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One of the words that nobody really likes is promotion, even self-promotion, because we see it as people trying to manipulate us, the consumer, into buying something (or buying into something) that isn’t worth our time, money or interest.

It’s a scam in other words.

Like the fictional relationship between two sixteen year old kids who are in the process of hitting it big with the top half of this, their debut single, but who are already parlaying that interest into something bigger by getting us to care about them as people, even though the people they’re presenting to us are not really them.

We know full well from a young age that all music sold publicly is commerce and to suggest otherwise is foolish. But here we have an example of a rock song itself – as opposed to just the record – being capitalized on as commerce, even though the message it conveyed was attempting to be teenage art.


I’m Home All Alone
Everything is not for sale in this world, despite what Madison Avenue would have you believe.

But let’s face it, money makes the world go round and even had they never become professional recording artists and Shirley Goodman and Leonard Lee had decided to keep singing together hanging around their neighborhood while they were still in high school, it’s highly doubtful that either one of them would’ve kept up with it much past graduation, let alone been doing so into the next decade.

So it stands to reason that if you WERE going to make a career out of this, it would help to be successful at it, which means not only do the songs need to be strong enough to garner widespread sales, but any additional interest you can generate to spur those sales is a good thing.

It’s easy to suggest that Aladdin Records run by two adults, Eddie (39) and Leo (49) Mesner, who had nearly a decade of experience in this field, were the ones most responsible for the selling of Shirley & Lee as “The Sweethearts Of The Blues”… and that much may be true.

But it’s equally true that the record label didn’t come up with the idea out of the blue, as this B-side of the duo’s first single, Sweethearts, written by the two kids themselves, basically lays out the entire concept in three minutes in a much more effective manner than any ad campaign could ever do.

Yeah, we know, most songs about love, sex or breakups are not reflecting actual events from the singers – or songwriters – life, but rather are broad generalities designed to be relatable to those who ARE going through such things. But when the singers are using their own names, their own personalities and at least the trappings of their own circumstances, within these records then the line between fact and fiction gets blurred beyond recognition to the general public.

Once those listeners believe there’s something real going on behind the curtain, that’s when their interest piques and sales increase.


I’ll Be Right Over, Baby
For a purely fictional song that presents Shirley and Lee as being in a budding relationship when in truth they were just neighborhood acquaintances at best, there’s actually a whole lot of factual information crammed into the lyrics that the teenage rock fan picked up on as authentic and which helped the pair forge a connection that would sustain them for awhile.

Let’s forget for a second that this supposes the two singers themselves are Sweethearts and instead just look at their activities when Shirley calls Lee and tell him her parents are gone for the evening.

If you’re not sixteen, or if you weren’t cool when you were, maybe you think this is rather uneventful information, but at that age it is the key to all sorts of interesting possibilities, none of which meet with the approval of those who brought you into this world. In other words, every kid listening had no trouble envisioning what THEY would do if this situation presented itself.

Sure enough Lee (it’s interesting that she called him this IN the lyrics on their first single, suggesting that it wasn’t Aladdin who chose to use her first name and his last name on the labels) tells Shirley he’s been drinking and will be right over.

Though he’s promising her that “we’ll have ourselves a ball”, it’s no sure thing thanks in part to the musical accompaniment which is rather subdued. Even this however might be intentional, as the meandering sax solo which follows has the unfocused but dreamy qualities of an inexperienced drinker with a buzz on, as if Leonard is envisioning romance even more than hanky-panky.

Shirley, probably realizing this, tells him to bring over two other friends to join them – no, NOT for group sex! – but so that there’ll be less chance of full-fledged seduction than if it’s just the two of them alone.

So right there we have the mid-teen mindsets in a nutshell… their eagerness to be together running headlong into their nervousness over being together. Now throw in the fact that both parties are using different ways to deal with their anxiety over such opportunities, him by losing his inhibitions with booze, hers by having a protective layer of friends to keep things in check, and they have all the bases of this predicament covered. What kid listening couldn’t relate to this?

Unfortunately the accuracy of the situation in Sweethearts isn’t matched by enough aural appeal as the draggy tempo reveals the technical shortcomings of their respective voices, particularly Goodman’s which goes through more keys than a night watchman in a horror movie trying to unlock a door to get away from zombies, none of them fitting the lock as it should.

They’re still reasonably endearing but at this pace, without a catchy melody to carry them through, Dave Bartholomew’s arrangement seems almost powerless to pick up the slack and provide them a more favorable setting to spin their tale.

Maybe that too is part of the realism of the record, showing that at that age and in that situation, there’s a perpetual uneasiness that the music represents, but more likely is the fact that knowing they had such a great top half, they were content to issue the bottom half “as is”. Lucky for them that when the audience did flip it over, they identified with what was being said more than felt gypped by how it was being presented.


We Want To Get Started
The commerce vs. art debate is always a tricky one to navigate for record companies, because when you lean too hard towards the former the audience gets wise and mostly avoids it because they know they’re being played by people who don’t care at all about the latter.

Yet in Sweethearts Aladdin Records stumbled into the perfect balance quite by accident.

Shirley and Lee hadn’t intended this to form the basis of their early public personas… not in such a calculating way at least. Writing the song they used their own names because that’s how you think to address people you’re having a conversation with in real life. They knew the plot they were presenting was fictional, but they were still Leonard Lee and Shirley Goodman playing these roles, so what was the big deal in acknowledging that?

Well, in songwriting you tend to avoid that for the very reason that wound up helping them in this case. Most experienced writers would use simply “you” and “I” to make it more universal, or come up with fictious names and give it the veneer of being a made-up story… a hallmark of writing.

But by injecting themselves into the narrative, intentional or not, it transformed them into rock’s first reality stars… hardly a laudable thing when looked back on from this day and age maybe, but at the time it was a very important step in forging an even deeper personal connection with the rock audience who were increasingly looking to records to reflect their own experiences and liked seeing they had de facto allies who were going through the same things, even while on their way to stardom.

That Aladdin was able to capitalize on this in their promotion of the pair for the next few years was simply the natural order of business, but the way in which art and commerce intermingled here makes this side of their first release far more important historically than its musical content alone would afford it.


(Visit the Artist page of Shirley & Lee for the complete archive of their records reviewed to date)