Synopsis of Pop Music
"They told me he was bad,
But I knew he was sad,
That's why I fell for the Leader of the Pack..."
In the 1960's, girl groups were usually known for having a 'sweetness and light' image, but the Shangri-Las were a different story. Unlike the Chiffons and the Shirelles, these ladies looked tough, sounded tough and forsook chirpy love songs in favor of operatic tales of woe. In the process, they changed the traditional image of what a female pop star could be.
The Shangri-Las consisted of two pairs of sisters: Mary and Betty Weiss and twins Marge and Mary Ann Ganser. The four were still in high school when record producer George “Shadow” Morton recruited them to record an original tune of his, “Remember (Walkin’ In The Sand).” The song mixed cinematic sound effects (seagulls crying, ocean waves hitting the beach) with thudding drumbeats and a doomy, descending piano riff as it chronicled the bitter demise of a love affair. Mary topped it off with an effectively weepy lead vocal that was ably backed by the group’s wailing harmonies. The finished product shot to #5 on the pop charts.
The Shangri-Las and Morton followed this success up with an even more tragic tale, “Leader Of The Pack.” This ambitious production matched a rumbling guitar riff with motorcycle sound effects as Mary sang of the tragedy that befell a girl forced to break up with a biker boyfriend by her parents. A well-timed crash sound effect drove the song into its mournful coda as she mourned her now-deceased love. The song became a #1 hit and cemented the group’s tough-but-tragic image. It also inspired a Top-20 parody by The Detergents, “Leader Of The Laundromat.”
The Shangri-Las continued to have several more hits in 1965. “Give Him A Great Big Kiss” was an unusually light-hearted paean to a cute-but-tough boyfriend and “Give Us Your Blessings” was another romantic tragedy. The group did much touring during this time and cut a unique, daring figure in their tight-leather outfits and boots. The group also went to #6 with “I Can Never Go Home Anymore,” about a girl who realizes the value of her mother’s love the hard way. Another classic from this era was “Out In The Streets,” which would later be covered by Blondie.
The Shangri-Las continued to tour and record for the next few years. The most memorable of their late-period songs was “Past, Present, and Future,” an entirely spoken-word meditation on lost love backed by the moody piano chords of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” After breaking up in the late 60’s, they would periodically reunite to join in the occasional “oldies tour” during the 70’s. In 1976, “Leader of the Pack,” which had previously been banned in England, went to #3 on the British charts.
The Shangri-Las' influence is still felt today. Their songs have been covered throughout the years by groups as diverse as Blondie and Aerosmith, and even the New York Dolls name-checked the Shangri-Las as one of their influences. And any time a female performer takes a tough pose or sings a heartbroken tale of sorrow, she follows in a set of footsteps established by the Shangri-Las.
Artist Release History1965 - 65
1976 - Remember Walking in the Sand
1978 - I Can Never Go Home Anymore
1978 - The Shangri-Las' Golden Hits
197 - Teen Anguish, Vol. 2
1984 - Golden Hits of the Shangri-Las
1986 - Young Girls in the Big City
1987 - The Best of the Shangri-Las
1987 - The Shangri-Las Sing
1990 - Remember the Shangri-Las at Their Best
1994 - Myrmidons of Melodrama
1996 - The Best of the Shangri-Las
1997 - Greatest Hits
1998 - Leader of the Pack
1999 - Best of the Shangri-Las
2000 - The Very Best Of the Shangri Las
2000 - Leader of the Pack (Dressed to Kill)
Pop Sub Categoriespop
Essential Music AlbumsBest of the Shangri-Las (Polygram)
Band MembersMary Weiss vocals
Betty Weiss vocals
Marge Ganser vocals
Mary Ann Ganser vocals