Top 20 girl groups
By Ian Peel | March 10, 2023
From the 1960s to the present day, We count down our Top 20 girl groups with a little help from artists including Betty Boo and Holly Johnson
With more than 25 million units sold, Sisters With Voices – abbreviated to SWV – are best known for the 1992 Teddy Riley remixed hit Right Here, which features a young Pharrell Williams and samples Michael Jackson’s Human Nature. Pharrell would go on to work with the trio again as one half of the super producer duo The Neptunes, alongside Chad Hugo, on the single Use Your Heart, taken from the second album New Beginning in 1996.
19. The Shangri-Las
In contrast to other early girl groups of the 60s, The Shangri-Las had a rougher, tougher image that would influence the punk scene, rather than disco, that followed a decade later. “Few compare,” says Holly Johnson. “The ‘bad girl’ image constructed for Leader Of The Pack and their New York feistiness was extremely influential, and directly resonated with acts like Blondie and later Amy Winehouse.”
“Another of my favourite girl groups has to be soul sisters LaBelle,” Holly Johnson told Classic Pop, “who originally recorded as Patti LaBelle and The Bluebells, for their disco hit Lady Marmalade. “Voulez vous couchez avec moi” sang Patti LaBelle (the title of their biggest hit, it reached No.17 in 1974) not even realising what she was singing at the time, apparently.”
17. The Pointer Sisters
Coming in as the joint longest-serving of all the girl groups, alongside The Three Degrees, is The Pointer Sisters’ discography. Crowned with two hits from their 10th album, 1983’s Break Out – Automatic and the pre-Girls Aloud Jump (For My Love) – The Pointer Sisters are still going with Ruth, Issa and Sadako. If pushed to pick a favourite from their singles collection, we would go for Neutron Dance from the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack.
16. The Ronettes
Neil Arthur of Blancmange rates The Ronettes as his favourite girl group. “Be My Baby had me in tears, so there’s got to be something going on there between known words and emotion,” he tells Classic Pop. He agrees with some of our Top 40, namely The Slits and The Supremes, but also added a few of his own, namely The Raincoats, Frank Chickens and Savages.
15. Sister Sledge
Although forming in 1971, it was another eight years before the classic four-piece line-up of Sister Sledge hit the big time. But, when they did, it was with songs that would come to define the disco era. “With their Chic Organisation-penned hits We Are Family and He’s The Greatest Dancer,” surmises Holly Johnson, “Sister Sledge always hit the spot, on the dancefloor and radio.”
“When I first heard My Mic Sounds Nice it blew my mind,” remembers Betty Boo. “I played Hot, Cool and Vicious on my Walkman non-stop! I was mad about hip-hop and rapping was my life at 17. Salt-N-Pepa were everything I wanted to be! Their rhymes and timing were awesome, and I wouldn’t have evolved into Betty Boo if it wasn’t for them.”
13. Martha & The Vandellas
The archetypal Motown girl group, and originally known as Martha Reeves And The Vandellas (though Martha herself was not actually an original, founder member), their biggest hit was 1964’s Dancing In The Street, which hit No.2 in the US (and No.4 in the UK after a 1969 reissue). It also paved the way, of course, for David Bowie & Mick Jagger’s infamous 1985 cover version raising funds for Live Aid.
12. En Vogue
With a total of seven Grammy nominations, three Soul Train awards and 20 million record sales to their name, En Vogue are also responsible for inspiring the 90s rebirth of R&B. To say nothing of the formation of many other groups from the top (Destiny’s Child) to the bottom (Honeyz) of our chart. They also once went Top 10 with another group in our chart, via Whatta Man featuring Salt-N-Pepa.
11. Girls Aloud
When Xenomania were approached to work with the winners of 2002’s Popstars: The Rivals, they were primed and ready: the production team had stockpiled more than 60 songs and had a ready-written blueprint for a new era of pop. The result? 20 consecutive Top 10 singles – including The Promise and Biology – which completely reinvented the girl group sound for the 21st century.
The only girl group to have ever scored a Diamond-certified (that’s ten times Platinum, or 10 million sales) album, TLC were a pivotal early-Noughties sound with the singles No Scrubs and Unpretty from 1999’s Fan Mail album. But perhaps more critically acclaimed was its predecessor, 1994’s CrazySexyCool, the second of the group’s four albums, which featured Waterfalls and Creep.
9. The Belle Stars
Initially a splinter group from The Bodysnatchers, The Belle Stars’ influence far outweighs their sales, or their discography. A seven-strong mix of personalities cultures and instrumentalists they gave us ska, pure pop and club tracks. And, under the tutelage of Stiff Records, explored videos and styling that developed from early-80s post-punk to mid-80s art house chic.
8. The Supremes
Scoring 12 No.1 hits on the US Billboard Hot 100 between 1964 and 1969, this list just would not be complete without The Supremes. “I’ll never forget the amazing black girl groups of the 60s,” says Holly Johnson. “Some often underrated like The Crystals’ (He’s A Rebel), The Ronettes and all the Motown girl groups… Not just The Supremes, who could never be seen as bad girls (see The Shangri-Las at No.19) due to their lack of white privilege in the US, a country riven with racial segregation.”
7. The Go-Go’s
With 1981’s Beauty And The Beat, The Go-Go’s released one of the most successful US debut albums of all time. They also wrote the blueprint for post-punk, new wave and big 80s pop. Although it has to be said that, having split up after just two more LPs (1982’s Vacation and 1984’s Talk Show), they didn’t really get to deliver on that blueprint themselves – as opposed to inspiring others – until the solo careers of Belinda Carlisle and Jane Wiedlin and their Noughties reunion set, God Bless The Go-Go’s.
6. Destiny’s Child
Unlike many other groups in our chart, Destiny’s Child had a long road to success. Forming in 1990 as Girl’s Tyme, it was another seven years before they scored a record deal. And it took two albums – as well as the departure of two members – before the hit singles started to flow.
Not only have they since ploughed a unique furrow in the world of transatlantic R&B pop, they’re also the next logical step on from the girl groups of the 60s, and the R&B teams of the 90s that we also celebrate here. And, three decades later, their hits seem as fresh as ever.
Taking us from one century of pop to the next, their biggest string of singles ran from 1999’s Bills, Bills, Bills and Say My Name to 2000’s Independent Women Part I and 2001’s Bootylicious, all of which reached No.1 either in the UK or the US.
- Read more: Top 20 80s girlband singles
5. The Bangles
A band – that is, as a group of instrumentalists as opposed to a vocal group – The Bangles would have been a classic 80s phenomena if they’d only released the Prince-penned single Manic Monday. Or the kooky indie-novelty Walk Like An Egyptian. Or, for that matter, the widescreen cinematic ballad Eternal Flame. But the fact that they released all of these in just a three-year period cements their place at No.5 in our chart.
And while Susanna Hoffs was the main frontwoman, their singles with drummer Debbi Peterson on lead vocals have stood the test of time equally well: the understated Going Down To Liverpool and Eternal Flame’s follow-up Be With You. Having moulded a very Prince-esque song into their own sound, The Bangles also gave us their own take on Simon & Garfunkel (1987’s Hazy Shade of Winter) and …Liverpool itself was a cover of Katrina and The Waves.
The roots of the Sugababes can be traced back to when the first incarnation of All Saints left ZTT for a major label and their original manager Ron Tom set about creating another urban-inspired alternative girl group. Siobhán Donaghy and Mutya Buena were the first to join before Mutya added her school friend Keisha Buchanan into the mix.
When Massive Attack and Neneh Cherry producer Cameron McVey was brought in by Tom, the ’babes instantly had a winning formula… A formula translated into longevity, as opposed to sales, for early singles such as Run For Cover and New Year. Siobhán’s departure in 2001 led to the group’s reinvention. Heidi Range joined and the trio recorded the game-changing Angels With Dirty Faces.
The record peaked at No.2 on the UK Albums Chart, achieving triple platinum status. Lead single, Freak Like Me, was their first No.1 and they went on to rack up five further chart-topping hits, Round Round, Hole In The Head, Push The Button, Walk This Way and About You Now.
3. Spice Girls
In 1996, Scary, Sporty, Baby, Ginger and Posh arrived like a bolt out of the blue, reclaiming the 90s idea of the girl being purely a vehicle for R&B harmonisation by mixing in the 80s joie de vivre of The Belle Stars and The Go-Go’s with the 70s’ dance energy of Sister Sledge and The Pointer Sisters.
By turns behaving as bold and uncompromising as the daughters of The Shangri-Las, they could also come across as cold and commercial, like descendants of The Ronettes or the Three Degrees. So, yes, without the Spice Girls many groups in our Top 20 wouldn’t have come into existence. But without many others, neither would the Spice Girls.
With Wannabe and their debut album, Spice, The Spice Girls did something far more important than becoming the most recognisable faces on the planet, they burst the bubble of pomp-rock that had enveloped the charts. Musically, 2 Become 1 and Goodbye are two perfect Christmas singles. And Holler and Let Love Lead The Way from their urban reboot/swansong, 2000’s Forever, are ripe for reappraisal.
“I think Bananarama are hugely underrated,” declares Alison Clarkson aka Betty Boo, “despite being the most successful girl group during the 80s. I don’t think they’ve been recognised for their songwriting: they wrote a lot of their hits with Stock, Aitken and Waterman and they were never PWL puppets! Also let’s not forget they were punks back in the day, too. Nonchalant and fun at the same time, they totally rocked and still do.”
Holly Johnson agrees. “Over here in the UK, while The Beverley Sisters and The Vernons Girls were early examples, neither can compare with the poptastic Bananarama who went all the way from post-punk street style to PWL ‘Hit Factory’ chart success, overshadowed only in the 90s by the Spice Girls.”
1. All Saints
No one really got to see the first incarnation of All Saints, but they laid the foundations for the group’s longevity. Signed to Trevor Horn’s ZTT label and known as All Saints 18.104.22.168., the original trio featured Melanie Blatt, Shaznay Lewis and the late Simone Rainford. However, after the release of two single-only tracks Silver Shadow and Let’s Get Started, they were dropped by the label and Rainford left the group.
In 1996, Blatt and Lewis reformed with sisters Nicole and Natalie Appleton and the group’s name was shortened to simply All Saints. Signing to London Records, All Saints released their debut single I Know Where It’s At and the rest is history. The single reached No.4 in the UK Singles Charts and was followed by the chart-topping Never Ever which introduced the girls to the international stage.
Further UK No.1 singles followed in 1998 with Under The Bridge and Bootie Call, the former was backed with a cover of Lady Marmalade, far more in keeping with LaBelle’s original than the 2001’s rather gauche cover by Christina Aguilera, Mýa, Pink and Lil’ Kim.
All Saints didn’t follow the urban sound of their eponymous 1997 debut album with more of the same. They very quickly matured. Working with William Orbit – creating two No.1 singles, Pure Shores and Black Coffee – was a masterstroke. And their solo works (highlights including Melanie’s TwentyFourSeven, Appleton’s Don’t Worry and Shaznay’s Open) have all been clearly focused on evolution rather that recapturing youthful glories.
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