The Flirtations – “Nothing But a Heartache”


Introduction to the Flirtations

The Flirtations were an all-girl R&B vocal group who started their professional career in the 1960s. The South Carolinan group first signed to Old Town Records and then to Josie Records; still their records saw no chart action. In 1968 the Flirtations went to England where their career really began to establish. They were first signed to Parrot label, and then to Deram imprint where they recorded the single “Nothing But A Heartache” in 1969. It became a considerable success – in their home country, it did very well on the Cashbox charts for many weeks, peaking at #31. But in England where soul music has been not only accepted but also wildly popular, The Flirtations found their fortunes far better there than they did in the US, as well as established a strong fan base. After Deram, the group signed to Polydor in 1972; “Earthquake” was also a notable single from the group, released in 1983 and peaked at #26 on the dance singles chart. The Flirtations have been active most of the time even up to this day, only intermittently. They released their latest single “Roulette” in 2009.

From the Gypsies to the Flirtations

The Flirtations in this article are not to be confused with the openly gay “a cappella” group. Rather, these Flirtations are the all-girl R&B and soul vocal group, established in South Carolina in 1962. The act started as the Gypsies, with founding members Lestine Johnson and the Pearce sisters Ernestine, Shirley and Betty.

The Gypsies first signed to Old Town Records where their debut single “Hey There, Hey There,” but their follow-up “Jerk It” (written by J.J. Jackson) proved to be more successful on the charts, reaching #33 on the R&B singles chart in 1965. The writer of “Jerk It” also had a successful career as a solo artist. For more information, read The Story and Music of J.J. Jackson.

The group, who had renamed themselves as The Flirtations, signed to to Josie Records. Despite recording fine singles such as “Change My Darkness into Light,” the group failed to spark much interest. Betty Pearce left, and the now-threesome Flirtations won a local talent contest which gave them a chance to fly to the United Kingdom.

The group’s move to England

When they moved to England, they were given a recording contract by Parrot Records. Their first single on that label was “Someone Out There,” which did decently on the Billboard’s Bubbling Under Hot 100 list as well as in the Netherlands.

“Nothing But a Heartache” — the Flirtations’ only hit single

After Parrot, the Flirtation moved to Deram Records, where they released their would-be signature song “Nothing But a Heartache” in December 1968. The song was written by Wayne Bickerton and co-produced by Bickerton and Tony Waddington. While it was a Top 40 hit in the Netherlands, it flopped over in their home country.

“Nothing But a Heartache” was re-released in early 1969 and this time it became really popular. It did well in the US, regionally and nationally. It eventually peaked at #34 on the Billboard Hot 100 in May that year. It also went to #31 on the Cashbox singles chart.

The group’s later career and legacy

Unfortunately, it would be the Flirtations’ only major hit record. Following singles didn’t quite duplicate the success of “Nothing But a Heartache;” despite this, they enjoyed a fervent following in England. In fact, the Flirtations were far more popular and special than they were in the United States.

The group left Deram and moved to Polydor Records, where they recorded titles such as their cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Little Darling (I Need You).” Viola Billups quit the group to pursue a solo career in 1974. Despite this, the group soldiered on and still performed up to the 1980s and beyond. They returned to the charts one final time yet with “Earthquake,” which peaked at #26 on the dance charts in 1984.

They’ve still remained active since, and experience rediscovery by various disco and Northern soul circuits not only in the UK but also in Australia, New Zealand and Canada as well as in the US. Their signature tune “Nothing But a Heartache” is an esteemed Northern soul classic.


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