Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Shangri-Las - Myrmidons Of Melodrama


George "Shadow" Morton walked into the Brill Building, 1619 Broadway, New York City, one day in mid-1964.

In his briefcase was a demo record of a Song called "Remember (Walking In The Sand)" that he'd cut with a group of four girls called the Shangri-Las.

He took it up to the Office of Red Bird Records, and played it for the label's owners, three of the most important pop producers of all time: Jerry Leiber, Mike Stollen, and George Goldner.

They weren't slow to see the potential of what they heard. Leiber recalls that it affected him the same way as the Drifters' legendary "There Gees My Baby" had, five years earlier: "It was a very strange-sounding thing. It had this strange kind of 'swim' in the Sound, that kind of tension that was very attractive."
Morton was told that he could go ahead and re-record it, assisted in the studio by a pair of more experienced young producers, Jeff Barry and Artie Ripp.

When the record came out, on Red Bird 10-008, it had a tremendous Impact, reaching number 5 in the American Charts (and number 14 in Britain).

Besides its fine melody, superb two-part Chorus, and interesting arrangement, what made "Remember" different was its highly inventive use of sound effects - seagulls and rolling breakers were employed to strengthen the evocative qualities of the song. Here, the sounds evoke not only specific memories, but the state of memory itself.

The group's second record, "Leader Of The Pack" (RB 10-014), gave them their first and only American number one. Written by Morton, Barry, and Jeff's wife Ellie Greenwich, it has since earned a well-deserved reputation as one of pop's great mini-operas, on a par with the Coasters' epics of the Fifties ... which were, of course, produced and written by Leiber and Stoller.

It's a classic "death disc", with the sound of revving motor-bikes and tearing metal heightening the already considerable drama. Morton's genius is apparent in the way he pushes the lead girl's voice up front during her monologue, creating instant intimacy. It'was theatre on record, a strip from Valentine or Mirabelle Set to music, and its lasting Power is such that it became a Top Five hit in Britain in 1972 - oddly enough, it just failed to make the Top Ten here first time out in '65.

Morton had made the Shangri-Las Info the outstanding White girl group of their time. Betty Weiss (the lead singer) and her sister Mary, with Marge and Mary Ann Ganser, had captured the magic of the best black girl Outfits-the Chiffons, Crystals, Ronettes, for example - and they were ideal material for Morton's Svengali approach.

1965 and '66 were studded with their hits, many of which sound even better in retrospect. Morton's "I Can Never Go Home Any More" can be seen to tell the same Story as Paul McCartney's "She's Leaving Home" - but much more interestingly. Teenage heartache has never been more exquisitely expressed, unless it be in "Past, Present, And Future". Here, the emotional fug when the "Moonlight Sonata" piano breaks Info the "Shall We Dance ?" theme is intoxicating. This track, with its long, poignant monologue, is one of the most mysterious and moving in all of pop; intensely visual, it's somehow intangible ... you think you've touched the core of its meaning, and suddenly it's slipped from your grase. It also happens to be one of Pete Townshend's ten favourite singles.

Then there's "Out In The Streets", where Barry and Greenwich take up the story of the hero-figure from "He's A Rebel" two or three years further on; "Sophisticated Boom Boom", where a stood-up girl wanders Info a very strange scene ("The girls were wearing formals, and the boys were wearing fies"); the heartbreak of Mary and Jimmy, the runaway lovers in "Give Us Your Blessings"; and the straightforward but beautiful "Heaven Only Knows" and "Train From Kansas City".

It can honestly be said that they don't make records like these any more. The art of compressing action and emotion Info a seven-inch three-minnte disc is almost dead, but with Shadow Morton and the Shangri-Las it reached a particular peak of perfection. In their own context, these sides will never be bettered.~RICHARD WILLIAMS THE MELODY MAKER
01 - Remember (Walkin' In The Sand)

02 - It's Easier To Cry

03 - Leader Of The Pack

04 - What Is Love

05 - Give Him A Great Big Kiss

06 - Maybe

07 - Out In The Streets

08 - The Boy

09 - Give Us Your Blessings

10 - Heaven Only Knows

11 - Right Now And Not Later

12 - The Train From Kanses City

13 - Never Again

14 - I'm Blue

15 - What's A Girl Supposed To Do

16 - The Dum Dum Ditty

17 - You Cheated, You Lied

18 - I Can Never Go Home Anymore

19 - Bull Dog

20 - Long Live Our Love

21 - Sophisticated Boom Boom

22 - He Cried

23 - Dressed In Black

24 - Past, Present And Future

25 - Paradise

26 - Love You More Than Yesterday

27 - Wishing Well

28 - Hate To Say I Told You So

29 - Give Him A Great Big Kiss (Alt Take)

30 - Radio Spot #1 Revlon- How Pretty Can You Get

31 - Radio Spot #2 Revlon- Natural Wonder

32 - Radio Spot #3 Good Taste Tip- Gift Receiving

33 - Radio Spot #4 Good Taste Tip- Dating Courtesy
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