so much that I took the high road; I just felt good there. I really very rarely did my music or performances for money as much as I did them for love. Frankly, that's not so smart. I don't believe I would encourage anybody, not my own kid or anyone else's kid, to think that way. You've gotta be as savvy, business- wise, as you are creatively. I wish I had learned that then.

PLAYBACK:
I'm sure it was a big "get" for the Brill Building writers to land on one of your records. Did you have a hand in picking any of your songs?

GORE:
Quincy was a real gentleman. He may have been an adult figure, but he had a way of getting down and being a "teenager." And he had a way of making music infectious. You could see it in his smile; you could see it in his eyes. He always asked what I thought. Did he always take my opinion? Of course not. But he had the brains to ask me and let me feel a part of it. There were times that Claus Ogerman, my arranger, and I would go up to Donny Kirshner's office and, one by one, first Neil Sedaka, then Barry and Cynthia, Carole King, Carole Bayer Sager — they'd all come in. If I could have footage of that! They'd play the stuff they had written days before, or even that day! The call would go out, and it was fresh. They would try and get on it. It was an exciting time.

PLAYBACK:
Let's talk about your own songwriting. There's a great version of "Out Here On My Own," from Fame on your new CD. A lot of people don't know you were nominated for an Oscar for co-writing that song. But you were writing songs on your records way before then. When and why did you start writing songs?

GORE:
I dabbled early on, but after the MoWest and A&M albums, I was beginning to get that writing bug. I think perhaps the most motivating factor, frankly, was that in the early 70s there was very little work for Lesley Gore because "It's My Party" and some of my other hits didn't have that much perspective yet. These songs were not considered classic oldies then, and I kind of suffered with, "What should I do everyday; what will I do with my life?" I decided to stay in music, and that meant if I didn't have a club or theatre to go to that night, then I had to get up in the morning and do something else that was musical. I thought that writing songs would at least be something I'd enjoy doing, and I'd feel like a musician, to be honest.

PLAYBACK:
What have you been listening to lately?

GORE:
I listen to Aimee Mann, Sarah McLachlan, the Brazilian Girls. A lot of people hand me music, and I really listen to a lot of stuff. Now, I may never actually perform a hip-hop song, but I do listen to a fair amount just to hear what people are talking about. That's not my audience, but it can't hurt to be exposed to it. I remember the first time I heard Eminem. He's like a screenwriter — so vivid, like listening to a Picasso!

PLAYBACK:
Is it a drag that people always ask you about things you did so long ago when you have, in fact, had an ongoing career all these years? I guess it's sort of a blessing and a curse?

GORE:
I frankly view all of life as a blessing and a curse. Every good thing has a repercussion. So, I'm used to it. I'm fine with it. I do not envision a show that I would do without including, "It's My Party." It's just been part of my repertoire, and I can't figure out for the life of me, why I would want to try and alienate a fan base or an audience I already have. So, what I've done, and it's helped me tremendously, is decide on the hits I was going to include and I re-thought them as if those songs had come to me two weeks ago and this is the instrumentation I have. They're updated because of the new band I'm using. The essence of those songs is there, and anyone would recognize them. I don't throw them into a medley and do 30 seconds. So I think it's pretty satisfying on a lot of levels.

PLAYBACK:
It sounds like you're having a great time.

GORE:
I am. I'm busy, but I'm enjoying it. I'm in great voice, and I'm having more fun on stage than I've ever had in my whole life!