Barry Saunders

Saunders: Raleigh woman’s story was turned into Lesley Gore’s trademark hit

Last week, when a caller castigated me over my pedestrian taste in music, I haughtily informed him that I am not snobbish and never have been.

“Never been snobbish?” he exclaimed. “You missed the whole point of being a teenager.”

He was right. Being a snob, spoiled and bratty is pretty near a birthright for all teenagers, seemingly embedded in the teen DNA.

Few teenagers, though, have had their brattiness immortalized in a chart-topping, classic song.

Judy Solash has. Ever heard “It’s My Party,” by Lesley Gore?

It was Solash’s party that she was singing about.

Gore died Feb. 16. She was 68. Judy Solash, of Raleigh, is 67, but in 1963 she was Judy Gottlieb of Brooklyn.

“What really happened was,” she told me, “I was having a Sweet 16 party. ... My parents said I had to have my grandparents there and I said I didn’t want them there. I just wanted my friends because I was a bratty teenager and at that point in your life things like that don’t matter.

“They said ‘No, you have to have them,’ and I started to cry. My father said ‘Don’t cry.’ I burst out into tears some more and said ‘It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.’

“My father took that and turned it into this whole little story about Judy and Johnny. He very often used our names when he wrote records. ... Those were the days when you could understand the words in the songs. It was pretty simple,” she said.

She said her dad, Seymour Gottlieb, wrote the lyrics and one of his partners composed the music. (Song credits list four songwriters in all.) They went down to the Brill Building on Broadway, which housed music industry offices where some of the most popular American music tunes were written.

They knocked on doors offering their composition to producers. “Somebody heard it,” she told me, “and said ‘That would be great for Lesley Gore.’ She was an unknown at that time, didn’t have any recordings. They played it for her manager and he loved it and she recorded it. “And that’s it,” Solash said.

Not quite. Not only was “It’s My Party” the first hit single for Lesley Gore, but it was also the first hit song for the dude who produced it, Quincy Jones.

It was the only No. 1 hit that Seymour Gottlieb had a hand in, but not the only song he wrote. He wrote “Am I Just a Dancing Partner,” which was recorded by the Platters. It was a really good song that had the misfortune of being the B-side of one of the great songs in music history, “The Great Pretender,” and peaked at No. 87 on the Hot 100 charts.

“The Great Pretender” was ranked by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the top 500 songs of all time.

Seymour Gottlieb was a Manhattan restaurateur but was passionate about writing, Judy said. “He wrote on everything he could find, everywhere he could find a few blank inches, napkins, cake boxes, the backs of magazines.”

In a recent New York Daily News story, Solash, who lives in Raleigh with her husband of 47 years, Jeffrey Solash, explained, “The reason I said it was, we were the transitional group of women where men could go to law school and become doctors, but we were expected to be teachers and nurses... It wasn’t that I wanted to be a boy – I wanted their rights and privileges.”

Did her grandparents come to the party, I asked?

“They did,” she said. “Everybody had a good time. All was forgotten. They never knew” about the squabble that preceded the Sweet 16 party.

Unless, of course, they turned on the radio a year later.

Saunders: 919-836-2811 or bsaunders@newsobserver.com

Want to meet Barry?

Barry Saunders will be signing copies and reading from his book “...And the Horse You Rode In On, Saunders,” at noon and 7 p.m. Wednesday at Quail Ridge Book Store, 3522 Wade Ave., in Raleigh’s Ridgewood Shopping Center.

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