It’s My Party: Lesley Gore, Bryan Ferry, Amy Winehouse

Hello there! In this week’s blog we consider the song It’s My Party. This is a great pop song from the early 60s. More than that, it has a fascinating back-story, with an interesting personal connection. We will start with the original by Lesley Gore, and then discuss covers of that song by Bryan Ferry and by Amy Winehouse.

Lesley Gore and It’s My Party:

When I began writing my blog on rock music, I got an e-mail from Steve Gottlieb, one of my faculty colleagues in the Physics Department at Indiana University. He said that his father had written some pop music lyrics, including a very famous song whose genesis had an interesting story.

Steve Gottlieb’s father was Seymour Gottlieb, who ran a restaurant in Manhattan’s Garment District. However, he had a passion for songwriting, and spent much of his spare time writing lyrics intended for popular songs.  The elder Gottlieb used several pseudonyms in his songwriting, including Cy Crane, Ronnie Green and Steve Donroy. He often worked together with a collaborator, Herbie Wiener.

The Gottlieb family, 1965. From L: Steve, Judy, Roslyn and Seymour Gottlieb.

The Gottlieb family, 1965. From L: Steve, Judy, Roslyn and Seymour Gottlieb.

At left is a photo of the Gottlieb family in 1965; from L Steve Gottlieb, Judy Gottlieb, Roslyn Gottlieb and Seymour Gottlieb.

In 1963, the family was planning Judy’s Sweet 16 birthday celebration. When her parents insisted that her grandparents would have to be invited to the affair, Judy burst into tears.

“Don’t cry,” said her father. “It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to,” responded his daughter. Inspired by her words, Seymour wrote lyrics for a song with that title. 

The song describes an event where the subject of a party is horrified to find that her boyfriend has hooked up with a rival girl.

It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to
Cry if I want to, cry if I want to
You would cry too if it happened to you

Nobody knows where my Johnny has gone
But Judy left the same time
Why was he holding her hand
When he’s supposed to be mine

…Judy and Johnny just walked through the door
Like a queen with her king
Oh what a birthday surprise
Judy’s wearin’ his ring

Note that, in an amusing twist, the rival girl in the song is named “Judy,” the same name as Seymour Gottlieb’s daughter.

Herbie Wiener got the lyrics from Mr. Gottlieb, and the song was subsequently worked on by others. The “official” songwriting credits for It’s My Party are listed to Wiener, songwriter Wally Gold, and John Gluck, who is believed to have composed this tune.

The song was then shopped around to various producers and record companies. Eventually young producer Quincy Jones brought the demo for this song, along with 200 other demo records, to Lesley Gore, who was then a junior in high school in New Jersey.

Apparently It’s My Party was the only one of the 200 songs that was of interest to both Gore and Jones, so they recorded the song in March, 1963.

So here is the audio of the record It’s My Party by Lesley Gore.

What a bright, bouncy song! Of course, the lyrics are unforgettable, and paint a vivid picture of the horrible discovery that your dream boyfriend has paired off with a mean teenage rival at your own party.

Lesley Gore has a great voice, and this is highlighted by a fine musical accompaniment. The horns are quite effective, the backup singers complement Gore’s vocals very well, and even the handclaps lend a useful touch to the song.

And here is Lesley Gore in a live performance of It’s My Party, from 1964.

It’s conceivable that this is from the television special The T.A.M.I. Show in 1964, where Lesley Gore was one of the headliners. I kind of doubt it, because the audience here is practically comatose. The crowd appears to be composed almost exclusively of young women, who don’t seem to react at all to the song.

Apparently Seymour Gottlieb was totally surprised when he first heard It’s My Party on the radio. He was unaware that the song had been recorded and released.

In fact, the recording had been rushed onto the market. Immediately after Lesley Gore recorded the song in the studio, Quincy Jones met young hotshot producer Phil Spector at a concert.

There, Spector announced that he had recently recorded It’s My Party with the girl group The Crystals, and that Spector anticipated it would be a smash hit. Jones, fearing that his own version of the song might be scooped by Spector, skipped the concert, rushed to the studio, and immediately made a test pressing of 100 copies of the record.

Quincy Jones then mailed these advance copies to DJs at major radio markets across the country.  Lesley Gore’s recording of It’s My Party began to receive air time on pop music stations the next week. Within a month, the record was officially released, and just four weeks later it hit #1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 Pop songs list, and also the rhythm and blues charts.

It’s My Party was soon certified as a gold record, and it became the first of many big hits for Quincy Jones.  In fact, this may be the first record that Jones ever produced.

The song catapulted high school student Lesley Gore to the top of the charts, and began a highly successful musical career. Here is a publicity photo of young Lesley Gore, taken in about 1970.

She had a number of other hit singles, including the “answer song” Judy’s Turn To Cry (where the singer triumphantly wins former boyfriend Johnny back, to rival Judy’s chagrin), and the feel-good pop song Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows.

But the Lesley Gore song I most vividly remember is the 1964 tune You Don’t Own Me. Back in the bad old days when pop singers would release songs that glorified abusive boyfriends (remember “He Hit Me – It Felt Like a Kiss”?), You Don’t Own Me was a very early feminist anthem.

The song was a forthright defense of a woman’s right to make her own decisions. It has always been a model of modern feminism, and it became a political battleground in 2012, when a video of women lip-synching to Gore’s 1964 song You Don’t Own Me was released as a get-out-the-vote public service message.

Here is that video (click on the link to play)

Powerful, huh? And this issue might be even more relevant in 2016 than it was in 2012, since the winner of this year’s presidential race will likely be able to replace former Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, and perhaps two or more additional Supreme Court justices.

In addition to her singing, Lesley Gore turned out to be a talented songwriter as well. Along with her brother Michael, she composed several songs to the movie musical Fame. One of those was nominated for an Academy Award.

In 2005, Gore revealed that she was a lesbian and that she had been in a relationship with jewelry designer Lois Sasson for over 20 years. In 2015, Lesley Gore died of lung cancer, at age 68.

Bryan Ferry and It’s My Party:

Bryan Ferry is a British rocker who initially surfaced with the glam-rock group Roxy Music in the early 70s. Roxy Music was one of those groups that was really big in the U.K., but that never really made much of a splash in the U.S.

For example, between 1972 and 1982 Roxy Music had three albums that reached #1 in the U.K., and ten top-10 single records. However, they never had a U.S. record that charted better than #30.

Ferry had a lovely, lush singing voice that brought to mind crooners like Tony Bennett or Perry Como. Initially, one of the Roxy Music band members was Brian Eno, who played synthesizer for the group. However, when Eno left the band after the release of their second album, Ferry became the band’s acknowledged leader.

Below is a photo of the progressive art-rock group Roxy Music, looking very ‘glam’ in 1973. From L: Eddie Jobson, Sal Maida, Bryan Ferry, Andy Mackay, Phil Manzanera and Paul Thompson.

In about 1973, Bryan Ferry began releasing solo albums, and Roxy Music became an on-again, off-again project. The band would re-unite and release an album, and then disband, although several of the band members provided backing for Ferry’s solo work.

Roxy Music’s biggest hit in Britain was their cover of John Lennon’s Jealous Guy. That song, released in 1981 following Lennon’s assassination, reached #1 in the U.K.

Here is the audio of Bryan Ferry’s cover of Lesley Gore’s It’s My Party. The song was released in 1973.

In this treatment, Ferry is backed by a big band, and the song also features a group of backup girl singers. Again, the bouncy nature of the tune contrasts with the heartbreak experienced by the singer.

And here is a live performance by Ferry of It’s My Party.

Unfortunately, whoever recorded this video was almost directly above Ferry. The net result is that it looks like the video was shot from the Goodyear blimp. Sorry — hope you don’t get vertigo.

Over the years, Bryan Ferry was romantically involved with a number of super-models, including a few who had posed for covers of his albums. In 1982, he married London model and socialite Lucy Helmore.  Apparently Helmore was instrumental in helping Ferry to kick a cocaine habit.  The couple had four sons before divorcing in 2003.

Much like his contemporary David Bowie, Bryan Ferry was a British fashion icon. He has always been at the height of fashion, though nowadays he goes for expensive designer suits.

Also like Bowie, Ferry has gotten into trouble for his apparently favorable comments regarding the Nazis. In an interview with a German newspaper, Ferry remarked
“the way that the Nazis staged themselves and presented themselves, my Lord!…I’m talking about the films of Leni Riefenstahl…And the buildings of Albert Speer and the mass marches and the flags—just fantastic. Really beautiful.”

Ferry later emphasized that his remarks referred only to “Nazi iconography from an art history perspective;” however, the damage had been done.

In recent years, two of Ferry’s sons have been involved in political demonstrations in favor of fox hunting. One of his sons, Otis, was arrested on numerous occasions, and was convicted of one offense for which he did some jail time. A second son was suspended from his school for sending abusive e-mails to an anti-hunting campaigner.

Needless to say, the family’s political preferences favor the Conservative party in the U.K.

Amy Winehouse and It’s My Party:

Amy Winehouse was a British singer-songwriter. She was born in London in 1983. Her father was a taxi driver and her mother was a pharmacist, and their family had been Jewish immigrants from Russia and Poland.

Amy Winehouse had professional musicians on both sides of her family, and she developed an appreciation of jazz at an early age. Although she bounced around from one school to another, she did receive vocal and theatrical training.

Amy’s talent began to be noticed. In 2000, she was named the featured vocalist for Britain’s National Youth Jazz Orchestra. Her first album, Frank, in 2003 was heavily influenced by jazz. Ms. Winehouse’s vocal style was compared to that of her idol, jazz legend Sarah Vaughan.

However, over the next few years Amy Winehouse became interested in American “girl groups” from the 60s. In particular, she adopted a beehive hairdo and heavy black eyeliner, reminiscent of the look of pop singer Ronnie Spector.

Below is a photo of Amy Winehouse performing at the MOBO Awards in 2007.

Winehouse’s next album, the fall 2006 release Back to Black, became a sensation. The album shot up to #1 in the U.K. and sold nearly 2 million copies there. The song Rehab from that album made it into the top 10 in the U.S., and Time magazine named it the Best Song of 2007.

Amy Winehouse was a smash hit at the 2008 Grammy Awards,
tying the then record for the most wins by a female artist in a single night, and made her the first British female to win five Grammys, including three of the general field “Big Four” awards: Best New Artist, Record of the Year and Song of the Year.

From then on, Amy Winehouse was an international celebrity. Her eclectic mixture of soul, rhythm and blues and jazz seemed fresh and creative, and her songwriting was intensely personal and expressive.

Here is Amy Winehouse singing It’s My Party. This song was recorded in 2010, as part of a Quincy Jones tribute album.

Ms. Winehouse gives a stylized performance of the Lesley Gore song, which showcases her rich contralto voice. Unfortunately, this YouTube video appears to cut off right before the end of the song. Perhaps this is a metaphor for Amy Winehouse’s career, which was cut short abruptly right in her prime.

Unfortunately, Winehouse’s incredible fame exacerbated her personal struggles. She was bi-polar, and this was coupled with addiction issues. Her problems increased after she married her video production assistant, Blake Fielder-Civil.

As far as one can tell, Fielder-Civil was a terrible influence on Amy Winehouse. He introduced her to heroin, and their stormy relationship reads like a “how-to” manual for co-dependency.

Amy Winehouse gave some thrilling live performances; however, on other occasions she appeared so wasted that she was unable to remember the words to her songs, or the names of her bandmates. She had to pull out of various tours in order to enter rehab.

On July 23, 2011, her bodyguard found Amy Winehouse unresponsive, and emergency medical workers pronounced her dead at her residence in Camden, London. She was found to have had a blood alcohol content of greater than 0.41%.

What a shame – Amy Winehouse was a brilliant and talented musician. She was also a troubled soul who desperately needed help with her medical and addiction issues, but who never found the support she required. Sadly, it appears that her fame had the effect of pushing her over the edge.

Like many other young pop stars over the years, Amy Winehouse died at age 27. She left behind a promising body of work, and she has been a strong influence on an upcoming generation of women pop stars, including most notably Lady Gaga.

A recent film about Amy Winehouse’s life, Amy, won the 2016 Academy Award for Best Documentary.

Let’s end this blog post by returning to Seymour Gottlieb, who wrote the lyrics to this great pop song, based on a personal exchange with his daughter Judy.

Steve Gottlieb tells me that his family still receives royalty checks, as a number of artists continue either to cover the song, or to create songs that incorporate lyrics from the original. For example, the movie Casper about the flying ghost contains a song with the line “It’s my party and I’ll die if I want to.” Another recent example is singer Robin Thicke, whose song Sex Therapy contains the line “It’s your body, we’ll go hard if you want to.”

So, the song It’s My Party continues to live on, over 50 years after it was written.

Source Material:

Wikipedia, It’s My Party (Lesley Gore song)
Wikipedia, Lesley Gore
Wikipedia, Bryan Ferry
Wikipedia, Amy Winehouse
Brooklyn Woman Recalls Origins of Lesley Gore’s It’s My Party From Teen Outburst, Ellen Tumposky, New York Daily News, Feb. 18, 2015.

About Tim Londergan

Tim Londergan is professor emeritus of theoretical physics at Indiana University-Bloomington. He studies the properties of the quarks and gluons that form the internal structure of protons and neutrons. He also writes a blog "Tim's Cover Story" that compares covers of important songs in rock music history. He and his wife share their college-town life with two delightful cats. He is also interested in tennis and ornithology.
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