An Introduction to Girls in the Garage

An Introduction To

Last year, Strange Currencies spent the entire summer immersed in what just might be the deepest of musical rabbit holes: the American garage rock scene of the 1960s. Breaking the United States into fifteen different geographical regions, we highlighted some of the best proto-punk that each had to offer. It was a pretty major endeavor, and I highly recommend that you check it out if you haven’t already.

In each region, we were keen to highlight the all-too-rare all-female garage bands. These groups represented only a small fraction of their all-male counterparts: a phenomenon confirmed — though not always addressed — by the great garage compilations, such as Nuggets, Pebbles, and Back From the Grave. Even today, all-female rock bands are a comparative rarity, but in the sixties, they were exceedingly scarce.

But they did exist; and for this piece, we aimed to focus exclusively on their contributions to the rich garage rock canon. While there are multiple compilation series that focus on female garage artists — beginning with the 1987 release whose name we borrowed here — some of these are a bit misleading. Despite boasting titles like Girls in the Garage and Girls With Guitars, these comps are often filled out with tracks by female vocalists fronting otherwise-male bands.

And that’s where this feature is different. Each of the twenty-six bands presented here only included female musicians. Granted, the sixties were a time in which uncredited studio musicians frequently found their way onto commercial recordings — and garage band sessions were notoriously murkily-detailed — so we can’t be entirely sure that there are no male musicians present in the following tracks. However, the spirit of the project remains the same.

Most of these bands — and several of these specific tracks — were already featured in our American Garage Rock Road Trip from last summer. However, we’ve uncovered a handful of “new to us” gems. Plus, hearing all of these tracks in one place helps to push against the long-established narrative that the garage scene of the sixties was an exclusively-male playground. As was the case with last year’s pieces, not all of the featured tracks appear on Spotify. Thus, there are two playlists at the bottom of the article: a Spotify one with most of the songs; and a YouTube one with all of them. Enjoy!


The Pleasure Seekers

“What a Way to Die”

single A-side (1965)

While they’re largely remembered for being the group that launched the career of Suzi Quatro, the Detroit-based Pleasure Seekers issued one of the earliest and most furious blasts of garage punk. “What a Way to Die” is a still-thrilling embrace of rock and roll hedonism: delivered with rollicking pace, and a electric vocal/scream performance from Marylou Ball. It’s the clear highlight in the small catalog from a truly pioneering group.

The Bittersweets

“The Hurtin’ Kind”

single A-side (1965)

Decades before Guided by Voices and The Breeders would make Dayton, Ohio an unlikely indie rock hotbed, The Bittersweets displayed their own charmingly homespun sound on their debut A-side. “The Hurtin’ Kind” matches a catchy guitar lead with soaring backing vocals to create a simple-but-effective pair of hooks. It’s not outside of the realm of possibility that those future Dayton exports took notice.

The Lady Birds

“A Girl Without a Boy”

single B-side (1964)

The earliest-released track on this playlist, the mellow “A Girl Without a Boy” was the B-side to the first of two singles from The Lady Birds; the flip was a cover of Phil Spector’s “To Know Him Is to Love Him.” The Fullerton, California group actually sent a request to the White House for Lady Bird Johnson’s blessing in adopting her moniker for their band name. While the first lady obliged, the group did not receive official permission from the Johnson administration.

The Indigos

“He’s Coming Home”

single A-side (1965)

The topical nature of “He’s Coming Home” — not to mention the harmonica — indicate that this Louisville, Kentucky group were tuned in to the contemporaneous folk revival scene. However, the jangle and fuzz also place the debut A-side firmly in the garage camp. Though a bit heavy-handed, “He’s Coming Home” is still a reasonably impressive self-penned track.

The Girls

“My Baby”

single B-side (1965)

Formed by a quartet of Los Angeles sisters, The Girls are best remembered for the modest hit that was 1966’s “Chico’s Girl.” However, the first single that the group released featured a more garage-adjacent sound on its flip side. Written by drummer Margaret Sandoval, “My Baby” is defined by its catchy 12-string guitar riff and group vocals — particularly the soaring backing parts that form the song’s de facto chorus. But really, this one is pretty much all chorus; which, by the way, isn’t a bad thing.

Goldie and The Gingerbreads

“Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat”

single A-side (1965)

Of all the songs on this playlist, this is arguably the one that hews closest to the traditional “girl group” formula. It’s a charming little track, performed by what is typically credited as the first all-female band to be signed to a major label. However, bad timing likely robbed Goldie and The Gingerbreads of a hit, as a version of “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat” was released by Herman’s Hermits just two weeks prior.

The Moppets

“Cry Just a Little”

single A-side (1966)

Speaking of tracks that were bound to stay in the shadows of better-known versions, I present the lone A-side from the South Hadley, Massachusetts band, The Moppets. Granted, “in the shadows” is probably the best way to describe this take on The Beau Brummels’ 1965 hit. Whisper quiet — and delivered at a very deliberate tempo — The Moppets lean into the melancholy at the core of “Just a Little.” It’s hard to imagine it setting the airwaves ablaze in 1966, but it’s a great take on an excellent song.

The Rums & Coke

“Glad All Over”

single A-side (1966)

Here’s another cover that stands as a lone A-side: The Rums & Coke’s take on The Dave Clark Five’s international mega-hit “Glad All Over.” Like the original, this is a truly spirited performance, and despite the fact that the song was perhaps a bit passé by the time of its 1966 release, it shows that this Kenosha, Wisconsin quartet were capable of making a formidable racket.

The She’s

“The Fool”

single A-side (1966)

Though biographical information on The She’s — at least this band with the name — is a bit hard to find online, it appears that they hailed from Long Beach, California. It also appears that band member Maureen O’Conner shared a writing credit for this snappy, upbeat track that was the presumed A-side to the group’s only single. While the band itself is somewhat of a mystery, the appeal of this track is pretty clear.

The Continental Co-Ets

“I Don’t Love You No More”

single A-side (1966)

Even though they only released this one single before disbanding in 1967, The Continental Co-Ets have long been mainstays of garage rock compilations; particularly with this 1966 A-side. The group formed while attending high school in Fulda, Minnesota, but went their separate ways once college, career, and/or married life came calling.

The Belles

“Come Back”

single B-side (1966)

Largely remembered for their take on Them’s garage classic “Gloria” (“Melvin,” which appeared on our survey of Florida garage rock), The Belles landed another excellent cut with its B-side. The surf-inspired — and self-penned — “Come Back” arguably upstages its better-known flip side. Both stood as highlights on the Numero Group’s 2018 compilation, Basement Beehive.

Feebeez

“Season Comes”

single B-side (1966)

Despite its location in the arid southwest, Albuquerque, New Mexico wasn’t exactly a hotbed of garage rock bands during the mid-sixties. Among the tracks that did emerge from the Duke City was this downbeat gem from Feebeez. Written by guitarist/vocalist Sharon Westcott, “Season Comes” was the flip side to the group’s only single.

The Daughters of Eve

“Hey Lover”

single A-side (1966)

The B-side to the first of the group’s four singles, “Hey Lover” is a thoroughly charming track from Chicago’s Daughters of Eve. The song found the lower reaches of the pop charts in its original 1963 version by Debbie Dovale, and while the Daughters’ cover had even less of a commercial impact, its winning harmonies make for a special recording.

The What Four

“I’m Gonna Destroy That Boy”

single A-side (1966)

The title alone would make this track a notable entry in the garage canon, but fortunately “I’m Gonna Destroy That Boy” is also a killer song. Despite being recorded by a Manhattan band — and released by a major label — the single did not lead to widespread recognition for The What Four. It has however become a much-loved staple of garage rock compilations.

The Shades

“I Won’t Cry”

unreleased (recorded 1966)

Another little-known group that received a second life via Numero, The Shades were a trio from Etna Green, Indiana that was at their best when they were at their most melancholy. We featured their excellent “Tell Me Not to Hurt” in our overview of lower midwest garage rock, but “I Won’t Cry” is every bit as good. Its plaintive backing vocals and minimal arrangement emphasize the loneliness at the song’s core.

Female Species

“Tale of My Lost Love”

from Female Species [EP] (1966)

More credit to Numero for unearthing not only this lost gem, but a wealth of material from Whittier, California’s Female Species. Led by Vicki Gossett — and featuring her sister Ronni — the group issued a limited-run EP in 1966, before disbanding and morphing into a soft rock/country outfit. Of those four previously-released tracks, it’s “Tale of My Lost Love” which leaves the strongest impression, and which provided the title to Numero’s compilation of the Gossett sisters’ work.

The Luv’d Ones

“Dance Kid Dance”

single A-side (1966)

Of the more than two-dozen bands presented here, Niles, Michigan’s The Luv’d Ones stand the tallest. Not that they released an abundance of material during their brief run — just four singles — but everything that they put out was excellent. We highlighted the group — and leader Char Vinnedge — in an On Distant Stations feature, and while I’d argue that the piece provides a suitable introduction to a very good band that could’ve been a great one, you’d also be well-served by just picking up Truth Gotta Stand: a compilation of everything that the group released, and several previously-unissued recordings.

The Hairem

“Like a Snake”

unreleased (recorded 1966)

An early incarnation of the Sacramento band that would become known as She, The Hairem recorded a handful of tracks that never saw release until the 1999 Big Beat compilation, She Wants a Piece of You. I personally prefer the more rough-hewn nature of the group’s earlier recordings, and 1966’s “Like a Snake” fits the bill. It’s a sinister blast of garage punk that cleverly uses a serpentine guitar riff and shaker/rattle to evoke its subject.

The Debutantes

“Love Is Strange”

single A-side (1967)

An appealing cover of the 1956 smash hit by Mickey & Sylvia, “Love Is Strange” was the first A-side for Detroit’s Debutantes. The group’s entire recorded output would be released on a 2018 compilation by Beat Rocket, and while there’s plenty of rock and roll fun to be found throughout, this track stands as the most charming piece of the bunch.

The Mod 4

“Funny Little Clown”

single A-side (1967)

From the tiny town of Aledo, Illinois, The Mod 4 struck gold with their first A-side. Not commercial gold mind you, but something of a garage classic nonetheless. “Funny Little Clown” was a 1964 hit for its composer, Bobby Goldsboro, but the charm of its composition is arguably better suited for the minimal lo-fi treatment of this version.

The Enchanted Forest

“I’m Not That Kind of Girl”

single A-side (1967)

Though they also released gems on both sides of their 1968 follow-up single (“Suzanne” / “You’re Never Gonna Get My Lovin'”), New York’s Enchanted Forest sound a little more like a garage band on this earlier A-side. Of the tracks here, I’d argue that this is one of the most likely to feature studio musicians, but the band/recording personnel is tough to sort out from the information available online.

The Daisy Chain

“All Because of Him”

from Straight or Lame (1967)

One of only two bands in this feature to record a full-length LP, The Daisy Chain released Straight or Lame in 1967. Across the album’s dozen tracks, the Fullerton, California group bounces back-and-forth between a variety of different pop/rock stylings, but “All Because of Him” finds them squarely within the garage and psychedelic camps.

The Fabulous Frauliens

“Practice of Evil”

single A-side (1967)

Among garage bands, one could convincingly argue that New England was the most musically conservative region that we covered in last summer’s project. The same does not hold true for the next two groups. From Methuen, Massachusetts, The Fabulous Frauliens turned in a fascinating oddity with “Practice of Evil”: the A-side to their only single. Inspired by the Salem Witch Trials, the song matches its pre-twee melody and arrangement with airy vocals and a spoken-word interlude.

The Shaggs

“Philosophy of the World”

from Philosophy of the World (1969)

And all of that sounds practically “norm-core” when compared to Fremont, New Hampshire’s Shaggs. Our own Tim Ryan Nelson tackled the band’s complicated history and divisive reputation in a 2021 piece — trust me, this kind of thing is precisely in his wheelhouse — and I’d argue that this title track to their 1969 outsider, kind-of-classic Philosophy of the World is their most approachable track.

The Clingers

“Gonna Have a Good Time”

single A-side (1969)

As we approach the dawn of the seventies, the garage sounds start to get a bit more polished. The Orem, Utah-based Clinger sisters turned in a hard-charging rocker with this cover of The Easybeats’ then-recent hit “Good Time.” It’s a spirited performance of a decent song, but it does reflect a pronounced shift away from the more homespun charms of the peak garage era.

Ace of Cups

“Stones”

unreleased (recorded 1969)

Led by Denise Kaufman — lead vocalist on the 1965 garage classic “Boy, What’ll You Do Then” — San Francisco’s Ace of Cups were one of the more renowned all-female bands of their era, despite not actually releasing any material until decades-later compilations. “Stones” is in line with the late-sixties Bay Area rock scene — a styling that keeps it at arms length for me — but it ably displays the band’s formidable musical abilities.

Author

  • Matt Ryan

    Matt Ryan founded Strange Currencies Music in January 2020, and remains the site's editor-in-chief. The creator of the "A Century of Song" project and co-host of the "Strange Currencies Podcast," Matt enjoys a wide variety of genres, but has a particular affinity for 60s pop, 90s indie rock, and post-bop jazz. He is an avid collector of vinyl, and a multi-instrumentalist who has played/recorded with several different bands and projects.

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