EML’s Favorite Songs – LESLEY GORE: “You Don’t Own Me”

Lesley Gore You Don't Own Me

I heard something on the radio today about how the defiant – and now iconic – anthem of female empowerment “You Don’t Own Me“, which was a big hit for young pop singer Lesley Gore, was actually written by two men, John Madara and David White. It reminded me of how much I’ve always loved this song.

Gore possessed a remarkable voice with a maturity beyond her young age, and had a string of hits while still in high school. She recorded her first breakout single “It’s My Party” when she was only 16 (the song went on to become a #1 hit), and followed in quick succession with “Judy’s Turn to Cry”, “She’s a Fool” and “You Don’t Own Me”, which she recorded at the age of 17. For a brief time period, she was one of the most popular female singers in the U.S.

As good as Gore’s vocals were, the song’s greatness must partly be attributed to the flawless production by a young Quincy Jones, who also produced her other hits. He used lush, sweeping orchestration to great effect, enhancing the drama of the mesmerizing melody. “You Don’t Own Me” peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in February-March 1964, where it spent three weeks, held down by the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, which spent seven weeks at #1.

Despite her youth, Gore’s commanding vocals make her sound totally credible when she sings the lyrics telling a lover that they do not own her, that they can’t tell her what to do or say, and that they are not to put her on display.

You don’t own me, I’m not just one of your many toys
You don’t own me, don’t say I can’t go with other boys

And don’t tell me what to do
And 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

Oh, 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
I’m young and I love to be young
I’m free and I love to be free
To live my life the way I want
To say and do whatever I please

And don’t tell me what to do
Oh… don’t tell me what to say
And please, when I go out with you
Don’t put me on display

I don’t tell you what to say
Oh-h-h-h don’t tell you what to do
So just let me be myself
That’s all I ask of you
I’m young and I love to be young
I’m free and I love to be free
To live my life the way I want
To say and do whatever I please

The song has been covered many times, most notably by Dusty Springfield, Joan Jett, the Blow Monkeys and, more recently, in a darker and interesting version by Australian singer/songwriter Grace, featuring American rapper G-Eazy. The song was also a highlight of the 1996 film The First Wives Club, where in a delightfully gratifying scene at the end of the film, Bette Midler, Diane Keaton and Goldie Hawn perform the song as they leave the building.

Cover photo by David Redfern.

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