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The Shangri-Las

The Shangri-Las were a girl group, an American pop group of the 1960s. Between 1964 and 1966 they charted with often heartbreaking teen melodramas, and remain known for "Leader of the Pack" and "Remember (Walkin' in the Sand)".

Early career

The group was formed at Andrew Jackson High School in Cambria Heights, a part of Queens in New York in 1963. They consisted of two sets of sisters: Mary Weiss (lead singer) (born ) and Elizabeth "Betty" Weiss (born ), and identical twins Marguerite "Marge" (1947-) and Mary Ann Ganser (1947-). The girls often appeared as a trio, Betty Weiss rarely on stage until late 1965, preferring to avoid touring.

They began playing school shows, talent shows and teen hops, coming to the attention of Artie Ripp, who arranged the group's first record deal with Kama Sutra. Their first recording in December 1963 was "Simon Says", later issued on the Smash label, on which Betty Weiss sang lead. They also recorded "Wishing Well" / "Hate To Say I Told You So", which became their first release in early 1964 when leased to the small Spokane label.

Initially, the girls performed without a name. But when they signed their first deal, they began calling themselves the Shangri-Las, after a Queens restaurant.

Some discographies list The Beatle-ettes and The Bon Bons, who both issued singles in 1964, as early versions of The Shangri-Las. However, they are different groups.

Mary Weiss was the main lead singer, Betty however took lead on "Maybe", and a number of B-sides and album tracks. One of The Ganser Twins took lead on "I'm Blue", which is a cover of the Ikettes biggest hit at the time, and was included on their 1965 album "Shangri-Las 65!". And One Of the twins takes the lead on "Sophisticated Boom Boom" b-side of "Long Live Our Love".

Success at Red Bird Records

In April 1964, when the girls were still minors, their parents signed with Red Bird Records; Mary was 15, Betty was 17, and the Ganser twins 16. Having been hired by record producer George "Shadow" Morton, they had their first success with the summer hit, "Remember (Walking in the Sand)" (U.S. #5, UK #14). Billy Joel, working as a session musician, played on the demo of "Remember (Walkin' In The Sand)" . The demo was nearly seven minutes long, too long for Top 40 radio. Morton had hired the group to perform on the demo, but Red Bird released a re-recorded version. Morton faded the new version out around 2:16.

The recordings for Morton featured lavish production with heavy orchestration and sound effects, and their next and biggest hit, "Leader of the Pack" (U.S. #1, UK #11), climaxes with roaring motorcycles and breaking glass. UK re-issues peaked at 3 in 1972 and 7 in 1976. The song epitomized the "death disc"; other examples include Ray Peterson's "Tell Laura I Love Her", Jan and Dean's "Dead Man's Curve", and Twinkle's "Terry".

By the end of 1964 the group were an established act. They performed with the Beatles, toured with R&B artists such as The Drifters and James Brown (who, according to Mary Weiss, was surprised to discover the girls were white), and Cashbox magazine listed them as best new R&B group. They also promoted Revlon cosmetics. In March 1965 they toured the UK with Dusty Springfield and The Zombies.

Because Betty did not tour until 1966, and because she often did not appear in photos, many fans believed the Shangri-Las were a trio.

The group alternated between touring with their own band and local bands. Among the latter were the Sonics, as well as the Iguanas, featuring a young Iggy Pop.

Public image

The Shangri-Las' 'tough girls' persona set them apart from other girl groups. Having grown up in a rough neighborhood of Queens, they were less demure than their contemporaries. Rumors about supposed escapades have since become legend, including:

  • Angry at New York disk jockey Murray the K at a concert, the girls moved his motorcycle to the roof of the Brooklyn Fox Theater and left it for him to get it down.
  • They "kidnapped" a man in Philadelphia and held him in their hotel room.
  • Mary Weiss attracted the FBI for transporting a firearm across state lines. In her defense, she said someone tried to break into her hotel room one night, and for protection she bought a pistol.
  • Songwriter Ellie Greenwich supposedly got into a scuffle with one or more Shangri-Las in a recording studio restroom; after this, Greenwich said, the group treated her with more respect.

Whatever truth these stories may have, they were believed by fans in the 60s, and they helped cement the group's bad-girl reputation. According to Weiss, that persona helped fend off advances from musicians on tours.

The Shangri-Las continued to chart with fairly successful U.S. hit records, specializing in adolescent themes such as alienation, loneliness, abandonment and death. Singles included "Give Him a Great Big Kiss", "Out in the Streets", "Give Us Your Blessings", the top ten hit "I Can Never Go Home Anymore", "Long Live Our Love", "He Cried" and the spoken-word "Past, Present and Future", featuring music from Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata". Noteworthy B-sides included "Heaven Only Knows", "The Train from Kansas City", "Dressed in Black", and "Paradise" (written by Harry Nilsson) .

Among titles in critics' favorites lists is "I Can Never Go Home Anymore", the story of a girl who leaves home for a boy; her pride keeps her from returning to her mother who "grew so lonely in the end/the angels picked her for their friend". Lines from "Give Him A Great Big Kiss" include "When I say I'm in love, you best believe I'm in love, L-U-V", and "Well I hear he's bad." "Hmm, he's good-bad, but he's not evil."

Disintegration and retirement

The group appeared on several TV shows, but in 1966 two of three releases on Red Bird failed to crack the U.S. top 50 although they remained popular in England and Japan. Mary Ann Ganser left but returned when Marge — the most outspoken member, sometimes considered the leader — left early in 1967. Red Bird Records had folded. The group recorded more tracks with Morton (some of which remain unreleased) and signed with Mercury Records. However, Morton had begun working with Janis Ian and Vanilla Fudge and Mercury had little enthusiasm for the group. During their Mercury stint, the Shangri-Las had no further hits. In 1968, they disbanded amid litigation.

All the Shangri-Las withdrew from the spotlight. Morton said "The Shangri-Las vacated, they vanished". Reportedly, they were angry that they received little royalties, despite the millions of records they sold. Mary Weiss moved to New York's Greenwich Village, then to San Francisco. Returning to Manhattan a few years later, and prevented from recording because of lawsuits, she worked as a secretary while taking college classes. She then went into the architectural industry, working in the accounting department of a New York architectural firm. She moved up to be the chief purchasing agent and later ran the commercial furniture dealership. In the late eighties she managed a furniture store and was an interior designer. By 2001 she was a furniture consultant to New York businesses. .

She married in 1974 but the marriage ended in 1985; she married again several years later, and her second husband now manages her music career.

Betty Weiss also married and had a daughter, the only member of the group to have a child. She worked for a cosmetics company in Manhattan and later started her own business in Long Island.

Mary Ann Ganser died on March 14, 1970, from barbiturates. According to her mother, Mary Ann had a heroin addiction for two years. Mary Weiss claimed that Mary Ann had died from encephalitis, brought on by a mosquito bite.

Marge Ganser married (becoming Marguerite Ganser Dorste), worked for a telephone company, and died of breast cancer on July 28, 1996 at 48.

The group declined offers to reform throughout the '70s, although they did a few random live performances. But following the successful re-issue of "Leader of the Pack" in the UK in 1976 and renewed interest in the group, Mary and Betty Weiss and Marge Ganser reunited. Contacting Seymour Stein of Sire Records, they spent summer 1977 in New York with producer Andy Paley. Paley said the sessions went well, but they weren't satisfied with all the material and declined to release the record. The tapes now appear lost.

They did, however, give a live performance at CBGBs; Paley put together a band, including Lenny Kaye, and after two hours of rehearsing, the Shangri-Las returned to the stage for the first time in a decade. Although the Sire sessions came to naught, the group toyed with signing with another label. But they were put off by the insistence of record executives that they be a disco vocal group, the musical trend of the day. Mary said she envisioned the Shangri-Las like punk singer Patti Smith). The Shangri-Las split up.

Since the 1980s a trio has called itself the Shangri Las, although unconnected with the original group. The tribute act was put together by Dick Fox, who claimed to have bought the rights to the name, and resulted in legal action from both sides. The original group performed for the last time at a reunion show hosted by Cousin Brucie (Bruce Morrow) in East Rutherford, New Jersey on June 3, 1989.

In March 2007 Norton Records released a solo album by Mary Weiss (backed by garage rockers, The Reigning Sound) called Dangerous Game.

Influence

The street-wise image of The Shangri-Las — initially a promotional device for "Leader of the Pack" — contrasted with other "girl groups" of the 1960s, and they were cited as an influence by 70s punk rock-era acts such as the New York Dolls and Blondie, who twice covered "Out in the Streets," and Aerosmith, who covered "Remember (Walking in the Sand)." Debbie Harry of Blondie is older than any of the Shangri-Las. And The Go-Go's, since their early punk rock days in Los Angeles clubs, have been performing live "Remember (Walking in the Sand)".

The line from "Give Him A Great Big Kiss" — "When I say I'm in love, you best believe I'm in love, L-U-V" — was used by the New York Dolls on their 1973 recording "Looking For A Kiss". The New York Dolls' guitarist Johnny Thunders included a cover of "...Great Big Kiss" on his first solo album "So Alone". Ian Svenonius also used the line at the beginning of "Today I Met The Girl I'm Going to Marry" by his band Nation of Ulysses on the album 13-Point Program to Destroy America. More recently, Ryan Adams (and the Cardinals) paid homage to that line in their song "Beautiful Sorta" off the album Cold Roses, but they changed it to "When I say L-U-V, you better believe me L-U-V. Give me a beer!" In 2005 Julian Cope parodied the famous line in "Dying to Meet You" from his "Citizen Cain'd" album. He's heard to say “When I say I’m dead you best believe I’m dead. D.E.A.D.” during the outro.

The opening from "Leader of the Pack" — "Is she really going out with him ?" — was recycled both as the opening lines of 1976's "New Rose" by the Damned, the first British punk rock single, and of "Kill" by the parody punk group Alberto Y Lost Trios Paranoias, as well as the title of the 1979 hit song by Joe Jackson.

The Shangri-Las' "Past, Present and Future" was covered in 2004 by ex-ABBA singer Agnetha Fältskog on her album, My Colouring Book.

Although most covers and remakes of the Shangri-Las material focus on the hit singles, some express the groups' influence on them by recording songs from The Shangri-Las which were never released as singles by group. Among these, the Los Angeles rock group Red Kross covered "Heaven Only Knows," an album cut from The Shangri-las second album "Shangri-las '65," and Superchunk and Belle and Sebastian recorded versions of "The Train From Kansas City," which was a b-side, and an album cut from the Shangri-las debut album "Leader Of The Pack."

British singer Amy Winehouse has cited the Shangri-Las as an influenceand occasionally integrates the hook lyrics from "Remember (Walkin' in the Sand)" into the bridge of her song "Back to Black" during live performances .

Faris Badwan of The Horrors has listed The Shangri-Las as an influence in The Horrors' sound and lyrics.

Kathleen Hanna of the electropunk group Le Tigre has mentioned that the "one girl calling another" motif and the opening sound of seagulls on the track "What's Yr Take On Cassavetes?" were inspired by The Shangri-Las.

The Shangri-Las were imitated by groups like The Nu-Luvs, who had a hit with "So Soft, So Warm", which was originally recorded by the Shangri-Las as "Dressed In Black" and used as the b-side to "He Cried" (a Jay And The Americans cover}, others included, "The Pussycats", and "The Whyte Boots" who scored big with their single "Nightmare" originally intended for The Shangri-las. Which was written, produced and performed by Lori Burton and Pam Sawyer.

The Detergents had hits with "Leader Of The Laundromat" and "I Can Never Eat Home Any More", both of which parodied the Shangri-Las.

Discography

Studio albums

  • 1964: Leader of the Pack (U.S. #109)
  • 1965: Shangri-Las-65! (re-packaged later the same year with a different cover under the title I Can Never Go Home Anymore.

Compilation albums

  • 1966: Golden Hits of the Shangri-Las
  • 1975: The Shangri-Las Sing
  • 1994: Myrmidons of Melodrama
  • 1996: The Best of the Shangri-Las
  • 2008: Remembered

Singles

All released on Red Bird label except where stated.

  • 1964: "Wishing Well"/"Hate To Say I Told You So" (Spokane label, later reissued on Scepter)
  • 1964: "Remember (Walking in the Sand)"/"It's Easier To Cry" (U.S. #5, UK #14)
  • 1964: "Leader of the Pack"/"What Is Love?" (U.S. #1, UK #11 (1965), UK #3 (1972), UK #7 (1976))
  • 1965: "Simon Says"/"Simon Speaks" (recorded in 1963/64, issued on Smash label)
  • 1965: "Give Him a Great Big Kiss"/"Twist And Shout" (U.S. #18)
  • 1965: "Maybe"/"Shout" (U.S. #91)
  • 1965: "Out in the Streets"/"The Boy" (U.S. #53)
  • 1965: "Give Us Your Blessings"/"Heaven Only Knows" (U.S. #29)
  • 1965: "Right Now and Not Later"/"The Train From Kansas City" (U.S. #99)
  • 1965: "I Can Never Go Home Anymore"/"Bull Dog" (U.S. #6)
  • 1966: "Long Live Our Love"/"Sophisticated Boom Boom" (U.S. #33)
  • 1966: "He Cried"/"Dressed In Black" (U.S. #65)
  • 1966: "Past, Present and Future"/"Paradise" (U.S. #59)
  • 1966: "The Sweet Sounds of Summer"/"I'll Never Learn" (U.S. #123) (Mercury label)
  • 1967: "Take the Time"/"Footsteps On The Roof" (Mercury label)

References

External links

Listening

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