This unusual indie pop track is the debut single by Helen Love, the Swansea punk-pop band. It was released in the summer of 1993. It isn’t very well known, and wasn’t a big hit at the time, but it has acquired a certain noteriaty since on account of it being the first song to use the phrase ‘Girl Power’.
As the reference to Huggy Bear hints, the ‘girl power’ Helen and her band (both singer and band are called Helen Love) are singing about is riot grrrl, which had crossed the Atlantic in 1992 and was, by the summer of 1993, being reported on at length in both the UK music press, and the odd tabloid and broadsheet in a frequently negative fashion.
Anecdotally I have heard that Huggy Bear and Bikini Kill had the phrase ‘Totally Girl Powered’ on the t-shirts worn by the bands and crew during their UK tour in 1993, and I know that the Leeds half of the Leeds and Bradford Riot Grrrls had homemade t-shirts with the phrase ‘Girl Power’ spray painted onto them. One of which I managed to get my hands on when ordering the Coping Saw demo and a copy of Ablaze! fanzine.
Helen Love might have been inspired by the likes of Bikini Kill and Huggy Bear, but Shampoo, who’s song and album Girl Power were both released two years later in 1995 would seem at first glance to have little to do with riot grrrl. Or did they? It seems only fair to point out that the band, during their indie period on Bob Stanley’s Icerink label did gig with the likes of Mambo Taxi and Cornershop, placing them somewhat closer to riot grrrl as it unfolded in the UK than, say, the Spice Girls.
‘Wannabe’, the Spice Girls debut single was released in the summer of 1996. It was accompanied by a Girl Power manifesto that never really seemed to get defined in any meaningful way, but coverage of the band was notably more positive than of riot grrrl four/three years previously.
As for Helen Love, the band are still going but the original lineup has long gone. They may not have had a massive hit with ‘Formula one racing girls’ but I have fond memories of queueing to see them in Manchester in 1997, at a gig atttended by people as far away as Sheffield and Leeds.
Image is of the words ‘Girl Power’ spray painted in pink on a black background. There is also a pink heart and some pink dots, also in spray paint. Image by Cazz Blase, copyleft
Video commentary: The song plays over a still image of the sleeve for the Helen Love best of compilation Radio Hits Vol 1