The Best Of: Girl Groups

Click the cover art for the music videos.

Originally posted in 2012. Updated in 2020.

When I first counted down my top 20 boy bands, it seemed only logical to do the same thing with my favourite girl groups — and I've approached things in a similar format. First, I go through my top 20, with the positions based on how much I've liked the groups' catalogue of singles. Then, I look at my top 5 female duos (because two people's not really a group, is it?) and, finally, remember some other worthy girl groups.

In 2020, I've revisited and updated this list, with one group (Precious) falling out of the top 20 and having its place taken by a girl group that winds up in my top 10.

 

And although girl groups have pretty much been around since the dawn of the rock era (unlike the modern boy band), I limited my list to girl groups since 1979. Why? Well, regular readers will know that's when I first began to appreciate music so, like all things on this blog, that's my starting point. 

Obviously, the likes of The Supremes, Martha & The Vandellas and The Shirelles are all great girl groups from before my time, but I'll leave it to someone else to talk about them. Oh, and once again, there's a no instruments policy, which rules out The Go-Go's and The Bangles, both excellent all-female bands. Let's make a start...

20. Sweet Sensation

Members: Margie Fernandez, Mari Fernandez/Sheila Vega, Betty LeBron
Years: 1987-1991

 

Or New York's Sweet Sensation to give them their full name. The freestyle trio had a string of club hits from their debut album, Take It While It's Hot, in 1988-89 but it would be their cover of The Supremes' "Love Child" (which features a great "there's something on my leg" dance move in the video) and monster ballad "If Wishes Came True" which saw them cross over in 1990, the latter even becoming a minor hit here in Australia thanks to American Top 40 play. Like many a girl group, Sweet Sensation underwent numerous line-up changes (the original version of the group is pictured above), but it's the trio of Margie, Sheila and Betty (seen in that "Love Child" clip) who would enjoy the most success.

Top 3:

1. "Love Child"

2. "Hooked On You"

3. "Each And Every Time"

19. Bardot

Members: Belinda Chapple, Sophie Monk, Sally Polihronas, Katie Underwood, Tiffany Wood
Years: 2000-2002

Before IdolThe X Factor and The Voice there was Popstars. After a theft scandal resulted in a last-minute line-up rejig, the show's final five shot straight to number 1 with "Poison" and their self-titled album. Such was the fervour surrounding the show, anything would've done well, but by third single "These Days", Bardot's music sold on the strength of the songs. Indeed. the well-received singles from second album Play It Like That indicated a bright future. But the girls wanted solo careers. Katie jumped ship first, going on to record two singles with Disco Montego. After the remaining four split, Sophie was most successful — with a couple of solo hits and enduring reality TV fame.

Top 3: 

1. "These Days"

2. "Love Will Find A Way"

3. "I Need Somebody"

48. LOVE CHILD Sweet Sensation.jpg
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18. B*Witched

17. En Vogue

Members: Lindsay Armaou, Edele Lynch, Keavy Lynch, Sinead O'Carroll
Years: 1998-2000

 

Despite their appalling denim outfits, this Irish quartet (featuring Shane from Boyzone's sisters) had an impressive run of four UK number 1s in 1998-9, but that success stopped just as suddenly and the girls were dumped by Sony after album number two. The demise of B*Witched can be attributed to one thing: "Jesse Hold On". The annoying lead single from Awake And Breathe signalled the beginning of the end. Even though final single "Jump Down" was one of their best, it was too late. I once saw B*Witched perform and can still picture how much energy they put into every song, but it goes to show that if the songs aren't right, no amount of choreography and chirpiness can salvage things.  

Top 3:

1. "C'est La Vie"

2. "Rollercoaster"

3. "Jump Down"

Members (classic line-up): Terry Ellis, Cindy Herron, Maxine Jones, Dawn Robinson
Years: 1990-2005

Here's a girl group who made a statement with their music in an era when R&B vocal groups were a dime a dozen. En Vogue released a string of sassy, soulful tracks that had attitude and an opinion — from the songs in my top 3 to "Lies", the sexy collaboration with Salt 'n' Pepa, "Whatta Man" and the in-your-face "Free Your Mind". Like so many girl groups, there's been a hard-to-follow series of member manoeuvres ever since their third album, EV3 (which was named to signal the first change from four to three singers). That was also the last album that had major success for En Vogue, so those subsequent changes are really footnotes to a great initial run.

Top 3: 

1. "Don't Let Go (Love)"

2. "My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It)"

3. "Hold On"

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16. Solid HarmoniE

Members: Elisa Cariera, Mariama Goodman, Melissa Graham, Rebecca Onslow
Years: 1996-1998

 

I never realised it at the time, but this girl group had a rather complicated revolving door-style line-up. In fact, I didn't really know anything about Solid HarmoniE other than the fact the capital letters in their name spelt SHE (clever!) and they worked with pop maestro Max Martin (and colleague Kristian Lundin) at Cheiron. It's the Swedish songwriting and production team's work that really explains why they are so high on my list — all four singles from their self-titled album were among my top 50 for 1998. Mariama would end up as a member of Honeyz (who had their own member switcheroo) and there would be subsquent versions of Solid HarmoniE, but after "To Love Once Again", it was pretty much all over.

Top 3:

1. "I'll Be There For You"

2. "I Want You To Want Me"

3. "I Wanna Love You"

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15. The Pussycat Dolls

Members: Carmit Bachar, Ashley Roberts, Nicole Scherzinger, Jessica Sutta, Melody Thornton, Kimberly Wyatt
Years: 2003-2010, 2019-present

A burlesque troupe long before anyone thought of them invading the pop charts, The Pussycat Dolls really owe their music success to lead singer Nicole 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. In 2020, a slightly reduced line-up — Melody is missing — were set to visit Australia as part of their reunion tour until COVID-19 ruined those plans.

Top 3: 

1. "I Don't Need A Man"

2. "Hush Hush; Hush Hush"

3. "Hot Stuff (I Want You Back)"

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14. TLC

Members: Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, Rozanda "Chilli" Thomas, Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins

Years: 1992-2004

 

Like En Vogue, TLC were another US act with a strong image and musical style. Even though that evolved — from their early condoms as accessories look to FanMail's futuristic styling — it always felt like a natural progression. Then there were the songs — fresh, adventurous and streetwise tunes like my top 3, "Creep" and "What About Your Friends". I was never a fan of "Waterfalls", but its cultural impact (especially the video, which addressed HIV) can not be understated. There was talk of T-Boz and Chilli using reality show R U The Girl to find a replacement for the late Left Eye but I'm glad the winner merely got to perform and record a track with them. Some things are best left as a happy memory.

Top 3:

1. "No Scrubs"

2. "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg"

3. "Hat 2 Da Back"

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13. Sister Sledge

Members: Debbie, Joni, Kathy and Kim Sledge
Years: 1971-1986

They started their career in the early '70s, but it was during the disco era that the four Sledge sisters (nothing like a literal group name) hit the big time, with a string of classics like "Lost In Music", "Thinking Of You" and "We Are Family", which would all go on to be regularly remixed and re-released over the next decades. Then, in 1985, just when it seemed like the group's fortunes were winding down, they returned with one of their biggest singles of all time: "Frankie". That was their last new hit, but they still perform and release music from time to time.

 

 

 

 

Top 3: 

1. "We Are Family"

2. "Lost In Music"

3. "Got To Love Somebody"

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11. Destiny's Child

12. Mis-teeq

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

Years: 2000-2003 

 

Until writing this, I didn't even realise Mis-teeq was originally a quartet, with Zena making a swift departure after debut single "Why?". From then on, the group was a trio and felt like a breath of fresh air in a crowded British girl group market. Their point of difference? Alesha's feisty raps and their 2-step style. They were even unique enough to make a small impression in the US. It would've been interesting to see how their career progressed, but the girls split in 2005. Alesha enjoyed a moderately successful solo career and even more success as a reality TV judge after winning her season of Strictly Come Dancing. The other two? Talk of solo albums and a Mis-teeq reunion that have yet to eventuate.

Top 3:

1. "Scandalous"

2. "One Night Stand"

3. "All I Want"

Members: Beyoncé Knowles, LeToya Luckett/Michelle Williams, LaTavia Roberson/Farrah Franklin, Kelly Rowland
Years: 1997-2005

Girl groups often disintegrate at the top — the success fuelling thoughts of going it alone. For Destiny's Child, a shake-up occurred just prior to "Say My Name", the song that made them megastars. After being part of the group since its inception as Girl's Tyme, LeToya and LaTavia were dumped in favour of newbies Farrah (who wouldn't last) and Michelle. Whatever really went down, the swap provided publicity, and the trio version of DC proceeded to have a succession of huge hits before commencing their solo careers in 2003. But they weren't done, with 2004's Destiny Fulfilled coming before the ultimate break up. DC's sound was always on the cutting edge of pop/R&B, and although Beyoncé was clearly a superstar-in-waiting, it was refreshing lead vocals were split between all three members.

Top 3: 

1. "Say My Name"

2. "Bootylicious"

3. "Independent Women Part 1"

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10. The Saturdays

Members: Una Healy, Mollie King, Frankie Sandford, Vanessa White, Rochelle Wiseman
Years: 2008-2014

 

It's hard to gauge from Australia where they are virtually unknown, but despite their 13 UK top 10 hits, The Saturdays didn't seem to become a phenomenon like Spice Girls or Girls Aloud, with a solitary number 1 towards the end of their run and no massive album like All Saints, Sugababes or Atomic Kitten. And yet, they didn't have much girl group competition until Little Mix arrived. I like a number of their songs (obviously, or they wouldn't be this high), but I don't feel they had a defining moment — a song that went beyond sounding current to give a sense of what The Saturdays were about. Nevertheless, they were a good pop group with a bunch of decent tunes until they quietly went on hiatus.

Top 3:

1. "Forever Is Over"

2. "Higher"

3. "Disco Love"

9. The Pointer Sisters

Members: Anita, Bonnie, June and Ruth Pointer
Years: 1971-1993

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 my top 3, "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 but has now passed away.

Top 3: 

1. "Jump (For My Love)"

2. "Dare Me"

3. "I'm So Excited"

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8. Little Mix

7. All Saints

Members: Perrie Edwards, Jesy Nelson, Leigh-Anne Pinnock, Jade Thirlwall
Years: 2011-present

 

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

Top 3:

1. "Wings"

2. "No More Sad Songs"

3. "DNA"

Members: Natalie Appleton, Nicole Appleton, Melanie Blatt, Shaznay Lewis 
Years: 1997-2001, 2006-2008, 2013-present

I never would've expected when All Saints split in 2001 that they'd make some of their best music almost 20 years later. At the turn of the millennium, there was no cooler girl group, their moody demeanour and cargo pants in sharp contrast to Spice Girls' flashiness, They even covered a Chili Peppers song without too much kerfuffle. After that break-up — over a jacket at a photo shoot, so the legend goes — there were the inevitable solo careers (well, the Appletons stuck together), but no side project came close to the chart domination they enjoyed together. A 2006 reunion for Studio 1 was promising, but All Saints really found their groove again a decade later with Red Flag then Testament, re-teaming with William Orbit for career highlight "After All".

Top 3: 

1. "Pure Shores"

2. "One Strike"

3. "I Know Where It's At"

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6. Eternal

Members: Easther Bennett, Vernie Bennett, Kelle Bryan, Louise Nurding
Years: 1993-1999

 

I've long assumed the reason first Louise 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 in 1998 by fax (the '90s equivalent of dumping someone by SMS). Officially, Louise (who'd go on to become Mrs Jamie Redknapp) left the group to explore different types of music in a solo career, but I'm convinced she got out while the going was good. 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 Honeyz. But no one was interested in the post-Kelle duo version of Eternal, which I consider the most perfect form of karmic payback.

Top 3:

1. "Stay"

2. "Just A Step From Heaven"

3. "I Am Blessed"

5. Atomic Kitten

Members: Natasha Hamilton, Kerry Katona/Jenny Frost, Liz McClarnon
Years: 1999-2006, 2008

If it wasn't for "Whole Again", Atomic Kitten would be much lower down this list. After the four previous singles by the Liverpudlian trio resulted in ever-diminishing success, that ballad was one last ditch attempt by their record company to turn their fortunes around. As well all know, it worked a treat and not even Kerry's pregnancy could disrupt them from becoming a major success in the UK and Australia. Kerry opted out, replaced by Jenny from Precious — although since she wasn't as vocally skilled as Liz and Natasha, it did feel like she was only there to maintain numbers. "Whole Again" also signalled a shift high-energy pop to the slower radio-friendly sound of "If You Come To Me", "It's OK!" and their cover of "Eternal Flame". But, as you can see from my top 2, I appreciated Atomic Kitten's initial playful feel.

Top 3: 

1. "Right Now"

2. "I Want Your Love"

3. "The Last Goodbye"

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4. Spice Girls

Members: Victoria Adams/Beckham, Melanie Brown, Emma Bunton, Melanie Chisholm, Geri Halliwell
Years: 1996-2000, 2007

 

What can you say about Spice Girls that hasn't been said a million times already? In retropsect, their trailblazing success makes so much sense, but the UK's Britpop-heavy scene was anything but conducive to pop. The lack of similar artists is exactly what gave the girls such a wide open market, but it's what they did with that opportunity that made the difference. On the music side, Spice Girls only released 11 singles — two of them double A-side — but nine went to number 1 in the UK and together sold millions. One of my favourite memories is from The Spice Girls In America: A Tour Story when Victoria is recording some aaahs for "Goodbye" and says, "Sometimes the easiest things are the hardest." That sums up Spice Girls — they weren't the most gifted singers or dancers, but they were brilliant pop stars.

Top 3:

1. "Wannabe"

2. "Stop"

3. "Who Do You Think You Are"

3. Girls Aloud

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

Years: 2002-2009, 2012

Girls Aloud are the only girl group in my top 5 to maintain their original line-up — and in many ways were the least likely candidates for that since groups thrown together by reality shows don't have a great track record for solidarity (or longevity). But like Little Mix, Girls Aloud are the exception that prove just about every rule. When it came to the music, the teaming of the Popstars: The Rivals champs with producers Xenomania is what kept them in the UK charts. From debut "Sound Of The Underground" until 2008's Out Of Control, they had a freshness other reality winners (and most other pop acts) didn't. A hiatus in 2009 allowed them to pursue their own projects — only Cheryl had major solo success — and a promised reunion eventuated in 2012, with a handful of new songs, best of and accompanying tour.

Top 3: 

1. "Love Machine"

2. "Biology"

3. "The Show"

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2. Sugababes

Members: Mutya Buena/Amelle Berrabah, Keisha Buchanan/Jade Ewen, Siobhan Donaghy/Heidi Range

Years: 2000-present

 

Although they come up just shy of being my favourite girl group of all time, Sugababes 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 in 2012. Since then, the original trio, who reunited as Mutya Keisha Siobhan and released the return to form (but commercially unsuccessful) "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. 

Top 3:

1. "Easy"

2. "Hole In The Head"

3. "Round Round"

1. Bananarama

Members: Sara Dallin, Siobhan Fahey/Jacquie O'Sullivan, Keren Woodward
Years: 1981-present

Their first UK chart hits came from a couple of collaborations with Fun Boy Three, and from then on, there was little stopping Bananarama, with "Cruel Summer", "Shy Boy" and "Robert De Niro's Waiting" climbing charts around the world. In 1986, they teamed up with Stock Aitken Waterman, and their cover of "Venus" gave them their biggest global smash. More hits followed with SAW, but Siobhan exited in 1988 and was replaced by Jacquie, who only stuck around until 1991's Pop Life. Ever since, Sara and Keren have carried on as a duo — regularly releasing new albums packed with should've been hits like "Love Comes", "Every Shade Of Blue" and "Movin' On". For me, the Nanas are everything a pop act should be: fun, unpretentious and, most importantly, responsible for catchy songs.

Top 3: 

1. "I Want You Back"

2. "Venus"

3. "Love In The First Degree"

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9. LOVE IN THE FIRST DEGREE Bananarama.j

Top 5 Girl Duos

Despite the fact that for the majority of their 30+ year existence, my top girl group, Bananarama, has actually been a duo, their period of greatest success was as a trio.

 

But there are several female duos I didn't include in my girl groups list since the word "group" generally implies three or more members. Hey, if it's good enough for the Grammys to distinguish between duos and groups, then it's good enough for me. 

Some acts that didn't quite make the cut for my top 5 include M2M, Mini Viva, S.O.A.P. and Pepsi & Shirlie. But now, without further ado: my favourite female duos of all time...

Members: Kim and Mel Appleby
Years: 1989-1994

I was actually surprised Mel & Kim weren't higher in my ranking (there's a spreadsheet involved in working out all my lists, by the way) but they were only able to release four singles (the three listed below and "That's The Way It Is") before Mel's ill health forced them to put music on hold. Tragically, Mel wouldn't survive her battle with cancer — but fans of the music she made with sister Kim will always have those four singles, not to mention one of the best pop albums of all time in F.L.M., to remember her by. Kim returned to the charts (the UK ones, at least) in 1990 with "Don't Worry", the first of a run of great solo singles.

Top 3: 

1. "Respectable"

2. "Showing Out (Get Fresh
At The Weekend)""

3. "F.L.M."

04. respect.jpg
35. SHOWING OUT (GET FRESH AT THE WEEKEN
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5. Mel & Kim

4. t.A.T.u.

Members: Lena Katina, Julia Volkova

Years: 2000-2010

As well as a load of controversy, it's often forgotten that Russia's faux lesbians racked up a number of excellent singles in their time together. Their debut English-language album, 200km/h In The Wrong Lane, might have included worldwide smash "All The Things She Said", but second album Dangerous And Moving was actually much stronger — although by then, the gimmick had worn off for a lot of people. Sure, their voices sometimes sounded dangerously close to those of Alvin & The Chipmunks — never more so than on their sacrilegious (but brilliant) cover of The Smiths' "How Soon Is Now" — but somehow it worked. Well, it did for me, anyway.

Top 3: 

1. "All The Things She Said"

2. "How Soon Is Now"

3. "All About Us"

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Members: Jessica and Lisa Origliasso
Years: 2005-present

Brisbane sisters Jess and Lisa were hotly tipped for world domination when they launched in an explosion of catchy choruses and fun film clips in 2005, but despite five singles being lifted from debut album The Secret Life Of..., that international success failed to materialise. Luckily, Australia was smitten with the twins and a second album was guaranteed — with Hook Me Up proving to be the album that contained that elusive worldwide hit, "Untouched". Although The Veronicas' music has morphed from Pink-style powerpop ("4ever" even has the same chorus structure as "U + Ur Hand") to synth-based electropop over the years, one thing's remained the same: the girls have always known their way around an infectious tune. 

Top 3: 

1. "4ever"

2. "This Love"

3. "I Can't Stay Away"

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3. The Veronicas

Members: Sara and Tegan Quin
Years: 1999-present

I'm a latecomer to the Quin sisters' music and probably never would have got into them if they hadn't gone all pop on seventh album Heartthrob (which contains the three songs below). To prove it was no one-off, they followed that up with more catchiness on 2016's Love You To Death, which featured tracks like "Boyfriend" and "U-Turn". I can't say I've ventured further back into their back catalogue, which has more of an indie and folk feel, and so their ranking here is based on a fraction of their career's work.

Top 3: 

1. "Closer"

2. "I Was A Fool"

3. "I'm Not Your Hero"

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2. Tegan And Sara

Members: Cherise Roberts, Nadia Shepherd 
Years: 2006-present

Before becoming Booty Luv, Cherise and Nadia were both members of short-lived UK R&B group Big Brovaz, who had a couple of big hits in Australia with "Nu Flow" and "Baby Boy" in 2003. After that group self-destructed, the girls were signed to perform cover versions of American R&B tracks — but with a twist. Booty Luv's versions of songs like Tweet's "Boogie 2nite" and Luther Vandross' "Shine" were based on dance mixes of the originals rather than the album versions or radio edits. Their dancefloor-friendly album also included covers of remixed songs by Mary J Blige and Lucy Pearl, but they proved with "Some Kinda Rush" that their original tracks weren't too shabby. A second album has been in the offing for ages, but looking less and less likely as time goes on.

Top 3: 

1. "Some Kinda Rush"

2. "Shine"

3. "Say It"

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1. Booty Luv

Best Of The Rest

Whether they weren't around long enough to produce enough great songs, or were but didn't, the girl groups below are all worthy of recognition.

Boy Krazy

Best song: "That's What Love Can Do" 
Year: 1991

Cleopatra

Best song: "Come And Get Me" 
Year: 2000

Exposé

Best song: "Let Me Be The One" 
Year: 1987

Fierce

Best song: "Sweet Love 2K" 
Year: 2000

Girl Thing

Best song: "Girls On Top" 
Year: 2000

Girlfriend/gf4

Best song: "Sooner Of Later" 
Year: 1994

Honeyz

Best song: "End Of The Line" 

Year: 1998

Jade

Best song: "Everyday Of The Week" 

Year: 1994

Mary Jane Girls

Best song: "All Night Long" 
Year: 1983

The Nolans

Best song: "Gotta Pull Myself Together" 
Year: 1980

Precious

Best song: "Rewind"

Year: 2000

Seduction

Best song: "Two To Make It Right" 
Year: 1989

SWV

Best song: "Right Here (Human Nature)" 
Year: 1993

The Three Degrees

Best song: "The Runner" 
Year: 1979

Wilson Phillips

Best song: "Hold On" 
Year: 1990

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