Pop singer Lesley Gore passed away on February 16, 2015. She was sixteen when she reached number one in the charts with It’s My Party, which was followed by a number of other top 40 hits, including You Don’t Own Me, which reached number two on the charts, just behind the Beatles’ I Want To Hold Your Hand. Later in life she received an Academy Award nomination for co-writing Out Here On My Own for the film Fame. She last performed in the Twin Cities at the Dakota in 2010.
About twenty-eight or twenty-nine years ago she made a memorable appearance in the Twin Cities at a somewhat unusual venue. Donaldson’s, a long-gone department store, was opening up a beachwear department in their location at Southdale Mall. To celebrate and publicize the event they brought in Gore to perform in one of the mall’s inside courtyards.
Though at the time it had been about twenty years since Gore had broken the Top 40, Donaldson’s had made a good move in bringing her in, as the place was packed. A large portion of the audience were women who had come of age with Gore’s hits, many of whom had daughters with them as well. She was wildly received.
Afterwards, fans lined up to get her autographs on 45s, LP covers, and pictures. For about 45 minutes, she graciously welcomed them and signed her name. Finally, she was able to take a few minutes to talk with me. What follows is a lightly edited version of the interview.
How did you get your start?
I made some demo tapes which Quincy Jones heard, and Irving Green, president of Mercury at the time, asked Quincy to record some sides with me and one of those sides was It’s My Party.
How did you like working with Quincy?
Very much. Basically we had our first hits together and he really taught me a lot. He’s a fabulous producer and I’m happy to have had the opportunity to work with him.
How did you go about choosing songs?
We listened to songs. I had first pick as to what I wanted to record, and occasionally Quincy had something that he felt strongly about. It would be more of a negotiating thing. When we heard It’s My Party we both knew we wanted to play that.
Did you get any sense that 20 yrs after recording it, little girls would be singing it?
No, as I said before, if we’d known it was going to last 23 years, we would have taken care of the trumpet clinkers at the end. You know, there are some bad mistakes on that record, but the spirit was there. No, I didn’t know it would last for 20 years
What is it about that song that appeals? I noticed lots of little girls singing and dancing to that one. I asked a couple of them and they said, “That’s my favorite song.”
I think at that time, and it may apply to young girls today, most of the songs were about girls and guys and a girl wanting a particular guy. There was no room for a girl to be independent and say what was really on her mind. The strength and independence of It’s My Party is something that I know I enjoyed singing for that reason. At sixteen I related to that song very strongly for that reason, because a lot of things did go wrong and it gave me an opportunity to sing about those things.
Strength and Independence comes out in You Don’t Own Me. I saw older women singing along to that.
Vehemently singing along.
As a song, it was stronger in its declaration of independence. How did you come to record it?
That was written for me by two guys from Philadelphia who literally kidnapped me at a resort in the Catskills and threw me into a cabana near the pool and played me the song. I said “This song is great!” I told them “You’ve gotta be in New York on Monday and play this for Quincy” and that was that.
I know it’s been a long day for you. Thanks for taking the time to talk.
You’re welcome, it’s been my pleasure.
Note: Rocker Joan Jett recorded You Don’t Own Me for her debut album as a solo artist in 1981. In 2012, the song was used in a PSA with commentary from Gore, to encourage women to vote. On a lighter note, Bette Midler, Diane Keaton, and Goldie Hawn sing it in the closing sequence of the 1996 movie, The First Wives Club, as seen below.