There are few institutions with a prouder legacy within pop music than the girl group. For as long as the Billboard Hot 100 has existed, there have been all-female vocal groups gracing its ranks, from the early days of The Chantels and The Bobbettes in the late ’50s all the way up to Fifth Harmony and Little Mix in 2017.
Over that six-decade span of iconic mainstream success, girl groups have often been dismissed, jeered at or all but written out of rock history. But as the years march on, the groups have endured — through their fashion, their cool, and most importantly, their songs.
To honor that legacy, Billboard will be doing a week’s worth of girl group coverage, starting with our list of the 100 greatest girl group songs of all-time — or at least of the rock era, with a quick shout-out to absent predecessors like the Andrews Sisters and The Chordettes — as decided by Billboard’s editorial staff. (For a list of the biggest girl group hits of all-time as determined by their Billboard Hot 100 chart success, click here.)
Our list takes us through the many forms the girl group has taken over the last 60+ years — from Spector to Motown to disco to freestyle to R&B to Girl Power to TRL to K-pop to X Factor — but always keeps the emphasis on the sparkling, life-affirming and truly timeless music.
Before we get counting down, though, a word about how we defined the term “girl group.” For a group to be included here, it had to be all-female, it had to have at least three members, and it had to be primarily vocal in nature: In other words, no groups that present mostly as bands, with the emphasis just as much on their instruments as their singing. So you won’t see artists like The Go-Go’s or HAIM on this list — just like you wouldn’t see The Cars or Vampire Weekend on our list of boy bands.
Now that that’s out of the way, it’s time to get together with your best friends, put on your finest matching outfits, and check out our 100 favorite girl group songs: the leaders of the pack, now and forever. (Find a Spotify playlist of the whole list at the very bottom.)
100. The Paris Sisters, “I Love How You Love Me” (1961)
The real-life sibling trio The Paris Sisters hit No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1961 with “I Love How You Love Me,” produced by a pre-Wall of Sound Phil Spector. The song’s gentle, heavenly guitar picking is augmented by restrained backing harmonies and austere strings, and the whole composition could seem oppressively wholesome — if not for the aching sexual longing Priscilla Paris injects into the words “squeeze me, tease me, please me” just before the song fades out. — JOE LYNCH
99. Wilson Phillips, “Impulsive” (1990)
The only one of second-gen supergroup Wilson Phillips’ first four singles not to go to No. 1 on the Hot 100 — petering out at No. 4, ho hum — “Impulsive” was nevertheless a gem, marrying Belinda Carlisle’s wistfulness with Tina Turner’s blunt pop force for one of the most undeniable radio singles of its era. Plus, if there’s a better summation of the classic girl-group ethos than “Wanna be impulsive, reckless, and lose myself in your kiss,” we haven’t heard it in the years since. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER
98. L.A.X. Gurlz, “Forget You” (2006)
Before Cee Lo Green made the song title famous with a much more bitter message to an ex, these one-single wonders — “Forget You” was L.A.X. Gurlz’s only release as a group — dished one heck of a catchy moving-on anthem. Their sassy lyrics, backed by a synth-pop beat, help mend any broken heart, right down to its final declaration of independence: “And that’s the story/ Now you know how I feel/ That’s all I gotta say.” — TAYLOR WEATHERBY
97. B*Witched, “C’est La Vie” (1998)
If you couldn’t tell from the Irish jig breakdown toward the end of their debut single, B*Witched hailed from the Emerald Isle — but the lyrics to their lone crossover hit, which slyly nod to adolescent sexual experimentation, are universal. They were also subtle enough to fly under the radar of most censors, who were tricked by the absurdly effervescent bubblegum melodies into thinking the lyrics were equally pure. — J. Lynch
96. Atomic Kitten, “Whole Again” (2001)
The British trio brought a Spice Girls-gone-disco vibe with their four initial singles, and after slowing things down a notch with “Follow Me,” Atomic Kitten introduced their first quasi-ballad with the captivating “Whole Again” — showing a different side of the usually-upbeat group. The U.K. chart-topping smash quickly proved a perennial, as fellow European girl group Play covered it just a couple years later, even bringing out the track’s passion a little more. — T.W.
95. The Exciters, “Tell Him” (1962)
“Tell Him” was certainly the right song to give to a group called The Exciters, each string stab and rushed chorus exhortation sounding like the product of a frenzied mind and rbeat-skipping heart. The sentiment and delivery were enduring enough for a 2012 SNL sketch to adapt the song’s forthcoming refrain to advise a more misleading approach (“Tell him… that… you’re really into hockey… tell him that you’re not grossed out when he says the word ‘panties’“). — A.U.
94. The Pointer Sisters, “Automatic” (1984)
Electro proved the Pointer Sisters’ calling, singing made-to-order soul over brittle drum machines and swooping disco synths that weren’t pretending to be anything else. It’s hard to imagine a dance-pop act nailing some of their biggest hits on their tenth album today, but the Pointers were absolute machines by 1984, with Sister Ruth’s gender-bending contralto flowing out of the plasticine six-minute epic “Automatic” to counter that sparkling five-note bleep of a hook. Latter-day disco culture needed both, as you’d imagine, and everything on the spectrum in between. — DAN WEISS
93. Apollonia 6, “Sex Shooter” (1984)
Prince’s mid-’80s genius was so far too prolific to be contained to his own catalog, as he spun off classic hits for nearly all his Purple Rain cast mates. Apollonia 6’s “Sex Shooter,” performed by the trio in the film, was a frothy jam of lust and abandon worthy of The Purple One, Apollonia declaring, “I need you to get me off/ I’m your bomb getting ready to explode,” but saying far more with each ecstatic “woah-oh-woahhhh!” — A.U.
92. Little Mix, “Move” (2013)
The U.K. pop quartet has released its fair share of should-been-bigger singles, but none more combustible than “Move,” the lead single from sophomore LP Salute. Rhythmic without sacrificing its smarts, the song deserved to dominate both sides of the Atlantic. — J. Lipshutz
91. Richgirl, “He Ain’t Wit Me Now (Tho)” (2009)
As fearless a debut single as a girl group has released, producer Rich Harrison coming out guns blazing with the kind of pounding piano and shredding strings you’d hear on a Kubrick score, setting the stage for Richgirl to kick down the door with their storming, “Get Me Bodied”-worthy vocal strut. Unsurprisingly it flopped — no Top 40 station in the country would’ve had the balls to make it 20 seconds in — and RichGirl disbanded before their debut LP, but decades from now this thing will still be a stunner, the sound of a girl group marching down your back in painfully sharp high heels. — A.U.
90. The Supremes, “Love Is Like an Itching in My Heart” (1966)
The most underrated single of The Supremes’ classic run, a near-Northern Soul swing built around a tensely rumbling bass line, honking guitars, and bells as sublime as only Holland and Dozier could make ’em ring. Diana Ross is still the MVP, though, yelping and cooing at the song’s center as she sings in ecstatic frustration about that itch she just can’t scratch: “Get up in the morning and I’m filled with desire/ No, I can’t stop the fire/ Love’s a real live wire.” — A.U.
89. 3LW, “Playas Gon’ Play” (2001)
Turn-of-the-millennium girl group 3LW are best-remembered today for the sighing top 40 hit “No More (Baby I’ma Do Right),” but the superior jam might’ve been follow-up “Playas Gon’ Play,” an airtight production with a knocking beat that fizzes delectably but unpredictably. The musical frenzy is in stark contrast to the restrained, resigned vocal, in which the trio (including future acting star Naturi Naughton) attempts to brush off the peanut gallery commenting on love from the sidelines, irritated but determined. — A.U.
88. Fin.K.L., “Now” (2000)
O.G. K-pop fans would mostly agree that the late ’90s/early ’00s were dominated by boy bands — barring S.E.S and Fin.K.L., with the latter group reportedly created by record label DSP Media just to rival the former. “Now” stands as one of the best creations from that rivalry, with the song constantly elevating itself, perhaps best heard when the ladies’ slinky, harmony-driven chorus is then topped by a shout-and-repeat hook. Fin.K.L’s influence would continue past their 2002 disbandment, with leader Lee Hyori becoming one of K-pop’s most successful female solo artists. — JEFF BENJAMIN
87. Sweet Sensation, “If Wishes Came True” (1990)
Not the most eternal Hot 100 No. 1 hit of its era, perhaps — as of publishing, “If Wishes Came True” had yet to even clear 200k streams on Spotify — “If Wishes Came True” was still a chart-topper for a reason, a ballad as powerful as the hair metal lighter-wavers dominating the charts, but with a tender-hearted, open-eyed innocence to make it especially crushing. Could be overdue for an awesome HAIM cover. — A.U.
86. The Cookies, “Don’t Say Nothin’ Bad (About My Baby)” (1963)
Find you a girl group who sings about you the way The Cookies sing about their man: A pop song of either absolute confidence or unparalleled naivete, the trio spends “Don’t Say Nothin'” asserting their man’s perfection and proving thoroughly unwilling to hear any talk to the contrary. “He’s true/ He’s true to me/ So girl, you better shut your mouth!” The song was written by married couple Gerry Goffin and Carole King, who (somewhat ironically) would soon split over Goffin’s unfaithfulness. — A.U.
85. Klymaxx, “Meeting in the Ladies’ Room” (1985)
“I’d hate to come down to their level and become a BW — a basic woman — but if they don’t stop, it’s gonna get scandalous.” Such are the events that precipitate the Klymaxx board chairs convening in the lavatory to discuss Bernadette Cooper’s plan of action in keeping the other ladies’ hands off her man — and by the strutting electro-pop jam’s end, dominance has rightly been asserted: “Excuse me, ladies, this man’s with me/ I don’t like to share, you can plainly see.” Measure twice, cut once. — A.U.
84. Brownstone, “If You Love Me” (1994)
Harnessing the strut of New Jack Swing with an emotive edge, Brownstone’s “If You Love Me” reigns as a sidepiece anthem delivered with a bruised ego, a la Changing Faces’ “That Other Woman” and Aaliyah’s “If Your Girl Only Knew.” The R&B trio, at the time signed to Michael Jackson’s MJJ Records, spend the first minute in a contemplative prison of their lover’s making, edging closer to an explosive chorus that runs down a list of reasonable demands. — STEVEN J. HOROWITZ
83. Shirley Gunter & the Queens, “Oop Shoop” (1954)
Dating back to 1954, “Oop Shoop” not only laid groundwork for girl group but for rock n’ roll itself. As with Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley, Shirley Gunter and the Queens gave “Oop Shoop” – a nonsense R&B number — a hopping rockabilly energy that transformed it into something previously unheard. In addition to pioneering a genre that would soon take over the world, Shirley Gunter and the Queens were also one of the first all-female African-American groups to enjoy major chart success. — J. Lynch
82. Martha and the Vandellas, “Jimmy Mack” (1967)
A before-she-cheats swinger, in which Martha pleads over a pounding heartbeat of handclaps and drums for her titular man to come back before she’s led all the way into temptation. The song’s sweet-and-sour chorus would’ve landed in any era, but in the late ’60s the song took on special resonance, as girls across the country were pleading for their own Jimmy Macks to hurry back from overseas, before fates a lot worse than romantic betrayal befell them. — A.U.
81. Eden’s Crush, “Get Over Yourself” (2001)
The pre-American Idol reality series Popstars didn’t leave the legacy of its successor, but it did beat Idol to the top 10 of the Hot 100, when season one winners Eden’s Crush hit No. 8 with the glitchy, head-smacking R&B dismissal of “Get Over Yourself,” a sadly forgotten gem of the period. The group was folded shortly after, but one of their ranks carried the girl group torch for the rest of the decade, as Nicole Scherzinger went on to lead the burlesque troupe-turned-pop hitmakers The Pussycat Dolls. — A.U.
80. Electrik Red, “So Good” (2009)
The-Dream and Tricky Stewart followed in the tradition of producers and writers like Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins and Rich Harrison in creating girl groups So Plush and Richgirl, respectively, with Electrik Red. The short-lived quartet has only one album to its name — How to Be a Lady: Volume 1 — featuring the singles “Drink in My Cup” and “So Good,” the latter of which toned down the spice and settled on breezy terrain, with a brilliant refrain of reluctant capitulation (“I shouldn’t have let you hit that/ ‘Coz now I can’t forget that”). — S.J.H.
79. The Bobbettes, “Mr. Lee” (1958)
The gleefully jaunty “Mr. Lee” is so enamored with its subject that The Bobbettes repeat the title ten times per chorus and another 20 times in the verse, a fair approximation of love so overpowering all trains of thought lead back to one name. Of course such infatuations can ultimately prove dangerous, and in the case of the Bobbettes, it was downright fatal — as evidenced by sequel song “I Shot Mr. Lee,” unsurprisingly a lesser hit than the original. — A.U.
78. The Jaynetts, “Sally Go ‘Round the Roses” (1963)
Unusually enigmatic for a girl group smash, “Sally Go ‘Round the Roses” was built around a proto-psychedelic chorus that almost served as an incantation, its ambiguous chorus open to interpretations of everything from drug use to homosexuality. The song’s aura of mystery and intrigue led it not only to major chart success at the time, hitting No. 2 on the Hot 100 in ’63, but to it being one of the most covered songs in girl-group history, even making for one of the first singles released by a pre-disco Donna Summer. — A.U.
77. Destiny’s Child, “Independent Women (Part I)” (2000)
Destiny’s Child racked up four Hot 100 No. 1 hits during the group’s existence, and “Independent Women Pt. 1” spent the longest time at the top – 11 weeks. Featured on the soundtrack to the 2000 movie adaptation of the TV series Charlie’s Angels (as well as on the trio’s Survivor album), the song’s staccato stutter-step beat and “I depend on me” attitude – a foreshadowing of Beyonce’s future solo work — still sizzles, despite the dated references to the film’s stars, Lucy Liu, Drew Barrymore and Cameron Diaz. — FRANK DIGIACOMO
76. Play, “I Must Not Chase the Boys” (2003)
While other girl groups were singing of falling in love or getting over an ex, Swedish quartet Play declared that they were opting out of doing either. Instead, they delivered a message that many girls could likely relate to — whether it’s because they’re also caught between the devil and the angel they used to be, or they’re over chasing boys who don’t give them the time of day. Play had brought that same kind of don’t-need-you sass with “Cinderella,” but the rock edge of “I Must Not Chase the Boys” showed that the group had matured in the same way that the song’s lyrics explained. — T.W.
75. The Blossoms, “That’s When the Tears Start” (1965)
Few girl groups have ever been done as dirty historically as The Blossoms, who actually performed the “He’s a Rebel” version credited (as a chart-topping hit) to The Crystals, and who delivered uncredited backing vocals on The Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” also a No. 1. Needless to say, the Darlene Love-led trio never achieved such success under their own name, but they did notch a number of cult classics, including the dancing-through-the-tears “That’s When the Tears Start” — whose horn-led sway would be all but swiped for Spiral Starecase’s “More Today Than Yesterday” a half-decade later; a much bigger chart hitch, natch. — A.U.
74. Bananarama, “Robert De Niro’s Waiting (Talking Italian)” (1984)
One of the more subversive girl-group songs of the 1980s, “Robert De Niro’s Waiting” distracts with a breezy of-the-moment synth-pop sound and the British trio’s harmonies, which both soar and dive to a steely spoken whisper. Listen closely to the lyrics, though, and they’re about… date rape, as the members explained in later years: “Don’t come any closer/ I don’t wanna feel, ooh!/ Your breathing, your touching.” De Niro, who in 1984 was still at the peak of his acting powers, figures as a cinematic escape from the trauma. — F.D.
73. The Chiffons, “He’s So Fine” (1962)
Good luck getting “doo-lang, doo-lang doo-lang” out of your head 55 years later — and pity the poor songwriter who has the Chiffons’ invincible, sub-two-minute classic rattling around in their creative center, inexplicably infecting their own works with that bulletproof, simple-as-hell two-part melody. They got George Harrison and seeped right into “My Sweet Lord.” You could be next. — D.W.
72. SWV, “Weak” (1993)
Sisters With Voices, consisting of Coko, Taj and Lelee, reigned as one of the most prominent and influential girl groups of the 1990s thanks to hits like “Anything” and “I’m So Into You.” Their sole Hot 100 topper, “Weak,” only highlighted their ability to toggle from upbeat to slow without losing any momentum, lacing this doe-eyed ballad with towering vocal runs. — S.J.H.
71. The Marvelettes, “The Hunter Gets Captured By the Game” (1966)
The kind of un-self-explanatory song title that forces you to pay attention to a song’s entire lyric for proper context, “The Hunter Gets Captured By the Game” was quietly confident in its mystery, The Marvelettes slowly unfolding their pursuer-becomes-the-pursuee drama over a slow-and-low groove and dynamite faux-harmonica hook. Written and produced by Smokey Robinson, “Hunter” just missed the top 10 on the Hot 100, but has since been covered by such paragons of cool as Grace Jones, Blondie and Massive Attack. — A.U.
70. Red Velvet, “Dumb Dumb” (2015)
There are pop hooks that grab you, and then there are hooks that strangle you and absolutely refuse to let go. Red Velvet’s “Dumb Dumb” epitomizes that latter, with the quirky quintet repeating the word “dumb” more than 200 times throughout this single, brilliantly exemplifying why K-pop acts — particularly the girl groups — craft some of the most addictive singles in pop. — J.B.
69. Expose, “Exposed to Love” (1985)
Expose was a pop superpower for at least one album in the late ’80s, with their Exposure LP launching four top 10 hits, including the No. 1 ballad “Seasons Change.” But the best single of all might’ve been the non-Hot-100-charting “Exposed to Love,” a euphoric freestyle banger with a less-is-more chorus (“Exposed to love/ Never felt like this, love”) whose fragmented phrasing gets most of the way to expressing young love’s inherent inarticulateness — and the flourescent synths fill in the gaps from there. — A.U.
68. The Pussycat Dolls, “Stickwitu” (2005)
After zooming to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 with their breakout jam “Don’t Cha,” and before their seductive follow-ups “Beep” and “Buttons,” PCD created one of the most heartfelt ballads in modern girl group history with “Stickwitu.” Though the majority of rest of the Pussycat Dolls’ 14 singles would be made for the club (with the notable exception of 2008’s breakup ballad “I Hate This Part”), the sweetly sighing “Stickwitu” proved that the group wasn’t just about the sex appeal – and 12 years later, the song is likely still making couples everywhere sway along and fall deeper in love. — T.W.
67. The Three Degrees, “When Will I See You Again?” (1974)
The Philly soul that dominated the ’70s didn’t produce anywhere near the girl group roster that Motown did in the ’60s, but Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff gave us one all-female classic in The Three Degrees’ “When Will I See You Again?” Despairing even by girl-group standards, the mascara really starts to run on the pleading chrous (“Are we in love or are we just friends? Is this the beginning or is this the end?“) before the trio again simplifies their line of questioning to the heartbreaking titular query. — A.U.
66. Sister Sledge, “He’s the Greatest Dancer” (1979)
Chic’s Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards gifted Sister Sledge with that busy, unrelenting, even kind of ominous groove in 1979, and Will Smith purloined it for his own unflappable 1998 Hot 100-topper “Getting’ Jiggy Wit’ It.” But the sisters Sledge themselves — Debbie, Joni, Kim, and Kathy — make “He’s the Greatest Dancer” what it is, as the world’s most effusive cheerleading squad for a guy who had a “body that would shame Adonis.” It’s such constant ascendant flight that you actually entertain the idea that this anonymous dude could live up to his theme song. — D.W.
65. Girls Aloud, “Love Machine” (2004)
It’s a bedroom blitz from U.K. superheroes Girls Aloud on this juggernaut of a pop/rock rave-up, doing The Miracles one better while gearing up for the ultimate battle of the sexes in a neglige. What will the neighbours say? Good question, and better left unanswered. — A.U.
64. The Cake, “Baby That’s Me” (1967)
In which Phil Spector sidekick Jack Nietzsche tries his hand at creating his own classic Ronettes ballad — with help from co-writer Jackie DeShannon and a superlative vocal performance from New York trio The Cake — and damn near gets there. Drenched in reverb and vocal anguish, “Baby That’s Me” creates the same feeling of getting caught in an emotional downpour as “Walking in the Rain” — though unfortunately, by ’67, pop audiences had raised their umbrella to such Wall of Sound storms, and The Cake never even grazed the Billboard charts.
63. The Ikettes, “I’m Blue (The Gong-Gong Song)” (1961)
In between arguably inventing rock and roll and turning his wife into one of the great pop icons of the 20th century, Ike Turner found modest chart success fashioning The Ikettes, a girl group whose biggest hit came with this hypnotically melancholy mid-tempo number. The group was short lived, but the song became a perennial, not only inspiring the sublime nonsense of Eiffel 65’s only U.S. hit, but also informing the classic chorus to “Shoop,” the signature ’90s hit for a very different kind of girl group. — A.U.
62. Spice Girls, “Spice Up Your Life” (1997)
Besting “Wannabe” would quickly prove impossible, but the Spice Girls still managed to shoot off one of the best girl group songs of the ’90s with the lead single to second album Spiceworld. A call for global unity (emphasized by the fact that all five women sing the chorus simultaneously) that stuffs an entire aural carnival into 2:53, the song has an unquenchable energy thanks to its joyous samba rhythms and irresistible “Hai, si, ja” refrain – which means “yes” in Japanese, Spanish and German, respectively. — J. Lynch
61. Mary Jane Girls, “All Night Long” (1983)
Rick James protégés Mary Jane Girls may not have scored a sizeable chart hit with “All Night Long,” but it’s clear to see why it’s become one of the most sampled records of that era, with everyone from Mary J. Blige and Groove Theory to LL Cool J and Big Daddy Kane repurposing the cookout classic. Over a James-produced, bass-plucked confection, the group harmonizes while stylishly anticipating an R-rated night with a romantic interest. — S.J.H.
60. The Chantels, “Maybe” (1957)
An African-American girl group made up of high school students from the Bronx, The Chantels weren’t given many avenues to succeed in the late ’50s, but nevertheless scored a 1957 chart hit with “Maybe,” one of the girl group genre’s first classics. The backup vocals are doo-wop, the music is gospel-R&B, but the lead is a pioneering game-changer: Even though the lyrics speak to obsessive teenage lamentation, Arlene Smith belts them like a dominating force, her voice remaining strong even though the words tip to weakness. That trick of marrying vocal resolve to tragic subject matter would be repeated on countless such classics to come. — J. Lynch
59. f(x), “Rum Pum Pum Pum” (2013)
A song that embodies why the K-pop scene is as creative as it is weird, experimental outfit f(x) blended samba-inspired production, alien-like harmonies and the melody of a famous Christmas carol for what turned out to be a huge hit. The ladies blend mysterious coos and energetic raps to compare their dating style to pushy wisdom teeth, all while playing with rhythm and vocal tempos, resulting in one of the many standout tracks on their beloved Pink Tape album from 2013. — J.B.
58. Xscape, “Who Can I Run To?” (1995)
Originally a B-side to the Jones Girls’ 1979 hit “You’re Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else,” the agonized “Who Can I Run To?” found new life in the mid-’90s thanks to the vocal prowess of hitmakers Xscape, rightly turning the syrupy slow jam into one of the defining R&B hits in his era. The song still captivates another 20 years later, proving a highlight of Xscape’s much-anticipated reunion medley at the 2017 BET Awards. — A.U.
57. Fifth Harmony, “Sledgehammer” (2014)
Physically, the line “If you could take my pulse right now/It would feel just like a sledgehammer” is more than a bit confusing. Yet the girls of 5H sell their tale of unsaid infatuation with dedicated melismas and gooey production. — J. Lipshutz
56. The Ronettes, “Baby I Love You” (1963)
Nobody in pop history has ever “whoa-oh”ed quite like Ronnie Spector, and likely the finest utterance of her signature non-verbal came as the lead-in to the thundering drums and and bellowing winds of “Baby I Love You.” Never matched, the song’s testimony of unreserved devotion and affection has nevertheless made it an easy target for decades of covers, including by The Ramones and Cher — the latter of whom also sings backup on the original recording. — A.U.
55. The Crystals, “Da Doo Ron Ron” (1963)
If you’ve ever wondered what people mean by Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound,” look no further than The Crystals’ “Da Doo Ron Ron.” Given the purposefully inane chorus and simple rhyme scheme, the barnstorming production on “Da Doo Ron Ron” takes the spotlight, with cascading piano chords and a screeching saxophone demonstrating that girl group hits frequently rocked harder than most early-’60s rock n’ roll records. — J. Lynch
54. Blaque, “Bring It All to Me” (1999)
No, they’re not a one-hit wonder — “808” was also a top 10 hit on its own — but Blaque’s defining moment will forever be the delectably dated “Bring It All To Me,” a silky R&B sing-along which included a hit remix featuring JC Chasez (but credited to all of *NSYNC). — J. Lipshutz
53. Dixie Cups, “People Say” (1964)
Those damn sideline haters, always providing their unsolicited sniping as to why girl group romances won’t last — The Dixie Cups don’t wanna hear it, and on “People Say,” they shake ’em off in exhilarating fashion over a snapping beat, declaring “I don’t really care what the people say.” Despite these assertions, the group’s own intro gives away their lingering insecurity: “Don’t you ever hurt me, if you do/ Everything they’re saying will be true.” — A.U.
52. Jade, “Don’t Walk Away” (1992)
Irresistible from its opening answering-machine harmonies, “Don’t Walk Away” had a strut without peer in ’90s R&B, boasting a clomping, Kool and the Gang-borrowing beat with more cowbell than a half-dozen Blue Oyster Cults. Still, it’s the group’s piercing vocals that make the jam indelible, and the reason producers like Diplo & Sleepy Tom are still trying to recapture its magic decades later. — A.U.
51. The Shangri-Las, “Give Him a Great Big Kiss” (1964)
The Shangri-Las were so deliriously in love on “Give Him a Great Big Kiss” they had to invent a new spelling for the word, all feet- and heartbeat-skipping giddiness as they plant one of the loudest smooches you’ve ever heard on their be-luv-ed. It sounds so friggin’ good that the backing vocals keep insisting “tell me more, tell me more!” — though at just 2:12, you best believe the Shangri-Las aren’t giving all their secrets away on this one. — A.U.
50. G.R.L., “Ugly Heart” (2014)
The tragic death of Simone Battle ended the promise of five-piece girl group G.R.L., but not before they delivered one lasting gem in this surprisingly moving single, which featured each of the members’ individual personalities shining through, as well as a decisively fierce chorus. — J. Lipshutz
49. The Cover Girls, “Show Me” (1986)
One of the earliest and finest crossover hits of the freestyle era, the sparkling “Show Me” demanded love and respect through its vocals and sonic irrepressibility. “Actions speak louder than words,” the group affirms on the hook — but of course, synths speak loudest of all, and the effervescent keys blanketing the Cover Girls’ late-’80s breakout hit were absolutely unigonorable. — A.U.
48. The Pointer Sisters, “Fire” (1978)
Bruce Springsteen was one of the biggest girl-group devotees of his era, so it’s no surprise that he gave back to the tradition by giving this ever-so-slow-burning classic to the Pointer Sisters. Bruce eventually performed it himself, of course, but he could never do his composition the justice that the Pointers’ velvet harmonies could on the song’s brilliantly understated chorus: “‘Coz when we kiss/ Oooh/ FI-IRE.” — A.U.
47. All Saints, “Never Ever” (1997)
Though they didn’t nearly achieve the same level of success in the U.S., quartet All Saints ended up becoming one of the biggest all-female groups of the ‘90s in their native U.K. “Never Ever,” which peaked at No. 4 on the Hot 100, had a considerably larger impact overseas, becoming the second-best selling single by a girl group of all time in the U.K. to Spice Girls’ “Wannabe.” It makes sense why: singer Nicole Appleton deadpan chants the first verse before joining up with the rest of the quartet for a slinky, surprisingly anthemic breakup kiss-off. — S.J.H.
46. 702, “Where My Girls At?” (1999)
Co-produced by Missy Elliott, “Where My Girls At?” catapulted R&B trio 702 onto Top 40 at the early height of the solo-female era, with a hook that refuses to wane or leave the listener’s head. The song isn’t much more than that chorus, but it never needed to be. — J. Lipshutz
45. The Sugababes, “Freak Like Me” (2002)
Not like Adina Howard’s standard-setting G-funk’n’B ’95 smash left room for improvement, but there was still space for reinvention — provided here by producer Richard X’s sample of Tubeway Army’s sci-fi synth-pop classic “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?,” and The Sugababes’ combined commitment to not giving a damn about a thing. In the trio’s hands, “Freak” saw its sultriness replaced by gleaming futurism, proving a near-decade before Robyn that fembots needed loving, too. – A.U.
44. The Shirelles, “Mama Said” (1961)
“Mama Said” is inescapable, in its infinitely quotable parental hand-on-shoulder wisdom, and as passed down through Van Morrison’s “Days Like This” and episodes of Adventure Time and Orange Is the New Black. But Shirley Owens was the leader of the girl group to lead all girl groups, and the early humanity and gravitas of an easy-enough classic like “Mama Said” — once injected into regular boy-crazy pop songs — helped open pop’s doors for future mamas to spin their own songs of wisdom. — D.W.
43. Wonder Girls, “Nobody” (2008)
“Nobody” was a breakthrough moment in K-pop history, with the No. 76–charting Hot 100 hit marking one of the first indicators that Korean acts had appeal in America. Musically, the track is an infectious, Motown-inspired earworm that encapsulated Wonder Girls’ charming penchant for throwback-inspired concepts — this time embracing girl groups of the ’50s and ’60s — and undeniable hooks (the hand-clapping on the chorus is incorporated into the song’s iconic dance). — J.B.
42. TLC, “No Scrubs” (1999)
Pioneering trio TLC had always woven messages of empowerment into their music, since debuting in 1992 with Ooooooohhh… On the TLC Tip. And after scraping new heights with their star-cementing CrazySexyCool two years later, they returned from bankruptcy more triumphant than ever in 1999 with “No Scrubs,” a term coined to denote a deadbeat who couldn’t even provide for himself, let alone for a woman. It’s a testament to their artistry that the song’s sound — and message — still resonate today. — S.J.H.
41. En Vogue, “Free Your Mind” (1992)
“Prejudice: Wrote a song about it. Like to hear it?” Luckily, En Vogue didn’t give America a chance to answer before ripping into “Free Your Mind,” a hostile pop takeover that quoted P-Funk, invoked Sly Stone, and booted everyone else the f–k off their runway. The riffs and cowbell still knock a quarter-century later, but not as hard as the group’s lacerating vocals, addressing any number of still-extant concerns of racial, sexual and demographical bias, and dismissing them all with a viciously disappointed “Don’t be so shallow.” — A.U.
40. Destiny’s Child, “Survivor” (2001)
Destiny’s Child dished up some unquestionably empowering tunes in their near 10 years as a group, but “Survivor” may take the cake for most anthemic. The “you can’t stop me” kind of lyrics being hollered over a vigorous violin and stomping beat create an ultimate declaration of ex independence. There’s nothing quite like telling a past lover – or anyone you’ve moved on from – that you’re stronger, richer, wiser and smarter without them. And as if the song didn’t do the message justice, the jungle-themed, camo-filled video took it one step further. — T.W.
39. Danity Kane, “Damaged” (2008)
About a year before Lady Gaga took over the globe, Making the Band champs Danity Kane sent out feelers for how the U.S. would respond to an EMP of stomping future pop. Pretty well, turns out, as the stunning don’t-do-me-like-that missive became a Hot 100 top 10 hit, helped make sophomore album Welcome to the Dollhouse the group’s second straight number one, and reintroduced mentor Diddy to his early role of hype-whisperer, intoning with unusual gravity over the song’s outro: “This too shall pass.” — A.U.
38. The Supremes, “Stop! In the Name of Love” (1964)
“Stop! In the Name of Love” separates itself from the rest of Diana Ross & Co.’s dozen (!!) Hot 100 No. 1s through its unusually cautionary tone for a potential breakup song: “Think it over,” the ladies repeatedly insist over arresting chimes and horns, the collective cop trying to let their trifling man off with just a warning. The structure would prove enduring: Five years later, the group’s boy-band successors at Motown would also hit No. 1 advising a different kind of romantic slow-down. — A.U.
37. Vanity 6, “Nasty Girl” (1982)
Did you expect anything else from Prince’s prefab trio of ladies, which he originally christened The Hookers? This sparse, lubricious jam, with its oft-repeated proto-Janet come-on “Do you think I’m a nasty girl?” was so unchaste that group leader Vanity ultimately became born-again (mind you, she probably wasn’t baptized in Lake Minnetonka) and denounced it herself. If that doesn’t render her the Linda Lovelace of pop, who is? — D.W.
36. Dream, “He Loves U Not” (2000)
Maybe the great forgotten single of the entire TRL era, the Bad Boy-signed teen quartet — Puffy again! — got all the way to No. 2 on the Hot 100 with this skittering, highly flammable production, as busy and uncontainable as a Squarepusher single. Dream weren’t the most overpowering of vocalists, but they certainly got the point across on the immaculate chorus, finishing their own “He’s into what he’s got…” insistence with the backing ad lib: “…and that’s me!” — A.U.
35. The Tammys, “Egyptian Shumba” (1964)
If you thought The Beatles or The Rolling Stones were the most raucous band in ’64, listen to The Tammys. A surreal narrative of a dream where “way down in Egypt land, our mummies took our hand,” “Egyptian Shumba” missed the charts but guaranteed its place in the cult canon by virtue of sheer insanity. The song’s woozy harmonies and delirious, exotic instruments are quickly overtaken by shrieking, chanting and grunting from the seemingly possessed Tammys, who successfully combined musical kitsch with unhinged screaming 15 years before the B-52’s’ debut. — J. Lynch
34. Little Mix, “Black Magic” (2015)
Little Mix’s greatest hit of a still-young career is built from the most tried-and-true parts: the glistening splashes of funk guitar from Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out,” the Bring It On step-dancing chants of Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend,” the Lisa Frank veneer of Kylie Minogue’s “Loco-Motion” remake. The melody is more of a throwback than say, Max Martin’s style of dynamite, and more breathable for each individual Little Mix singer’s artificially sweetened soul turns. Don’t be ridiculous, though: of course the chorus is the best part. But all of it’s the best part, you know? — D.W.
33. Dixie Cups, “Chapel of Love” (1964)
A song that will live as long as people are getting ma-a-a-ried (in indoor Christian buildings of worship, anyway), “Chapel of Love” thrives with a sing-song chorus that turns a vow of eternity into a veritable day at the beach. You could say that the Dixie Cups showed their youthful naivete in singing of marriage as the permanent end to all personal problems (“And we’ll never be lonely anymore!”), or you could say that songwriters Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich — recently married themselves, though not for particularly long — were bravely holding on to the belief that love could really be so simple. — A.U.
32. Girls Aloud, “Biology” (2005)
Girls Aloud should have been enormous in the States; by extension, multiple Girls Aloud singles should have been inescapable in the U.S. of A. Why? Look no further than “Biology,” one of the most fascinatingly structured girl group songs ever. Constantly building and re-shifting until Nadine Coyle emphatically declares “You can’t mistake my biology!,” the single singlehandedly justifies the years of should-be-bigger lamentations from American Girls Aloud diehards. — J. Lipshutz
31. The Crystals, “He’s a Rebel” (1962)
With three words, The Crystals — well, technically The Blossoms, but who’s counting — set up ther romantic archetype that would pervade the rest of girl group history, establishing the bad boy as the forever object of good-girl obsession. “When he holds my hand, I’m so proud/ ‘Coz he’s not just one of the crowd,” explains singer Darlene Love, with an inimitable elan to make all the girls at home wonder why they’d been wasting their time pining for Johnny Angel. Within a few years, The Shangri-Las were hooking up with a motorcycle gang leader, Martha and the Vandellas were idealizing their Wild One, and all was right with the world. — A.U.
30. The Pussycat Dolls, “Don’t Cha” (2005)
Tori Alamaze’s Cee-Lo Green-produced original solo “Don’t Cha” exudes the sinewy sexual tension that the song’s refrain – “Don’t cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me” – deserves, but that single never made the Hot 100. It took the star power of the Dolls, a singing group that started as a burlesque act, to get it all the way to No. 2 — the group’s highest-charting hit — thanks to a gang-vocal approach to the song’s already tough-to-resist insistence, and a video in which frontwoman Nicole Scherzinger & Co. paired snake-hipped dance moves with the song’s tribal drum beat. — F.D.
29. Martha and the Vandellas, “Dancing in the Street” (1964)
Onetime Motown A&R director William “Mickey” Stevenson, who co-wrote this song with Ivy Jo Hunter and Marvin Gaye, has said that the song’s title was inspired by watching kids in Detroit playing in the spray of fire hydrants opened on a sweltering day. With its scooting horn flourishes and Reeves’ brisk vocals, the No. 2-peaking Hot 100 smash still evokes that summery vibe and, thanks to its lyrics — which have been interpreted as both a call to arms and a plea for racial unity — has the added distinction of having been adopted as a civil rights anthem during the turbulent ‘60s. — F.D.
28. Total feat. The Notorious B.I.G., “Can’t You See” (1995)
Kima, Keisha and Pam were Bad Boy’s secret weapon, chiming in on the unsinkable hooks to The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Hypnotize” and “Juicy” (and even Mase’s “What You Want”), as well as one of the best girl groups of the ’90s on their own. “Can’t You See” was their defining moment — despite already being the sixth or seventh big ’90s single to sample James Brown’s “The Payback,” the song maintained a singular allure thanks to Keisha’s seductive-but-tortured wail (“I want… to be… alone… TOGETHER!”). And of course, a Steve Nash-like assist from The Notorious B.I.G. helped, with an opening verse fire enough for Puff to coin the everlasting ad lib “Slow down son, you’re killin’ ’em!” in response. — A.U.
27. The Chiffons, “One Fine Day” (1963)
In the wake of doo-wop girl groups and the heyday of the booming Motown movement, The Chiffons cut through in the early ‘60s with its debut single “He’s So Fine,” a chart-topper from their 1963 debut album of the same name. Later that year, the Bronx quartet returned with One Fine Day, whose title track, penned by Goffin and King, reached No. 5 on the Hot 100 thanks to its peppy production and airtight harmonies, which were timeless enough to stiil be giving a boost to mainstream rom-coms three decades later. — S.J.H.
26. The Shangri-Las, “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” (1964)
The Shangri-Las were one of the most ambitious girl groups of their era, with their big hits miniature melodramas that invited time-signature changes, seagull samples, and all sorts of gadgetry that Phil Spector and the Beatles would get the real credit for. “Remember (Walkin’ in the Sand)” was a spooky lament that went Top 5 in 1964, though, so brooding it attracted the decadent likes of Aerosmith to exorcise its demons again in 1979. Remember? — D.W.
25. Spice Girls, “Say You’ll Be There” (1997)
It’s all about girl power, of course, with the Spice Girls donning action-film alter egos in the “Say You’ll Be There” music video and kicking ass while forever having each other’s backs. Underneath the bubblegum melodies, however, is a daring bit of almost Dr. Dre-like ’90s G-pop production — and hands up if you expected the harmonica solo disrupting the back half of this one the first time you heard it. — J. Lipshutz
24. The Angels, “My Boyfriend’s Back” (1963)
Originally intended for The Shirelles, the sparse, sneering demo from The Angels was strong enough to release as an official single and top the Hot 100. Like so many ’60s girl group classics, half the fun of this one comes courtesy of the backup singers, whose taunting vocals inform a certain cad he’s about to get his ass whooped for spreading lies about a girl — now that, you know, her boyfriend’s back. The deliciously braying “hey-la, hey-la”s take center stage, but shout-out to lead singer Linda Jansen for imbuing the lyric “He’s kind of big, and he’s awful strong” with enough pheromones to give the G-rated lyrics an NC17 subtext. — J. Lynch
23. The Pointer Sisters, “I’m So Excited” (1982)
The best thing about the “I’m So Excited” music video, filmed and released in disco’s waning moments in 1982, is the ending: the dance party that the Pointer Sisters are leading simply does not end, as the attendees dance away out of the shot, seemingly leaving the club to go wreak joyful havoc in the streets. That’s the type of persistence that “I’m So Excited” still packs, 35 years later — whenever its pristinely contained craziness is heard, it’s hard to shake the giddiness even as the music fades out. — J. Lipshutz
22. The Marvelettes, “Please Mr. Postman” (1961)
One of the most prominent and successful girl groups from the Motown galaxy were The Marvelettes, who achieved milestones for the groundbreaking imprint: Not only did they earn the label its first pop number one with “Please Mr. Postman,” but it was also among the first to hit that same spot among all girl groups. It was the group’s breakthrough on Motown’s Tamla label, and only track to hit the top, all woozy and loose in arrangement but effectively undeniable with its handclaps and backing shrieks. — S.J.H.
21. Girls’ Generation, “I Got a Boy” (2012)
For years, Girls’ Generation not only ruled Korea’s girl-group scene but the country’s entire zeitgeist, earning a string of No. 1 hits and ruling the Forbes Korea Power Celebrity list for three different years. “I Got a Boy” is what happens when the greats strive to get greater, with this multi-genre, tempo-shifting Frankenstein’s-monster jam that jumps from drum ‘n’ bass to bubblegum hooks to Aguilera-esque belt sections. While the single still divides some listeners for not being as easy to swallow as effervescent GG classics like “Gee,”“Oh!” or “Genie,” the ambition and creativity exhibited here act as an overall proof to why girl-group music is in a league of its own in terms of excitement and boundary pushing — J.B.
20. Sister Sledge, “We Are Family” (1979)
Disco magic happened when Philadelphia’s Sledge sisters were paired with producers Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic. Backed by the in-your-face rubber-band bass and rollicking piano that distinguished Chic hits like “I Want Your Love,” the foursome’s ode to sisterhood, with its sweet-honey harmonies and “Hey, hey, sing it to me” exhortations, hit No. 2 on the Hot 100 in June 1979 and became the theme of the 1979 World Series champion Pittsburgh Pirates. (It remains a jukebox favorite in the former steel town.) — F.D.
19. The Supremes, “You Can’t Hurry Love” (1966)
The Motown songwriting-production team Holland-Dozier-Holland gave the label some of its best material, including this Hot 100 No. 1 for the Supremes in 1966. Buoyed by one of the most underrated (and subtly influential) bass lines in pop history and an irrepressible church music energy, Diana Ross’ dexterous vocals transition from a fragile coo at the song’s heartbroken start into a joyous defiance at the midway point, demonstrating 1) Ross’ subtle genius and 2) that mama’s always right. — J. Lynch
18. The Pipettes, “Pull Shapes” (2006)
The debut album from the Pipettes, 2006’s We Are The Pipettes, begins with a title track that credibly positions the trio as throwback, polka-dot-wearing pop saviors beamed in from another planet. The songs that follows on the album’s track list is “Pull Shapes,” a whirlwind of a single that felt of an alien area but sounded wholly realized. “Shapes” was a vision of another time refracted through three brilliant British vocalists who embraced modern production techniques. The Pipettes weren’t long for this world — two of the three members departed following their debut — but we’re sure glad they stopped by. — J. Lipshutz
17. SWV, “Right Here” (Human Nature Remix) (1992)
If you need a leg up in your pop career, you can always do a lot worse than a boost from the King himself. A lift from Michael Jackson’s swirling Thriller ballad “Human Nature” was all the momentum SWV need would be to become one of the most successful R&B groups of the Clinton era, earning the sample with a commanding, expertly controlled vocal — when they insist that their love ain’t goin’ nowhere over the beat’s sturdy shuffle, you’d have no reason to ever doubt them. Speaking of that beat, SWV paid the MJ assist forward by lending a helping hand to future pop royalty: It’s an 18-year-old Pharrell Williams playing hype boy (“S! The Double! The U! The V!”) on the song’s mini-breaks. — A.U.
16. Labelle, “Lady Marmalade” (1974)
While younger generations may acknowledge the hit “Lady Marmalade” for its Moulin Rouge remake from Christina Aguilera, Mya, Pink and Lil’ Kim (as well as a separate version by All Saints), Labelle will go down in the books for bringing the song to the mainstream. Originally recorded by Eleventh Hour, “Marmalade” was full of life and suggestively smirk-worthy, with a chorus delivered in French that not-so-subtly asked a suitor to sleep with them that night. Labelle’s version stands as the most groundbreaking, particularly in bringing women’s sexuality to the forefront. — S.J.H.
15. Wilson Phillips, “Hold On” (1990)
Never let anyone tell you this isn’t a great song, even as you nod through the plaintiff’s incredulous recitation of the verses rhyming “pain,” “chains” and “sustain” (with “pain” again!). There’s no way they would dare attempt to besmirch the chorus, both immediate and deceptively tricky: Wilson Phillips made that obstacle course of a hook feel like a 30-foot water slide in 1990, the trio going down it all at once, with their arms waving high. There’s a reason Bridesmaids cemented it as the ultimate feel-good theme song for women’s rom-coms, and why nine out of ten doctors recommend “Hold On” for pain and chains alike. — D.W.
14. Fifth Harmony feat. Ty Dolla $ign, “Work From Home” (2016)
Never mind that the word “work” is mentioned 95 times on Fifth Harmony’s “Work From Home” — its repetition is part of its charm. Then still a quintet, 5H secured its biggest hit to date with the Ty Dolla $ign-assisted banger, with melodies that counter the blooping synths, punctuating a relatively sparse beat. Each member delivers, though now-departed member Camila Cabello excels, belying the song’s straightforward verses with acrobatic runs that bring it all home. — S.J.H.
13. Bananarama, “Cruel Summer” (1983)
For at least three months out of every year, “Cruel Summer” fills a musical void no other song does — by articulating all the ways the dog days prove an annual drag, without adding to the problems by being an outright bummer itself. Bananarama’s signature ’80s hit pulls it off by marrying a pitch-perfect vocal of resentful teenage ennui with a fantastically funky electro-pop bounce and the “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” of xylophone riffs, creating a jam as sticky as melting tar and as addictive as Dippin’ Dots — but one less for the kids partying at the beach than for the loners staring across the ocean. — A.U.
12. Martha and the Vandellas, “Heat Wave” (1963)
The most ferociously swinging girl-group song of all time, “Heat Wave” shuffles along raucously and magnificently even before a Vandella horns in. The drums are just so busy, and the knot of women singing ties together beautifully at the end of those tangled verses — let’s not even get started on the sax breaks. Martha Reeves makes “tears all over my face” sound like the goddamn greatest situation to ever be in. Holland-Dozier-Holland’s magnum opus was so flawless that even a 2010 Phil Collins cover wasn’t D.O.A.. — D.W.
11. TLC, “Waterfalls” (1995)
An excellent combination of sonic and lyrical ambition. TLC possesses a treasure trove of rock-solid singles, but the patience of the production and storytelling on “Waterfalls” made it an all-timer. As the trio rocks over velvet beats and canned horns, narratives of drug-related violence and an HIV-related death push pop music to do better, be smarter, say more. TLC’s legacy is enshrined in songs like “Waterfalls,” a smash hit that’s still powerfully progressive 20 years later. — J. Lipshutz
10. The Emotions, “Best of My Love” (1977)
This 1977 No. 1 Hot 100 hit (for five weeks, by the way) sounds like Earth, Wind & Fire fronted by a powerhouse female trio — and essentially, it is. “Best of My Love,” which was co-written by EWF’s Maurice White, and Al McKay, used that band’s signature bright, shiny horns and circling funk guitar. But it’s Chicago’s Hutchinson sisters – Wanda, Sheila and Jeanette – who took this track above the disco din. Sounding like Patti Labelle to the third power, they soar and swoop their way through “Best of My Love” with gospel-tinged crystalline clarity. — F.D.
9. The Shangri-Las, “Leader of the Pack” (1964)
Teenage tragedy songs were a pre-British Invasion fad in American pop, and most are impossible to listen to without smiling at the soap opera-levels of histrionics. A prime example is 1964 Hot 100-topper “Leader of the Pack,” where a teen girl explains to her classmates that she watched her crying boyfriend die in a motorcycle crash after her parents forced her to dump him. Compounding the melodrama are sound effects, dead-serious spoken word segments and backup vocals that echo the lead. Somehow, what should come across as profoundly silly ends up cutting straight into your soul – if you’re smirking at the 17-second mark, you’re genuinely devastated at 2:09 when lead singer Mary Weiss intones, “At school they all stop and stare / I can’t hide my tears but I don’t care / I’m sorry I hurt you, the leader of the pack.” — J. Lynch
8. The Crystals, “Then He Kissed Me” (1963)
Preserved in Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, “Then He Kissed Me” — co-written by Spector with the legendary team of Greenwich and Barry — captures the wholesome giddiness of a blossoming romance, and the optimism of John F. Kennedy’s Camelot. The song, which peaked at No. 6 on the Sept. 14, 1963 Hot 100 (roughly two months before JFK was assassinated) moves perpetually forward in both story and sound. Lead singer Lala Brooks tells the story of a blossoming romance, from first kiss to marriage vows, carried along by guitar, strings, sax, a mix of percussion that seems to include sleigh bells and whatever else Spector threw into his sui generis mix. There’s something exhilarating about the tune’s ceaseless propulsion, which made it an ideal track to accompany (in its entirety) Martin Scorsese’s tour-de-force, three-plus-minute single-take Copacabana scene in Goodfellas. — F.D.
7. Destiny’s Child, “Say My Name” (1999)
Many people have covered “Say My Name.” None of have attempted to do so faithfully. That would require Aphex Twin-level programming, caffeinated delivery that makes the term “rapid-fire” feel quaint, and mastery of proto-Timbaland pop gymnastics that have calmed down more than a bit in pop catalogs since 1999 — including in Beyoncé’s own. But it’s still a standard, still a monolith of an anthem that even unworthy scrubs will sing along to. Let’s forget the Joyce-invoking lasagna of themes and allusions that Lemonade was for a moment, and just imagine having to dance while pulling this thing off. No wonder they made us say their name. — D.W.
6. En Vogue, “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)” (1992)
There may have been ’90s girl groups more iconic than En Vogue, but none more studied, more proficient or more dazzling. “My Lovin'” is an absolute master class: Simply put, there are zero things a girl group single should do that it doesn’t, and En Vogue does all of them at Diana Ross and/or Patti Labelle level — whether it’s the “oooooOOOOHHH BOP!” backing vocals, the clipped refrain, the heights-scaling pre-chrous, the post-chorus spoken-word bantering, or, of course, the breakdown harmonies, so epic they need an announcer’s introduction. Throw in the OG of those damn “Payback” samples and a star-making music video, and you have a ’60s throwback that does it better than all but one or two of the original greats ever did it. — A.U.
5. Spice Girls, “Wannabe” (1996)
If there’s one thing that girl groups should always encompass, it’s girl power. And while plenty of other songs do so, it’s pretty tough to top the phrase “If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends,” delivered through the quintet’s peerless, winking sneer. For a girl group to come out of the gate with such an all-time hit — one that reached No. 1 in just about every market — is commendable in itself, but what the Spice Girls did with “Wannabe” was to be timeless and fun while also being empowering, and that’s something that isn’t easy for just one song to accomplish. Except, for the Spice Girls, it’s something that they achieved with practically every song they created after their first single – and it all began with them declaring what they want (what they really, really want). — T.W.
4. The Supremes, “Where Did Our Love Go?” (1964)
If not the greatest girl group song of all-time — and boy, there’s an argument to be made — then certainly the song that may forever be most associated with the archetype. At the very least, it’s the best song by the best group, the single that first introduced The Supremes to the top of the Hot 100 and set the standard for an impossible number of girl-group song conventions to come: The handclaps, the “baby, baby” backing vocals, the sax solo, and most importantly, the pinched, heart-piercing, scarily vulnerable delivery of one Diana Ross, forever bitten but never shy. “Where Did Our Love Go?” perfected the art of blissful melancholy, of finding strength in fragility. What could possibly be more f–king pop than that? — A.U.
3. The Shirelles, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” (1961)
For as revolutionary as the ’60s were, few songs gave voice to real life concerns of young women — especially when it came to sex. Thanks to co-writer Carole King (who would later release her own version), The Shirelles’ “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” was the major exception to that rule. A stunningly gorgeous mix of country chords, R&B shuffle and orchestral pop flourishes, the ballad finds Shirelles leader Shirley Owens forcing her paramour to declare if he’s in love for real, or just until he gets what he wants. The lyrics contain some of the finest couplets in all of pop (“Is this a lasting treasure / or just a moment’s pleasure?” and “Can I believe the magic of your sigh / Will you still love me tomorrow?”), and the superb languor in Owens’ voice deftly conveys the sense she’s been burned before. While sex isn’t explicitly mentioned, the teens-fumbling-in-the-backseat subtext was clear. Naturally, some radio stations banned it, but it still shot to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1961, and remains one of the finest songs in any genre, ever. — J. Lynch
2. TLC, “Creep” (1994)
Prior to releasing its biggest album to date CrazySexyCool, TLC gave off an image of street cool, all splashy colors and droopy wide-leg jeans. The album, released in 1994 and continuing on to sell 7.7 million copies according to Nielsen Music, signaled a sea change for Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, Rozanda “Chilli” Thomas and Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes. Gone were the condoms over their eyes and pinned to their pants to promote safe sex. Here, they were embracing a more mature facet of adulthood, addressing the HIV crisis and gang violence on the set’s smash lead single “Waterfalls.” Midriffs were exposed and subject matter weighed heavier. The trio had bid farewell to the big beats and chorus chants and embraced the next stage of adolescence.
“Creep” was that moment’s crown jewel, and one of the most important pop singles of the ’90s. Produced by Dallas Austin, the track, driven by a muted trumpet and T-Boz’s husky come-on vocals, subverted what had become a traditional trope in R&B: women somberly crowing about their man’s infidelity. The ‘90s saw a turning point where women sang about not only being unfaithful to their men, but doing it as an act of revenge, with songs like SWV’s “You’re the One” and Xscape’s “My Little Secret” extolling the act of reactive cheating. But it was “Creep” that set the groundwork, a pioneer in the adulterous subgenre. The ladies listen to the devil on their shoulders — and while two wrongs don’t make a right, through the trio’s effortlessly sleek vocals over ageless pop-funk production, they somehow make it all add up. — S.J.H.
1. The Ronettes, “Be My Baby” (1963)
Forget girl groups for a second. If you were to condense all of pop history to one five-second sound byte — one snippet for the aliens, the previously deaf, or the avowedly Scrooge-like to turn them into instant converts — it’d have to be the opening bars of “Be My Baby,” a drum intro iconic enough to provide the ultimate through-line in the decades of popular recordings since, so regularly quoted that it’s gone past the point of cliché to just being an essential part of the cultural language. It’s nothing less than the heartbeat of American pop music, pumping blood and vitality into future generations: Everything from punk to techno to shoegaze to chamber pop to arena rock to Diane Warren owes a percentage of its fundamental DNA to that BOOM. BA-BOOM. CHK!
OK, now remember girl groups again. As elemental as that drum intro (performed by Hal Blaine, produced by Phil Spector) has become, it’s just another brick in the Wall of Sound without The Ronettes selling the song to follow. Ronnie Spector’s voice — obviously thin, but still undeniably towering, like Manute Bol — was the sound of billions of young hopes and dreams, and her note-perfect reading of Greenwich and Barry’s greatest composition (with Estelle Bennett and Nedra Talley serving as the perfect background subconscious) grows more epochal in every second. The song is a 2:41-long head rush, a dizzying celebration of life, love and the pursuit of teenage kicks, and if it ever goes out of style, that means we’ve actually invented something better than pop music. Might take a while still. — A.U.