by Elissa Blattman, Project Assistant
When 17 year old Lesley Gore reached the top spot on the pop charts with “It’s My Party” in 1963, she instantly became one of the most popular pop acts of the early 1960s. Her sound was similar to the very successful “girl groups” of the era and her music resonated with high school kids across the country.
In 1964, Gore released “You Don’t Own Me.” The song keeps the same bubblegum pop sound she became famous for, but the lyrics contain more social commentary that her earlier releases and most of the songs (especially women’s songs) at the time. During the early 1960s, many girl groups and female singers’ songs were about love and devotion to the men in their lives. For instance, Little Peggy March’s “I Will Follow Him” (1963) contains the lyrics, “I will follow him, follow him / Wherever he may go…For nothing can keep me away / He is my destiny,” and The Crystals’ “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)” (1962) even seems to condone staying in an abusive relationship with the lines, “He couldn’t stand to hear me say / That I’d been with someone new / And when I told him I had been untrue / He hit me / And it felt like a kiss.” When “You Don’t Own Me” came out, it turn the role of song’s female protagonists around. With lyrics such as the following, the song was an early source of the feminist consciousness that was coming to fruition. “You Don’t Own Me” opened the doors for later women’s liberation songs to have their place in popular music.
“And don’t tell me what to do
Don’t tell me what to say
And please, when I go out with you
Don’t put me on display ’cause
You don’t own me
Don’t try to change me in any way
You don’t own me
Don’t tie me down ’cause I’d never stay
I don’t tell you what to say
I don’t tell you what to do
So just let me be myself
That’s all I ask of you”
For the 2012 election, Gore and other celebrities brought “You Don’t Own Me” back when they recorded a music video PSA for the song.