In the pop music world, female groups have always been popular. In the first half of the 20th Century there were hugely popular acts like The Andrews Sisters, The McGuire Sisters and The Boswell Sisters. In the early rock/soul era, so-called girl groups like The Shirelles, The Teen Queens and The Chantels all scored big hits. However, all of these groups were composed of female vocalists. The songwriters and musicians who back the groups were almost all men.
With the exception of Sarah McLawler And The Syncoettes, I can't find any all-female bands of the 1950s. (Read about early 20th Century all-female bands here). The 1960s brought a big change after the popularity of The Beatles inspired both girls and boys to form bands. Female-fronted or integrated bands began to appear for the first time, as the following bands show. None were hugely popular -- Goldie & the Gingerbreads and The Shaggs are probably the best-known -- it goes without saying that none came close to matching the Fab Four in fame. Even though they remain cult bands, they certainly opened to door for massively popular all-female bands like The Runaways, The Slits, The Go-Gos, L7 and The Bangles.
Goldie & the Gingerbreads was formed in 1962 by Ginger Bianco, Margo Lewis and Goldie Zelkowitz. After a 1962 tour with Chubby Checker they added guitarist/singer Carol MacDonald. They were the first all-female band to sign to a major label, first to Decca in 1963 and then Atlantic in 1964. Their single, "Can't You Hear My Heartbeat," reached #25 in the UK. The recorded seven other singles through 1967 before breaking up.
The Liverbirds were a beat group formed in 1963 in Liverpool, UK by Valerie Gell (vocals/guitar), Mary McGlory (vocals/bass), Sylvia Saunders (drums), Irene Green (vocals), and Sheila McGlory (guitar). The latter two soon left and were replaced by Pamela Birch (vocals/guitar). They achieved some success in Hamburg, Germany, as did many of their fellow beat groups. Their cover of Bo Diddley's "Diddley Daddy" reached #5 on the German charts. They released two albums, Star-Club Show 4 (1965) and More Of The Liverbirds (1966), both on Star-Club Records. They broke up in 1968, after a tour to Japan and all but Saunders settled in Germany permanently.
Sugar and the Spices were a duo of Corky Casey (Al Casey's ex-wife) and Carol Eddy (Duane Eddy's ex-wife). They released "Bye Bye Baby" b/w "Do The Dog" on Stacy in October, 1963. On the 45 was written "SPECIAL NOTE: all girl group - no recording gimmicks" -- produced by Al Casey and Lee Hazelwood. In 1964 they released "Boys Can Be Mean" b/w "Tollie" on Vee Jay in 1964. In 1965 they released a split single "Have Faith in Me" b/w "Tomorrow (aka Tears)" by Brilliant Korners on Kent.
Singer/guitarist Char Vinnedge formed The Tremelons in Niles, Michigan in 1963 with her sister Chris on bass, Mary Gallagher on rhythm guitar, and Faith Orem on drums. In 1966 they changed their name to The Luv'd Ones. They recorded four songs for Dunwich Records, "Whole Lotta Shakin’," "Heartbreak Hotel," "Theme for a DJ," and "Please Let Me Know," before disbanding in 1968.
The Beat-Chics were a short-lived attempt to cash in on the success of the Beatles. The seem to have only recorded one single for Decca in November, 1964, a cover of Bill Haley & the Comets' "Skinny Minnie" b/w "Now I Know," apparently a composition of lead singer Maire "Moy" Page.
Kathy Lynn & the Playboys was a Philadelphia-based group led by Kathy Lynn (aka Kathleen Keppen and Kathy Lynn). They released "Rock City" b/w "Rockin' Red River" (1964), "My Special Boy" b/w "I Got A Guy" (1964) and "Little Baby" b/w "He's Gonna Be My Guy" (1965) on Swan Records. After that they changed their name to The Buena Vistas and released "Hot Shot" b/w "T.N.T." (1965), "Filet Of Soul" b/w "Foxy" (1967), and "Boss Sauce" b/w "Sunset" (1967) on the same label.
Les Beatlettes were formed in 1964 in Montreal and comprised of Denise Payette (singer), Claudette Faubert (lead guitar), Claire Fugère (guitar), Hélène Duguay (bass guitar) and Mimi Jourdan (drums). They released a cover of Les Classels' "Ton amour a changé ma vie." They broke up after Faubert and Jourdain died in a car accident.
The Debutantes were formed in Detroit, Michigan in 1964 by then 14-year-old singer Jan McClellan who recruited Lynn Hawkins (rhythm guitar) and Diane Abray (drums). Although they went through numerous line-up changes, they remained all-female throughout their existence. They recorded McClellan's compostition, "A New Love Today" (1966) on Lucky Eleven. They appeared several times on CKLW-TV's "Swingin' Time" and toured extensively before breaking up in 1969 after a grueling four month tour of Asia.
The Fondettes were one of several all-female Beatles cash-ins, albeit in this particular case, a trio of American high school girls who recorded one song, "The Beatles are in Town," on a split single which they shared with with Johnny Hartsman (rather curiously) on Arhoolie Records in 1964.
The Pandoras were formed by Diane "Pinky" Keehner and Kathy Kinsella (rhythm guitar) at Simmons College in Boston in 1964. They were later joined by Sally Levy on drums. Levy was replaced by Nancy DiMuro. Later, Keehner left to start a family and Michelle Marquis (lead guitar) and Elysee Thierry (bass) joined. In 1967 they released two singles, "(I could write a book) about my baby" b/w "New day" and "Games" b/w "Don't bother" -- both on Liberty in 1967 and representing the songwriting of producer Bob Stone and manager Peter Bonfils. They broke up in early 1968.
The Pleasure Seekers were founded in 1964 by sisters Patti and Suzi Quatro, sisters Nancy (drums) and Mary Lou Ball (guitar), and Diane Baker on piano in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. Baker was soon replaced by Arlene Quatro. The released their first single in 1964, "Never Thought You'd Leave Me" b/w "What a Way to Die", on Hideout. "Nan" Ball left in 1965 and was replaced by Darline Arnone. In 1968 they signed to Mercury and released a second single, "Light of Love" b/w "Good Kind of Hurt". In 1969 they changed their name to Cradle and pursued a heavier direction. Arlene became the band's manager and Nancy Quatro joined as the new drummer. Suzi Quatro left in 1971 and went on to have a successful solo career. Cradle ultimately disbanded in 1973.
Sally & the Alley Cats
The UK's Sally & the Alley Cats was comprised of Sally Sykes (vocals), Ann Chalice (guitar), Sally Cursons (guitar), Pam Brett (keyboards), Robey Buckley (bass) and Andrea Beal (drums). They recorded "Is it something that I said?" b/w "You forgot to remember" for Parlaphone in 1964.
Die Sweetles were formed in Berlin, Germany by Peggy Peters (nee Christina Zakewski), Charlotte Marian, Tina Rainford and Monika Grimm. They released "Ich Wünsch' Mir Zum Geburtstag Einen Beatle" b/w "Die Schule Ist Aus" and "Früher Oder Später" b/w "Goodby, My Summer-Love" on Polydor in 1964.
The Tomboys recorded "I'd Rather Fight Than Switch" b/w "Mary Had a Little Kiss" for Swan Records in 1964.
The Daughters of Eve
The Daughters of Eve formed in Chicago in 1965, assembled and managed by Carl Bonafede who was also managing The Buckinghams. Judy Johnson (lead guitar, vocals), Marsha Tomal (organ, guitar, vocals), Andy Levin (bass) and a girl named Connie (drums) who was quickly replayed by Debi Pomeroy. Their first single was "Hey Lover" b/w "Stand By Me" in 1996 on U.S.A. Records. In 1967 they released "Symphony of My Soul" b/w "Help Me Boy" and "Don't Waste My Time" b/w "He Cried," the latter on Spectra Sound. Their final single, "Social Tragedy" b/w "A Thousand Stars" was released on Cadet in 1968.
Denise and Company were formed by Denise Kaufman in 1965 They released a couple of singles, "Boy, What'll You Do Then?" b/w "Chaos" for Oakland, California's Wee Records in 1966. Kaufman went on to join the Merry Pranksters where she was nicknamed "Mary Microgram" by Ken Kesey.
Montreal's Les Guerrières were formed in 1965 when Fugère, formerly of Les Beatlettes, joined Murielle Bougie, Diane Gouin (bass), Solange Dessailly (keyboards) and Monique Geoffrion (drums). They disbanded in 1966.
The Moppets were formed in 1965 by Phyllis Hess (organ), Beverley Rodgers (lead guitar), Alisa Damon (bass guitar) and Kathie Ross (drums) at Mount Holyoake College in Massachusetts. The recorded just one single for Spirit, a cover of The Beau Brummels' "Cry just a little" backed with Holland - Dozier - Holland's "Come see about me."
The Sandoval Sisters (aka The Moonmaids aka The Four Queens) were formed in East Los Angeles by sisters Diane (guitar and vocals), Margaret (lead vocals and drums), Rosemary (vocals and lead guitar), and Sylvia (bass) - who raged at the time from 12 to 17 years old. Their first recording was a live version of "Last Chance" for Valentine Sound. They changed their name to The Girls in 1965 and released Mann/Weil's "Chico's Girl" on Capitol Records. Margaret penned "My Baby," which b/w "My Love" was their second and last single. Thye performed for troops in Asia, toured North America and appeared on Hullabaloo and Hollywood A-Go-Go.
The She Trinity, a Canadian band, were formed by Robyn Yorke, Shelley Gillespie and Sue Kirby around 1965, when they moved to the UK. On Columbia, in 1966, they released "He Fought The Law" b/w "The Union Station Blues," "Have I Sinned b/w "Wild Flower," "Wild Flower" b/w "The Man Who Took The Valise Off The Floor Of Grand Central Station At Noon," and "Yellow Submarine" b/w "Promise Me You'll Never Cry." They released "Across The Street" b/w "Over And Over Again" on CBS in 1967. Their final single, "Hair" b/w "Climb That Tree" was a split single with The Onyx released on President in 1969. Over the course of their existence there were several membership changes and their final line-up was Eileen Woodman, Robyn Yorke, Pauline Moran and Inger Jonnsson.
The Termites released "Tell Me" in 1965.
Beethoven's Fifth formed in 1966 in South Florida. They recorded one single, "Come Down" b/w "The Last Thing on My Mind" on 4 May, 1967 in New York City for MGM and released it that June. It's credited to Harris, Osuth and Smith and produced by George Sheck and Tom Wilson.
In 1966, at Maplewood High School in Nashville, Tennessee, Mindy Dalton (guitar, vocals), Judi Griffith (tambourine, vocals), Lana Napier (drums), and Jean Williams (bass) formed The Pivots - the nickname for the high school basketball team for which all of them played. In 1967 they added Pame Stephens (keyboards) and changed their name to The Feminine Complex. In 1968 they signed to Athena Records and recorded their debut, Livin' Love. They broke up in 1969.
The Id were formed around 1966 by guitarist/songwriter Nancy Ross in Sacramento, California with her younger sister Sally on organ. After changing their name to The Hairem, they never officially released any material. However, after morphing into She, they released a single single in 1970 and in 1999, five recordings by the Hairem surfaced on a She CD compilation, Wants a Piece of You.
The Heartbeats (sometimes "The Heart Beats") were an all-female band, formed in Lubbock, Texas in 1966. They were led by Linda Sanders (drummer/vocals) who was joined by younger sister Debbie Sanders (guitar), Debbie McMillan (bass), and Jeannie Foster (guitar/keyboards), who initially met one another in a music class when all were pre-teens. They were managed by the Sanders family's matriarch, Jeanne Sanders. They gained attention in 1968 when they appeared on Happening Now and won a battle of the bands with their version of The Outsiders' "Time Won't Let Me." Their mother subsequently turned down an offer to sign with ABC Records because she wanted them to stay in school. They recorded a cover of Mouse & the Traps' "Crying Inside" at Robin Hood Brian's Studio in Tyler, Texas which became their biggest hit. They played regionally until the 1980s.
The What Four
The What Four were formed in Manhattan and comprised of Elizabeth Burke (drums), Cathy Cochran (guitar), China Girard (rhythm guitar) and Diane Hartford (bass). They signed with Columbia in 1966, where they released "Baby I Dig Love" b/w "It's Hard to Live On Promises" and "I'm Gonna Destroy that Boy" and "Ain't No Use in Crying, Susan."
The Ace of Cups were formed in San Francisco, California in 1967 by Mary Gannon (bass), Marla Hunt (organ, piano), Denise Kaufman (guitar, harmonica), Mary Ellen Simpson (lead guitar), and Diane Vitalich (drums). All had played music for some time and Kaufman had previously-fronted the all-female Denise and Company. After several line-up changes, including the addition of male members, the band broke up in 1972.
The All Girl Topless Band formed in 1967 and accompanied comedian Godfrey Cambridge at the Aladdin Hotel. They were said to be talented musicians but with the members' names not appearing anywhere I can find, the fact that they played top-free was presumably the primary draw.
Ariel was formed in 1967 by Anne Bowen, Pamela Brandt, Helen Hooke, Gretchen Pfeifer and Beverly Rodgers in Northampton, Massachusetts. They disbanded in 1970 and Brandt, Bowen and Hooke went on to form The Deadly Nightshade.
The Ladybirds (aka The Ladybyrds) formed in New Jersey. Although Jim Morrison often performed top-free with The Doors, The Ladybirds were hassled for doing the same. The found more receptive audiences in Las Vegas and at the Blue Bunny Club in Hollywood. In 1968 they received some exposure by appearing in The Wild, Wild World of Jayne Mansfield. (Not to be confused with the Scandinavian topless quartet who opened for the The New Yardbirds the same year).
Les Planettes were formed in Quebec by former Beatlette Hélène Duguay with Margie Duplessis (guitar), Rosy Lang (organ) and Linda Duncan (drums).
The Shaggs were formed in Fremont, New Hampshire in 1968 by sisters Dorothy "Dot" Wiggin (vocals/lead guitar), Betty Wiggin (vocals/rhythm guitar), and Helen Wiggin (drums) at the encouragement and insistence of their parents.
In 1969 they recorded and released their debut full-length, Philosophy of the world on Third World Records. They were joined by their sister Rachel Wiggin on bass for the song, "That little sports car." It defied the expectations of their parents, who were said the imagine the girls to be inevitably bound for stardom, and disappeared without at trace.
In 1975, the sisters again entered the studio although the death of their father/manager, Austin Wiggin, resulted in their not being published for years as well as the group's dissolution. Years after their break-up their debut was rediscovered and championed as an example of art brut/outsider music.