The Shangri-Las were an American pop music girl group of the 60s that became well known for their 'streetwise' image and popular songs about teenage angst, being massively influential among later female vocalists. The group was formed at Andrew Jackson High School, located in Queens, New York, in 1963. It consisted of two sets of sisters: Mary Weiss and Elizabeth "Liz/Betty" Weiss alongside identical twins Marguerite "Marge" and Mary Ann Ganser.
After working together for a bit, Mary Weiss ended up singing lead. In April of 1964, since the girls were still minors, their parents signed for them with Red Bird Records, with their name coming from the title of a mythical place of wonder. Mary was 15, Betty was 17, and the Ganser twins were 16. That same year, they had their first hit with "Remember (Walking in the Sand)". The song, a U.S. #5 and a U.K. #14, was created after producer George "Shadow" Morton hired the band.
Their songs with "Shadow" Morton featured lavish production with heavy orchestration and sound effects. Their biggest hit, the renowned death disc "Leader of the Pack", climaxes with the sounds of roaring motorcycles and breaking glass. A U.S. #1 and U.K. #11 hit, the tune still gets serious airplay to this day.
According to a Biography episode on various 60s 'Brill Building' songwriters, including retrospective interviews with Greenwich, Barry and Morton among others, Barry said that at the time he was suspicious of Morton's overt attention to Greenwich. Disbelieving Morton was really the songwriter he claimed to be, Barry challenged Morton to prove his legitimacy and bring in samples of his recent work (expecting never to hear again from an embarrassed Morton). Morton stated in his interview that, with an empty song portfolio at the time, he felt sufficiently challenged by Barry, whereupon he left the Brill Building and drove his automobile to a Long Island Beach.
Full of both inspiration and desperation, Morton spent the evening writing his first song, while sitting in the dark in his parked car. Entitled "Remember (Walking In The Sand)", Morton then 'rolled the dice' and recorded a demo of his song with a long-shot, unknown girl-group local club act that he admired, The Shangri-Las (according to Morton, with the then-unknown Billy Joel on piano in the demo recording), and offered the demo recording to Jerry Leiber, who was then setting up Red Bird Records. The recording "Remember (Walking In The Sand)" by the Shangri-Las reached #3 on the US Billboard Hot 100 in 1964. Considering the scope of this accomplishment, Morton was transformed overnight from a credential-less industry 'wannabe' into a teen recording songwriter and recording producer. According to Steve Kurutz at Allmusic, "Morton's production work, which included brilliant sound effects and inventive percussion, carried the Shangri-Las to girl-group history."
The band continued to have a string of American hit records, mainly on depressing themes such as death, loneliness, and abandonment. Songs included "Past, Present and Future", "Give Him a Great Big Kiss" and "Long Live Our Love".
In 1966, the Shangri-Las' subsequent two releases on Red Bird failed to make the top 50. That same year the band left Red Bird and Morton after the label folded. At the beginning of 1967, Marge decided to leave the group. Despite signing to Mercury Records that year, the group had no further hits. In 1968, they disbanded.
Mary Ann died of a drug overdose in 1970. Marge succumbed to breast cancer on July 28, 1996 at age 48.
The group experienced a small revival in the UK when "Leader Of The Pack" was re-issued twice, reaching #3 in 1972 and #7 in 1976.
The Shangri-La's 1966 hit "Past, Present & Future" was effectively covered in 2004 by ex ABBA singer Agnetha Fältskog on her 2004 album, "My Colouring Book".
Since the 1980's, the group has had to deal with a group calling themselves The Shangri Las, but having nothing to do with the original group. The group was put together by Dick Fox.
* 1964: Leader of the Pack (US #109)
* 1965: Shangri-Las-65!
* 1966: Golden Hits of the Shangri-Las
* 1975: The Shangri-Las Sing
* 1996: The Best of the Shangri-Las
* 1964: "Remember (Walking in the Sand)" (US #5, UK #14)
* 1964: "Leader of the Pack" (US #1, UK #11)
* 1965: "Give Him a Great Big Kiss" (US #18)
* 1965: "Give Us Your Blessings" (US #29)
* 1965: "I Can Never Go Home Anymore" (US #6)
* 1965: "Maybe" (US #91)
* 1965: "Out in the Streets" (US #53)
* 1965: "Right Now and Not Later" (US #99)
* 1966: "He Cried" (US #65)
* 1966: "Long Live Our Love" (US #33)
* 1966: "Past, Present and Future" (US #59)
* 1966: "Take the Time"
* 1967: "Sweet Sounds of Summer"
* "Shangri-Las 77!", footnote 4, by Phil X Milstein, Spectropop
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