Album Review: Little Girls — Valley Songs

Pop music never ceases to amaze. If one looks past the mega-hits – and then looks even farther afield beyond the commercial near-misses — there remains a cornucopia of overlooked music deserving of praise. So it is with Little Girls, a Los Angeles group of the late ‘70s and early 1980s. Fronted by sisters Caron and Michele Maso, the band synthesized everything from power pop to classic girl group pop to sneering punk. But Little Girls never broke through to the big (or even medium) time, and the band never even gigged beyond L.A. Worse yet, Little Girls (so named for their diminutive stature, not their age) would be and remain tagged with the epithet “novelty band.” Even their brief Wikipedia entry opens with that assertion. They deserved better.

Enter Playback Records. The UK-based label has seen fit to curate Valley Songs, a 26-song compilation that brings together the band’s EP, assorted demos and relevant later-day recordings. Valley Songs is delightful, the sort of album that spurs listeners to wonder aloud, “Why wasn’t this band a hit?”

The Little Girls story is one filled with near-misses: they got play on MTV, their signature tune (“Earthquake Song”) was picked up for use as a dance number on American Bandstand, and they were championed by Rodney Bingenheimer. But none of that added up to a record deal, so the band – the Caro Sisters and an assortment of players including mainstay guitarist Kip Brown – never made the leap to the majors. (By the way, John Borack’s superb and economical liner note essay distills their saga into a tidy yet thorough summation.)

There’s a chirpy, only slightly sassy quality to Caron and Michele’s twin/lead/harmony vocals. Comparisons to The Waitresses are inevitable on tracks like “How to Pick up Girls,” but Little Girls had their own distinct identity. The band was taut, sharp and economical, providing a musical backing to the sisters’ suburban-gal vocal mien.

Their cover of the DC5’s “Any Way You Want It” kicks off with an arrangement that suggest how Brill Building-era pop girl group might have tacked it (had it, y’know, been written then), but then it kicks into gear and sounds more like The Go-Go’s. Nicely done. The band originals are of-the-time yet sturdy pop tunes that showcase the Maso sisters’ assets.

Anyone attempting to lay hands on any of Little Girls’ music in the years before 2008 would have faced a daunting challenge. Their 1983 Thank Heaven EP (co-produced and arranged by the legendary Ed Stasium) was easily found, but the bounty of other material was nigh on impossible to locate. In the years since, the Maso sisters have put together and released a couple of compilations featuring ‘80s and later recordings. But this new set from Playback has been assembled with higher standards all around. Filled with color photos, Borack’s liner notes and track-by-track details, the booklet is first rate. And the overall packaging has a level of polish and professionalism that befits the contents within.

Anyone with an ear sympathetic to new wave-leaning ‘80s pop will delight in these songs. Take a trip back to the ‘80s with Little Girls. Recommended.