Rock and roll's original bad girls. In 1964, George "Shadow" Morton was trying to break into the music business, and told his friends, Brill Building songwriters Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, that he had a ton of great songs. When they called his bluff, he rounded up four high school students from Queens, New York - sisters Mary and Betty Weiss, and identical twins Margie and Mary Ann Ganser - and had them cut a demo for Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller's Red Bird Records. His first production, "Remember (Walking In The Sand)," was a hit, and the group's next single, "Leader Of The Pack," topped the charts. The secret to Morton's success was the subgenre he created: supercompressed two-minute girl-loses-boy-and-somebody-dies mini-operas, with conversational asides, melodramatic spoken passages, and bizarrely loud sound effects. But perhaps the most amazing part is how musical they are: unforgettable melodies, refreshingly spare arrangements, complete instrumentation shifts between sections ("Remember"'s chorus is nearly acapella, with light touches of piano, handclaps, and lots of seagulls) - surpassing even the best contemporaneous pop acts. Lead singer Mary Weiss's voice is too shrill for the raw emoting she does, but even that only fuels the teens-lost-in-an-adult-world aesthetic. The lyrics are maudlin to the point of being laughable, but in September 1964 trivial lyrics were expected in even the best pop songs - that month the Beatles charted "I Feel Fine" while the Beach Boys hit with "Dance, Dance, Dance" - making "Remember" seem profound by comparison.
Other than some unreleased 1977 sessions and a one-off 1989 reunion performance, the group hasn't worked together since breaking up circa 1967, and both Gansers have passed away: Mary Ann from encephalitis in 1970, and Margie from cancer in 1996 - avoid the imposter Shangri-Las currently on the oldies circuit. The group's original LPs are hard to find, but if you find The Complete Collection you're all set: it's got the two pre-Morton sides, the final two non-hit singles, and everything in between. And check out this fan page and Mary Weiss's home page. (DBW)
Mary Weiss, Betty Weiss, Margie Ganser, Mary Ann Ganser, vocals. Usually only three of them turned up at any one function, with the fourth's absence ascribed to "bad habits."
In early 1964, the Shangri-Las cut a two-sided single that wasn't released until after they became successful. Both tunes are standard girl group rockers - the A-side "Wishing Well" isn't half-bad, with a terrific lead vocal from Betty and a rockin' early 60s guitar solo; the flip "Hate To Say I Told You So" is less interesting - and both open with spoken vocals, soon to be a trademark. (DBW)
Leader Of The Pack (1965)
Golden Hits (1966)
Two final singles missed the charts in 1967 - "The Sweet Sounds Of Summer"/"I'll Never Learn" and "Take The Time"/"Footsteps On The Roof." "Sweet Sounds" has the same cheesy organ and "psychedelic" guitar Morton overused with the Vanilla Fudge, and it didn't work any better for the 'Las; "I'll Never Learn" relies on a small string section, but isn't nearly as artful as "Past, Present And Future." The jingoistic "Take The Time" is pleasant enough, basically a rewrite of "Love You More Than Yesterday"; "Footsteps" is another pale imitation of Motown circa 1965, though it does feature a spoken middle. (DBW)
In 1977, the group reformed briefly, playing one show at CBGB's and recording for Sire, but nothing from the sessions was ever released. (DBW)
Dangerous Game (Mary Weiss: 2007)
Look out! Look out! Look out!