I last saw Lesley Gore on October 4, 2010. Lesley was one of a starry assemblage of artists paying tribute to Marvin Hamlisch at New York’s Symphony Space. Though I seem to recall her making a comment about the song not being part of her current repertoire, she gamely performed her 1965 hit “Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows” for her friend Marvin, its composer. If you closed your eyes, you were back in time to a more innocent era – whether you had actually been there or not – and filled with the promise of love that was here to stay.
In 2012, Marvin Hamlisch left us, and now Lesley Gore has passed too, at the too-young age of 68. To borrow from the lyrics of that Hamlisch/Howard Liebling song, “everything wonderful” is what we’ve all felt while listening to a Lesley Gore record. Her sound – brash, boisterous, confident, big-hearted, bright and naturally youthful – defines the sound of early-1960s American pop.
The dynamic one-two punch of “It’s My Party” and “Judy’s Turn to Cry” were just the start of a remarkable career for the 16-year old from Tenafly, New Jersey. With the aid of producer Quincy Jones and arranger Claus Ogerman (surely one of the most underrated “triangle marriages” in music), Gore turned out one smash after another. John Madara and David White’s “You Don’t Own Me” remains a strikingly powerful anthem today, as resonant as ever, sung by a beyond-her-years Lesley. Other gems like Mark Barkan and Ben Raleigh’s sunny “That’s the Way Boys Are” and Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry’s “Look of Love” and sophisticated “Maybe I Know” are as happily infectious today as they were in 1964. Gore withstood the British Invasion and appeared in The TAMI Show, holding her own alongside the likes of James Brown, The Beach Boys and The Rolling Stones. She made a guest appearance on screens big (Ski Party) and small (Batman), and throughout the 1960s, consistently worked with the best and brightest composers, musicians and producers including Bob Crewe, Van McCoy, Jack Nitzsche, Russ Titelman, Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, Thom Bell, and Laura Nyro.
Lesley’s musical output slowed down in later years; her pair of albums for MoWest and A&M still remain ripe for reissue including 1976’s reunion with “Q,” Love Me by Name. She received an Academy Award nomination for 1980’s “Out Here on My Own” for the film Fame. Her final studio album, 2005’s Ever Since, was like a visit with an old friend. Much had changed, of course, but the soul and spirit were still warmly recognizable. Ever Since also reaffirmed just how talented a songwriter Gore was herself. In 2005, she appeared as host of the long-running PBS series, In the Life, which focused on LGBT issues. In doing so, Gore continued to inspire her fans with positivity.
It will always be Lesley Gore’s party. But rather than cry – and we may want to – we can, happily, continue to celebrate her spirit with the ebullient music she created. Rest in peace, Lesley.