"I felt so strongly about 'It Took a Long Time' when I heard it in the film 'Precious' that it was literally in my act the following weekend," Gore said of the 1974 number recorded by the vocal trio Labelle. "I'm doing it because after all these years in a business that's been good and bad to me, I'm in a place that I really want to be in. And it took a long time to get there. So it's kind of my theme song right now."
Gore's new anthem will be part of her shows tonight and Monday at the Dakota Jazz Club. So will "It's My Party," the 1963 classic that made the then-16-year-old New Jersey high schooler a pop star.
"I'm not one of those people that likes tomatoes thrown at them after the show for not doing 'It's My Party.' I happily do it," Gore, 63, said cheerfully last week from New York.
She'll also probably do "You Don't Own Me," her proto-feminist hit from 1964, and "Out Here on My Own," which she co-wrote with her brother Michael Gore for the movie "Fame." New versions of both tunes appear on 2005's "Ever Since," Gore's first album in nearly three decades.
"I'm sorry I waited 30 years," she said. "But I'm glad I did the album."
From No. 1 to college
Gore has never made predictable career moves. At the height of her popularity, she went to Sarah Lawrence College to study English and American literature.
"I was involved in a business that was very selfish and fickle, and I always had problems with that," said Gore, who continued to work while in college. "At 16, you could see that people who had never spoken to you before were now looking to be your best friend. You don't have to be a genius to piece this stuff together."
She got her start in show business after her voice teacher gave her demo to producer Quincy Jones, who was known for his work with jazz singers Sarah Vaughan and Billy Eckstine but was looking to make inroads in pop circles. She and Jones looked at more than 200 songs before picking "It's My Party," which went to No. 1. Then a different team of songwriters penned a sequel, "Judy's Turn to Cry."
Were these songs about a bratty teen or a young woman being assertive?
"Some of it was bratty teen stuff and some of it was self-assertion," Gore said. "That's what being 16 is about -- coming through all that stuff. At 16, I was just looking for songs I could relate to. I was trying to be authentic then. I'm proud of them. On the other hand, they're not 'Bridge Over Troubled Water.'"
There was no mistaking the message of "You Don't Own Me," however.
"When I heard it for the first time, I thought it had an important humanist quality," she said. "As I got older, feminism became more a part of my life and more a part of our whole awareness, and I could see why people would use it as a feminist anthem. I don't care what age you are -- whether you're 16 or 116 -- there's nothing more wonderful than standing on the stage and shaking your finger and singing, 'Don't tell me what to do.'"
Gore's ensuing social commentary ranged from "That's the Way Boys Are" (1964) and "Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows" (1965) to "California Night" (1967), her last hit and first project with Four Seasons producer Bob Crewe. She performed that song on TV's "Batman" because her uncle, a producer of the show, created the role of Pink Pussycat for her.
"It was great fun," she recalled. "People still watch it today, which is hysterical. They're probably wondering if I can still fit into my costume. I can. It's a little lower on my hips."
Jon Bream • 612-673-1719