Thursday, December 8, 2011

December 8: The Shirelles, "Will You Love Me Tomorrow"

Artist: The Shirelles
Song: "Will You Love Me Tomorrow"
Album: Will You Love Me Tomorrow
Year: 1960

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Though it is often one of the more overlooked elements concerning the so-called "girl groups" of the 1960's, there is generally a lacking in depth within the lyrical content of such artists.  While there is no way that one can overstate the amazing vocal performances that are found in almost every group of this style, the words that they sing are often rather predictable and over-used.  One can see a similar trend within the world of hip-hop over the past decade, and yet in both cases, one can always find a handful of exceptions that defy this argument.  In the case of the girl-groups, there is no question that standing near the top of them all is The Shirelles, and one can point to this quartet as being the "first" such act of the "rock era."  Previously, most girl-groups had been strictly within the schools of "doo-wop" or r&b, and it was the work of The Shirelles that breathed an entirely new life into this style.  Due to this reality, as well as the superb voices contained within the members, a number of recordings by The Shirelles remain the most famous in all of music history, and yet it was when the group took on an arrangement with a stronger subject matter that they recorded their best known hit.  Overflowing with absolutely gorgeous vocal work, as well as some of the most pointed lyrics of the era, there is simply no other song that holds a similar spot to The Shirelles' 1960 classic, "Will You Love Me Tomorrow."

Strangely enough, when "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" begins, it sounds just like almost every other recording from the era, as there is a slow swing that in many ways embodies the spirit of that time period.  However, once one listens more closely, it is the way that the guitar rings in the background that gives it a sound and attitude that separates the song from almost all of their peers.  Yet it is the way that this guitar gives way to the string section, and the interaction between the two parts that makes "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" such a fantastically unique musical experience, and it would serve as the blueprint for a long list of later artists.  The string section gives the song a great deal of depth and a sense of the dramatic, and yet it is the fact that it does not run throughout the entire track that shows the balance and understanding of musical structure at play on the recording.  As these sounds combine with the almost Latin-sounding rhythms, "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" is vaulted into a category all its own, as one can hear the track as the ideal combination of the "older" sounds and the new, up and coming rock-style musical presentations.  The final element in this exceptional musical arrangement is the steady rhythm of the piano, and it may be this aspect that is the most definitive sound one can take from "Will You Love Me Tomorrow."  It is the way that the piano is in almost a tango that makes it so unique, and this certainly played a massive role in the songs' quick rise to popularity.

Working in absolutely phenomenal fashion all across the brilliant musical landscape, the vocals on "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" are perhaps the finest definition of "subtly powerful."  Though the harmonies are nothing short of unforgettable, it is the lead vocal work from Doris Coley.  Easily working all across the vocal scale, it is the emotion and inflection within her singing that places her high above almost any of her contemporaries.  The way that Coley is able to express the songs' position of being between the wishful innocence of the teenage years, and the more cynical, understanding reality of adulthood has never been captured so perfectly, and when she lets her voice soar in unrestrained beauty, one can only listen in sheer awe of her presence.  However, one must give proper credit to the fact that Coley was given one of the greatest lyrics ever written, and it can be argued that "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" is the greatest composition ever by the team of Gerry Goffin and Carole King.  As the protagonist muses on the question of whether her lovers' feelings are "real" or nothing more than a physical urge, Goffin and King dig deep into the depths of human emotion.  Truth be told, there are few lyrics from any era that are as simultaneously cutting and outright beautiful as when Coley sings, " this a lasting treasure, or just a moment's pleasure?" and it is the words which serve as the ideal finishing touch to this iconic recording.

As the decades have passed, the impact and presence of "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" has rarely faded even for a moment, as it has been used regularly within film, television, and other areas of popular culture.  Over that time period, the song has also been recorded and performed by artists ranging from Ben E. King to Lauryn Hill to Elton John to Roberta Flack, and Carole King also made her own recording of the song more than a decade after her initial writing.  However, even with all of these covers, there is a certain attitude and pain within the original that enables it to remain far above all other versions.  Along with the rather timeless nature of the song, "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" also holds the historical title of being the first song performed by an all girl group that made it to the top spot on the U.S. charts.  This in itself would be enough to place the song in the "all time greatest" category, but the fact that the vocals and lyrics are in themselves so amazingly powerful helps to place the track into a uniquely revered spot in history.  It is the way that the music seems to sway slowly, in an almost mournful manner behind Coley's questioning vocals that make it impossible to ever forget the song, and the final addition of the universally-felt lyrics is what places The Shirelles' unforgettable 1960 recording, "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" alone at the top of classic "girl-group" songs.

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