My problem with Helen Shapiro is the complete disconnect between her voice and her hit material. What do you do with a perky 15-year-old who sounds like a husky femme fatale? If it’s the 00s – or even maybe the late 60s – you can package her up as a soul singer, but in 1961 soul was too new, there wasn’t a ‘way’ of doing it that you could get a prodigy to learn. And of course it would have been too sexual, too black, too too inappropriate for a fifteen-year-old girl to sing that way. Let’s face it, it still might be.
Shapiro in 1961 has a long career as a jazz and gospel singer ahead of her, and I bet some of those records are great. This isn’t: the gap between her throaty, sassy delivery and the chipmunk backing singers is grotesque (turns out she thought so too, going back to these hits later in her career and re-doing them herself, minus chipmunks). Worse, whenever that rotten “whoop-ba-oh-yay-yeah” hook barges in she has no idea what to do with it – she tries to sing it sultry, like it means something, and it comes out laughable. “Walking Back” was obviously written as a bubblegum record – and as with a lot of bubblegum, a gifted singer can ruin the effect.