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)".
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".
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 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:
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."
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.
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.
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.
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 .
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.