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Reparata and the Delrons

Reparata and the Delrons were a girl group that spent a long career plumbing the lower echelons of the American pop charts – a fact that even a cursory listen to any survey of their many singles renders somewhat unbelievable. Like fellow East-coasters the Shangri-las, their early repertoire was heavy on teenage melodrama and heartbreak. But as the 60s wore on, and the girl group sound fell out of fashion, they branched out, and as a result ended up covering an intriguing spectrum of contemporary pop sounds, in the process recording a healthy number of shoulda-been hits and unrecognized classics.

The group, originally known as just The Delrons, was formed at St. Brendan’s Catholic High School for Girls in Brooklyn by lead singer Mary Aiese and a trio of friends. Aiese would remain the center of the group throughout myriad personnel changes, and would even record as just “Reparata” when no replacement Delrons could be found. Reparata was Aiese’s confirmation name, and was called into play once management decided that just being called The Delrons wasn’t exciting enough.

In 1963, the Delrons came to the attention of the management and production team of brothers Steve and Bill Jerome, at which point they began to churn out a long series of 45s for a variety of labels. In 1965 they signed to RCA, for whom they recorded what is arguably their most notable contribution to the girl group canon, the Jeff Barry penned “I’m Nobody’s Baby Now”, a goose pimple inducing dose of Spectorian bombast that, compared to the Delrons’ lighter fare, showed a marked maturity of tone.

That is not to say, of course, that alongside “I’m Nobody’s Baby Now” the group weren’t also producing their share of chirpy romance comic hokum about marriageable boys and remaining “Mama’s Little Girl” in the face of temptation (an example being “Do You Remember When”, which was co-written by Left Banke keyboardist Michael Brown). But it was this material that made the group’s descents into darker territory that much more striking. The nihilistic urban decay lament “Take a Look Around You”, co-written by Aiese, features the stanza “Try to change it for the rest of your life/It ain’t no use/You’ll be staring at the edge of a knife/Taking abuse”. The haunting “I Can Hear the Rain”, another under-recognized diamond in the Phil Spector vein, concludes with the narrator going insane, running down the street with her hands clasped over her ears to block out the sound of the rain coming from inside her head.

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Two of the Delrons’ most adventurous sides were written by Kenny Young, the American songwriter responsible for “Under the Boardwalk” and other hits. “The Captain of Your Ship”, a 1968 tune featuring nautical sound effects, insectile guitars and a lyric positioning the narrator’s conscience as the captain of a sinking ship, managed to become a top twenty hit in the UK (peak position on the Billboard U.S. chart: #127). This kicked off what would be the highpoint of the group’s career, during which their arrival in Britain was feted at a reception attended by members of the Beatles. Another Young penned track, the psychedelic “Saturday Night Didn’t Happen”, featured spacy sound effects and an anguished, echo-plexed cry of “no!” leading into the chorus, and was a highlight of Rhino’s 2005 “Girl Group Sounds” box.

A number of price conscious collections of Reparata and the Delrons “hits” exist, but to my ears the most loaded is Ace’s The Best Of set released in 2005. Boasting 30 tracks and an admirably nerdy completest impulse that sees the inclusion of a 1975 Reparata solo track that tries to make the Ronettes’ “Why Do Lovers Break Each Other’s Heart” sound like “Love Will Keep Us Together”, the collection is about as immersive as you could want. Add in a fact and interview filled booklet by Mick Patrick and, as they say, Bob’s your uncle. Other highlights of the disc, other than all of the titles mentioned above, include the swaggering “Boys”, the spoken intro of which sees Aiese adopt an inexplicable British accent, and “Leave Us Alone”, a churlish early cut recorded when the group was still known only as The Del-rons.

Freshly married, Mary Aiese acted every bit the wholesome teen role model of her early records, leaving the Delrons in 1969 to tend to home and hearth. Loraine Mazzola took over as the new Reparata until 1973, when the satyr’s call of Barry Manilow spirited her away to become the leader of that artiste’s backing vocal group, Lady Flash. Aiese’s obviously strenuous work ethic would eventually get the better of her and she would turn to solo work, eventually trying to reform the Delrons when the crate-digging Northern Soul movement inspired renewed interest in the group — only to run into a temporary snag due to conflict over the name rights.

Meanwhile, most of the rest of us who were alive at the time continued in total ignorance of Reparata and the Delrons’ very existence, which is a shame. True, their track record may be unimpressive judged by the materialistic standards of the hit parade, but, for those of us who look at pop history from the bottom up, they were among the greatest of alternative chartbusters.

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6 thoughts on “Reparata and the Delrons”

  1. Great feature. Do you mean the spoken intro to “Boys and Girls”? I don’t hear any faux Brit accent, but I love the track x

  2. Thanks, Andrew. Yes, you’re right, “Boys and Girls”. Thought for a minute I might have gotten hold of a unisex remix. As for the accent, I definitely hear it, but I’m happy to attribute that to an “ear of the beholder” situation.

  3. Anecdotals from the West Midlands again….
    When Beacon-303 Medium Wave (long before it was Beacon 97.2FM) did their inevitable ’60′s nostalgia day on Spring Bank Holiday, they would inevitably play ‘The Captain Of Your Ship’……and NEVER introduce it. The result of which is that I had this song on a mix tape for years and years before I knew its title or who it was by. (sandwiched inbetween “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” by The Kinks, and “Downtown” by Petula Clark).

    Needless to say, I love Reparata. Thank you for this, Todd.

  4. You’re very welcome, Prof. Thank you! My first encounter with Reparata was with the two tracks on Rhino’s “Girl Group Sound” box, “I’m Nobody’s Baby Now” and “Saturday Night Didn’t Happen”. Later, while looking for a YouTube clip of “Nobody’s Baby”, I found a clip of them performing “The Captain of Your Ship” on some UK TV show and it was all over. I was hooked.

  5. That fantastic and precious clip is from a German pop show, and it seems to be the only footage in existence from their 60s heyday. They did plenty of UK TV around the same time, but none of it was saved. There are a couple of other much later clips floating around, from their days on the nostalgia circuit in the 90s. Personally I came to their music via Reparata’s 1975 solo single Shoes, a childhood favourite. The groups’s “Best of” CD was the only place I could get hold of Shoes, and it opened up to me their amazing run of great tunes from 1964 to 1970 that I didn’t even know about.

  6. Andrew: please remember that Musicians’ Union regulations in the ’60′s quite often prohibited recording of performances. This was in the days when TV was thought to be actively harmful to groups earning a living on the dance hall / social club / Working Men’s club circuit (before ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ changed everything and established the promo clip as way to enhance artists’ reputations and not cut work out from under them). There were also non-trival Union regs about American musicians getting gigs in the UK

    That’s the reason you’ll find a lot more recorded performances from Beat Club or it’s Dutch equivalent than from the BBC or ITV. The last part is especially funny because (if memory serves) two-thirds of the Jimi Hendrix Experience were contract extras to Granada at the time.

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