Sunday, 26 August 2012

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

JUMP TO: Part 1 II Part 2 II Part 3

If you thought the girl groups in Part 1 went through a lot of line-up changes, then you ain't seen nothing yet. Nine out of the 10 groups still to come 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 10 not to have had member movement probably would have done eventually, but went on an extended break before anyone could jump ship (although they're set to reunite in the next few months, so there's still time!).

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

10. Pussycat Dolls

Members: Carmit Bachar, Ashley Roberts, Nicole Scherzinger, Jessica Sutta, Melody Thornton, Kimberly Wyatt
Years (releasing music): 2004-2009
Top 3 best songs: "I Don't Need A Man", "Hush Hush; Hush Hush", "Hot Stuff (I Want You Back)"

A burlesque troop long before anyone thought of them invading the pop charts, Pussycat Dolls really owe their music success to lead singer Nicole Scherzinger and the army of songwriters and producers that supplied the hit tunes for her to sing.
Sure, the other girls contributed in some way to the appeal of the group - after all, Nicole has had significantly less success as a solo artist (especially in the US), so it can't be all about her. I guess it proves that sexy dance routines and pretty backing vocalists sometimes make all the difference.

9. Mis-teeq

Members: Alesha Dixon, Zena McNally, Su-Elise Nash, Sabrina Washington
Years: 2000-2003

Top 3 best songs: "Scandalous", "One Night Stand", "All I Want"

Until writing this, I didn't even realise Mis-teeq was originally a quartet, with Zena making a swift departure after debut single "Why?", but for the majority of their chart run, the group was a three-piece and, at the time, felt like a breath of fresh air in a rather crowded British girl group market.

Their point of difference? Alesha's feisty raps and many of their songs' 2-step production, which gave Mis-teeq an edge over their contemporaries. They were even unique enough to make a small impression in the States and I would've been interested to see how their career would have progressed, but the girls split in 2005.
Alesha went on to enjoy a moderately successful solo career in the UK and an even more successful career as a reality TV show judge after winning her season of Strictly Come Dancing (the series on which Dancing With The Stars is based). The other two? The odd TV appearance and talk of solo albums that have yet to eventuate. However, Su-Elise and Sabrina will be getting back together with Alesha later this year to release some new music. Hopefully they'll pick up where they left off!

8. 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 at number eight is based entirely on those 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.

7. Destiny's Child

Members: Beyonce Knowles, LeToya Luckett/Michelle Williams, LaTavia Roberson/Farrah Franklin, Kelly Rowland
Years: 1997-2005
Top 3 best songs: "Say My Name", "Bootylicious", "Independent Women Part 1"

Much of the drama in girl groups comes when they are at the top of their game - the success fuelling thoughts of solo careers and sometimes creating infighting. For Destiny's Child, a major shake-up occurred just as the group was starting to make its mark, and immediately prior to the release of breakthrough single "Say My Name". After being part of the group right back to its inception as Girl's Tyme, LeToya and LaTavia suddenly found themselves dumped in favour of new arrivals Michelle and Farrah (who wouldn't last very long herself). 
Whatever really went down (and getting to the truth involves navigating a complicated round of "she said, she said"), the member swap provided some added publicity for the group, who proceeded to have a succession of international hits before the inevitable solo careers commenced in 2003. But Destiny's Child weren't through, with Destiny Fulfilled released in 2004 before the group ultimately announced their break-up in 2005. 
Musically, Destiny's Child was always on the cutting edge of pop/R&B and although Beyonce was clearly the superstar-in-waiting, it was nice that the vocals were frequently split evenly between her, Kelly and Michelle, since there's no point being in a group if you want to hog the limelight.

6. 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.

5. 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.

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 10 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 Girls Aloud is the exception that proves 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 will finally eventuate later this year, with a new single from the group set for release in November. Something tells me that (and a concert tour) 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 recently wrote about my favourite Sugababes songs to date, 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 current line-up. In fact, as we all know, the original trio have reunited as Mutya Keisha Siobhan to, hopefully, show Sugababes version 4.0 how it's done.
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.
I've no idea what to expect from MKS - or indeed whether Sugababes as they currently stand will ever release another record again, but I'm hopeful that neither ruin the legacy of what has been a brilliant pop group (and my favourite artist of any type for the 2000s). 

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 my numbers 1 and 3 songs 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: