Girl Groups Week No 5: - the Shangri-Las - Give him a Great Big Kiss / Give us your Blessing / Out i
The wonderfully named Shadow Morton was the greatest Phil Spector imitator and his great oeuvre was the singles of the Shangri-Las.
The Shangri-Las were two pairs of sisters (the Weiss sisters and the Ganser sisters)) from the tough area of Queens in New York. Unlike the other great girl groups, they were white, but still retaining that Girl group but poor side of town sensibility, almost white trash with pride (and attitude).
Morton saw this and developed that tough but vulnerable persona through the lead singing of the smoulderingly sassy but sexy Mary Wiess. He also was Spectoresque in that where Phil Spector produced mini symphonies of female teen angst, Morton went one further, creating a series of rock mini-operatic tragedies, most famous of which is the peerless “Leader of the Pack”. The stories are like the noir of James M Cain, fraught with tragedy and told by adolescent femmes fatales articulated by Mary Weiss, and set firmly in the streets of New York. These mini street epics also often feature a series of “bad boy” teen anti-heroes reflecting the Brandoesque rebels of the late fifties and early sixties.
One of these is the subject of the unusually light (for the Shangri-Las) but wonderfully upbeat “Give him a Great Big Kiss” with Mary telling her friends about her new boy friend and it’s street teen bliss right from the start,
"here comes my guy
walking down the street..."
"Gonna walk right up to him,
give him a great big kiss, MWAAHH!..."
getting even better as they quizz her:
What colour are his eyes?
I dunno, he's always wearing shades,
Is he tall?
Well I gotta look up,
I hear he's bad
He's good bad but he's not evil,
and then it kicks in as they beg "tell me more" she sings
Big bulky sweaters, to match his eyes,
Dirty fingernails, oh boy what a prize!....
he's always looking like he's got the blues....
Is he a good dancer? (and here they push her too far)
Waddya mean is he a good dancer (she snaps back)
well how does he dance?
Close, very, very, close (fade on that thought even if it was a stupid question)
But the mini-epics are the Morton meat and drink with their tragic plots from Never Go Home Any More, to Past Present Future to (Remember) Walking in the Sand to The Train from New York City all with great music arrangements and peppered with exciting sound effects.
But my favourites are these two: the forlorn "Give us your Blessing”, where the eloping couple die in a car crash because they can't see the roadsign "that said detour" due to the tears in their eyes because their parents wouldn't sanction their marriage
Classic Morton, starting with a thunderstorm presaging the approaching tragedy, the talky intro backed by the repeated piano chord, the finger clicking and oh hell it's so good the way it builds, just listen!
Give your blessing
please don't make us run away
give us your blessing
say you'll be there on our wedding day
I love all the backing ooo ooo ooohs on this record, the finger clicks, the piano, the thunder, the crescendo, the tragic talkover, the could-have-been-wedding-but turned-into-funeral bells
Run run run Mary run run run Jimmy run run run......aaaah! (wipes away tear)
But even better is the brooding but magnificently tragic (and neorealistic) “Out in the Streets“:
Right from the beginning the tone is set with the trance-like backing intro, the burden of the sacrifice that she's made her man make, confining him to their home life, trapping him like a wild animal in a cage
He don't hang around with the gang no more
he don't do the wild things that he did before
...I can see his heart's out in the streets...
and the detail:
he don't comb his hair like he did before
he don't wear those dirty old black boots no more....
it really kicks in with the middle eight:
he grew up on the sidewalk, streetlights shining above, he grew up with no-one to love
he grew up on the sidewalk, he grew up running free, he grew up and then he met me.
Then the amazing heart wrenching finale:
I wish I didn't care, I wish I'd never met him,
they're waiting out there, I know I've got to set him free
he's gotta be out in the streets, his heart is out in the streets
and the last wonderful touch, as it fades out with a dead funereal double beat and the girls litanising "he don't hang around with the gang no more" and "out in the streets", is a third foreboding female vocal that intones an approaching police car siren. That's it, that's where they came from, the city of tough choices and sacrifices and small - yet epic - urban tragedy. Move over Shakespeare, there must be a little room on the bench for Shadow Morton!