The first time Lesley Gore, who has died at the age of 68, heard her biggest hit, “It’s My Party”, on the radio, so the story goes, she was in the car driving herself to school. So sixties, so America, so nicely movie-moment predictable.
One of the great selling points of Gore’s early career as a singer was that she was ‘normal’; dressed normal (those clothes!), looked normal (those hairdos), sounded normal: just an every day American girl channelling the angst of her teenage peers. Except, of course, she wasn’t what the majority of the people who bought her records in vast numbers would have been considered ‘normal’ in those days. She was gay.
No fuss, no headlines, no large-scale trauma – at least, not publicly – no shocking revelations. Ah, no social media.
Where Dusty Springfield, for instance, found keeping her sexuality under wraps problematic and almost certainly personally damaging, Lesley Gore somehow managed to just get on with it. One is tempted, in the mores of the time, to say get away with it. Perhaps she had inner strengths that Dusty sadly seemed to lack.
“You Don’t Own Me”, one of Gore’s hits from 1963, was recorded by Dusty in the following year, and – despite the fact that it was written for Gore by two male songwriters, Dave White and John Madara – became something of a feminist anthem, featured as such in the movie, The First Wives’ Club, and recorded by Joan Jett and Amy Winehouse. Here she is singing it, first in 1964, and then – pretty gloriously – in Melbourne in 1989
As the hits faded, Gore went to college, carried on making occasional appearances and making records, if for smaller and smaller labels; she appeared in movies and on television – rather deliciously as Pussycat, Catwoman’s assistant. In 2004, she became a presenter of a Public Broadcasting Service programme devoted to LGBT issues called In the Life.
At her early best, she could put over a song with a kind of heartfelt quality that was moving in its simplicity. No tricks, just sing the words and let them do their work.