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The Shangri-Las

Along with the Shirelles and the Ronettes, the Shangri-Las were among the greatest girl groups; 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. Tying it all together in the studio was Shadow Morton, a mad genius of a producer who may have been second in eccentric imagination only to Phil Spector in the mid-'60s.

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 obscure singles when they were hired by George "Shadow" Morton to demo 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. It also began their association with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller's Red Bird label, which would handle the group for the bulk of their career.

The quality of Morton's work with the Shangri-Las on Red Bird (with assistance from Jeff Barry and Artie Butler) was remarkable considering that he had virtually no prior experience in the music business. The group's material, so over-the-top emotionally that it sometimes bordered on camp, 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 smaller hits followed in 1965 and 1966, many of them excellent. "Give Him a Great Big Kiss" proved they could handle more conventionally, bubbly girl group fare well; "I Can Never Go Home Anymore," a runaway tale that took their patented pathos to the extreme, would be their third and final Top Ten hit. 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. 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 reminiscent of "Remember (Walking in the Sand)." It was too unconventional to rise above the middle of the charts, especially given that the narrative could quite possibly be construed as the recollections of an assault/rape victim.

Unlike some girl groups, 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. Their real lives, however, were not without elements of drama themselves. Their constant personnel changes baffle historians; sometimes they are pictured as a trio, and sometimes one of the members in the photos is clearly not one of the Weiss or Ganser sisters. Worse, the Red Bird label ran into serious organizational difficulties in the mid-'60s, and wound down its operations in 1966. The group moved to Mercury for a couple of dispirited singles, but had split by the end of the 1960s. Shadow Morton went on to an interesting, erratic career that included involvement with Janis Ian, the New York Dolls, and Mott the Hoople. Mary Anne Ganser died in 1970; the cause has been a source of mystery but it was due to either encephalitis, complications from a barbiturate overdose, or as the result of a seizures. Her sister Marge died in 1996 of breast cancer.

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. The situation was exacerbated by frustratingly substandard reissues of their Red Bird work, which made it impossible to collect all of their fine sides without buying numerous packages, many of which boasted shockingly shoddy sound quality. Happily, the situation was rectified in the mid-'90s with excellent, comprehensive compilations of the Red Bird material in both the U.K. and U.S. ~ Richie Unterberger, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

And nothing I can do can make it turn around. Brilliant.
walkin in the saaaand, walkin hand in hand, the night was so exciting...
How does he dance? -- Close. Very very close.
My favorite Girl Group along with the Crystals.
babablowfish
They were the greatest of the Girl Groups.
Imissthe shangri las
Out in the streets!
Shangri=las version of You Cheated no good The original Shields version much better
The 'Shangs version of YouCheated, You Lied is pretty great, IMO. There were only ever the Ganser twins and Mary Weiss sometimes joined by Betty when they were performing near home. They were a four girl grop, and the bio assertion that someone other than the Ganser and Weiss sisters performed is completely unsubstantia t e d by everything I've read or heard on record. Mary was the lead singer on most tracks Maybe is another Doo-wop classic they remade,
The Shangri-Las ruined the Shields You Cheated song. TERRIBLE!!!! ! ! :-(
comrademisc
It's on you tube. search for Out In The Streets - The Shangri-Las (1965)... amazing stuff.
Oh man, Shindig...th a t was a great show.
bjkemp3
Yea... you go-go GIRLS!!!
Shindig 1965--they came on all in black leather and performed Out On the Streets and I was in love, 13-year old hopeless love. They were a presence and so baaaad.
I love the oldies it's easy listening
I did this song in middle school in the talent show. Funny looking back on that now
Best of the Best !
I like the cover art. Umm, so are there 3 or 4 in the group? No matter I love them all!
The original lady emo band.
These were the rebel girls of music.Great!
michaelrocks 6 8
I like The Cake more.
Well you need to check that Mary and liz(Betty) are touring and Mary Weiss has a new album out. Check it out under Mary Weiss
steve3691
These girls were excellent & had a certain style that makes them great!!!
ladyspineret t e _
good good stuff.
Why can't The P**sy Cat Dolls rock out like this?
some friends and I performed "give him a great big kiss" Karaoke style for a talent show in 2003. We didn't win, or even get a runner up position, but I still love them, and I'm only 24 :)
Does anyone remember coming home from school and watching The Shangri-Las perform on Lloyd Thaxton? Seems like yesterday.
I love them! =p
shreddie
The Shagri-Las rock with attitude,I love it. I remember hearing them when I was a kid, but never noticed. Silly me.
wow. That's all I can say. The Shangri-Las are baddass and I can only hope my generation will eventually come up with something that can be admired forty years later like these girls did.
sadconquors
Shangri-Las were the girls unchartered. Walkin' in the sand takes me right there again.
Shanglais were the bomb. This is what the Go-go's style come from. Brenda Carlisle.
please just keep playing them!! douglas bittner

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