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 wasn’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.
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 high point 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.