August 8th, 2013

The most influential female rock star of the 60s you’ve never heard of…

…is Beverly Bivens.

I’d never heard her name, either.

And although I remember the music of her group We Five very well, I hadn’t thought of it or them for years. A college friend of mine had had their LP, and so I was familiar not only their bona fide hit song but with some of their lesser-known songs as well. In particular, in my lovelorn freshman year when my boyfriend suddenly dropped out of school and I was missing him terribly, I listened to a cut of theirs called “Love Me Not Tomorrow” over and over, and even learned how to play it on the guitar, regaling (and probably boring) my friends with my angst.

I hadn’t heard that song since freshman year in college—and believe me that was a long time ago—when some train of thought yesterday led to wonder if it’s on YouTube. And sure enough, I found it there, just as I’d suspected I would.

I was expecting the song to be ho-hum and cliched. But when I listened to it I was immediately struck by something quite different: the singer. With the perspective of years, I thought, “Wow! What a voice!” even though at the time of the original I’d been so in love with the song I never really noticed the voice as a separate entity at all.

Why wasn’t Beverly Bivens a star, a household word? She was certainly pretty enough. But she left the group around the time she get married at the ripe old age of nineteen, and retired not long after.

As for her voice, I’m not the only one who was mighty impressed:

Almost operatic in quality, its range was described as low tenor to high soprano. Bob Jones has recalled that “Bev had this husky kind of voice, and somehow there’s this old soul in there.”…

Bivens’ voice and that of Mary Travers had a similar atmospheric quality, although Bivens’ was the more commanding. In the latter respect, there was a similarity with both Judith Durham of the Australian group the Seekers and Dusty Springfield…

You may remember We Five’s biggest hit “You Were On My Mind,” a catchy bouncy upbeat tune showcasing Bivens’ happy/sad light/dark easy/powerhouse vocals. But the song I was talking about earlier, the one I used to play on the guitar, was this more obscure and somber one:

And here’s We Five’s big hit, which you probably do remember if you’re Of A Certain Age. Bivens’ smoky lower register is what makes it so spectacular:

[NOTE: Another thing I'd never known before is that "Love Me Not Tomorrow" was written by John Stewart of The Kingson Trio. Stewart's brother Mike was We Five's founder.]

33 Responses to “The most influential female rock star of the 60s you’ve never heard of…”

  1. Gringo Says:

    I remember going to a We Five concert when I was in high school.
    You Were on My Mind was written by Sylvia Tyson. Ian and Sylvia’s version reminds me of this old version of Walk Right In- which I believe was the one I heard circa 1965.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5N1f9KWZd7A Ian and Syvia- You Were on My Mind[Sylvia Tyson- composer]

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_4mGH_3lzhw ‘Walk Right In’ GUS CANNON [1929] – on Country Blues Album circa 1965 ?

  2. DNW Says:

    You know, a lot of that music was repeated in the mid seventies and 1980′s on “oldies stations”. So even if you couldn’t possibly have known about it, or remember it from when it was played or was current, it’s still pretty well known today.

    That’s probably how most of us know the works of the Yardbirds, The Kinks, and so on.

    That said, I would have guessed the second tune as by a pop group like ‘The Buckinghams’, or ‘The Searchers’, not that I really know the repertoire of either.

    I found the song “Georgie Girl” on YouTube some time ago for my father, and discovered that it was done by an Australian group. That woman could certainly belt it out too.

    As could Grace Slick. Geez what are these people now, 70?

  3. parker Says:

    “Geez what are these people now, 70?”

    Geez I’m 65 DNW and 70 doesn’t look like much of a hurdle for me. ;-)

    Thanks for the videos neo & Gringo. I haven’t listen to We Five or Ian & Sylvia for a while. I’ll dig out my dusty LP collection and fire up the turntable.

  4. southpaw Says:

    Ok so what happened to the boyfriend? Does he comment here? Would the apple throw him off? You can’t leave us hanging.

  5. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Lots of I&S and We Five, plus any number of older groups (our music) on youtube.

  6. DNW Says:

    parker Says:
    August 8th, 2013 at 4:08 pm

    “Geez what are these people now, 70?”

    Geez I’m 65 DNW and 70 doesn’t look like much of a hurdle for me. ;-)

    Thanks for the videos neo & Gringo. I haven’t listen to We Five or Ian & Sylvia for a while. I’ll dig out my dusty LP collection and fire up the turntable.”

    I have cousins your age, and remember being tossed in the back seat of a GTO and taken for a wheel spinning ride, as we whipped and peeled around corners and downshifted into straightaways.

    Wasn’t bad … seated between two chicks in mohair – or whatever it was – sweaters. I guess I was placed there for safety’s sake. They didn’t want me flying into doors and hitting my head.

    “Hey kid. Do you like sour apple gum,?”

    “Yes please” hehe

    Still got your jean jacket and polo shirt?

  7. neo-neocon Says:

    southpaw:

    I don’t remember what sparked the search for the song and We Five, but as far as the freshman-year boyfriend goes, I did a Google search a couple of months ago and learned for the first time that he died last year. Not very much information about him at all in the obit, and we were out of touch since about my sophomore year in college, so I don’t know the trajectory of his life.

    But it made me sad to read it. He is the second ex-boyfriend of mine whose death I’ve learned about quite recently. And it’s not as though I had SO many boyfriends. After all, I met my husband-to-be when I was twenty-one.

  8. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    The British invasion (1964) and even if Bivens had not left, the decline (65-69) in popularity of the folk-rock genre may well have ended the We Five’s success. But without her, they were just some fair to good musicians.

    I hadn’t heard “Love Me Not Tomorrow” before and my reaction was Oh! the angst! The drama! Has anyone ever loved as much?

    Ah, the young are so self-involved.

  9. neo-neocon Says:

    Geoffrey Britain:

    I don’t know about the “self-involved” part exactly, with the young in love.

    There is an intensity to young love that comes with the territory. It is part of biology. The middle-aged and old can be very VERY self-involved; it just tends to take different forms for them.

    A magnificent poem by Robert Frost about this morphing from the intense sensitivity of youth:

    Love at the lips was touch
    As sweet as I could bear;
    And once that seemed too much;
    I lived on air

    That crossed me from sweet things,
    The flow of – was it musk
    From hidden grapevine springs
    Down hill at dusk?

    I had the swirl and ache
    From sprays of honeysuckle
    That when they’re gathered shake
    Dew on the knuckle.

    I craved strong sweets, but those
    Seemed strong when I was young;
    The petal of the rose
    It was that stung.

    Now no joy but lacks salt
    That is not dashed with pain
    And weariness and fault;
    I crave the stain

    Of tears, the aftermark
    Of almost too much love,
    The sweet of bitter bark
    And burning clove.

    When stiff and sore and scarred
    I take away my hand
    From leaning on it hard
    In grass and sand,

    The hurt is not enough:
    I long for weight and strength
    To feel the earth as rough
    To all my length.

  10. Ann Says:

    Don’t think it’s just the young who can be crazy mad in love — remember Jean Harris and Dr. Tarnower?

  11. Gringo Says:

    Neo
    But it made me sad to read it. He is the second ex-boyfriend of mine whose death I’ve learned about quite recently. And it’s not as though I had SO many boyfriends. After all, I met my husband-to-be when I was twenty-one.

    I know of very few deaths of my high school or college classmates. One early death stuck in my mind. The spring of my senior year in high school, in the midst of the Vietnam War, we had an assembly which had two adults debating whether there should be a draft or not. A [former] classmate stood up in the assembly to make a point- dressed in Army greens. He had recently enlisted in the Army. Several months later, we heard over morning announcements that he had been killed in Vietnam. I later saw his name engraved on the Vietnam Memorial- an emotional experience which evoked the 23rd Psalm.

    Someone from my hometown, who was four years younger than I, wrote a memoir, which was chock full of early death. Two of his friends were killed in car accidents in the ’70s. Among the people to whom he dedicated his book were the deceased. There were quite a few of the deceased who died well before their time.

  12. neo-neocon Says:

    Gringo:

    This particular boyfriend came from a part of the country where people tended to live hard and die young. When I knew him and I visited him at his home town he told me many many of his friends were already dead (he was 20 when this incident occurred) . Mostly drinking and driving, which at that time was very very common there. He was one of four children of whom only one survives. Three died in their 60s, all of natural causes apparently, which might be considered long-lived compared to what he told me about his friends.

    These things are sobering, though.

    Only last year I discovered my other college boyfriend had died in his late 30s, about 25 years ago. That was even more of a shock. He died in a house fire very tragically. I know more about his life. Some time I may write a post on this.

  13. rickl Says:

    You may remember We Five’s biggest hit “When I Woke Up This Morning,” a catchy bouncy upbeat tune showcasing Bivens’ happy/sad light/dark easy/powerhouse vocals.

    Actually, it was called “You Were On My Mind”.

    I don’t recall ever hearing the names Beverly Bivens or We Five before, but I certainly do recognize that song.

    Found this on YouTube.

  14. neo-neocon Says:

    rickl:

    You’re right—apparently I not only didn’t know Bivens’ name, I didn’t know the name of their biggest hit.

    Will correct.

  15. raf Says:

    We Five and The Seekers were on the jukebox in the grill when I went to college. They must have imprinted on me; I have both in my collection of 60s nostalgia cds.

  16. rickl Says:

    DNW Says:
    August 8th, 2013 at 3:48 pm

    I found the song “Georgie Girl” on YouTube some time ago for my father, and discovered that it was done by an Australian group. That woman could certainly belt it out too.

    That would be Judith Durham and the Seekers, mentioned above.

    I’ve only recently discovered them via YouTube, and I am very impressed.

    I’ll Never Find Another You

    From my reading, I gather that they are almost national heroes in Australia, because they were the first Aussie band to make it big in England and the States.

    Here’s an excerpt from their triumphant return to Australia in 1967. Apparently, that concert set an attendance record for the Southern Hemisphere that still hasn’t been topped.

    I also found a more recent performance here.

  17. parker Says:

    “Still got your jean jacket and polo shirt?”

    I still wear denim jackets, but I never was a fan of polo shirts.

  18. MissJean Says:

    Neo, you should just have thrown up an Amazon link and made a few reales. :) I took a listen to their covers of “Tonight” and “Can’t Help Falling In Love.” Wow! I ended up buying an MP3 album. :)

    I like Peter Paul and Mary (listened to them on the AM radio stations of my childhood), but have to say that the guitar picking of We Five sounds darn good.

  19. sharpie Says:

    She sounds like Natalie Merchant merged with Karen Carpenter.

    So, yeah, lovely. Very.

  20. sharpie Says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gm0ZWbMhWrE

  21. rickl Says:

    That’s funny, sharpie. That was the first thing that hit me about the “You Were On My Mind” video. I almost mentioned it, but didn’t.

    Beverly definitely reminds me of Natalie.

  22. sharpie Says:

    Because we are tragedarians.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BksJ99wIuCw

    It’s hard not to be a tragedarian. You have to be programmed real hard, like a progressive.

    And remember the tinman
    Found he had what he thought he lacked
    Remember the tinman
    Go find your hear and take it back

  23. sharpie Says:

    Chapman and Clapton and Dire Straights.

    And, yes the straightness
    the beautiness of him!
    He haunts my dreams
    and makes me follow,
    and I hope, leads.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DHP–VUBH0s

  24. sharpie Says:

    Of course I was referring to Frost.

  25. sharpie Says:

    Next Twain, then Blake, then Poe, then Swift (“Now Betty from her master’s bed had flown,
    And softly stole to discompose her own”), certainly not Angelou (cripes) or other politcallly declared poets, I

    DECRY

    the crap this shit the
    excrement

    Well, you get the idea.

    Modern poetry lost metre, rhyme, value and performance and was replaced by political commentary, except the greatest poet in the recent history of mankind, Robert Frost, could not be confined to socialist threatenings. His poetry is undefined because poetry resists definition.

    How could it be otherwise. And it is beautiful and right that it it otherwise. Language resists socialism. It resists political capture.

    It must and can be the vehicle of freedom.

  26. Gary Says:

    Enjoy these diversions from the news. I clearly remember the hit single “You Were On My Mind,” but never heard of Bivens before and didn’t even recall the name of the group.

    Bivens had a great voice, strong and emotional in “Love Me Not Tomorrow,” a fine, heart-rending soundtrack for tragic young love and a tear-streaked guitar. We may joke about such things now, but it was deadly serious back then.

    Here’s one that played a similar role for me:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MP31w8D-RgQ

    Actually, it was the entire melancholy-melodramatic album with this title track:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KSmSf153-8A

  27. Gary Says:

    Why wasn’t Beverly Bivens a star, a household word? She was certainly pretty enough. But she left the group around the time she get married at the ripe old age of nineteen, and retired not long after.

    Her voice was excellent and I agree that she was attractive enough. The rest of the excerpt partially answers your question.

    I listened to a few “We Five” tunes on YouTube. From what I heard, they were doing folk/folk-rock type stuff, which at the time was being pushed aside by the Beatles, the “British Invasion” and rock-n-roll generally. I think that might be the rest of the answer why she never became a big star: she was good, but was working in a waning genre.

  28. sharpie Says:

    Just listened to Janis Ian.

    Fucking great.

    Thank you.

  29. parker Says:

    This is perhaps too late in the thread, but this is for Sharpie:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ao7-X-xqoA

  30. Ymarsakar Says:

    Domestic support for humans was never a positive point for the Leftist infiltrated counter culture.

  31. rickl Says:

    sharpie Says:
    August 9th, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    Just listened to Janis Ian.

    I’m not familiar with most of her material, but her monster megahit “At Seventeen” came out when I was 17.

    ‘Nuff said.

    ***

    The only time I saw her live, about 20 years later, I had to leave in the middle of her set in order to catch a ride home. I felt terrible about it. Not just because I couldn’t hear her whole set, but because I didn’t want her to think I was walking out on her. When I stood up to go, I made an exaggerated show of tapping my wrist in order to indicate that it was time for me to leave and I had no choice. I don’t know whether she got it or not.

  32. Gary Says:

    sharpie wrote:

    Just listened to Janis Ian.

    Fucking great.

    Thank you.

    Glad you liked it, sharpie. I don’t listen to her much anymore but IMHO, her “Between the Lines” album is a classic. I believe she wrote all the music and lyrics, too. Certainly most of it.
    ————————————————————–

    rickl wrote:

    I’m not familiar with most of her material, but her monster megahit “At Seventeen” came out when I was 17.

    “At Seventeen” is also on “Between the Lines.” Not a bad track on the album. It’s sad and a bit melodramatic, but worth checking into if you’re in the mood.

  33. Arif Says:

    Coming to this thread awfully late, but Wounds to Bind, an upcoming memoir by We Five’s Jerry Burgan just announced by Rowman & Littlefield, deals in depth with Beverly’s breakthrough vocal style, how she warped the space-time-sex continuum in the early days of folk rock, and her 40-year reclusion. https://rowman.com/ISBN/9780810888616

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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