A lost album, an unexpected resurgence, and a new, lovingly crafted compilation that reveals all their talents. Class is in session, and today’s subject: The Catholic Girls.
In the beginning of the ’80s, The Catholic Girls cemented a place in rock history as one of the first all-female rock bands to land a major record deal. Comprised of principal songwriter Gail Petersen on guitar and vocals, Roxy Andersen on lead guitar, Joanne Holland on bass, and Doreen Holmes on drums, The Catholic Girls’ unique blend of intellect, wit, and power pop mastery has endured through the ages. The band released their self-titled debut on MCA Records in 1982 and have continued recording to the present day. Rock N’ Roll School For Girls, a new 2-CD retrospective from JSP Records, tells The Catholic Girls’ story from the beginning. You can find it beginning today wherever fine music is sold.
The centerpiece of the new set is a remixed version of The Catholic Girls, the first big statement from the school uniform-clad group. Though they were compared to girl groups, and indeed, many of their songs are continuations of the genre, they weren’t merely a throwback group. “A Boy for Me” is closest to the girl group aesthetic of yore, with its longing for a new love and reminiscing about flings from last summer. But here the narrator finds herself unfulfilled, somehow stagnant, reflecting with an emotive, distinctive vocal that’s simultaneously weary and empowered.
It’s not only the songwriting that set them apart. The band was all-original, playing their own instruments, composing their own music, and eschewing much of the lightweight image that came with the girl group moniker. They brought something new to the scene, melding a pop sensibility with emotional depth and progressive musical ideas (just check out the epic “God Made You For Me,” the nine-minute closer). The Catholic Girls shows that the band was onto something and were destined to be big. The Catholic Girls opened for acts as diverse as Tom Petty, The Kinks, R.E.M., The Clash, The Ramones, and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, but due to a leadership shuffle at MCA and battles for proper promotion, superstardom just wasn’t in the books. Their image proved too daring for SNL, too controversial for middle America, and too salacious for what was becoming increasingly corporatized radio.
Perhaps the nation just wasn’t ready for an all-girl band that demonstrated such depth. Maybe it was their subversive donning of Catholic school uniforms. But even though the band’s refusal to dilute their sound or image may have put a pause on their second album and the fame that could have been, The Catholic Girls gained a cult following. After a decade-long pause, they began to create again. Listeners are treated to a wealth of such recordings on this collection. CD 1 is a packed disc of unreleased demos, including early versions of songs that would appear on the debut, tracks prepared for the follow-up, latter-day recordings from the early 2000s. Among these are 5 songs that have never appeared in any form before.
“Dancing on the 44” comes from the same era as the debut album. The jaunty riff-rock gem reflects on the transformative power of music, while “Rock n’ Roll School for Girls” describes the narrator’s form of academia: “We’ll call out sick today… we got to rock and roll school for girls.” The 1979 demo for “Grand Theft Auto” and the 1979 live recording of “Just Before Nightfall” show the band at their most raw, embracing a Who-like aggression while combatting themes of loss, waiting for a thrill, and existential crisis. Aside from being great songs, they’re also a fascinating historical document of the band’s development. These early recordings bridge the gap between the Patti Smith-like raw energy and the pop songcraft that they’d continue to hone on their first official effort.
CD 2 includes that 1982 debut in a newly remixed form, showcasing its blend of power-pop, punk, the jangle of British Invasion groups, and even progressive rock leanings. In fact, at times The Catholic Girls feels like a concept album, a modern love story that examines all its complications. The lead-off track, “Someone New,” is a moody and aggressive song of love lost. The narrator sings of a two-timing beau who just doesn’t seem committed anymore. She sees him giving the eye to other women. Not content to wallow in her sorrow, our narrator declares she’ll be looking for someone new, too. He may have been “the one,” but there are other ones out there.
On “C’est Impossible,” she confronts her beau who won’t stop calling her phone. “No way,” Petersen sings in her distinctive vibrato. “I can’t imagine why I ever liked you.” On the aforementioned “A Boy For Me,” she’s led back into reserved hopefulness to try searching for love anew. Yet, “You Let Me Down” shows the narrator reckoning with someone who can’t fulfill expectations: “I took my chances choosing you / You have no sense of what I’ve been through.” Still, she’s not above overthinking what may have caused the rift: “I’m not a schoolgirl, you know that’s not my style,” she sings in a line that must have garnered some chuckles from audiences who came to see the uniform-wearing Catholic Girls, but “I never fought the law, not even for a smile.” Throughout, The Catholic Girls bring together hard-hitting, emotional, witty, and reflective lyrics with impressive musicality — and that’s just the first side.
After the humorous “Private School,” named for where the narrator’s parents threaten to send their child, comes “Boys Can Cry.” It’s another British Invasion-inspired slice of power-pop, this time with a “Silhouettes”-like bass line, that packs an emotional wallop. While at first glance, “Boys Can Cry” seems to be an invitation to allow men to be emotional, the catchy chorus lays the intent bare: “Boys can cry, so why don’t you stop making me cry?” Short and succinct, yet a poignant message imploring a man to address his own emotions instead of resorting to projection and manipulation of the one he’s supposed to love. Sure, acoustic guitar-wielding singer-songwriters had explored similar territory in the decade before, but here in the MTV-saturated pop context, this was decidedly new ground.
The album closes with a lengthy epic, “God Made You For Me,” where The Catholic Girls not only employ layers of synthesizers, but also take from the old classical form of theme and variations for what’s the most musically ambitious track on the album. It begins with a spoken Patti Smith-like opening: “Who made you? God made you. Why did God make you? God made you for me!” From there, it’s all Dick Dale guitar, synth horns, and processed electronics, like you’ve been led into some futuristic bullfight. These make way for a story about the genesis of love and the revelation that a man left the narrator for someone new. Yet, despite this, she just can’t give him up. “I’ll make a new heaven,” she sings. “Bring him back to me, he’s mine.” The nine-minute track shows all that The Catholic Girls could offer. Catchy rock riffs, clever lyrics, and a willingness to explore a range of influences — it’s all here on the closing saga and across their debut.
Now, new fans and ardent admirers alike can hear all these things that make the band special, fully restored and remastered. As remix engineer John H. Haley writes in the liner notes, The Catholic Girls had made clear how they wanted the first album to sound, yet they weren’t included in the mixing and mastering sessions during which label heads added various effects and made dubious changes to the material. Haley has gone back to the original masters and remixed the music to ensure that the material here sounds the way the band had originally intended. This includes fixing speed issues on “A Boy For Me,” which was issued in a mix that was faster and higher in pitch than intended and re-leveling certain instruments. The result is a clear, punchy mix that puts emphasis on the lyrics and the band’s musical blend.
Rounding out the set is a full 11 songs that demonstrate the band’s continued talent beyond their debut. Among them are “Make Me Believe” and “Niagara Falls,” appearing in demo form for the first time, four tracks from Meet The Catholic Girls, the band’s 2005 comeback album, and a selection of tracks from their latest albums.
In addition to the music, Rock n’ Roll School for Girls includes a 20-page booklet with a detailed history, essays about the band’s first album and resurgence, as well as notes from John H. Haley, and new interviews with the band. It’s all wrapped up in a slipcased 2-CD slimline jewel case, handsomely designed with pictures of the band, then and now.
Whether you’ve treasured your Catholic Girls LP since the ’80s or you’re a brand-new student, you’ll find a lot to enjoy on Rock n’ Roll School for Girls, the ultimate Catholic Girls retrospective. It’s available now from JSP Records, the same label responsible for so many historical releases from another groundbreaking female artist, Judy Garland. You can find order links and a detailed track listing below!
Disc 1: Rock Revelations – Unreleased Demos and Alternates
- Private School (1980)
- Grounded (1981)
- Summer Boy (Summer Vacation) (1980)
- Dancing on the 44 (1980) *
- Rock n’ Roll School for Girls (1980) *
- Somebody in the USA
- Grand Theft Auto (1979) *
- Young Boys (1980)
- Where Did I Go Wrong? (1981)
- Boys Can Cry (1981)
- Broken Record (1981)
- You Let Me Down (1981)
- C’est Impossible (1981)
- Someone New (1981)
- Rock’n America (original version, 1983)
- If No One Fell in Love (2000)
- It Doesn’t Become You (1984)
- No One Like You (1983)
- I Was a Lady (2001) *
- Night Shift (The New Jersey Song) (alternate, 2003)
- Just Before Nightfall (live at President’s Palace, 1979) *
* First release of this song
Disc 2: Anthology of Released Recordings
- Someone New
- C’est Impossible
- A Boy For Me
- Where Did I Go Wrong?
- You Let Me Down
- Private School
- Boys Can Cry
- God Made You For Me
- The Only One
- Make Me Believe
- Niagara Falls
- Should Have Been Mine
- If I Hadn’t Loved You
- Some Boys
- Shame on You
- Kiss Me One More Time
- Down at the Shore
- Without a Country
- Somebody Better Get a Room
Tracks 1-8 from Catholic Girls – MCA Records 5350, 1982
Tracks 9 and 12-14 from Meet the Catholic Girls – self-released, 2005
Tracks 10-11 previously unreleased demos (1999) of songs from Make Me Believe – Skymarshall TCG6616, 2002
Track 15 From Exposed – Cinema Records CRCG7-01, 2012
Tracks 16-18 from Kiss Me One More Time – Cinema Records, 2015
Tracks 19-20 from Somebody Better Get a Room – Cinema Records, 2015