The Chantels – “Maybe”
Formed in 1957, the Chantels became the second African-American girl group to achieve success in America, with their signature ‘doo wop’ and pop sound that differed from other groups at the time, as the Chantels drew from classical music and Latin hymns rather than gospel songs. The song ‘Maybe’ is one of their most popular singles, drawing the listener in through the use of overlaying vocals and harmony that creates a nostalgic atmosphere when listening to the song. ‘Maybe’ became the first song to define the genre of the ‘girl group sound’, mixing together doo wop, rock and roll and mainstream white pop. Released in December 1957, Maybe rose to #15 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts and was #2 on the R&B chart in 1958.
From the first notes of the song, Maybe kicks off with lead singer Arlene Smith singing
Maybe, if I hold your hand
you will understand
And maybe, if I kissed your lips
I’d be at your command
Smith’s voice is the main capture of the song, transforming yearning and vulnerability into a hopeful song that one day this young singer’s lover will come back to her. Maybe takes the listener on a journey back in time, to sepia tinged photographs and the quintessential whirlwind of a young romance through the usage of background harmony and doo wop elements, with Smith’s vocals carrying the song from start to finish. The addition of background vocals and overlaying vocals adds to the song’s vulnerability and the singer’s longing for her lover to come back to her, with an internal conflict that a lot of young girls during the 1950s and 60s (and even now) were trying to figure out when they entered into new relationships – would things work out, and if they didn’t would it be because of
Maybe, maybe, maybe, maybe, maybe dear
I guess I might have done something wrong
Honey I’d be glad to admit it
Oh, come on home to me!
Honey maybe, maybe, maybe, maybe yeah
Well I know that it just doesn’t ever seem to matter, baby
Oh honey, when I go out or what I’m trying to do
Can’t you see I’m still left here
And I’m holding on in needing you
Maybe became a manifesto to young girls trying to figure out the messy nature of relationships and how to navigate them, with the constant underlying message that regardless of what happens, to keep on hoping and keep on trying to keep a hold on their lover, a mantra that still holds true today, but back in 1958 it was the first song to do so, electrifying, energizing and giving hope to young girls everywhere who listened to it on the radio and who dreamed of making it not only as musicians , but also as young women trying to navigate through the world and the relationships come with that. Maybe and the Chantels paved the way for girl groups everywhere, through their earnest vocals and vulnerability, and the underlying longing and hope to make it big, after all, the girls were in high school when they first started out – they were the perfect candidates to tap into the undiscovered market of young teenagers and appeal to them through both through their vocals and their songs, and appeal they did.