There have probably been songs named for women — or teenage girls — as far back as there has been written music. The traditional country and blues that rock ‘n roll sprang from is peppered with these female-named songs, with recordings appearing from the 1920s on. Yet it was the Boomer era of the 1950s and 1960s that seemed to have brought the practice to front and center in the music world.
Rock ‘n roll songs with female names were most often love songs. They described teenage love, occasionally unrequited, but always infatuated. The named woman could inspire sheer awe and adoration, or painful heartbreak due to physical distance, infidelity or a break-up. Was this universality of emotion the key to our accepting the songs as our own, despite their specifically-named subjects?
One “I miss you” girl-named song that had its roots in the country-blues tradition, recorded over and over again for decades, was re-recorded in the 1950s: Corinna, Corinna. Big Joe Turner released his version in 1956. Bill Hailey & His Comets gave us their rock ‘n roll version in 1958. Even as the decade changed, this song went on. Ray Peterson had a top-ten hit with it in 1960, while Jerry Lee Lewis added it to his repertoire in 1965. Mr. Peterson also gave us Tell Laura I Love Her in 1960.
The song that may very well have captured the attention of teeny bopper baby boomers in a big way was Peggy Sue, released by Buddy Holly in 1957. In fact, the song was so popular long after it was released that it was covered by numerous bands and singers throughout the fifties, sixties and seventies, including Bobby Vee, Connie Francis, The Hollies, The Tremeloes, The Troggs, Bobby Fuller, Frankie Avalon and The Beach Boys, just to name a few.
Eddie Cochran joined the club in 1958 with Jeannie Jeannie Jeannie. Chuck Berry had his first number one hit with a girl-named song: Maybellene. It was adapted from an earlier country song, and was about chasing a cheating girlfriend. Jerry Lee Lewis gave us Lucille — an addition to the why’d-you-have-to-go-and-marry-someone-else subtext of the genre — in 1957. Paul Anka sang Diana in 1957, and Neil Sedaka added Oh Carol in 1958, both wide-eyed pinings. Meanwhile, Elvis Presley has the distinction of making it through his entire career without having a hit song named after a specific female.
Practically all the major male bands of the decade jumped on the girl-song bandwagon, with many using the titles to capture their first hits. That’s what Franki Valli & The Four Seasons did with Sherry in 1962. Cathy’s Clown by The Everly Brothers, though not their first big hit, was the first hit single from the duo released by Warner Bros. in 1960.
Ricky Nelson introduced us to Mary Lou in 1961, and we said good-bye to our hearts. G-L-O-R-I-A became an instant rock anthem when Them released it, first as a B-side in 1964, then re-released as an A-side in 1965. The Four Tops memorably checked into the genre with Bernadette in 1967, while The Beach Boys delivered Barbara Ann in 1966. The Hollies sang about Carrie Ann in 1967. Tom Jones added a new twist to the genre by killing the cheating object of his desire in Delilah in 1968.
The Beatles got into the act on several albums. There was Michelle from Rubber Soul (1965); Eleanor Rigby from Revolver (1966); Lovely Rita and Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds from Sgt. Pepper’s (1967); Martha My Dear, Sexy Sadie, Dear Prudence and Julia from the White Album (1968).
The Rolling Stones didn’t add much to the list, but did a cover version of Susie Q in 1965. The song was an often-covered rockabilly classic, later released by Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1968. Meanwhile, the Stones released their own female-named songs: Ruby Tuesday in 1967, and Angie in 1973.
By the 1970s, the practice of releasing songs about and named for specific women continued, but the heyday had passed. There were a few classics along the way, like Cecelia by Simon & Garfunkel in 1970 and Maggie May by Rod Stewart in 1971. But the steam was running out for female-named songs, and they waned in their numbers.
The practice of writing songs about or to a specific girl continues to this day, but their profusion, from the 1950s through the 1970s, made their historical mark in the proliferation of the genre.
There are far too many female-named songs from the era to list, and there are entire Web sites devoted to just that task. Mister Boomer has named a few of his favorites here. What was your favorite female-named song of the boomer era?