It’s impossible to know how many musicians have slipped through the cracks of the music industry over the years. With the amount of music released every week either independently or with a label backing — not to mention all the music that already exists — it can be easy to wonder just how much great music we’ve missed out on. An example of a band that was almost all but forgotten is California’s Female Species.
Earlier this year, archival record label Numero Group released a compilation of the band’s work, spanning the better part of a quarter century from 1966 to 1991. Tale Of My Lost Love shows the trajectory of their career in 29 songs, with beginnings in 60’s garage rock/girl group pop and an end in 80s pop country/country rock. Using the album as a telling of their career, it might come as a surprise to the listener that the band never achieved mainstream success. Regardless of where in their career they were, Female Species showed true talent in writing pop music. However, they went so unrecognized that prior to the release of this album, the only proof of the band’s existence online was a 2019 upload of their 1966 song from which their compilation album takes its name.
Present with the crackles of an unearthed record, the song’s blue tone lives up to its title. The mature songwriting and professional-sounding melodies might make it hard to believe that the song’s writer was only 16 at the time of release. It wouldn’t be until the writer was 71 that the world would get to hear the rest of her work.
Consisting of sisters Vicki and Ronni Gossett, along with a rotating cast of additional members, Female Species began creating music in high school. Older sister Vicki originally thought up the idea of making a band, and her enthusiastic younger sister was happy to learn to play bass to help with the dream. Though the band brushed up with many big names in music over the years — one time almost bringing in Karen Carpenter of the Carpenters as a drummer before her group’s success — they themselves never hit it as big as their contemporaries.
This first couple years of the band’s music consisted mostly of garage rock and pop rock, likely in part due to Vicki’s inspiration from The Beatles’ American debut. Tracks like “You Need Me” and “Stop And Think It Over” sound like they should have been on the Ed Sullivan Show alongside the Fab Four, or at the very least being played today next to classics like “California Dreamin’” and “Take Me For A Little While” (coincidentally also reissued by Numero Group). “Tying The Leaves” tells the story of a daughter wishing to prevent autumn from coming after finding out her mother has until the fall to live, showing the versatility in the band’s writing abilities even at a young age.
They gigged frequently until they graduated, at which point they moved to Vegas for steady work in 1971. It was in Vegas that they would eventually find themselves moving towards the booming country music scene. The sisters themselves admit they didn’t intend to take up country, telling Alison Fensterstock in an interview for Numero Group, “in our hearts, we’re really not country, but we tried to gear it that way to do [Cliffie Stone’s] country shows and possibly get a deal, which is what we wanted.” It was perhaps this very outsider approach to country that gave their new music such an additional pop sensibility.
Their country stint is primarily documented in eight songs on the second quarter of Tale Of My Lost Love. By this point, the band was only the Gossett sisters, and it is here where it becomes almost baffling that Female Species never managed to break through to the charts. Though their work led to them becoming songwriters for country professionals Peer-Talbot Publishing and later Millhouse Publishing, the success they brought their bosses eluded their own band.
“There’s A Rainbow” and “Sooner Or Later” are as catchy of country songs as have ever been written and could be played alongside Dolly Parton without anyone batting an eye. While their songs were up to par with those of their contemporaries, like Parton or George Strait, they also carried a unique appeal for those outside of country’s core audience. Their crossover appeal is reminiscent of someone like Shania Twain, who rose in the industry only a few years after Female Species’s disbandment. I ask myself if perhaps they could have beat Twain to the punch had the right person heard their music.
It wouldn’t be a true country phase without a blue love song or two, which the band delivers. “Here Comes The Night” is the first glimpse at how the band is capable of tear-jerking. “Just when I think I’m over you, and just when my future looks bright, and just when I’ve made it through the day, here comes the night,” they pine on the song, making any listener feel like a middle-aged woman sitting alone with a beer in a honky-tonk bar in 1985 Nashville.
This melancholy streak is continued with perhaps the peak in all their discography, “Till The Moon Don’t Shine.” The track is Female Species at their best, showing an unmatched ear for melody, golden voices, instrumentation that infuses country with their own spin, and lyrics that bring to mind anyone the listener might care for dearly.
More of their country powerhouse tracks include “In The Moonlight,” “The Silence Said It All,” and “Chinchilla Cat,” a re-arrangement of their equally-as-great “Chinchilla Hat.” These songs feature everything from traditional country sounds and keyboards to swelling strings and flutes, with the band avoiding stagnation within any certain genre at all times. Sadly, none of these songs were enough to bring the band the acclaim they deserved, and in 1991 they disbanded after not being able to land themselves a big deal.
Numero Group should be applauded for somehow finding a true diamond in the rough within the music industry, and bringing a pair of gifted musicians at least a portion of the attention they deserve. Though I wish they would have been given the artistic freedom they wanted while working in the industry, I can at least be infinitely glad that we get to hear them at all. Fifty-five years is certainly a long time to wait to put out a debut album, but better late than never. To hear Female Species’ significant career throughout the years, be sure to check out Tale Of My Lost Love.