Go Away Little Girl

When this was published as part of our online “magazine,” another article focused on the unique affect that televised talent shows can have on the pages of the Great American Songbook.

Long before television shows such as American Idol created overnight pop sensations, Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts created overnight pop sensations. In both cases, many of the discoveries are or were somewhat successful on a local level. In many cases the talent show format merely serves to accelerate the inevitable rise to stardom.

One such contestant on Godfrey’s program was Steve Lawrence, who later fell in with sometime Godfrey substitute Steve Allen. Lawrence became a regular on Allen’s Tonight Show shortly after his appearance on Talent Scouts. He began performing duets with Eydie Gorme, a former vocalist for Tex Beneke, and their onstage chemistry made them the “it” couple of the mid-1950s. The duo garnered a Grammy Award in 1960 for their album, We Got Us. In later years they would be lampooned on comedy programs as sort of stooges for Frank Sinatra, so let this serve as a reminder that the pair was once extremely successful in the pop world. Their influence — collectively and individually — continues to this day. Gorme scored an individual Grammy in 1967 for “If He Walked Into My Life”, although her most important and longest lasting hit was clearly “Blame It On The Bossa Nova” from 1963.

Husband Steve Lawrence’s biggest pop hit was also from 1963, a Gerry Goffin and Carole King composition that launched to the top of the charts in January of that year. Interestingly enough, Steve and Eydie’s biggest chart hit as a duo also came in 1963: “I Want to Stay Here.” Coincidentally, this song was also written by Goffin and King.

“Go Away Little Girl” is another of those songs that highbrow music critics point to as defining a rather bland period in American pop…one of those tunes that would open the door for the British Invasion. Although it surely is neither Goffin nor King’s most significant composition — not by a long shot — it seems that the song is more significant than one might assume. Over the next four years it was covered by Johnny Mathis, Bobby Vee, Del Shannon, Lawrence Welk, and The Happenings, each of whom had mild success with the song during the height of the British Invasion.

After spending two weeks at number one for Steve Lawrence in January 1963, then making occasional forays onto the charts for those other artists, “Go Away Little Girl” disappeared in the crush of supposedly more cerebral pop music in the late 1960s. The Summer of Love, Woodstock, and finally, Kent State turned music toward more serious themes. The paradigm shift was complete by March of 1971 when Carole King herself released the monumental album Tapestry, which made the rock cognescenti forget all about her Brill Building gems like “Go Away Little Girl.”

Not so fast.

Pop music is many things. One aspect of pop is that it has always been a form of simple escapism for the masses, and schmaltzy love songs like “Go Away Little Girl” will hopefully never — pardon the pun — go away.

As mentioned in our “Tidbits” article on talent shows, the format fell off a bit during the 1960s after Godfrey’s Talent Scouts went off the air. Although the competition aspect had drifted out of style, variety show hosts were forever trotting out “undiscovered” acts. For one thing, it was cheap programming; unknowns don’t ask for the same dressing room spread as an established star. Andy Williams provided the best of both worlds; he routinely showcased the stars of the day along with up-and-coming acts. One of his discoveries, The Osmond Brothers, was so popular that they became regulars — sort of Williams’ own “Little Godfreys.” The Osmonds grew up in America’s living rooms, and as young Donny matured he was a ready-made teen idol. For a brief time in the early 1970s the Osmonds were the biggest draw in both the USA and the UK.

Pursued by screaming pre-teen girls, Donny adored his fans but respected the idea that any real boy-girl relationship would be improper. The concept of “go away little girl” rang true for Donny, and he continually insisted that the brothers record the song. They did, and the little girls made it a hit all over again. “Go Away Little Girl” was back on the charts, again rocketing to number one in the nation. It stayed at number one for three weeks, bookended by much more serious music from the likes of Paul McCartney and Rod Stewart, and not too long after King’s own “I Feel The Earth Move” had spent five weeks at the top.

To this day the song refuses to “go away.” While serious musicians continue to ignore the tune, it remains popular with fans who remember — and continues to be covered by young vocalists. The reasons are rather simple: King’s up and down melody creates a series of anticipation-and-release verses — like unrequited love — the melody quickly builds until it seems unbearable, then just as quickly drops in relief. But like young love, it refuses to go away, continuing with the see-saw effect until the end of the song. At that point the singer finally comes to the realization that the object of his affection must go away, calmly repeating it over and over. The melody of course is only half the equation; Goffin’s poetry uncannily captures the emotions that a young man feels, and the song is even more personal to the young girls who hear it. It’s no wonder then that teenage soloists in high schools across the country continue to perform this song, and it is still very well received nearly 40 years after it last appeared on the charts.

As you read this article, perhaps a few questions came to mind. When will Steve Lawrence finally be recognized as one of the greats? Wouldn’t it be terrific if genuine nice guy Donny Osmond hosted a television show of the same caliber as mentor Andy Williams? Will Carole King ever get the recognition she deserves as the most significant female composer of the 20th century? Hopefully all these things will come to pass before “Go Away Little Girl” is again covered and making a run up the charts.

But if you have to make a wager, place your bets on the song.