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Past, Present and Future - the Shangri-Las

I was going to bring the Mary Weiss memorial sequence of posts to a close when I had a request about "Past Present and Future", the other Shangri-Las' talkie mentioned in the last post.

Warning and MSA (Musical Spoiler Alert): listen to the track before you read any further.

Many of the group's classic tracks have already appeared on Uncle Stylus (see other Uncle Stylus entries and and the last two posts)

and they all can be found on the Uncle Stylus Girl Groups Playlist on Spotify.

The Shangri-Las' oeuvre, is as good as it gets, girl group-wise, in expressing sixties' female teen angst: that moment when they are nearly grown up and the tensions between the fairy-tale romantic dreams of childhood come face to face with the realities of adulthood. The latter, that maelstrom of boys, leaving home (see last post), sex and the realities of being a young woman in the city, were made even more complex in a fifties and sixties America where young people were enjoying unprecedented freedoms, were for the first time conscious of having their own voice and culture. And on top of that the boys from their class could be drafted and shipped out to Korea or Vietnam at any moment.

That's the background of the original "girl groups", and it shows in their music, its urgency and passion.

Though it was the wonderful Shadow Morton who produced and wrote "Past, Present and Future" along with Jerry Lieber and Artie Butler, it's Mary Weiss who owns it, who with her beautifully understated delivery gives the record the gravitas it deserves.

The song is spattered with great lines like blood on the bandage of her broken heart-

"Was I ever in love? I called it love- I mean, it felt like love,

there were moments when, well, there were moments when."

-all delivered with the studied coolness of a lepidopterist putting a pin through a butterfly.

The tension that is at the centre of "girl groups" music, innocence and youth versus new freedoms, new cares and responsibilities comes to a breath-stopping head


when Mary says:

"Don't try to touch me, don't try to touch me

because that will never happen again".

Banality as epic, the commonplace elevated to heroic proportions, this is our world, and this is the Shangri-Las at their very best.

As Mary muses:

"The future? Tomorrow? well tomorrow's a long way off...."


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