The Shangri-Las

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The Shangri-Las
The shangri-las logo.PNG
General information
Genre (s) Pop , beat
founding 1963, 1977, 1989
resolution 1968
former members
Mary Weiss
Elizabeth "Betty" Weiss
(1963 to autumn 1964, from autumn 1965)
Marguerite "Margie" Ganser († 1996)
(1963 to mid-1966)
Mary Ann Ganser († 1970)
(1963 to early 1966, from mid-1966)
George "Shadow" Morton
(† 2013)
Jeff Barry
Ellie Greenwich

The Shangri-Las were an American singing quartet . The girls' group only had three top 10 hits in the United States and Great Britain in 1964 and 1965 , but their song Leader of the Pack made it into the charts again in 1972 and 1976. Critics consider it "one of the greatest mini-operas in pop music ", an "unforgettable classic" and "an absolute masterpiece of a teenage anthem". The title was also included in the list of the 365 most important American songs of the 20th century (there at number 180).

The group's short career marked the transition from the “white” rock and pop music of the early 1960s to a more diversified popular music in the second half of that decade; The Shangri-Las deserve the credit of having made an independent contribution to this development by being one of the first girl groups to combine elements of white and black pop music in their songs, which at the time in the USA on two largely isolated markets coexisted.

Formation of the group

The group consisted of the two sisters Betty (* 1946; actually Elizabeth) and Mary Weiss (* 1948), who sang the main voice, and the identical twins Margie (1947-1996; actually Marguerite, sometimes also called Marge ) and Mary Ann Ganser (1947-1970). The twin sisters had taken piano lessons at an early age, and Mary Ann was also learning the guitar. The four girls grew while in the same quarter of the New York district of Queens , but became friends only at the Andrew Jackson High School together at. There they began to sing together regularly in 1963, honed their harmonies in their free time and soon appeared at school parties and record hops , dance events with a mixture of live and record music . By the end of 1963 at the latest, they called themselves The Shangri-Las after a restaurant called Shangri-La on Long Island.

“Remember”: First recordings, first success

In April 1964, George "Shadow" Morton , who had also written the song, produced a demo version of Remember (Walking in the Sand) with them in the studio of Kama Sutra , with a 14-year-old pianist named Billy Joel accompanying them. Morton then played the record to Jerry Leiber , Mike Stoller and George Goldner , the people responsible for the Red Bird label. The result was a five-year contract for the Shangri-Las, which the mothers had to sign for their underage daughters - Margie and Mary Ann were only 16, Betty 17 and Mary 15 years old. Kama Sutra Productions then initially asserted their claims, but were then satisfied with a mention on the record label.

The song was then re-recorded, assisted by more experienced producers Jeff Barry and Artie Ripp Morton. Despite their musical training, the girls were always accompanied by an instrumental group in the studio and later on stage, as was customary in the 1960s. Morton added to the singing, in which a teenage girl remembers a summery beach romance, seagulls screams and the surf splashing , which together with the melancholy lyrics and the solemn melody created a very authentic mood; This stylistic device, which was seldom used in pop music at the time, was to be used repeatedly by Morton in the following years. With Remember , the Shangri-Las made it to number 5 on the Billboard charts in September 1964 and also to number 14 in Great Britain in October. Also in 1964, a German version of the song ("Forgotten") by the Dutch singer Shirley was created .

Suddenly moved into the limelight with their record debut, the four girls had their first television appearances, for example on Murray the K , toured the USA and soon afterwards also through Great Britain, where they gave concerts with Jan & Dean , Beach Boys , Supremes , Nashville Teens , Byrds and other greats of the early beat era. Often the Shangri-Las were only three on stage because the friends repeatedly fell out at short notice or - like Mary Weiss in 1964, when she first performed in England - were not given a work permit for reasons of age. Each of the four girls is said to have been absent from time to time; Often it was Betty Weiss, however, who increasingly developed other interests than the younger ones and who still took part in the recording sessions, but repeatedly refused to go to concerts abroad. Even on several record covers only three Shangri-Las are shown, which could have been due to the fact that for some record companies only the group, but not its individual members, was important.

"Leader of the Pack"

Shangri-Las - Leader of the Pack

see also the main article Leader of the Pack

With the subsequent recording Leader Of The Pack (in German: leader of the gang ), the group finally managed to create its own characteristic niche in pop music. Written by Jeff Barry / Ellie Greenwich / George Morton, this was an archetypal rocker melodrama from a female point of view, compressed to 2:53 minutes and thus “single-brevity”: “A girl meets a boy, falls in love with him, the boy dies in a motorcycle accident ”. At the end of November 1964, this single made it to number 1 in the United States .

The song begins with a spoken, only minimally instrumental conversation between friends about the "new flame" of one of the participants - the said leader of a motorcycle gang - before the lead voice falls into an orchestral chant. Here, too, the original sounds, at the beginning the repeated opening and closing of the throttle and at the end of the last verse, screeching brakes that merge into the roaring noise of a vehicle collision.

The author Ellie Greenwich reported about the creation of the song:

“The piece was meant completely seriously. There was always that bad boy every girl wanted to date, but no - Mum and Dad would never have allowed that. And then there was the motorcycle. If you started making money in the 60s, you bought a motorcycle. So we picked up on this trend, made a love story and then a somewhat macabre element. And that's how a little soap opera came about. "

George Morton initially had some concerns in the record company's executive suite to overcome before the record hit the market. Songs with motifs of death in the US hit parade were nothing out of the ordinary: Mark Dinning's Teen Angel and Ray Peterson's Tell Laura I Love Her were written as early as 1960, and in 1964 Dead Man's Curve climbed from Jan and Dean to eighth place on the Billboard 100, and also female performers, for example Twinkle with Terry , dealt with the topic. In the UK such titles were initially boycotted by the BBC ; a newspaper at the time headlined an article on this phenomenon with the words "Blood Runs in the Grooves" ("Blood flows in the grooves"). And Bob Luman even made it into the UK top ten with the song Let's Think About Living, which was explicitly directed against such violence . But in January 1965 Leader of the Pack was also in the British charts, where it climbed to number 11.

The 1965 publications

As a result, Morton, Barry and Greenwich produced a number of other "pop epics " with the group , which returned to the Billboard charts in the US, but did not match the success of Leader of the Pack . In the UK, their later records didn't even make it.

With I Can Never Go Home Anymore they succeeded in creating a "girl group counterpart" to She's Leaving Home , but described here from the perspective of the abandoned child and, incidentally, appeared much earlier than the Beatles title. The Shangri-Las begin again with a chant and an almost cool, distant description of the separation from the parental home that took place in the dispute, which increases to a dramatic crescendo when the protagonist becomes aware of the irreversible consequences of the situation. This single made it to 6th place in 1965, Give Him a Great Big Kiss to 18th place on the US hit parade. The follow-up Long Live Our Love , for once a third-party composition by Jerome Jackson and Sidney Barnes, was a lyrically and musically comparatively untypical song that only ranked 33rd. In it, the Shangri-Las expressed their approval of the boys moving out to war against the background of the USA's open engagement in Vietnam from March 1965 . The vocal melody is accompanied by the sounds of a marching band with flutes and drums playing the chorus from When Johnny Comes Marching Home .

Past Present and Future penned by Leiber / Butler and Morton was also published in 1965 . Critics praised the title because of the underlay of the stanzas carried out with Beethoven's moonlight sonata and the contrast of mood to the chorus, in which the thoughtful mood - a girl reflects on her previous life - is also broken up lyrically by an unmediated, associative phrase ("Shall we dance?") becomes; but the single almost flopped at the till and only made it to chart position 59. The Shangri-Las with Out In the Streets were even more unsuccessful . The subject is the depressing idea for the singer that the seriousness of life is displacing youth: boys become men and girls become women; Her boyfriend “is no longer out with his gang, no longer experiences the wild things he used to experience, and no longer appears as a bad boy. That makes me so sad. ”For the journalist Charlotte Greig, this title reflects the reality of the Shangri-Las: the concept of a girl group embodied by the now young women had simply outlived itself because there was hardly any audience left with the musical portrayal of the suffering of one Teenagers decreased. Various developments in pop music also contributed to this; With the descent of the Shangri-Las, the rise of more serious subjects and interpreters in the USA went hand in hand, for example in folk music Joan Baez , Phil Ochs , Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary stand. The British "music invasion" at times strongly diverted the interest of American record buyers to performers from the other side of the Atlantic. And the grieving rock bride no longer necessarily fit into the emerging time of psychedelic rock and the summer of love .

Dissolution of the girl group

After a few more releases ( He Cried and Maybe were still on the Billboard charts; see below ) the Shangri-Las dissolved their contract with the economically troubled Red Bird label at the turn of the year 1966/67 and signed with Mercury Records . There they also produced a long-playing record, which also sold rather poorly. At this point Margie left the quartet; Mary, Betty and Mary Ann continued until 1968 - now as a "real" trio. It is possible that the Shangri-Las brought out a few more singles under changing names, which, however, no longer had any commercial success: this is how they get What's Wrong With Ringo? attributed to the Bon Bons, Wishing Well (from the - real? - Shangri-Las, but on an "obscure label") and the song Only Seventeen produced by "Shadow" Morton with a group called The Beatlettes . Mary, Betty and Margie performed together again in May 1989 at a single concert in Palisades Park , New Jersey . None of the original Shangri-Las were involved in the Revival singing group, which later operated under their band name .
Mary Ann Ganser died on March 14, 1970 of meningitis , her sister Margie on July 28, 1996 of breast cancer or drug abuse. Betty now lives in seclusion while Mary works in the interior design business. In March 2007, Mary Weiss released a solo album titled Dangerous Game .

Their hit Leader of the Pack outlasted the group, however: Released in England in 1972, the title climbed to number 3 in the charts, remained listed for a total of 14 weeks and was even more successful than at the time when the Shangri-Las was still existed. Four years later he experienced another comeback in Great Britain, brought it back into the top ten (highest position: 7th place) and this time even stayed in the charts for 21 weeks.
For Melody Maker journalist Richard Williams, Leader of the Pack is "one of the most mysterious and moving tracks in all of popular music," and Who guitarist Pete Townshend counts it among his ten favorite songs of all time. Bette Midler recorded the title in 1973 for her first LP The Divine Miss M. , as did the hard rock band Twisted Sister in 1982 for her first EP Ruff Cuts ; In 1984/85 this song gave its name to a Broadway musical about the lives of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich. In 1978 Udo Lindenberg published a German-language cover version on his LP Rock Revue under the title Der Boss von der Gang . The US editors of Rolling Stone magazine included this signature anthem of the 2004 Shangri-Las in their list of the 500 most important songs of all time , as did the German edition. In the work The Heart of Rock & Soul - The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made the title occupies place 702, but is even surpassed by another Shangri-Las record ( Give Him a Great Big Kiss at place 200).

By the end of 1964 had The Detergents (dt. The detergent ) under the title of Leader of the Laundromat (dt .: leaders of laundromats ) also published a parody of this hit, which also make it into the US top ten 1965th

Musical characteristics and meaning of the Shangri-Las

The topics of the Shangri-Las were absolutely typical of the time and age: they revolved exclusively around teenage problems and generation conflicts. But they implemented these "without any naivety", also had a "resounding interpreter potential" and a team of authors and arrangers who had a feeling for promising songs and arrangements. The record-related compulsion to have to tell a full story in a maximum of three minutes resulted in the texts being reduced to a few meaningful metaphors , which nonetheless came together to form a complete picture in the minds of the young listeners. The “typical boy who finds the girls interested was outwardly anything but romantic, more of the type of“ multiple offenders ””. In the song Give Him a Great Big Kiss , written by Morton , he is characterized so precisely in just 29 words that you have the impression that you know everything about him:
“Loose sweaters, matching the color of his eyes - dirty fingernails, oh man, what for a catch! Very tight khaki pants, high, pointed boots. He always looks like he's in a bad mood. "

As in this song, in which the choir answers every statement by the lead singer with a "Mo '" ("Tell me more!"), That was the "incorporation of the short dialogue of a typical radio drama into the basic structure of girl-talk-pop" defining characteristics of their style. To do this, the group resorted to the call-and-response scheme, i.e. the alternation between main voice and choir, whose roots lay in gospel and the music based on it by African-American girls and women groups of the 1950s and 1960s - such as the Ronettes , Crystals , Orlons , Patti Labelle & the Bluebelles , Shirelles , Martha Reeves & the Vandellas and others. For Charlotte Greig, another element of black teen pop existed in the music of the Shangri-Las: her recordings had "a certain crazy seriousness, reminiscent of the exaggerated emotionality of the doo wop of the fifties". It is no coincidence that Little Anthony & the Imperials are among her favorite singers. The group added its own elements to this; At the end of Give Him a Great Big Kiss , for example, this is the perhaps winking eye for adults, but for peers very serious rounding off the image of the “dream type”: “Is he a good dancer?”, the friends ask, to which the protagonist a suspicious “ What do you mean by a good dancer? ”Returns. To the laconic explanation “Well, how he dances!” The front woman replies in a suddenly soft, dreamy voice: “Tight! Very, very tight! "

“They exuded strength and independence that appealed to a whole new generation of trend-conscious, white working class girls in the cities. Now they wore street clothes on stage, gruesomely styled with shiny boots and skin-tight pants. They were the bad role model, but at least their peers knew that deep in their hearts they were nice, normal girls. "

- Greig, p. 101

Her outer appearance included the clothing in different pastel colors as well as the then fashionable, extremely high-backed hair, which made her appear significantly older. Young girls could identify with them as much as they attracted male youths; her image connected the image of the high school cheerleader with that of a rocker bride, a not-so-virginal flame with that of the growing friends hanging around the streets.

“The Shangri-Las were a rocker's wet dream. And their demeanor showed that they knew it. Compared to these girls, all the other girl groups looked like a bunch of prayer sisters. "

- Marsh, p. 139

In Ellie Greenwich's retrospect, the discrepancy between the private being and the public appearance of girls becomes clear:

“It was difficult to work with them: they had to be fed, mothered, treated like a sister, and sometimes teased. ... They were so innocent by today's standards - but then they really had the harshness of the road with a good deal of vulnerability. Look at Mary: just cute, that little angel face. And then comes this nasal voice and a little insubordination. "

- Bronson, p. 160; Greig, p. 101

On stage they presented “instead of the usual girl group dance numbers, precisely choreographed gestures; they played the stories of their songs in pantomime. ”Overall, the Shangri-Las were considered a“ milestone in pop because of their themes and their visual presentation ”.


Singles (selection)

  • 1964: Remember (Walking In the Sand) (US 5th, UK 14th)
  • 1964: Leader of the Pack (US 1st place, UK 11th place)
  • 1965: I Can Never Go Home Anymore (US 6th place)
  • 1965: Out in the Streets
  • 1965: Give Him a Great Big Kiss (US 18th place)
  • 1965: Past, Present and Future (US place 59)
  • 1965: Give Us Your Blessings (US 29th place)
  • 1965: Maybe (US place 91)
  • 1966: Long Live Our Love (US 33rd place)
  • 1966: He Cried (US 65th place)
  • 1966: Sophisticated Boom Boom
  • 1966: Heaven Only Knows
  • 1966: Train From Kansas City
  • 1972: Leader of the Pack (re-release, UK # 3)
  • 1976: Leader of the Pack (republished, UK 7th place)


  • To Red Bird
    • Leader of the Pack (1964)
    • Shangri-Las '65 (1965)
    • I Can Never Go Home (1966)
    • Golden Hits (1967)
  • To Mercury
    • Past, Present and Future (1967)
  • On Fontana


  • Fred Bronson: The Billboard Book of Number One Hits. Billboard Publications, New York 1992 3 ISBN 0-8230-8298-9
  • Donald Clarke (ed.): The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music. Penguin, London / New York 1998 2 ISBN 0-14-051370-1
  • Paul Gambaccini / Tim Rice / Jonathan Rice: British Hit Singles. Guinness Publishing, Enfield 1993 9 ISBN 0-85112-526-3
  • Barry Graves / Siegfried Schmidt-Joos / Bernward Halbscheffel (eds.): Rock-Lexikon. Rowohlt, Reinbek 2003 (one-volume special edition) ISBN 3-499-61588-6
  • Charlotte Greig: Will you still love me tomorrow? Girl bands from the 50s to today. Rowohlt, Reinbek 1991 ISBN 3-499-18854-6
  • Frank and Ingrid Laufenberg: Hit Lexicon of Rock and Pop. Ullstein, Berlin 2007 ISBN 978-3-548-36920-4 (Volume 3)
  • Dave Marsh: The Heart of Rock & Soul - The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made. Plume / New American Library, New York 1989 ISBN 0-452-26305-0

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Shangri-Las-77! - The story of Their 1977 comeback (English)
  2. THE SHANGRI-LAS ''89 REUNION CONCERT ( Memento from February 15, 2009 in the Internet Archive ) (English)
  3. The Shangri-Las Timeline ( Memento from February 6, 2005 in the Internet Archive ) (English)
  4. Richard Williams, author of Melody Maker , in his record cover text on Golden Hits Of The Shangri-Las , Deutsche Philips 6336 215 (1966)
  5. a b c Bronson, p. 160
  6. Greig, p. 99
  7. a b c d Greig, p. 100
  8. Bronson explains (p. 160) that this role is often wrongly attributed to Betty in Europe by stating that Mary was not allowed to travel to England on the group's first promotional tour in 1964 because of her age .
  9. John J. Grecco on ; Greig, p. 98
  11. a b Grecco on
  12. The 1972 re-release of Leader of the Pack in Great Britain on the Kama Sutra label also brought the company late financial compensation for its waiver of the rights to Remember .
  13. Janis Ian made this clear at the end of the 1960s: “As a singer, you were hardly ever allowed to play an instrument on your recordings; Nobody expected that you would write your own songs or even lead the studio band. That's what the boys were meant for. " (Michele Kort: Soul Picnic: The Music and Passion of Laura Nyro . Thomas Dunne Books / St. Martin's Griffin Press, New York 2002, ISBN 0-312-30318-1 , p. 30)
  14. ^ Bronson, p. 157
  15. a b Gambaccini / Rice / Rice, p. 261
  16. see the cover of the single on
  17. a b c d e Clarke, p. 1174
  18. ↑ e.g. on their LP Golden Hits and the US cover of the single Leader of the Pack (see )
  19. a b c Graves / Schmidt-Joos / Halbscheffel, p. 830
  20. ^ Bronson, p. 65
  21. Greig, p. 104
  22. a b Greig, p. 105
  23. Greig, pp. 105/106
  24. cf. Nik Cohn: AWopBopaLooBop ALopBamBoom. Pop History. Rowohlt, Reinbek 1971 ISBN 3-499-11542-5 , pp. 137 and 166f.
  25. a b after The Shangri-Las: Leaders of the Pack ( Memento from March 3, 2016 in the Internet Archive )
  26. Drug abuse according to Graves / Schmidt-Joos / Halbscheffel, p. 830 - according to these, however, as early as 1976 - and Bronson, p. 160; Breast cancer according to Laufenberg, p. 1956, and ( memento from June 13, 2004 in the Internet Archive ), depending on the type of drug (painkiller?), Both need not necessarily be mutually exclusive.
  27. Laufenberg, p. 1956; An interview with Mary from March 2007 (as a podcast) can be found at .
  28. Rolling Stone: The 500 Best Songs of All Time. Collector Special, April 2005, pp. 46/47; in the USA the title ranks 447th and in Germany 493rd place.
  29. ^ Marsh, pp. 139/140 and 448
  30. ^ Marsh, p. 140
  31. in the original: “Big bulky sweaters, to match his eyes. Dirty fingernails - oh boy, what a prize! Tight khaki pants, high button shoes. He's always lookin 'like he's got the blues. "
  32. Greig, p. 101
  33. US placements according to and Laufenberg, p. 1956, British placements according to Gambaccini / Rice / Rice, p. 261
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on July 17, 2007 .