The Butterflys – I Wonder

• “I Wonder” set to a fan created slideshow. Thanks to Monotostereoking.

9.5 “All-time classic Pop from the USA”

Released as a 45 (Red Bird RB-10-016) in November, 1964.

I took the plunge and joined Twitter (@thejukeboxrebel) a few months ago, the idea being to try and rustle up some interest in my music reviews and recommendations, and quickly came to realise that it’s a two-way deal. My musically literate timeline is strongly returning my serves on a daily basis with all sorts of treasures, past and present. I should have joined sooner, really.

A big thank you to one such Twitter pal, @DJDooLang, for today’s post. She wears her handle as a badge of honour, and is responsible for putting me on to The Butterflys. Who? That’s what I said. Turns out, they only went and made the greatest girl-group wall-of-sound hit that never was!

Over their short time as a group in 1964 and 1965 The Butterflys were: Paulette Holland on lead vocals, with harmonies and backing vocals by Myrna Giraud, Carmen Santiago and Mary Thomas. Myrna and Mary had been founding members of The Crystals, which explains a lot (more on that later). They only have two 45s to their name; “Goodnight Baby” b/w “The Swim” (Red Bird RB-10-009, August 1964) and “I Wonder” b/w “Gee Baby Gee” (Red Bird RB-10-016, November 1964), all of which I have duly collected on the less-than-satisfactory digital format, but it’ll have to do for now!

Both of the A-sides are terrific, but “I Wonder” rises to the top as the greatest example of their nuanced power, backed by the stupendous Red Bird production, every bit the equal of Phil Spector on this occasion. Lyric wise, it sticks to the tried-and-trusted girl-group formula, young love, coz, as everyone knows, a teenage dream’s so hard to beat, right?

Mama said before I’m grown
I’ll find somebody I can call my own
So when the stars are shining bright
I dream about the boy who’s gonna hold me tight

To my ears, it’s fit to be bracketed with “What A Sweet Thing That Was”, “(The Best Part Of) Breakin’ Up”, “(Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry” and all those other 60s girl-group classics. So why wasn’t “I Wonder” the million-selling smash that it deserved to be? Read on for the full Butterflys story…

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The Butterflys on tour 1964 (L to R): Paulette, Mary, Carmen, Myrna (photo c/o Myrna Giraud Rhodes)

the following information is sourced from Girl Groups: Fabulous Females That Rocked the World (John Clemente, Krause Publications, 2000):

Contrary to popular belief, girl-group music was still in vogue during 1964, the first year of The British Invasion. According to Alan Betrock’s book, “Girl Groups: The Story of a Sound”, the amount of female vocal groups on the charts and the songs in the top spots were about the same percentage in 1964 as it was in 1963. During 1964, the music world housed one of the most successful independent labels and publishing houses in the business at that time, Red Bird Records and Trio Music publishers, spearheaded by the legendary duo of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, with generous input from the ubiquitous George Goldner. The Red Bird roster included the Shangri-Las, with their “tough girl” image, and The Dixie Cups, who presented some down-home New Orleans-flavored pop with their simplistic, charming version of “Chapel of Love”, having a colossal hit in the process. However, the prize for quintessential, premium girl group pop goes to the light and airy tones of The Butterflys. Their excellent waxing of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich’s “Goodnight Baby” put them in line for preferred positions on radio rosters and the national charts.

The Butterflys were from the Bedford–Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, NY. The group claims its pedigree from another premier Brooklyn female group, The Crystals. Group member and original Crystal, Myrna Giraud, tells the story of The Butterflys’ roots, along with other original Crystals Barbara Alston and Mary Thomas:

“Barbara, Mary and I were in the choir in high school. We loved to sing. Barbara’s uncle would hear us singing in hallways”

Myrna, Barbara and Mary were the core that eventually became The Crystals. Barbara’s uncle, Benny Wells, was a former big-band musician. He heard the potential in the group, so he immediately began grooming them for club work. Eventually, the trio became a quartet, with the addition of Patsy Wright. Patsy’s brother-in-law, Leroy Bates, had written a song called “There’s No Other (Like My Baby)”, as a tribute to his newborn daughter. The group matched this tribute by naming themselves after the baby, “Crystal”.

The young ladies continued their rehearsals and, after a few months, it was decided that the group needed another member in order to handle certain arrangements. At the suggestion of her mom, Dee Dee Kenniebrew auditioned and joined the group, completing the original quintet. This was the line-up for the first Crystals single, “There’s No Other / Oh Yeah, Maybe Baby”.

The single took a while to climb the charts. In the interim, Myrna had married and become pregnant, so Dolores “La La” Brooks was selected as her replacement. Myrna recalls the sessions for “Uptown”, where all six Crystals were on hand for the recordings:

“I remember that Carole King was present at one of the sessions. We were both pregnant and everyone was rubbing our bellies”

Subsequent to the recordings for the Crystals first LP, Myrna left the group to tend to family business. As 1962 came to a close, Mary Thomas exited the Crystals over the constant disputes with Phil Spector and his dubious business practices, most famously, his use of The Blossoms as vocalists on two huge hits bearing The Crystals’ name, “He’s A Rebel” and “He’s Sure The Boy I Love”. After a hiatus for about a year, Mary was approached by Arthur Pemberton to form a singing group, which he would manage. Mary contacted Myrna, and then joined two other members, Paulette Holland and Carmen Santiago. The Buttons, as they were originally named, hooked up with producer Steve Venet and recorded a single for Ember Records entitled “Huckleberry Finn”, an homage to immature boys everywhere. This marvelous single was released in January of 1964. The arrangement mirrors the work of Phil Spector on “Da Doo Ron Ron”. At this time, however, Ember Records was winding down, as owner Al Silver was retiring, so no real push was applied to the single and it failed to chart.

In mid-1964, Venet joined Leiber and Stoller’s Trio Music and became part of the production team at Red Bird Records, working specifically with Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich. His protégés followed and had their group name changed from The Buttons to The Butterflys (sic). The Butterflys were then the fortunate recipients of songs co-written by Ellie, Jeff and Steve.

The group’s first single as The Butterflys was released in August of 1964. This sweet reading of fresh young love was entitled “Goodnight Baby”. Paulette was true to her 15 years when she sang lead on this innocent “rock-a-cha”. “Goodnight Baby” was a major force on regional play lists, making it to the middle of the Top 100. It’s flip, the delightful dance ditty, “The Swim”, held Paulette’s whimsical line, ‘Everybody In The Pool’! The result of this placing enabled The Butterflys to make personal appearances up and down the East Coast and in Canada. Myrna reflects on the shows they presented, singing their songs and some tasty covers, giving all the young ladies a chance to shine.

“We did a week in Montreal, in October; there was snow on the ground, but club reception was very warm. I sang lead on, “Walk On By”. We were really hoping that the Butterflys would kick off”

With the success of their first single, The Butterflys were hopeful they could reprise their good fortune.

Capitalizing on the group’s success, a second single was recorded and released at the end of 1964. The result was an awesome version of a somewhat experimental tune from the Barry-Greenwich-Spector songbook, “I Wonder”. The Ronettes and The Crystals had both previously recorded the tune. The Ronettes’ version has promise as a single, but instead ended up on their 1964 LP, “Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes”. The Crystals version, recorded in late 1963, was released only in England as the flip side of “Little Boy”. La La Brooks’ valiant attempt to cut through the Wall of Sound is no match for Spector’s deliberately raucous production. The Butterflys’ version struck the right chords, with its restrained, almost haunting delivery, certainly having a chance to reach beyond the previous incarnations. Its equally well-executed flip side, “Gee Baby Gee” was another tune out of the Barry-Greenwich songbook. “I Wonder” bubbled under the Hot 100, and, in January 1965, reached several local markets including New Haven, CT; Detroit, MI and Springfield, MA, but never broke out. Myrna blames Steve Venet’s tenuous relationship with Leiber and Stoller and their eventual refusal to push his product. Steve was also at odds with Ellie and Jeff over the size of his contributions to song lyrics and arranging credits, so he was eventually let go by L&S, the remainder of his productions receiving no muscle behind them. Adding to these debilitating events was the fact that Paulette’s mom felt she was too young to tour. Considering all these circumstances, the group’s tenure was short-lived.

After their time in the spotlight, members of The Butterflys went their separate ways. Mary Thomas joined Barbara Alston and Dee Dee Kenniebrew for one more Crystals single in 1967 and a tour during the late 60s and early 70s. The gracious Paulette Holland McKnight joined an all-star line-up at The Cutting Room in New York City in November of 2005 to launch the release of Rhino’s tremendous boxed set of Girl Group Sounds, Lost & Found CDs “One Kiss Can Lead To Another”. Myrna moved to California in 1988, and as one of the members of the group “Memory Lane”, enjoyed being a part of an annual Rock & Roll revival show and participating in Chapman University’s Rock & Roll Shows. Myrna returned to Brooklyn and is now the Program Administrator for Internal Medicine at SUNY Downstate Medical Center.

Although not as recognized as their counterparts at the time, The Butterflys presented a solid group of pop records that expediently displayed the brilliant musical sounds of the mid-60s New York music era.

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The Butterflys 1964 (clockwise from top): Paulette, Myrna, Carmen, Mary (photo c/o Gilled Petard)

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