Sunday, 26 August 2012

The Best Of Girl Groups - part 2: 10 to 1

JUMP TO: Part 1 II Part 2 II Part 3

Originally posted in 2012. Updated in 2020.

If you thought the girl groups in Part 1 went through a lot of line-up changes, then you ain't seen nothing yet. Seven out of the 10 groups still to come have all had members come and go over the years, with some taking the practice to ridiculous extremes (cough Sugababes cough).

The only group in my top 5 not to have had member movement probably would have done eventually, but went on an extended break before anyone could jump ship.

OK, enough preamble, let's resume the list...

10. The Saturdays

Members: Una Healy, Mollie King, Frankie Sandford, Vanessa White, Rochelle Wiseman
Years: 2008-2014
Top 3 best songs: "Forever Is Over", "Higher", "Disco Love"

It's hard to gauge from the other side of the world where they are virtually unknown, but despite their 13 top 10 singles in the UK, The Saturdays didn't seem to become a phenomenon in the way Spice Girls or Girls Aloud did, only landed a solitary number 1 hit towards the end of their run and never had a massive selling album like All Saints, Sugababes or Atomic Kitten all did at different points in their careers. And yet, they didn't really have a lot of competition in the girl group stakes until Little Mix's post-X Factor career began in 2012.
Personally, I like quite a number of their songs (obviously, or they wouldn't be this high on my list), but I don't feel like they had a defining moment - a song that went beyond sounding current and having an expensive looking video to gives me a sense of what The Saturdays were all about. Nevertheless, they were a pretty pop group with a bunch of decent songs until they quietly went on hiatus. I expect there'll be a reunion at some stage.

9. The Pointer Sisters

Members: Anita, Bonnie, June and Ruth Pointer

Years: 1971-1993
Top 3 best songs: "Jump (For My Love)", "Dare Me", "I'm So Excited"

You wouldn't think there'd be much room for movement in a group made up of sisters, but The Pointer Sisters went from a duo (June and Bonnie) to a trio (June, Bonnie and Anita) and then to a quartet (when Ruth joined in 1972), before dropping back to a trio when Bonnie left after 1977.
The group's greatest success came following that final change and, like this whole list, their placement here is based entirely on their post-1979 releases, which includes the songs mentioned above, "Automatic", "He's So Shy", "Neutron Dance" and "Baby Come And Get It".
In the '90s and 2000s, the sisters continued to perform in various incarnations, with Ruth's daughter and granddaughter recruited to fill in for June, who for a time teamed up with Bonnie and has now sadly passed away.

8. Little Mix

Members: Perrie Edwards, Jesy Nelson, Leigh-Anne Pinnock, Jade Thirlwall
Years: 2011-present
Top 3 best songs: "Wings", "No More Sad Songs", "DNA"

Just as One Direction had been put together on the British version of The X Factor, so too was this quartet (a new addition to this list since I first compiled it), who were originally known as Rhythmix until that name ran into trademark issues. And so, Little Mix were born and managed something 1D hadn't: they won their season of the reality show.
After the obligatory winner's single, a remake of Damien Rice's "Cannonball", released in time for Christmas 2011, Little Mix took until the following August to debut their original music and since then have released a constant stream of singles and five studio albums.
I've come and gone from their output - some of it I've loved, some I've found to be a bit generic - but when they're on form, Little Mix prove that shows like The X Factor can produce lasting stars. (Now I've said that they'll probably split up.)

7. All Saints

Members: Natalie Appleton, Nicole Appleton, Melanie Blatt, Shaznay Lewis
Years: 1997-2001, 2006-2008, 2013-present
Top 3 best songs: "Pure Shores", "One Strike", "I Know Where It's At"

I never would have expected in 2001 when All Saints went their separate ways that they would be making some of their best music almost 20 years later, but here we are. At the turn of the millennium, there was no cooler girl group than All Saints. With their moody demeanour and uniform of cargo pants and tiny tees in sharp contrast to Spice Girls' flashy outfits and cheesy nicknames, All Saints even managed to cover a Red Hot Chili Peppers song without too much kerfuffle.
After that split - over who got to wear a jacket at a photo shoot, so the legend goes - the inevitable solo careers eventuated (well, the Appleton sisters actually stuck together and enjoyed the most success with songs like "Fantasy" and "Don't Worry"), but none of the group's side projects would be anywhere near as big as their initial four-year period of chart domination together.
An initial reunion for 2006's Studio 1 was promising, but it wasn't until a decade later and the Red Flag album that All Saints really found their groove again, something they maintained for 2018's Testament, on which they re-teamed with "Pure Shores" producer William Orbit for career highlight "After All".

6. Eternal

Members: Easther Bennett, Vernie Bennett, Kelle Bryan, Louise Nurding
Years: 1993-1999
Top 3 best songs: "Stay", "Just A Step From Heaven", "I Am Blessed"

I've long assumed that the reason first Louise and then Kelle left Eternal was that the Bennett sisters forced them out. That's certainly true in Kelle's case, who was dropped from the group by fax (the '90s equivalent of dumping someone by SMS) in 1998.
Officially, Louise (who'd go on to become Mrs Jamie Redknapp) left the group to pursue a solo career and explore different types of music, but I'm convinced she got out while the going was good and while she could still leave on her own terms.
Besides all the behind-the-scenes machinations, Eternal produced a slew of pop/R&B hits in the mid-'90s and proved to be the most successful of the First Avenue stable of artists, which also included Michelle Gayle, Dina Carroll, MN8 and The Honeyz - but no one was interested in the post-Kelle duo version of Eternal, which I consider to be the most perfect form of karmic payback.

5. Atomic Kitten

Members: Natasha Hamilton, Kerry Katona/Jenny Frost, Liz McClarnon
Years: 1999-2006, 2008
Top 3 best songs: "Right Now", "I Want Your Love", "The Last Goodbye"

If it wasn't for "Whole Again", Atomic Kitten would probably be much lower down this list since, after the four previous singles by the Liverpudlian trio had resulted in ever-diminishing success, that ballad was one last ditch attempt by the girls' record company to turn the group's fortunes around.
As well all know, it worked a treat and not even Kerry's pregnancy could disrupt the group from becoming a major success in the UK and here in Australia. Kerry opted out and was replaced by Jenny from Precious - although since she wasn't as vocally skilled as Liz and Natasha, it did feel like she was really only there to keep the group as a trio.
"Whole Again" also signalled a shift from the high-energy pop of the group's first few singles to the slower radio-friendly sound of subsequent releases like "If You Come To Me", "It's OK!" and their cover of "Eternal Flame" - but, as you can see by the first two songs I've lised as my favourites, I enjoyed Atomic Kitten's initial playful feel even if nobody else did.

4. Spice Girls

Members: Victoria Adams/Beckham, Melanie Brown, Emma Bunton, Melanie Chisholm, Geri Halliwell

Years: 1996-2000, 2007
Top 3 best songs: "Wannabe", "Stop", "Who Do You Think You Are"

What can you possibly say about Spice Girls that hasn't been said a million times already? In retropsect, their trailblazing success makes so much sense, but at the time, the Britpop-heavy music scene in the UK was anything but conducive to pop. Of course, the lack of any similar artist on the scene is exactly what gave the girls such a wide open market. But it's what they did with that opportunity that made all the difference.
On the music side of things, the group only released 10 singles - two of them double A-side - during their initial run (and an 11th, the disappointing "Headlines (Friendship Never Ends)" in 2007 to coincide with Greatest Hits), but nine of those went to number 1 in the UK (including three successive Christmas number 1s) and together sold many millions of copies worldwide.
One of my favourite Spice Girls memories is from the documentary The Spice Girls In America: A Tour Story when Victoria is recording some aaahs for "Goodbye". She isn't sounding great (it's at the very end of this video) and says, "Sometimes the easiest things are the hardest, you know." That, to me, sums up Spice Girls - they might not have been the most gifted singers or most accomplished dancers, but what they were good at was being brilliant pop stars.

3. Girls Aloud

Members: Nadine Coyle, Sarah Harding, Nicola Roberts, Cheryl Tweedy/Cole, Kimberley Walsh

Years: 2002-2009
Top 3 best songs: "Love Machine", "Biology", "The Show"

The only girl group in my top 5 to maintain their original line-up? Yep, it's Girls Aloud - and in many ways they're the least likely candidates for solidarity since groups thrown together by reality shows have even less time to form a bond that your average manufactured pop group and someone's bound to not get along with the others or want a quickie solo career.
Then there's the fact that reality show winners of any variety don't often last long as hitmakers - but, like Little Mix, Girls Aloud are the exception that prove just about every rule.
When it came to the music, the teaming of Girls Aloud with production team Xenomania is what's kept the group in the UK charts. From debut single "Sound Of The Underground" right up until 2008's Out Of Control album, they always had a freshness that was lacking in not only the songs by other reality show winners but missing from most other pop acts' music as well.
The group went on hiatus in 2009 to pursue their own projects (with only Cheryl having any real success as a solo artist) and a promised reunion eventuated in 2012, with a handful of new songs released to support a career retrospective album and accompanying concert tour. Something tells me that will be that for Girls Aloud, but you never know...

2. Sugababes

Members: Mutya Buena/Amelle Berrabah, Keisha Buchanan/Jade Ewen, Siobhan Donaghy/Heidi Range
Years: 2000-present
Top 3 best songs: "Easy", "Hole In The Head", "Round Round"

I've written elsewhere about my favourite Sugababes songs, and although they come up just shy of being my favourite girl group of all time, they certainly take the prize for going through the most ridiculous amount of personnel changes, with no original members left in the final line-up that existed when I first wrote this girl groups post. Since then, the original trio, who reunited as Mutya Keisha Siobhan and released the commercial disappointment "Flatline", have now reclaimed the Sugababes band name.
I've liked the group in all its different incarnations - and think 2000's debut, One Touch, is an underrated pop album. But it was the second and third line-ups that were most prolific and successful, and it's from these years that the majority of my favourite Sugagbabes songs come

1. Bananarama

Members: Sara Dallin, Siobhan Fahey/Jacquie O'Sullivan, Keren Woodward
Years: 1981-present
Top 3 best songs: "I Want You Back", "Venus", "Love In The First Degree"

Yep, my favourite girl group of all time is a British act which started off comprised of Sara, Keren and Siobhan, three backing vocalists who landed their first chart appearance by guesting on a song by Fun Boy Three (who would return the favour on "Really Saying Something", the girls' first hit in their own right).

From that point on, there was very little stopping the Nanas, with "Cruel Summer", "Shy Boy", "Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)" and "Robert De Niro's Waiting" all climbing charts around the world. Then, in 1986, they teamed up with producers Stock Aitken Waterman for two tracks on their True Confessions album - and one, a cover of Shocking Blue's "Venus", would give them their biggest smash to date. 
More hits followed with SAW, including the other songs mentioned above, "I Heard A Rumour", "Love, Truth And Honesty" and a cover of The Beatles' "Help!" - but despite the continued success, Siobhan exited the group and formed Shakespears Sister, and was replaced by Jacquie.
Jacquie only ended up sticking around for one full album, 1991's Pop Life, and ever since, Sara and Keren have carried on as a duo - regularly releasing albums of new material and revised best of collections. Despite not having anywhere near the same type of success post-1992 as they did in their first decade, Bananarama have kept fans happy with songs like "Love Comes", "Every Shade Of Blue" and "Movin' On" - and, for me, are everything a pop act should be: fun, unpretentious and, most importantly of all, responsible for catchy songs.

As I mentioned at the start of my look back at girl groups, two people isn't enough for a group - and so in Part 3, I'll be counting down my top 5 female duos of all time.

Obviously, Bananarama ended up being a duo longer than a trio, but since the bulk of their hits were recorded with three members, I'll let that slide.

As I did with boy bands, I'll also take a look at some long-forgotten girl groups - watch out for that post in the next couple of days.


  1. Spice Girls,Sugababes and Girls Aloud have all been liked by me. DC,PCD and Atomic Kitten were ok.
    Mis-teeq were good and Bananarama and Pointer Sisters i know less songs of same with Eternal.

  2. what about All Saints? you can't forget it.

    1. They're in part 1: numbers 20 to 11. Here's the link: