"Will You Love Me Tomorrow"
(Music: "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" by The Shirelles)
January 30, 1961 - February 12, 1961
The Shirelles were the very first girl group to have a number one single. Other girl groups had made the top 30, like The Chantels ("Maybe," "He's Gone") and The Chordettes ("Born to Be With You," "Lollipop"), and others would follow into the number one spot, like The Marvelettes, The Crystals, The Supremes, and The Shangri-Las. But The Shirelles got there first.
Shirley Owens and Addie "Micki" Harris were grammar school friends in Passaic, New Jersey. They met Doris Kenner and Beverly Lee in junior high and while Shirley and Bev were baby-sitting, they decided to start a singing group. They asked Micki to join them, and after hearing Doris sing in the school choir, they asked her to complete the quartet. Their classmate Mary Jane Greenberg wanted them to audition for her mother Florence, who had a small record company called Tiara Records.
The girls were not interested, but Mary Jane pursued them for two years. She was so insistent, that eventually the girls would hide when they saw her coming. After winning a school talent contest with a tune they composed, "I Met Him on a Sunday", they finally agreed to meet Mary Jane's mother. Florence loved them and signed them up immediately --- with their parents' permission.
Unhappy with the group name the Poquellos (Spanish for little birds), Florence suggested the Honeytones. The girls thought it was corny and said no. Florence told them they had to have a name by the following day for label copy on their first release.
In the taxi cab on the way home from the office, they mused over names that would be similar to their favorite group, the Chantels. They considered the Chanels, but it was too close. Shirley says no one can remember who first came up with the Shirelles, and the other girls deny they named themselves after Shirley (who was not lead singer at this point --- Doris was), but it was the name they unanimously chose.
"I Met Him on a Sunday" was released on Tiara, but Florence felt she couldn't promote the song like a major label could, so she leased it to Decca. The song went to number 49 in the spring of 1958.
Two follow-ups on Decca did not chart, so Florence took the girls back for her own label, now renamed Scepter Records. She signed Luther Dixon, a former member of the Four Buddies, to write and produce The Shirelles. For their first single, the girls brought Florence a song they said they had written. When it came time to sign the songwriters' contract, they had to admit they did not write "Dedicated to the One I Love." It was written by two members of the group they heard performing it at the Howard Theater in Washington, D.C., The Five Royales.
"Dedicated" faltered at number 83. Their next single, "Tonight's the Night," was written by Shirley and Luther, and it fought off a cover version by the Chiffons to peak at number 39.
For their next single, Dixon told the girls he owed songwriters Gerry Goffin and Carole King a favor, and had promised to record one of their tunes. Shirley heard Carole's demo of "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" and hated it. She thought it sounded like a country and western song and disliked it all through rehearsals.
But during the recording session she changed her mind. Dixon's production had changed it into a pop song, and Carole, unhappy with one of the musicians, played kettle drums herself. The result was not only the first girl group number one, but the first chart-topper for the songwriting team of Goffin and King.
"Will You Love Me Tomorrow" has proven to be a timeless song, recorded by artists like the Four Seasons, Melanie, Laura Branigan, Carole herself on 1971's legendary Tapestry album and most recently, Dionne Warwick.
Dionne rose to fame in the early 60s on the Scepter label, and she begins her version, produced by Luther Vandross, with a spoken intro: "Some things I'll never let go of, like friends. My friends like Doris, Beverly and Shirley ..." And then Shirley sings the first few lines of "Will You Love Me Tomorrow."
Reprinted from The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits, copyright © 2003 by Fred Bronson.