Friday, November 22, 2013

Shangri-Las, The #99 Female Artist of the Rock Era*

Two sets of sisters--Mary and Elizabeth Weiss and identical twins Marguerite and Mary Ann Ganser--formed the Shangri-Las at Andrew Jackson High School in Queens, New York in 1963. The girls began playing gigs at school, talent shows and teen hops when Artie Ripp heard them and signed them to Kama Sutra Records. The Shangri-Las (named for a restaurant in Queens) recorded "Simon Says" in December.  That single didn't chart well.

But success was just around the corner for the girls who ranged in age from Mary at 15 to Betty at 17. Producer George Morton helped them achieve a dynamite sound with their first release on Red Bird Records. An unknown keyboardist by the name of Billy Joel played on the demo, which was nearly seven minutes long. The group re-recorded the song and Morton faded the new version out at 2:16. The song hit #5--not bad for your first hit!

As memorable as "Remember" was, it was the Shangri-Las' next single that put them on the map. Featuring roaring motorcycles and breaking glass, it hit #1.

By the end of 1964, the Shangri-Las were an established act, performing with the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Drifters and James Brown. Betty had dropped out by this time, leaving the group as a trio. In 1965 they toured the U.K. with Herman's Hermits, Del Shannon, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders and others, and Betty rejoined the group shortly afterward.   

Despite the great start, the Shangri-Las struck out with their next five releases, before finally hitting the Top 10 for the last time in 1965 with "I Can Never Go Home Anymore".

Producer Morton had begun working with Janis Ian and Vanilla Fudge, and the group's new label, Mercury, had little enthusiasm for them. In 1968, the Shangri-Las broke up. Mary and Betty Weiss and Marge Ganser reunited briefly in 1977 to record an album, but they weren't satisfied and declined to release the record. They did, however, give a live performance at CBGB's. 

The Shangri-Las had an image that was different from other girl groups of the 1960's, and influenced punk-era acts such as Blondie and the New York Dolls, Aerosmith (who covered "Remember (Walking In The Sand)"), and the Go-Go's, who performed that song since their early punk rock days in L.A. clubs.

The group scored 11 hits with three Top 10's in their career but they never did enjoy a Gold album.

1 comment:

  1. One of the things that makes this special so great is that the artists are from every decade and about every style of music.


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