“Soldier Boy” by The Shirelles was a typical song from the innocent side of the early rock ‘n’ roll era that pre-dated The Beatles’ arrival in the United States. It was a song in which the singer vowed to remain loyal to her soldier boy until he returned home. It all added up to a big hit 50 years ago as it topped the Billboard Magazine Pop Singles Chart for three weeks.
The Shirelles were one of the most successful girl vocal groups of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Shirley Owens, Doris Coley, Addie Harris, and Beverly Lee were discovered while performing at a high school talent show in 1957, which lead to a contract with the small Tiara Record Company. Their first release, “I Met Him On A Sunday,” was a local hit that garnered enough attention for label owner Florence Greenberg to sell the song and the Shirelles contract to the national Decca label for $4000. The financial windfall enabled her to start the Scepter label. When The Shirelles were released from their Decca contract, she re-signed them to Scepter for whom they would go on to produce 25 chart singles and sell over ten millions records.
By 1962 The Shirelles were stars having produced such hits as “Dedicated To The One I Love,” “ Mama Said,” “Baby It’s You,” and the number one “Will You Love me Tomorrow.” They were now ready for the biggest hit of their career.
“Soldier Boy” was recorded in one take with five minutes left in recording studio time. It proved to be five minutes well-spent. It featured tight harmonies that bordered on a doo-wop sound. The vocal projected a desire for the missing soldier but never went too far as to make the listener uncomfortable. Its lyrics and catch melody stayed in your mind, which was very important for the AM radio based music world of the early 1960s.
Although their career would continue into the new century; their popularity would begin to decline during the mid-1960s. The Shirelles were inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1996. Fifty years ago this week they reached the peak of their career when their “Soldier Boy” ruled the music world in the United States.