The Brief, Bizarre, Wonderful Popularity Of The Pipettes

There was a time when nobody would have batted an eyelash at The Pipettes, but that time was the 1960s, which was decades before the English singers splashed on the scene 10 years ago. Back in the ’50s and ’60s, girl pop groups like The Shirelles, The Shangri-Las, and The Supremes were part of the soundtrack of the era. They made beautiful pop music, even if some of it was a fraud, with women such as Darlene Love working behind the scenes to provide the singing voices for the women who were up there on the stage. It was a different time, though. It was a time when a fake version of The Zombies could tour without issue.

There have been bands in recent years, post turn of the millennium, that have synthesized the girl group sound into their music. Bands such as Bleached and Dum Dum Girls have tweaked and twisted those pop harmonies into something grittier, which allows to make pretty music with a rough edge to it. However, straight-forward girl group pop has not been around for many years. The only girl groups one might have to compare in modern times were acts like the Spice Girls, but did something decidedly unique.

But out of nowhere in the mid-’00s, a man calling himself Monster Bobby had an idea: He was going to reinvent himself as the modern iteration of Phil Spector (without, one assumes, the baggage that entails).

Monster Bobby noticed that people went nuts for old girl group songs during his DJ sets, so he figured there was a market out there for that kind of music. As such, he decided to put an act together — in that old fashioned, manufactured way — and bring back that vintage girl group sound. He found three women, Becki, Rose, and Julia, and they became The Pipettes. Meanwhile, Monster Bobby also put together an all-male backing group called The Cassettes, but they were not as important — it was all about the ladies. They were the stars. However, this early version of the band would never really make any noise. Julia was quickly replaced by Gwenno, and The Pipettes who would capture our hearts and imaginations were finally complete.

Their debut album, We Are The Pipettes, came out on July 17, 2006 and their aesthetic was right in step with their sound. The women wore vintage dresses and had vintage looks with Polka dots abound. They had choreographed dance moves and they all shared singing duties. There was a lot of harmonizing, although, when the time came for somebody to step forward, Gwenno tended to get the solos (she had a great voice, so she earned it). The music video for “Pull Shapes” was a riff on Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, the infamous film made by King of the Nudies Russ Meyer and iconic critic Roger Ebert.

“Pull Shapes” deserves special attention, because it’s the song that hooked most Pipettes fans. It hit No. 26 on the charts in the United Kingdom (the band was more popular in their homeland, though indie crowds picked up on them stateside). To listen to the single again, all these years after it first came into our lives, is still an experience of pure joy. The song is so fantastic because it captures the best elements of what makes ‘60s girl group pop so great: It’s ornate, catchy, and most importantly, so much fun. Frankly, it probably had to be in order to get people excited about such a dated sound and idea, but thankfully, it absolutely succeeded. Fans of that style of music and people who still harken back to the Wall of Sound when they get a chance had something new and contemporary to listen to. Now the album also hosted songs such as “Sex” and “One Night Stand” — not quite old school pop music — but these were tracks recorded in modern times. We Are The Pipettes was a wonderful bit of confectionary and a breath of fresh air. And yet, it was also destined not to last.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising things fell apart soon after. In 2008, Becki and Rose left the band, leaving just Gwenno. All the original Pipettes were gone. Gwenno was joined by her sister Ani, and a rotating third member, until they settled on just the two sisters. In 2010, they released Earth vs. The Pipettes. The album title was about the only standout thing about the record. The sound was different, the look and feel was different and it wasn’t as fun. The entire aesthetic felt a little off from how we were introduced to the band. They haven’t released anything since, and now The Pipettes are essentially dead. Most fans lost track of the group after We Are The Pipettes anyway.

Why did The Pipettes’ brief surge in popularity happen? How did any of it happen at all? There are probably answers, but they are complex and perhaps unknowable. As far as our joy is concerned, it doesn’t really matter anyway. We got to hear “Pull Shapes.” We got to hear “Your Kisses Are Wasted on Me.” The ’60s girl group sound was revived ever so briefly and it captured our hearts and minds. It was an odd little experiment, but it worked. The ephemeral, ethereal spirit of a musical time gone by was rebirthed by The Pipettes. We should take a lesson from “Pull Shapes” and just relax, be happy, and dance. Because you never know when the good times will end.