By the way, where’d you meet him?
Well, not in my candy store-deficient home town. And, not even the Shangri-Las could have made “I met him at the IGA” work.
“Leader Of The Pack,” today’s Blast From The Past, is, nonetheless, indeed unforgettable for any teenager who spent 1964 with a Sears Silvertone 5-transistor radio (or equivalent) precisely tuned to a top 40 station and permanently pressed against his or her ear.
The song has also generated more than its share of – oh, let’s call them “misunderstandings.”
First, it wasn’t written for the group who made it famous. George “Shadow” Morton reportedly wrote the song for the Goodies (AKA, the Bunnies) but redirected it to the Shangri-Las, who needed a follow-up to their earlier hit, “Remember (Walking in the Sand).” Further, while writing credits are shared with Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, Morton claimed this was a technicality dictated by legal and accounting issues rather than the result of their contributions to the song. Greenwich has called Morton’s account into question.
Billy Joel has claimed that as a session musician, he played piano on “Leader of the Pack.” Greenwich denies this.
The killer is that Greenwich also disputes the one legend I “knew” about the song as a teenager – that the sound of the revving motorcycle had been provided by an actual motorcycle driven into the recording studio – located on the second story of a New York hotel. According to Greenwich, the sound was taken from a rather more prosaic source, a special effects record.
Another treasured childhood belief shot to heck.
On the other hand, it is true that the BBC banned the song for a time because it focused on death.
You get the picture? (yes, we see)
Comparing the photo of the group on the record cover atop this post and that featured on the album below,1 one can understand why there is also a surprising amount of confusion whether the Shangri-Las – or as the cool kids called them – the Shangs were a trio or a quartet.
The Shangri-Las, the #1 Girl Group of the time, consisted of Mary Weiss, the lead singer, her older sister, Elizabeth (familiarly known as Betty), and identical twins, Marguerite (Marge) and Mary Ann Ganser.
Until 1965, Betty Weiss avoided touring; consequently, the Shangri-Las, who named themselves after a Queens restaurant, often performed as a trio during 1964 when “Leader of the Pack” reached #1 in the US.
The Shangri-Las were chiefly characterized as the tough girls among girl groups and as teen tragedy specialists. They were hardly alone in publishing death discs; think “Running Bear” by Johnny Preston (1960), “Last Kiss” by J. Frank Wilson (1964), “Dead Man’s Curve” by Jan and Dean (1964), “Tell Laura I Love Her” by Ray Peterson (1960), and, in my mind the epitome of the genre, “Teen Angel” by Mark Dinning (1960).
The “Leader of the Pack” Video With The Shangri-Las
Bonus – Twisted Sister’s Remake Of “Leader of the Pack”
In 1975, somebody, somewhere thought it would be a great idea if Twisted Sister, a heavy metal, glam rock band performed this classic 1960’s Girl Group teen tragedy song from Jimmy’s perspective in a slapstick-laden video.
And thank goodness for that somebody – and whatever he was smoking. It was a hit then and it still rocks today. So … Turn Up Those Speakers.
Twisted Sister – “Leader of the Pack”