Straight outta garageland: here comes Girls With Guitars Gonna Shake, the long awaited fourth instalment of this Ace Records CD series, featuring a majority of tracks from all-female 60s beat, garage and rock bands, a few female-fronted recordings, and a couple of complimentary vocal girl-groups thrown into the mix. If you’ve ever followed these sub-genres down the bootleg back-alleys you might be familiar with some of this material but will still find the enticing words ‘mastered’ and ‘licenced’ calling to you from the cover of this collection, along with hidden treasure in ‘previously unreleased’ form because, crucially, some of this vital music has only recently become available after decades in the vaults. As with previous volumes, the variety of styles and moods on offer pretty much guarantees something for everyone.
Goldie & the Gingerbreads are the biggest name here, not with their Top 30 UK hit but a far more soulful b-side, their version of Ray Charles’ ‘What Kind Of Man Are You’.
She (fka The Hairem) and Ace of Cups give us the excellent self-penned ‘Don’t Leave Me Baby’ and ‘Circles’, respectively, and Girls Take Over provide the majestic ‘Stardust Come Back’, the self-penned a-side of their only single, as well as its flip, a midpaced-yet-frantic version of ‘Hi Heel Sneakers’. Both sides of the Beat Chic’s only 7” are featured, including the self-penned ‘Now I Know’, and two Belles songs include the self-penned b-side ‘Come Back’ and their charming interpretation of Them’s ‘Gloria’, a whole ten years before Patti Smith reinvented it: “M-E-L-V-I-N.. Melvin!”
Other gems include the appropriately-named the Mysteries with the presumably-intended-as-celebratory yet strangely haunting ‘Give Me Rhythm and Blues’, and both sides of the Wrongh Black Bag‘s only 7″, the driving ‘Wake Me, Shake Me’ and its propulsive group-penned b-side ‘I Don’t Know Why’. Fronted by vocalist Christine Bernardoni, these are worth the price of the CD all by themselves.
The most commercially successful of these recordings was the Liverbirds’ Merseybeat-ific version of Bo’s ‘Diddley Daddy’- a Top 5 hit in Germany at the height of Beatlemania.
While the Liverbirds were the only one of these bands to make it to album at the time (albeit not in their home country), the Missfits and Ace of Cups made no records at all – at least before the latter reformed four decades later. The aforementioned She and Ace of Cups tracks languished unreleased until premiered on Ace subsidiary label Big Beat some years ago, and the Missfits make their debut on this very CD, the highlight from their demo being another Bo Diddley standard, the pacey ‘You Can’t Judge A Book By The Cover’.
It’s a measure of the hegemonic media success of Punk that so many of the platitudes around the subject are held to be self-evident regardless of all the, well, evidence. Contrary to lazy narratives, there were all-women rock bands long before the new wave, playing their own instruments, writing their own songs, recording them on a DIY budget, and releasing short runs of vinyl on local labels. Did they have help from men in the industry? Yes, just as the Slits and Bikini Kill did later. Was the industry, from managers to producers to sound engineers, male-dominated? It still is. There are as many continuities as disparities with the bands that followed, and for all the differences of context and content it takes nothing away from the achievements of, say, Liliput, to recognise those of the Liverbirds. The bands I’m most reminded of while listening to this album are the Delmonas/Headcoatees, an acknowledged inspiration for some of the first riot grrrls despite ‘only’ being vocal groups, and without unduly fetishising guitars (the voice is also an instrument, of course), the Girls With Guitars compilations bring you the bands that influenced the influencers. They weren’t the first women to play rock and roll guitar – Rosetta Tharpe was doing that back in the 1930s – but this is where the timeline of all-female rock groups begins.
Creatively speaking, it’s true that there are plenty of cover versions here, as is common in the garage/beat genres, male or female-fronted, vintage or 21st Century (think Shadows of Knight, Detroit Cobras), but there’s a promising quota of original songwriting too. It’s worth noting that these groups, for reasons best explored elsewhere, were invariably underfunded and often short-lived; if their better-placed contemporaries likewise began their careers playing ‘standards’, the Garage girls (and they often were literally girls) didn’t always get the same chances to develop beyond that first stage. Nevertheless, to quote Sini Timonen (Women Make Noise, 2012) “The all-girl bands that did emerge in the 1960s were already radical just by being there and doing it.”
I’ll leave the last word to Genya Raven aka Goldie of the Gingerbreads (She’s A Rebel, 2002):
“We didn’t care. We were happy because we knew we could play and we were knocking the socks off of most of the male bands. And the guys couldn’t believe it. We had fun with this.”
V-A – Girls With Guitars Gonna Shake is out now on Ace Records.