Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Lesley Gore – "You Don't Own Me" (1965)

You don't own me
Don't say I can't go with other boys

In 1965 – I was 12, going on 13 – I saw the T.A.M.I. Show at the Lux Theater in Joplin, Missouri.

The T.A.M.I. Show was a 123-minute concert film that combined footage from two back-to-back October 1964 concerts at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium.  The featured performers included the Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Rolling Stones, the Supremes, and several others – the crème de la crème of pop music (with the exception of the Beatles, of course).

Here's the trailer for that movie:

The T.A.M.I. Show's co-hosts were Jan and Dean (who entered on skateboards) and the 18-year-old Lesley Gore, who already had four top-ten hits (including a #1 and a #2) under her belt.

You probably wouldn't rank Lesley Gore in the same class as the Beach Boys, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, and the Supremes.  But while each of those artists performed four songs in the movie, Miss Gore sang six numbers -- more than another else in the movie except the Rolling Stones (who also performed six songs).

Here are all six of those songs:

Lesley Gore (nee Lesley Sue Goldstein) – who died of lung cancer last month – was a student at the tony Dwight School for Girls in New Jersey when she recorded “You Don’t Own Me” in 1963.  (She was only 16 when she recorded her biggest hit, “It’s My Party.”)

“You Don’t Own Me” is a very good pop record.  But let's not try to make it something that it's not.

Like “It’s My Party” and “Judy’s Turn to Cry,” “You Don’t Own Me” is a song about teenagers that was written for teenagers – 1963-vintage teenagers to boot.  

Gore’s New York Times obituary – which was written by veteran popular-music critic Jon Pareles -- described her as a singer of songs “about heartbreak and resilience that went on to become feminist touchstones.”

Lesley Gore as a teenager
I don’t think anyone in their right mind would describe “It’s My Party” and “Judy’s Turn to Cry” as “feminist touchstones.”  Pareles was clearly talking about “You Don’t Own Me” when he used that term.

Wikipedia goes even further, claiming that the song was “a major factor in the rise of the second-wave feminist movement.”  (Really?)

But Songfacts calls the Times and Wikipedia, and then raises them:

Along with Betty Friedan's book The Feminine Mystique (which was published shortly before this song's release), this song can be considered one of the many artistic works that helped begin the Women's Liberation Movement, despite the fact that the movement did not really take off until a decade later.

Let’s take a deep breath, boys and girls.  Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar (as Sigmund Freud supposedly said), and sometimes a teenage puppy-love song is just a teenage puppy-love song – not a “feminist touchstone,” and not “a major factor in the rise of the second-wave feminist movement” comparable in impact to the writing of Betty Friedan.

All you people who want to turn "You Don't Own Me" into some kind of protofeminist liberation anthem are off your rockers.  The singer’s isn’t angry about the patriarchy’s oppression of the fairer sex.  Her main complaint is simply that her possessive boyfriend doesn’t want her to “go with other boys.”  

Of course, the woman who left the following comment on the Songfacts page about “You Don’t Own Me” would argue that the song has much greater significance than I give it credit for having:

I still love this song & Lesley Gore after all these years.  When it was #2 in Dec. '63, I was in high school & having difficulties with a boyfriend who was trying to be domineering with me.  Well, anyone who knew me back then knew I was NOT the type of gal to be toyed with!!  In short, he tried to dominate me so I just set him straight and left him with two black eyes & bruised ribs!  Back then, I was 200 lbs. at 6' 3" tall and not a girl to be trifled with. Haaa! Go Lesley Gore, Go!!!

(Admit it, ladies.  That tale of a linebacker-sized “gal” beating the crap out of her obnoxious, controlling boyfriend put a smile on your face, didn’t it?  It would a different story if the shoe were on the other foot, of course – you’d send the boyfriend off to the poke . . . perhaps after he had been neutered with some rusty hedge trimmers.)

Lesley Gore as a sixty-something
Let’s not forget that “You Don’t Own Me” was written by two old-pro male pop songwriters, John Madara and David White.  Madara and White’s biggest hits other than “You Don’t Own Me” were “At the Hop” and “1-2-3,” which no one has ever viewed as anything more than enjoyable pop songs.  I'm guessing that Messrs. Madara and White would be bemused to learn that they had written a "feminist touchstone."

By the way, Lesley Gore's next top-ten single after "You Don't Own Me" was "Maybe I Know," whose singer chose to stick with her boyfriend despite the fact that he cheats on her.  (I wonder if Hillary Clinton owned the 45?)

Maybe I know that he's been a cheatin'
Maybe I know that he's been untrue
But what can I do?

The 17-year-old Lesley Gore was a very talented performer, and she knocked "You Don't Own Me" out of the park.  

But many other well-known chanteuses have covered "You Don't Own Me."  (We'll talk about some of them in the next 2 or 3 lines.)

Here's Lesley Gore singing "You Don't Own Me":

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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