By Rachel Helps
The Clingers were church girls with guitars, daring to play the devil’s music. That’s how record producer Kim Fowley described these four sisters from Orem, Utah on the documentary The Clinger Sisters: The First All Girl Rock & Roll Band. “That was appealing to me,” he said. According to Fowley, their biggest hit, “Gonna Have a Good Time,” was “shallow and […] decadent. I’m sure their mother wasn’t happy about it.”
The lyrics to the first verse read:
Well baby, baby you’re on my mind
The folks are gone and the place’ll be mine
Well baby, baby wanna be with you
Oh, what do you wanna go and do?
I wanna put it all to you right now, yeah.
The Clinger sisters, Patsy, Debrah, Melody, and Peggy, started as a barbershop quartet, singing locally and in a national barbershop competition. They got their big break singing with the Osmonds on The Andy Williams Show. From there, they sang regularly with Danny Kaye on his variety show and released three singles. After singing at country and state fairs for a few years, the girls wanted to transition to rock music.
The Clingers’ father, Aaron Clinger, used the money from selling their Utah home to buy professional-quality instruments for the girls. The family moved to California to further their music careers, and the girls spent months playing their instruments constantly. Due to their talent and prior music training, they were able to reach a high level of proficiency in a short amount of time.
Despite this, in the late 60’s Columbia Records still insisted that they not play their instruments on their recordings, as did the managers for their first appearance on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. This and the fact that most girl bands did not play their own instruments contributed to a stereotype that girl bands were all hype and no musical talent. The Clingers weren’t hype though – they were amazing musicians who had lots of great gigs but couldn’t catch a break when it came to recording their own album.
The Clingers lived in LA and made friends with many famous musicians. Melody was walking home from a guitar lesson when she wolf-whistled at a Rolls Royce. The car stopped and that’s how she met Dennis Wilson, the drummer for The Beach Boys. Wilson stayed the night at the Clinger house once after his motorcycle had a mysterious malfunction that repaired itself the next morning. He won a bet with friends and Patsy recalls that her dad “was awake half the night keeping an ear out.”
Dennis Wilson introduced The Clingers to Terry Melcher, who signed them up for an album with Equinox Records. The Clingers rehearsed for the album in Terry Melcher’s home, which was later the site of the Charles Manson murders. Terry’s stepfather, Marty Melcher, died when The Clingers were recording said studio album. He had embezzled money from his wife Doris Day and the discovery of the ruined state of the Melchers’ finances led The Clingers’ album to be dropped.
Still, they had several successful singles. Kim Fowley co-produced “And Now You Know Me,” the B-side to their “Gonna Have a Good Time.” Fowley later managed The Runaways, another successful and pioneering girl band of which Joan Jett was a member.
The Clingers finally were able to release a full-length album through a Kickstarter launched in 2018. Soft Bodies, Hard Rock is available through the reissue label area251records. If you like girl bands, you might also be interested in Fanny, the sister duo band from the same time period, and The Aces, a girl band from Utah that debuted in the 2010s.
Rachel Helps is currently the Wikipedian-in-Residence at the Brigham Young University Harold B. Lee Library, where she writes and edits articles pertaining to Utah and Latter-day Saint culture. To see more photos from The Clingers’ touring days, check out the exhibit on local popular music in the BYU Library on display now until November 2022. For more information on The Clingers, see their Wikipedia page and The Mike Stax article on The Clingers in Ugly Things issue #39.