The hugely popular ITV miniseries Cilla told the story of one of the most successful and long-lived performers to come out of the British Invasion. It also shed light on an important aspect of the movement: female artists were few and far between.
This signaled a change in the dynamic of popular music, as the hits of the late ’50s and early ’60s routinely featured girl groups such as The Supremes the Ronettes, as well as solo artists like Patsy Cline, who spanned jazz, country, and pop.
But with the British Invasion (and the subsequent American music explosion) of the 60’s, female artists started to fade from the scene. While women and girls clearly had an enormous role in these groups’ successes, it was primarily in the of role rabid fans and record buyers, not artists. It was likely that the British culture simply didn’t encourage female performance; that being in a band was not considered seemly, and that girls’ priorities were to prepare for marriage and motherhood.
But there were a few women who infiltrated the scene, and one especially—Cilla Black—became an international celebrity. But Cilla, being a woman, did not have the ability to make herself known as easily as her male counterparts. She did not play an instrument, did not have her own band, and only became known by singing as a guest of established Merseyside acts like The Beatles, the Big Three, and Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. Without that help from her male friends, she would never come to Brian Epstein’s attention, no matter how talented she was. But her determination to be out front with a band made her exception, and she recorded her first single almost as soon as Brian signed her.
As Cilla, and almost all other performers at the time, did not write their own music, producers went to established songwriters to provide the next big hit. Everyone on Brian’s roster had an unprecedented advantage: their resident composers happened to be Lennon and McCartney. John and Paul provided a number of singles to other artists, giving three to Cilla. And they continued the tradition once they founded Apple, providing previously-unknown songs to a number of new artists.
As with other aspects of the British Invasion, most of those songs were given away to men. But five excellent songs were given to the few women involved in the scene:
1. Cilla Black, “Love of the Loved” (1963): This was her first single, given to her by Brian Epstein weeks after he signed her, and produced by George Martin. Only reaching #35 on the charts, it did not do as well as Brian had hoped, but it was the first Lennon-McCartney original to make it’s debut by a female artist.
The Beatles’ original version from their failed 1962 Decca audition also survives, but its late 50’s sound makes it almost unrecognizable from Cilla’s.
2. Cilla Black, “It’s for You” (1964): Cilla Black recorded this song after earning two back-to-back number one hits with “Anyone who had a Heart” and “You’re my World.” Despite Cilla’s popularity and the song being a Lennon-McCartney original, it didn’t do as well as her previous efforts, peaking at #7 in the UK and only #79 in the US. Yet it might be one of her most powerful songs, and deserves more notice than it originally received.
3. Cilla Black, “Step Inside Love” (1968): Credited to Lennon-McCartney, Paul wrote this as the theme song for Black’s new television series, Cilla. As with “It’s for You,” it reached #7 on the British charts.
An acoustic demo has surfaced. Cilla does most of the singing, but Paul is playing and can be heard scatting along to the instrumental section. This demo is in a lower key than the final version, as it was raised to showcase Cilla’s strengths.
Another Beatles acoustic version appeared on the Anthology recordings, this version with a more Latin feel, leading into the rather odd throwaway song “Los Paranoias.”
4. Mary Hopkin, “Goodbye” (1969). The Welsh singer Mary Hopkin was one of Paul McCartney’s discoveries, and one of the first artists signed to Apple Records. “Goodbye” was written quickly to follow up on Hopkin’s huge single, a reinterpretation of the Ukrainian folk song “Those were the Days.” This one was also a success, reaching #2 in the UK and #15 in the US.
A gorgeous, but short, acoustic bootleg of Paul McCartney’s demo is also available.
5. Doris Troy, “Ain’t That Cute” (1970): Troy was one of the few Apple artists that already had success elsewhere. Her self-titled Apple album was primarily produced by George, and many of the songs, including “Ain’t that Cute” (below), were written with him. Ringo and Klaus Voorman were also involved with composition and production, also playing on the album. Troy also recorded “Get Back,” which appears on its 1992 reissue.
The most recent addition to this list is a composition Paul wrote during the 2012 Kisses on the Bottom sessions but never released. Diana Krall, who collaborated with Paul on that album, will be recording on it on her upcoming pop collection. Though the album release is imminent, no details about the McCartney song are known yet.