Wednesday, April 18, 2018

You Don't Own Me

After seeing Ann Wilson, formerly of Heart, perform one of my all-time favorite songs from the '60's (and any OTHER era for that matter) at the PBS Soundstage Taping at The Arcada Theatre, I decided to resurrect my interview with John Madara, one of the song’s writers, for the benefit of those of you who may have missed it when it first ran way back when.

YOU DON'T OWN ME, the torchy ballad sung by LESLEY GORE, went all the way to #2 on The National Charts (and TOPPED the charts here in Chicago) back in early 1964.

In hindsight, YOU DON'T OWN ME has come to be referred to as perhaps the very first anthem of the Women's Liberation Movement.  (Yes, that means that LESLEY was "roaring" eight years before HELEN REDDY picked up the idea!) Keep in mind that this was an era where other Girl Groups and Female Artists were singing things like I CAN'T STAY MAD AT YOU (by SKEETER DAVIS) and HE HIT ME (AND IT FELT LIKE A KISS) by THE CRYSTALS. I couldn't help but wonder if that was the ORIGINAL intent of these lyrics when the song was first written.

JOHN MADARA: Our original intent was to write a song with a woman telling a man off ... "don't tell me what to do, don't tell me what to say." Though we didn't realize it at the time that it would become a woman's anthem, it definitely was our intention to have a woman make a statement. I believe when Joan Jett's recording came out, there were a lot of articles written regarding the lyric content as a "woman's liberation" song, and has continued to make the same statement through the years with the many films it has been in, i.e., "Dirty Dancing," "Hairspray" and the featured song in "The First Wives Club," which, of course, was a story about wives getting back at the ex-husbands.

kk / FORGOTTEN HITS: Was the song specifically written with LESLEY GORE in mind? Quite honestly, up to THIS point, her hit songs leaned toward more straight ahead, feel good, up-tempo pop ... (although I guess she DID enjoy some good-natured / mean-spirited revenge with JUDY'S TURN TO CRY!!!)

JM: "You Don't Own Me" was originally written for Maureen Gray, but at an A&R meeting at Mercury Records in 1963, we played the song for Quincy Jones, who was also on the A&R staff at Mercury. He loved the song and thought we should play it for Lesley Gore at a forthcoming Mercury Records convention at Grossinger's Resort in the Catskills. At the convention, we got a chance to play it for Lesley by the pool with a baritone ukulele. She loved it and wanted to hear it with a piano. We got to play if for her later that day with a piano and she just loved it so much.

Were you there at the recording session when she laid down this track?

JM: Quincy told myself and David White (EDITOR'S NOTE: DAVID WHITE was JOHN's co-writer on this track) to go meet with Klaus Ogerman, who was the arranger on all of the Lesley Gore records, and dictate to him our arrangement ideas. Several weeks later David and I showed up at A&R Recording Studios for the session, driving up from Philadelphia to attend. We showed up while Quincy was recording "You Don't Own Me." After listening for 10 or 15 minutes, Quincy said to myself and David "What do you think?" So we told him that there were quite a few things that we wanted that were not in the arrangement. Quincy, in his kindness and his affection for us, stopped the session and told Klaus to let us come out there and make the necessary changes, which we did, which were piano, strings, additional modulation in the ending and Lesley's vocal performance, which was great but just needed a few changes. When we were finished, it was the way that we would have produced it ourselves. At the completion of the session, Quincy played all of the cuts from the forthcoming album, and all of the people in the studio picked "You Don't Own Me" to be the next single.

kk / FH: Well, it's a GREAT record ... no question about it ... and one of my all-time faves!

JM: Thank you, Kent, for printing the truth behind the hits. As Al Kooper said, it means a lot!


Here is what LESLEY GORE had to say about the recording of YOU DON'T OWN ME ... we found these quotes in The BEAR FAMILY Box Set of her MERCURY RECORDS recordings:   

I met John Madara and Dave White up at the Catskills (New York) hotel Grossinger's. I was up there doing a record hop, gratis, for a disc jockey by the name of Gene Kay at WAAB in Allentown. I was sitting at the pool on, I think it was Saturday -- the day I was going to perform -- and John and Dave came up to me with a guitar, took me into a cabana by the pool, and played me "You Don't Own Me." I told them they had to meet me in New York on Monday, to see Quincy and play him the song, and we were in the studio probably a week and a half later. It is much to Quincy's credit that he could see what was really involved in that song, because his edict, as far as I know, was to keep me in "It's My Party" territory -- keep it light, keep it frothy, keep it young. You can't hold back a seventeen-year-old woman ... she has got to find a way to spread her wings -- and this was a song that allowed me a little bit more freedom vocally. The beauty of that song is that the verses start in a minor key, and then, when you go into the chorus, it goes into the major, and there's such a sense of lift and exhilaration. After seeing how powerful that is, it became a method I've used on a number of occasions.

DIDJAKNOW?: Although YOU DON'T OWN ME was originally written for MAUREEN GRAY, she NEVER actually recorded the song!!! (I guess once LESLEY GORE recorded the definitive version, everybody kinda figured "What's The Point"?!?!?!!)

But the truth is, the song keeps coming back!  Used in movies and television commercials (most recently Toyota and the NFL have been all over the tube with this tune.)  

Here are just a few clips for your enjoyment ...

And, of course The Blow Monkeys cut an unusual version that was used in the “Dirty Dancing” soundtrack …

But that’s not the first (or last) time this song was used in a movie …
How about this version sung by Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton and Bette Midler from the move “The First Wives Club” …

Here is the Grace remake from a couple of years ago … updated yet still retaining all the feel and magic of the original (with a dash of hip-hop rap thrown in for good measure!)

Ann Wilson’s version leans toward the heavy metal side … but I could not find a clip online (even though there are several videos posted from her recent appearance at The Arcada.)  They didn’t have it on iTunes either … so you’ll have to seek this one out for yourselves in order to give it a listen.  (kk)