In the late 1950s, an American girl group called the Poni Tails lamented that they were ‘born too late’ to date the boy of their dreams.
It’s a lament which has echoed through the decades since from those who were born too late for the 1960s and 1970s and who can only experience them through history lessons and those remember-when programmes on the telly.
Of course later-borns do have the benefit of their own musical and cultural worlds, as well as being able to enjoy the high spots of their heritage without enduring the surprisingly numerous longueurs.
The wistful innocence of the Poni Tails’ song reflects the tone of other songbirds’ offerings, in which the dominant message was be nice, look pretty and wait to be asked.
It was hard to fight it. When he walked up to you and asked you if you wanted to dance and when you met him on a Sunday and your heart stood still, the emotional pull was strong, even as other voices in your head rebelled against being placed in such a passive role.
Lesley Gore sums it up in her 1964 single, Sometimes I Wish I Were A Boy. No, it’s not a before-its-time transgender statement, but a potent reminder of the rules of the dating game.
She stands by the jukebox hoping that the boy she fancies will ask her to dance – but she knows ‘a girl mustn’t make an advance’.
When he dances with someone else, she longs to cut in, but ‘a girl has to be polite’. When the hop is over, he walks straight in her direction – yes, he’s looking at her, this must be it – but no. He walks straight past.
Take note, oh ye who were born too late. See how the Sixties swung!
The song is about a girl who, in her boyfriend’s prolonged absence, rebuffed another boy who had come on to her. He went and told lies about her all over town – but hey, her boyfriend is back home and he’ll give the other guy a good kicking.
She tells us ‘He’s kinda big and he’s awful strong’ and that ‘He’s gonna save my reputation.’ Oh lordy lordy.
Even girl-on-girl rivalry is resolved through male intervention. You might remember Lesley Gore crying at her party in 1963 because her Johnny disappeared with a gal called Judy, who made a triumphant reappearance wearing his ring. The treachery of it.
But soon it’s Judy’s Turn To Cry. At another party, Lesley snogs a random boy to make Johnny jealous. Like a flash, Johnny thumps the other guy and dumps Judy. Hmm, what a catch that Johnny was.
However, Lesley herself puts up a rare spirited response to her beau in her 1963 ‘You Don’t Own Me’. The title says it all. ‘Don’t say I can’t go with other boys,’ she tells him. ‘And when I go out with you, don’t put me on display.’
Where did that come from, apart from the pens of songwriters John Madara and David White? No surprise that those who covered this song in later decades include the ever complex Dusty Springfield and the punky Joan Jett.
The power of punk
Aah, punk. Now that’s one for which we were born too soon. Punk came too late in the day for some of us to embrace its girl power, to rejoice in its display of fierce emotion and to feel blessed release from the burden of being expected to look like a dolly bird.
Miranda Sawyer’s entertaining TV documentary, Girls Will Be Girls, for BBC2’s Culture Show recently looked at girl groups such as The Slits, The Raincoats and Siouxsee and the Banshees in all their in-your-face ripped t-shirts, heavy boots, lip-studded leather and vinyl glory.
They dressed in a way which said keep off rather than aren’t I pretty, they used make-up to decorate and intimidate rather than to appear appealing and to hide blemishes. If only we could have swathed our lumpy bodies in bin bags and never again ironed our hair to get it poker-straight.
Their music hit you between the eyes. It burnt like a scorching flame and went out just as quickly. It was probably best experienced live.
The soulful teen ditties of earlier years have more legs. Their emotional reach is long, their melodic cadences and neat arrangements still delight. They draw you in to their world of heartache and longing, of love and romance.
For all their unreconstructed gender attitudes, they make great pop music. The minute you hear the opening bar of a song by The Shirelles or The Chiffons or, yes, Lesley Gore, you are back twisting the night away – well, until your curfew hour, that is.
But those punk girls in Harlesden, they never had curfews.