In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.
I once read something about the Buffy The Vampire Slayer TV show that stuck with me: The show’s innovation was that it took the kind of personal teenage apocalypse that you’d see on a show like My So-Called Life and turned it into an actual apocalypse — a high school located at the literal mouth to hell, a boyfriend who turns into a murderous monster immediately after having sex for the first time, that sort of thing. The songs of the girl-group era were typically written by men who were doing their best to imagine the torments and ecstasies of being a teenage girl. But with the best of those songs — and an improbable number of those songs are great — you can hear the respect for those predicaments. Maybe they’re not treating romantic travails as apocalyptic events, but they’re making them sound important.
Case in point: “My Boyfriend’s Back,” the sole major hit for the Angels, which tells the story of a bullying harasser who finally learns that he’s about to get his. “My Boyfriend’s Back” lasts barely two minutes and only gives one perspective. It’s all sung from the point of view of a girl who’s been resisting a relentless asshole, someone who’s been hitting on her and telling lies about her. She wants this guy to know that her “kinda big and awful strong” boyfriend is back in the picture, that he’s about to help her get her revenge. It’s a moment of triumph.
We never learn where the boyfriend’s been. We never learn what comes of the actual confrontation. We never learn whether the boyfriend is even a real person, whether it’s just an intimidating story she’s making up. It doesn’t matter. The song tells us enough, and it leaves us to come up with a whole mental narrative about what’s been happening, about what’s about to happen.
Just as important: It’s a hell of a pop song, crisp and propulsive, built on jittery guitar stabs and handclaps that hit at the exact right instant. It’s a whole pop production, with vocal arrangements and bursts of horn, but it sounds urgent and fast. And it sounds joyous. There’s no anguish or fear in those hey-la backing vocals — just the mocking exultance of young women who are about to watch this asshole’s head get kicked in.
The Angels, a New Jersey trio, had only been around a few years before recording “My Boyfriend’s Back,” but they’d already been through plenty of turbulence, scoring minor hits and going through a bunch of lineup changes. They’d never land another big hit. But the production team behind the song was another story.
Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldsmith, and Richard Gottehrer didn’t have a lot of experience among them when they wrote and produced “My Boyfriend’s Back.” (Feldman had heard a girl giving a similar speech to a guy, which inspired the song.) After the whole Tin Pan Alley model — songwriters and producers assembling and picking music for young singing groups — went out of style, the three songwriters formed the Strangeloves, writing songs for themselves rather than other artists.
The Strangeloves fucking ruled, developing a take on proto-punk garage rock that was both bubblegum-catchy and dizzily percussion-heavy. Their singles, like “I Want Candy” and “Night Time,” were just killer. And they also produced and played on another song that’ll show up in this column, the McCoys’ “Hang On Sloopy.” Later on, Goldstein became the producer and songwriter behind War. He also managed Isaac Hayes and Sly And The Family Stone, and he signed and managed LFO, the terrible rapping boy-band who made “Summer Girls.” Gottehrer, meanwhile, co-founded Sire Records with Seymour Stein, and he produced debut albums for Blondie and the Go-Go’s. Later on, he founded the Orchard, which means he was Craig Finn’s boss for a little while, and he produced or co-produced all three Dum Dum Girls albums.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s the Raveonettes, whose Sune Rose Wagner co-produced two of those Dum Dum Girls albums with Gottehrer, covering “My Boyfriend’s Back” for the soundtrack of the 2005 video game Stubbs The Zombie: