Wednesday, January 16, 2008


The Bobbettes, I Shot Mr. Lee.

He hollered 'help-help-murder-police
the girl's after me with a gun!'
He hollered 'help-help-murder-police!
the girl's after me with a gun!'

There are cheap sequels, ambitious sequels, pointless sequels, and then there's "I Shot Mr. Lee."

The Bobbettes--Emma Pought, Jannie Pought, Laura Webb, Helen Gathers, and Reather Dixon--had met at P.S. 109 (99th St. and Second Ave. in Manhattan). They were between 11 and 15 years old, and had formed an after-school singing group called the Harlem Queens. They began singing in amateur competitions, and a local manager, James Dailey, heard them, loved them and told them to change their name. "Harlem Queens" sounded like a girl biker gang, he said. So they became the Bobbettes, named after Laura Webb's newly-born niece.

The Bobbettes had written a song called "Mr. Lee," about a 5th-grade teacher they had all hated. The song was a pretty vicious put-down of the teacher, and Dailey and Atlantic Records, hearing potential in the song but also anticipating a libel suit if it was recorded, asked them to rewrite the lyrics so that Mr. Lee was now a handsome hipster teacher that the singers are crushing on.

"Mr. Lee," released in 1957, was a smash. But the girls were too young to play much of the club tour circuit, and further singles for Atlantic went nowhere (unsurprisingly, as they were recording stuff like "Speedy" and "Zoomy").

In 1959, the Bobbettes went back to the well, but this time decided to do "Mr. Lee" the way it was intended to be. So they rewrote the song as "I Shot Mr. Lee," a gleeful homicidal confession with cheery backing vocals ("shot him in the head! boom boom!"). Atlantic wanted nothing to do with it, and shelved the track.

A year later, the Bobbettes were recording for a new label, Triple-X, and in May 1960 re-cut "I Shot Mr. Lee." Released a month later, it became a minor hit, forcing Atlantic to rush out its version in an attempt to take away some of Triple-X's sales. No one ever found out what the real Mr. Lee made of it all, but I assume he didn't take a bullet, at least.

Released as Triple-X 104 c/w "Billy"; on The Golden Age of American Rock 'N Roll Vol. 10.

Top: Yves Klein, A Leap Into The Void.

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