While the new millennium did not start with the expected power outages and mass looting, it did bring us a number of new compilations of old songs, surely meant to cash in on our nostalgia for the late, great twentieth century. Add to the already long list of recently anthologized artists Lesley Gore, 12 of whose hits have been gathered as part of Mercury’s “The Best of…20th Century Masters/The Millennium Collection” series. At a scant 28 minutes in length, this is a bare-bones collection that will only appeal to the uninitiated or casual fans, but, on the up side, it can boast that every inclusion was a charting single.
Gore had seven other chart hits in the ‘60s, which is damn impressive for a female solo artist of that era, one in which men, especially British ones, ruled the charts. Still, the proclamations of Gore’s significance in the liner notes, where she is cited as a predecessor to Betty Friedan, are a bit hard to swallow. Certainly, her 1963 hit “You Don’t Own Me” could be cited as an early feminist anthem. Even today, the song’s lyrics pack a mighty wallop: “I’m free and I love to be free / To live my life the way I want / To say and do whatever I please.”
But such displays of girl power are the exception rather than the rule in Gore’s catalog. Thematically, most of the songs comprising The Best of Lesley Gore are more akin to “It’s My Party,” in which Gore laments that her loser boyfriend Johnny has just left her birthday party with her pal Judy. Worse yet, the misguided teen queen takes him back in “Judy’s Turn to Cry,” directing her vengeful feelings toward the similarly situated pal instead of the two-timing guy.
Gore endures similarly bad male behavior on “That’s the Way Boys Are,” on which she laments, “When I’m with my guy / And he watches all the pretty girls go by… / Not a word do I say / I just look the other way / ‘Cause that’s the way boys are.” On “Maybe I Know” our heroine not only tolerates her man’s wandering eye, but his outright infidelity: “Maybe I know / That he’s been untrue / But what can I do?” A modern gal longs to tell Gore exactly what to do: Dump his sorry ass!
All of this self-pity and dependence on men might be annoying were the songs not so expertly executed. Thanks to Quincy Jones’ production, Gore’s songs are full of bouncing beats, understated horns, and lovely harmonies. The songwriting is top-notch, too, featuring the talents of Marvin Hamlisch, Ellie Greenwich, and Jeff Barry, among others. Of course, it is Gore herself who deserves most of the credit, as it’s her sweet and infinitely listenable voice that holds it all together. If this stuff is as fluffy as cotton candy, it’s just as likable.