The Cookies

The Cookies essentially had two histories as distinctly different groups (with one member in common) that existed for two years at a time, six years and an entire decade apart in styles and sounds. The original Cookies were Margie Hendrix, Ethel "Earl-Jean" McCrea, and Pat Lyles, who started singing together in Brooklyn in the early '50s, made their recording debut on the Lamp imprint of Aladdin Records in 1954, and were signed to Atlantic Records in 1955 by producer/songwriter Jesse Stone. This lineup enjoyed a Top Ten hit on the R&B charts in 1956 with the single "In Paradise," and backed Chuck Willis and Joe Turner on various sessions during that same period. They ceased to exist as the Cookies when Ray Charles, who was also signed to Atlantic, transformed them into the Raelettes. They spent the next six years working under that name until 1962, when a new version of the Cookies emerged in New York, with Earl-Jean McCrea joining newcomers Dorothy Jones and Margaret Ross. That lineup began doing sessions at the Brill Building, specifically at Aldon Music, behind Tony Orlando and Neil Sedaka, among others, cutting demos and generally becoming part of the company's basic operation. It was McCrea, for example, who suggested Little Eva as a babysitter to a married pair of songwriters working at the Brill Building (Carole King and Gerry Goffin) who ended up using the babysitter's dancing and singing skills to create "The Locomotion." The single put Aldon's spinoff label, Dimension Records, on the map and the Cookies sang backup on that record, the success of which finally earned them some sessions of their own in 1962. In recent years, Goffin and King have both criticized the group for its "soft" sound, but this overlooks the sultriness of their singing -- with a sharp arrangement, as on the 1962 singles "Chains," which hit number 17 on the pop charts in the fall of 1962, "Girls Grow Up Faster Than Boys" (number 33 in early 1963), and "Don't Say Nothin' Bad About My Baby" (number seven in early 1963), the combination was unbeatable. Even their lesser material, such as the rather prosaic rendition of "On Broadway," is pleasant, and a few songs, such as "I Never Dreamed," have a soaring, ethereal quality that's a joy to hear, even 40 years later. In point of fact, the Cookies did have a more lyrical sound and less of the hard, soulful feel most of the black girl groups of the period had. They could have sounded more "white" than many Motown groups of the same period, but it wasn't a sound that could compete and, absent the most solid songs, the trio had run out their string by 1964. However, they earned a special place in pop music history when the Beatles added "Chains" to their repertory and ended up recording it on their first LP, Please Please Me, in 1963; there were the Cookies, right along with other American influences on the group, including the Shirelles, the Miracles, and Arthur Alexander. Following their breakup, Earl-Jean McCrea, working under the name Earl-Jean, had a solo recording career that started on a promising note in the summer of 1964 with "I'm Into Something Good." Unfortunately for her, the song was picked up by Herman's Hermits and charted in the Top Ten in their version the following fall, eclipsing the original record and the artist herself. ~ Bruce Eder

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