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The Shangri-Las were an extremely unique group; if judged solely on the basis of attitude, they were the greatest of them all. They combined an innocent adolescent charm with more than a hint of darkness, singing about dead bikers, teenage runaways, and doomed love affairs as well as ebullient high-school crushes. These could be delivered with either infectious, handclapping harmonies or melodramatic, almost operatic recitatives that were contrived but utterly effective. They were the prelude to punk.

Originally the Shangri-Las were comprised of two pairs of sisters from Queens, NY (identical twins Marge and Mary Anne Ganser and siblings Mary and Betty Weiss). They had already recorded a couple of singles when they met George “Shadow” Morton and recorded a demo of a song he had recently written, ‘Remember (Walkin’ in the Sand).’ The haunting ballad, with its doomy ‘Moonlight Sonata’-like piano riffs, wailing lead vocal, and thunderous background harmonies, seguing into an a cappella chorus backed by nothing except handclaps and seagull cries, made the Top Five in late 1964.

The group’s material, was emotional and was lightened by the first-class production, which embroidered the tracks with punchy brass, weeping strings, and plenty of imaginative sound effects. Nowhere was this more apparent than on ‘Leader of the Pack,’ with its periodic motorcycle roars and crescendo of crashing glass. The death-rock classic became the Shangri-Las’ signature tune, reaching number one.

Several hits followed in 1965 and 1966, many of them excellent. ‘Give Him a Great Big Kiss’, ‘I Can Never Go Home Anymore,’ a runaway tale that took their patented pathos to the extreme.

These all show up on oldies collections, but lots of listeners remain unaware of the other fine singles in their catalog, like the moody ‘Out in the Streets,’ the dense orchestral swamp of ‘He Cried’ (which cuts Jay & the Americans’ original, ‘She Cried,’ to pieces), and another teen death tale, ‘Give Us Your Blessings.’ Some of their best songs, in fact, were B-sides; ‘Dressed in Black,’ yet another teen death drama, had a marvelously hushed and damned atmosphere, and ‘Paradise’ was co-written by a young Harry Nilsson. The Train From Kansas City.
Their most unusual single of all was ‘Past, Present and Future,’ which didn’t feature a single sung note, presenting a somber spoken monologue and occasional spoken background chants over a classical piano track .
This was a very misunderstood recording.

The Shangri-Las gave a voice to real teenagers, with Mary’s explosive lead vocals delivering emotion-packed melodramas that made them one of the most consistently exciting groups of the day.

The Shangri-Las were dynamic on-stage performers, choreographing their dance steps to their lyrics and wearing skin-tight leather pants and boots that were quite daring for the time. Even today, the Shangri-Las’ history remains somewhat murky and mysterious; the original members have rarely reunited for oldies shows or talked to the press.

For further information check out the official websites:

The Shangri-Las Homepage

Mary Weiss Homepage

Inspiration: Spectropop