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Leader of the Pack - the Shangri-Las

Each of the great girl groups have their own very distinct character: the innocent realism of the Shirelles, the generous warmth of the Chiffons, the Crystals - youthful and business-like or, or brisk and defiant, depending on which line-up is singing, the Ronettes, proud and imperious, the Supremes, stylish and sophisticated, the tense edginess of Martha and the Vandellas, the hot, sultry Dixie Cups and the Marvelettes, sharp and soulful.

The Shangri-Las radiate street-wise toughness and sexiness. They see and enact the epic in the everyday - to quote fellow New Yorker Mary Gaitskill - in "a passionate evocation of what is great in ordinary people, with their crummy jobs and fantasies, people who are not even supposed to "have a life." " (- from "Oppositions" by Mary Gaitskill.)

It's difficult now to realise that, upon its release in 1964 "Leader of the Pack" was subversive in that the singer falls for a guy "from the wrong side of town" and, as Dave Marsh succinctly puts it, his:

"death isn't just the result of a parent-child misunderstanding about the class requirements of proper dating decorum, it's unmistakably and unrepentantly All Dad's Fault. Inconceivable in the movies or on tv..." in those days, so much so that it was it was banned by the BBC in the UK until it's re-release in the 1970's. (Extract from "The Heart of Rock and Soul" by Dave Marsh.)

The conversation intro is legendary in its own right:

Marge Ganser: "Is she really going out with him?"

Mary Ann Ganser: "Well, there she is, let's ask her"

Marge: "Betty, is that Jimmy's ring you're wearing?"

Mary Weiss (aka "Betty") "Mmm-hmm"

Mary Ann: "Gee, it must be great riding with him"

Marge: "Is he picking you up after school today?"

Mary: "Mmm-mmm"

Both Mary Ann and Marge together: "By the way, where did you meet him?"

In answer she lets rip like a cork from a Pomagne bottle with the banal line

"I met him at the candy store"

which neatly captures the paradox of puberty, true love meets sensual passion in a sweet shop, as she nearly blows our heads off...

"He turned around and smiled at me

You get the picture?"

Mary Ann and Marge: "Yes, we see"

Mary: "That's when I fell for the leader of the pack."

I'm sorry I've omitted Betty Weiss, as she was on the original recording, but had left the group temporarily at the time when they made the song's tv renditions.

You can't miss Shadow Morton's over-the-top production and sound effects As usual he wrote the song, this time with Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, but it's the vocals by the Shangri-Las, and Mary Weiss in particular, that make the song one of the great expressions of teen passion.

It's as though the band and the production, motorcycle revs, squealing tyres and all, are stacked like an avalanche on one side, and Mary, tough but heartbroken, stands defiant on the other.

When her Dad makes her tell him they're finished, her boyfriend drives off and is killed when his motorcycle crashes. Dad's wrong; she was right and will never forget him; ergo establishment wrong, rebel right.

Dangerous stuff for teenagers to be listening to in 1964.


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