The Girl Groups Fan Club
The Girl Groups Fan Club
The Shangri-Las Biography
by John Grecco
The first half of the 1960s was a period where music was changing rapidly from the 1950s style of Doo Wop and Rock and Roll to the innovative sounds of the 1960s. There were still many companies at this time that would find songs, singers and producers in the usual and sometimes unusual places.
The Brill Building in Manhattan was the hub of the music industry on the East Coast. It was a place at this time where you could go from floor to floor and hear various tunes being pedaled from company to company, along with, someone bustling their new young singing sensation through the halls, hoping that one of the Brill Building record companies would snatch them up.
Over in the borough of Queens, there was another building where you would find a lot of bustling around in the halls of young people and some of that bustling was done by four young girls. The building was Andrew Jackson High School and the girls were two sets of sisters, Mary & Betty Weiss, and identical twins Margie and MaryAnn Ganser, who all hailed from Queens New York.
Now Andrew Jackson High School and Queens, New York was definitely a far cry from Shangri-La, but the girls roaming these hallways and streets would soon be known the world-over as The Shangri-Las. From what is known, the girls started singing together while they were attending Andrew Jackson High School, probably around Mary, Margie, and MaryAnne's sophomore and or possible junior year, and Betty's Senior year.
The girls were discovered by a writer/producer called Artie Ripp. Artie was involved with a company called Kama Sutra Productions who would sign and record groups, then license or sell these tracks outright to various record companies in the hopes that one of them would hit. He had given The Shangri-Las their first know in studio recording session with a couple of songs called: "Wishing Well" and "Hate To Say I Told You So".
The tracks themselves were not as polished as later ones they would do, but "Wishing Well" in a way, helped seal Mary's fate as the lead vocalist. It's has been said that Mary's older sister Betty, did also have a very nice voice and would do some leads when they performed early in their career in local clubs and dances. These two songs were first released in very early 1964 on the Spokane label, which was a small subsidiary of Scepter Records, a label known more for The Shirelles and Dionne Warwick. "Wishing Well" did get some airplay, but it seemed only regionally, and the record never really took off.
The girls were given a another chance with a song called "Simon Says" which may have actually been recorded at one of their local appearances, but the track itself wouldn't see the light of day until about a year later.
The girls, who were still attending high school in 1964 and ranged in age from fifteen to seventeen kept busy by singing at record hops, school dances, area clubs and the like. Around the same time as The Shangri-Las were trying to make a name for themselves, an aspiring writer, George "Shadow" Morton, was also trying to make a name for himself.
Fate would have these two meeting up very shortly thanks to a number of people, namely Shadow Morton, Ellie Greenwich ("THE" nicest person in the music business), Jeff Barry, Jerry Leiber, and Mike Stoller. Back in the late 1950s and early 1960s both Shadow Morton, and Ellie Greenwich lived in the same area, Levittown, Long Island. They had met very casually at first, and a few years had gone bye without any contact.
When Shadow started considering a career in the music field, he had remembered Ellie, and had also heard that she was doing quite well for herself in the business with songs for The Crystals, Ronettes, Darlene Love and the like. Through some arranging by mutual friends, Shadow was able to re-introduce himself to Ellie, and tried to jump-start their casual friendship into an"in" with the music industry.
Ellie's co-writer, partner, and husband at this time was none other than Jeff Barry. When Ellie and Jeff arranged to meet with Shadow, a type of rivalry had started between Jeff and Shadow at this first meeting. It has been said that Shadow was kind of pushed into a corner by his telling Jeff and Ellie how he was a songwriter, and had this group and so on.
Shadow's bluff was called, and arrangements were made to hear one of his writing efforts, which at this time, there were none. So, determined, and probably not letting his pride get injured, Shadow set out to write a song, get a group to sing it, and have a demo made all within a matter of a few days. Shadow did get started on the song, and it was going good, but needed a group.
Someone he knew had mentioned to him about a group of girls that had a unique sound, and were making some noise with the teenagers in the area, so with no other options, he tracked these girls down. Now that he had a song and a group, he got some time at a local studio in Long Island and started to cut a demo with the girls and local musicians, which included none-other than Billy Joel. Most of the songs in the early '60s had a running time of around two minuets, Shadow's first effort, as legend goes, ran around four to five.
A few days later, with the demo in hand, Shadow went to his meeting with Ellie and Jeff up at the Brill Building in New York. After Ellie and Jeff heard the song, they called Leiber and Stoller in to also hear it. This was the start of history. Leiber and Stoller had agreed to sign Shadow on to their Red Bird label, and have him work with Ellie and Jeff. They also wanted him to go into the studio and make some adjustments on the song and re-record it, but use the same girls.
So Shadow Morton now has a record company to work for, and The Shangri-Las are about to hit the big time, but all is not well in paradise. Right before the release of "Remember (Walkin' In The Sand)" Artie Ripp and his associates brought to the attention of Red Bird records a little known fact that almost ended The Shangri-Las recording career. It seems that when Artie Ripp had recorded the girls on "Wishing Well" he also had them sign a contract to Kama Sutra Productions, and that contract was still in effect.
At this point, negotiations took place to include Artie Ripp in for The Shangri-Las recordings, since the girls were still under contract with Kama Sutra Productions. In the summer of 1964, with Mary, Margie and Maryanne still in high school, and Betty most likely close to graduating at this time, "Remember (Walkin' In The Sand)" hit the airwaves, and headed straight up to the top ten of the Billboard charts. For it's time, and even to this day, that was a miraculous feat. If one considers the time period, the charts were dominated by British Invasion and Motown acts, for an unknown girl group to go against competition like The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Dave Clark Five, and Supremes and climb the charts with them, it had to be nothing short of a miracle.
During 1964, groups started to get more and more exposure thanks to T.V. shows on the new fall line-up such as: Shindig, Hullabaloo, Shivaree, Hollywood A Go-Go, Lloyd Thaxton plus the Soupy Sales Show and The Shangri-Las were booked on to everyone of those shows, not to mention that they would later appear on Ed Sullivan. They were one of the hottest new acts of 1964, and were voted the #1 new female act of 1964 by Cash Box. With "Remember" still on the charts, Shadow had to come up with another song for The Shangri-Las.
Many times it's hard to top your first success, but, the girls had nothing to worry about there, they would not only top their first hit, they would eclipse it! The next release for them, as I'm sure everyone knows, is "Leader Of The Pack". There have been conflicting stories as to who actually wrote this song. In past interviews with Shadow Morton, he has said to people that he wrote the song himself, but since Ellie and Jeff had helped him get a start, their names were also put down as writers. Ellie Greenwich has said, that she and Jeff definitely did write it with Shadow, and at that time, Jeff had a motorcycle, and so did Shadow, bikes were getting very popular at this time, and they all had a hand in the song.
This is not the only conflict with "Leader Of The Pack", but also, Shadow at this time had come across another girl group he wanted to record called "The Bunnies" later to be known as "The Goodies". Shadow initially wanted The Bunnies to record "Leader Of The Pack", but according to rumors, that idea was squashed by Leiber and Stoller, and so The Shangri-Las were back in the studio.
In an old interview of Jeff Barry for Billboard magazine, he recalled that Mary was a little shy in the studio during the recording of "Leader Of The Pack" so he stood in front of her mouthing the words to get her to sing.
"Leader Of The Pack" was released in late September of 1964 and it took off like a rocket. Not only did it make the top ten, it made the number one position on the charts! Again, beating out the British Invasion groups. The only other girl group/vocalists at this time that still had any real national chart action was Lesley Gore, The Dixie Cups, The Supremes, and Martha & The Vandellas.
The Ronettes were still on the charts, but in late '64 they were lucky to make it into the national top thirty. The Crystals were just about out of their contract with the Philles label, and going over to United Artists, so they were in a kind of limbo. The Chiffons were still popular, but approaching a legal battle with their record company, plus Dee Dee Sharp and The Orlons' record company, Cameo, was changing direction at this time, and they were in the process of also finding other labels to record on.
With all this going on, the field was clear for The Shangri-Las to run with the ball, and run they did like the New York Jets! With "Leader Of The Pack" doing so well, Scepter decided to re-release "Wishing Well" only now taking it off their Spokane Subsidiary, and putting it out on Scepter. Plus Mercury/Philips had obtained the other early Kama Sutra track called "Simon Says" and released that on their Smash label. Aside from this, Leader Of The Pack was also memorialized with a parody by The Detergents called Leader Of The Laundromat, which Roulette Records released in 1965.
The Shangri-Las were so hot at this time that the old WMCA radio charts had both "Remember (Walkin' In The Sand)" and "Leader Of The Pack" in the Top 10 at the same time! Not bad for four girls from Queens. In late December of 1964 Red Bird released two Shangri-Las singles simultaneously. One was called: "Give Him A Great Big Kiss" and the other was "Shout". "Give Him A Great Big Kiss" rode up the charts peaking around number 18 nationally. "Shout" on the other hand, did not fare as well nationally, but had some pretty decent success regionally in the east. The flip side of "Shout" was a reworking of The Chantels hit "Maybe."
Mary sang her heart out on this one. With "Give Him A Great Big Kiss" the girls made numerous appearances on Shindig, Hullabaloo, Lloyd Thaxton, Shivaree and Hollywood A Go-Go to name a few. The version of "Give Him A Great Big Kiss" that was released as a single was actually the second version that was recorded. The first version had sparse instrumentation, predominant bongos and the lines: "the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, he's everything listen to me sing". Those lines were later replaced with: "Is he a good dancer, what do you mean is he a good dancer, well how does he dance, close, very very close".
This first version can be found if you hunt out an obscure compilation LP called Incense and Oldies on the Buddah label from around late '69 early '70. If your lucky enough to find this old album, you'll not only get this obscure track in real stereo, but you'll also get an alternate take of "Remember (Walkin' In The Sand)" without the seagulls, a different intro, sparse instrumentation, and real stereo to boot!
With two solid hits under their belt, and "Give Him A Great Big Kiss" climbing the charts, Red Bird Records released an LP entitled "The Shangri-Las" in February of 1965. The LP contained all their hits up to this time, with their flip sides.
Side two, was supposed to be from a live performance of The Shangri-Las, and is debatable as the "Maybe" track sounds almost identical to the 45 version, but the 45 version had no crowd noise, the Lp did. It is possible that this "live" performance may have been recorded at none other than Bell Sound Studios and some crowd enhanced effects added to the tracks, but at this point without definite confirmation from Mary, Betty or Shadow, this is speculation.
Riding high with their hits, and public performances, Mary and the girls were asked to indorse Revlon's line of "Natural Wonder" make-up. They did the "How Pretty Can You Get" commercials for Revlon and also did some public service announcements for teens concerning dating etiquette. Not only was the record buying public hearing The Shangri-Las blasting out of their radios, and seeing them on almost all the teen music shows, The Shangri-Las were also honored with "Shangri-Las Day" at the New York Worlds Fair! There was no escaping the Shangri-Las, and who in their right mind would want to.
Their tour schedule was a busy one, aside from the television appearances, they also traveled on some Dick Clark tours, Murray The "K" shows, and just seven months after their initial hit with "Remember (Walkin' In The Sand)" the girls from Queens, New York, took England by storm in March of 1965.
With appearances scheduled for England's "Ready Steady Go" show, (the equivalent of Shindig, both produced by Jack Good) there arose some controversy about "Leader Of The Pack". It seems the censors in England at this time thought the song was too violent, and was rumored that the initial appearance of them singing this song was scrapped, but they did later appear on that show to perform. The girls first trip to England had them sharing top billing with Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders.
Starting out with their first appearance in England on March 7, 1965 in Newcastle, the girls did two shows a day hitting fourteen different towns in fifteen days for a total of twenty eight shows, and ending their tour on March 22nd 1965 in Glassgow, then it was back to the states for more recordings and appearances. It should also be noted that in one of their visits to England, The Shangri-Las DID also appear with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Dusty Springfield!
With their schedule moving at a very fast pace, it may have started to take a toll on them, which is totally understandable. Let's not forget that Red Bird was a small independent label, so their acts didn't have the advantages of some of the major labels or for that matter some of the larger independent labels such as Motown.
Motown would put their acts through their version of charm school, plus having veterans like Cholly Atkins instructing the performers on dance steps and stage performance, not forgetting their management teams that would accompany their acts. Phil Spector would go to great lengths that the Ronettes would be taken care of and watched over while out of his vicinity. The Shangri-Las did not have these advantages, and quite honestly they did not need it, they were survivors and self-sufficient. Aside from road managers coming and going quite frequently, they finally got a Damon Runyon type character named "Fat Frankie" as their road manager that stayed with them for a while and looked after them.
If looking at the amount of personal, television and promotional appearances they were making, aside from their overseas tours and studio work, the most seasoned performer would be weak in the knees from it. In some clips of their performances from around this time, Mary and Margie seemed to be the only constants in the group. Some clips that were viewed showed Mary, Margie, and Maryann, other clips showed Mary, Margie and Betty, and then others would show all four girls.
When opportunity knocks, you have to answer as you may not get another chance, but it doesn't mean that your going to be up to everything that comes with it. Taking four young girls straight out of high school, and throwing them into the entertainment field is hard when your just a local hit, but with the impact their songs were making, plus their enormous popularity with both girls and guys, The Shangri-Las career skyrocketed in the U.S. and England.
While most girls around this age were busy with dating, the girls were busy with club dates, television appearances and tours. With most girl groups appealing mostly to the female buying public, The Shangri-Las found a way to appeal to both sexes. What guy couldn't identify with some of the themes of their songs with the girls parents and friends objecting to the new boyfriend, plus the themes were more realistic for the times, not just teen dribble like other groups were putting out at this time.
The Shangri-Las not only had the look that could captivate you such as Mary's angelic looks, Betty's striking beauty, and Margie and Maryann's doe eyes that you could get lost in, but these girls could really and truly sing!!! Mary's voice was unique and unequaled, with a wide range, Betty, Margie and Maryann's background vocals blended perfectly.
Just listen to the harmony on "Out In The Streets" they don't miss a beat in their choir type vocals, or the mixture of harmony on "Train From Kansas City". Who could also forget the bridge in "I Can Never Go Home Anymore" where they sang a lullaby, plus one of the best recordings the girls did which inexplicably was never released as a single, called "Never Again". Mary sang lead on all the recordings, but there is a possibility that after Mary does the intro to "What Is Love", Betty may have taken over lead vocals for the rest of the song.
Around late April of 1965 Red Bird released "Out In The Streets", a Greenwich and Barry composition, which in a way could be a follow up to Gene Pitney's composition "He's A Rebel" recorded by The Blossoms under The Crystals name. The song tells of a street smart rebel character going out with the good girl, and how he's changed since he met her, but, his heart he really belongs out in the streets.
Although this may seem a mild formula for a song in today's standards, back in 1965 it was a little risqué, and air-play was there, but it seemed that no big push was on from any radio stations for this song. With this against it, the song still managed to climb to the upper forties nationally.
With a double-sided Greenwich, Barry composition, the girls next release would bring them back into the national top forty. The song was none other than "Give Us Your Blessing", a tune which encompassed young love, elopement, and death. The disc climbed the charts reaching number twenty-nine nationally in June of 1965.
Although the songs that the girls sang might seem very melodramatic by today's standards, you have to take into consideration of where they originated from and what was going on at that time.
With the girls, plus the writers and producers all coming from the five boroughs, this period in time lent itself to having teens hanging out on street corners, candy stores, school yards and such. This was not an out of the ordinary thing back then and acceptable, not at all like today's violent street gangs.
Sure most of the candy stores as we know them are gone, giving way to kids hanging out at 7-11s, Wawa, or the mall, but back then, those were the hang-out places. Plus teens with cars and motorcycles have always been a volatile combination, but in the 1960s you were dealing with muscle cars like GTOs, Grand Prix, Starfires, SS Impalas, T-Birds etc. not too mention the bikes that were around like the now classic Harleys. Teens back then, with all this horsepower at their disposal, would race any and everybody that was willing or stupid enough to do it. Now, this doesn't mean that there were drag-strips that everyone went to, to legitimately race, but rather they would be red-lining it on boulevards around the area such as: Lefferts, Jamaica, Queens, Rockaway and Cross Bay Boulevard, maybe seeing who could get to The Big Bow-Wow drive-in first.
Needless to say, all these little runs didn't go smoothly without a hitch. Just as you hear the police sirens blaring in "Cops" on Saturday night T.V. back in Queens during this time you would hear those sirens blaring all weekend long. You had a 50/50 chance weather it was the police chasing the speeding teens, or the ambulance coming to get the not so successful speed racer, and believe me there were plenty of crashes. If you didn't see them, you definitely heard them, and yes, it did as a matter of fact sound like the screeching tires on "Leader Of The Pack".
Now, I'm not saying this was the norm in every state in the U.S. as I can only testify to what happened in Queens, but I'm sure that this was also going on around this time in places like, Jersey, Philly, LA, etc. As far as Iowa or Nebraska, well, that's debatable.
With the success of "Give Us Your Blessings", plus a new single that was going to be released soon, Red Bird Records released the first incarnation of the LP "Shangri-Las 65". For some reason using the artists name with the year around this time was very popular, for instance other companies released "Beatles 65", and Fats Domino 65".
With the charts at this time getting saturated with British music and that driving beat from Motown, Shadow Morton tried something new with the girls. Shadow acquired a song from the writing team of Batman, Moseley it was a Motown sounding tune called "Right Now And Not Later".
Up to this point the girls had not done a tune like this, but after listening to the song, you'll see they not only pulled it off, but made it their own. In a way it showed the diversity of all the girls singing abilities, here you have a group of girls that were known for singing songs on teen love and tragedy, doing a love song/warning that would fit the vocal talents of Martha and The Vandellas or Four Tops. "Right Now And Not Later" had the driving drums, the steady bass line, sax riffs, and no-nonsense vocals, the only thing missing was the Motown label on the record. One thing it did have going against it was another excellent song on the flip side called "The Train From Kansas City". Although the plug side or A side was "Right Now And Not Later", many DJs were playing the flip side instead, with stiff competition on the charts, split air-play did not help the single, it only hurt it.
Hindsight is 50/50 and looking back, if this single was paired with a different flip, it may have done much better on the charts. As a matter of fact, if the flip "The Train From Kansas City" was put out as an A side single, it, most likely, would have also done very good. All these tunes were on the Shangri-Las 65 LP with the cover sporting a neon orange sticker promoting "Right Now And Not Later".
Also during this time, Shadow Morton was still plugging away for the other group he liked, The Goodies, (originally named The Bunnies). One of the tracks on The Shangri-Las new Lp was a catchy song titled "The Dum Dum Ditty". The girls took a knockout, no-nonsense approach to the song with great results, but Shadow decided to also use the same backing track and now have The Goodies do a version of it. The Shangri-Las version was unfortunately kept strictly as an album cut, while Shadow released The Goodies version on a single and backed it with their cover of "Sophisticated Boom Boom". The Goodies version, although decent, failed to make any noise.
With The Shangri-Las version of "Right Now And Not Later" fairing poorly on the charts, the girls were back in the studio working on their next masterpiece. In October of 1965 Red Bird Records released the single "I Can Never Go Home Anymore" first backed on record with a track called "Sophisticated Boom Boom", then later changed the flip side to the up beat "Bull Dog".
From the girls intro into the song, to Mary picking up the lead vocals, you were held listening not to a song per say, but a story. With Mary's story telling vocals unraveling the saga of a mother dying of a broken heart, to Margie, Maryann and Betty's excellent haunting harmony's on background, the listener was drawn into this tale to the very end.
This single shot The Shangri-Las back up the hot 100 to the number 6 in November of 1965 and carried over into 1966, it was also honored with another parody by The Detergents called "I Can Never Eat Home Anymore". With the success of "I Can Never Go Home Anymore" Red Bird Records decided at first to re-work The "Shangri-Las 65" LP. They replaced the track "The Dum Dum Ditty" with "I Can Never Go Home Anymore" and affixed a white sticker on the cover heralding: "Included In The Album I Can Never Go Home Anymore", most likely to use up the cover slicks that were already printed.
Then came the third incarnation of the "Shangri-Las 65" LP. A new cover slick was done showcasing an excellent photo of all four girls seated in their stage attire and white go-go boots, with bright green letters larger than life now titling the LP "I Can Never Go Home Anymore". Even though there was a new cover, the labels for the record itself still read "Shangri-Las 65", plus the liner notes from the first pressing were now deleted completely with just song titles appearing on the rear cover.
With "I Can Never Go Home Anymore" just going off the charts, Red Bird released "Long Live Our Love" in January of 1966, with The Shangri-Las performing it on Hullabaloo on January 10, 1966. With the growing awareness of the Vietnam War, it is no surprise that "Long Live Our Love" did not fare that well on the charts only charting in the thirties nationally. The next single that followed a couple of months later was a re-working of Jay & The Americans' "She Cried" called "He Cried".
Although this was a great single, which contained another masterpiece called "Dressed In Black" on the flip, the record only reached the mid sixties on the charts nationally, although doing much better regionally. If one looks at a reason why this might have happened, your drawn to the possibility that at this time Leiber and Stoller were both in the process of either dissolving or selling Red Bird Records. In this case Leiber and Stoller's interest in Red Bird was sold to George Goldner for a minimal amount.
The tiny label that was dominating the airwaves and charts by storm for close to two years was now facing financial difficulties. With the loss of The Dixie Cups to A.B.C. Paramount, the writing and production team of Greenwich and Barry going to Bang Records, the inexplicable refusal to sign acts such as The Young Rascals, and Neil Diamond, it's safe to assume that there were limited funds to promote the single. Although the single got very little promotion and exposure, it was really hard to find a diner or pizza parlor in Queens that didn't have it playing on their jukebox.
The next and last single by The Shangri-Las on Red Bird was released towards the summer of 1966 and was called "Past, Present and Future". When advance copies of "Past, Present and Future" were sent out to radio stations the flip was an incredible version of Harry Nilson's "Paradise" although it was not mastered very well with the music slightly over-powered the vocals. "Paradise" was also recorded by The Ronettes, but even die-hard Ronettes fans would have to admit The Shangri-Las version was the better version out of the two.
Mary's vocals were very straight forward, whereas Ronnie's vocals were still in that little girl style. When the commercial release came out, "Paradise" was replaced with "Love You More Than Yesterday" a hurried mid sixties style song as the flip. "Past, Present and Future" was done in the style of "I Can Never Go Home Anymore" with Mary's spoken vocals. This, the girls last release on Red Bird, only climbed the charts to the fifties nationally with higher success in some regions.
With Red Bird Records success starting to waver, Shadow Morton moved the girls and himself over to Mercury Records in the latter part of 1966. With this move to Mercury also came the departure of Margie, who opted to take a breather from show business for a while.
Although Margie may not have been the lead singer, it is this writers opinion that she was a definite driving force in the group. Kind of the glue that held them together. Margie's drive may have come from the fact that she came from a large but close-knit family. Aside from her sister MaryAnn, she also had another sister at home plus two brothers.
When you're one of five children, you better speak up or you'll get lost in the crowd. The move to Mercury Records may have appeared as a good idea at the time, for the girls and Shadow, but once there, The Shangri-Las were no longer in the family-type atmosphere of a small independent label, but just another group or number on the huge Mercury roster.
Much like the fate of The Dixie Cups when they moved over to A.B.C. Paramount, Mercury and Shadow, it appears, really didn't know what direction to put their music in. Mercury at this time had groups leaning towards the more hippy or psychedelic sound like Manfred Mann, The Blues Magoos, Keith, and Spanky & Our Gang. These types of groups and music is what the industry was pushing down the throats of the public and the public "thought" this was what they actually wanted to buy, and sell it, Mercury did.
Although Lesley Gore would have another big hit for Mercury in 1967 with California Nights, a great tune with exposure on the Batman T.V. show, it didn't appear that any big push was on with her singles either from Mercury.
Shadow Morton, it seems also started to look at other singers and groups at this time possibly to broaden his horizons and be a part of the new wave others were making in the music field. He made one more attempt with The Goodies, now known as The Nu-Luvs. He had them cover another Shangri-Las tune, originally called "Dressed In Black" but now changed to "So Soft, So Warm". The single was released, and again he didn't hit with them. The one thing you can say about Shadow concerning The Goodies, is for whatever reason, he kept trying to make them a hit.
Others that Shadow had more success with at this time was a singer named Janis Ian, and a group known as The Vanilla Fudge. Janis Ian wasn't too much of a departure from The Shangri-Las with her Society's Child (good girl loves wrong boy) but her songs did tend to lead much more towards social issues in the headlines of the time with a slight touch of folk rock flavor to some of them.
The Vanilla Fudge on the other hand were a huge departure from Shadows previous productions and possibly he was following that trend that others were setting with the more hard rock groups.
The Shangri-Las were now on a new label, their producer was concentrating on other groups and not writing songs for them, and Mercury it seems, was trying to cash in on their previous hits by pushing a Golden Hits Lp. The Golden Hits Lp wasn't a totally bad idea, but Mercury was too cheap to take the time to re-master the multi-track tapes into Stereo, which was pretty much the standard at this time. It seems the only true Stereo tracks on this Lp were the one's previously done over at Red Bird. Not only that, but Mercury featured the girls biggest hit, Leader Of The Pack in Stereo but edited!
Other tracks on the Lp got the low-budget electronic stereo bit done to them. One would assume that a new albums worth of material must have been in the working for their premier on Mercury, but alas, it doesn't seem that this was true. The first release for The Shangri-Las was "The Sweet Sounds Of Summer" written by none other than their personal manager Larry Martire. The record was flipped with "I'll Never Learn" a durge type melody, that was, in fact very catchy and listenable and showed a different side to the girls.
"Sweet Sounds Of Summer" is also a solid song, and if it were not for a pseudo-psychedelic bridge in it, it might have done much better than it's very disappointing #123 on the national charts. As big a fan I am of the girls music, I've had to edit that stupid bridge out of the song for a tape in my car and it sounds much better without it! But that is only my opinion.
In 1967 Mercury released the second and last single for the girls called "Take The Time". Believe it or not the lyrics in this song are pro-involvement for the Vietnam War. I has messages leaning toward it's our duty to serve so our country can be free. Needless to say, it never even made a listing on the national charts. The only ones who might have bought the record was probably kids in Berkley and Kent state to use them for target practice. Now, this has nothing at all to do with the girls singing abilities, as they did a fantastic job as usual on the vocals, this had to do with the wrong material picked in this case for them or anyone else to sing. The flip side of Take The Time was "Footsteps On The Roof" which all in all was a nice song lyrically.
The production of this song was off in the fact that the music and lyrics were hurried, you would have to take a mighty deep breath to keep up the pace on this one. Someone was definitely asleep at the switch when the material was put together for this single, or they had other things and groups on their mind and unfortunately didn't care.
Mary, Betty and MaryAnn were still touring and doing a lot of college appearances at this time. Shadow Morton was working on "You Keep Me Hanging On" for The Vanilla Fudge, plus Janis Ian's "Society's Child". "Society's Child which was initially banned from air play was now taking off with media coverage about the controversy of the song, causing it to get plenty of air-play and sales. Although "You Keep Me Hanging On" was recorded in 1967, it took over a year for the song to take off and hit the charts, peaking at #6 in August of 1968. With the persistence to make these two recordings hit, it seems very odd that nothing more was done with The Shangri-Las.
Possibly they were thought of as being passe at this time, which in itself is a travesty. After two disappointing releases at Mercury and constant touring at different venues and colleges, the girls disbanded. Mary it has been said took off for California for a while, and Margie was going to finish her education.
A couple of years after The Shangri-Las break-up, tragedy struck. Mary Ann Ganser took ill, she was diagnosed with a disease called enchepillitus, and unfortunately in her case it was fatal. Although it has been inaccurately written in various books and articles that MaryAnn died from drugs, this could not be farther from the truth. The disease she died from is contracted from a mosquito bite and once infected, it breaks down your nervous system, eventually killing you. Mary Ann passed away in 1970 at only 22 years old.
Although Mary Ann's passing was undoubtedly and understandably taken hard by the Ganser Family and the girls, Margie would eventually go on with her life. She continued with the education she took a break-from to be in the group, successfully completing her courses and received her High School Diploma in the early '70s. Margie also met Bill Dorste and they were married in 1972, settling in Long Island.
Mary returned to the New York area, married Tony "C", who worked behind the scenes in the '70s and '80s with Jay Black & The Americans. Mary and Tony eventually divorced but even after the divorce, Tony had only nice things to say about Mary. Mary married a second time, to her current husband and is now known as Mary Stokes. Mary, a very astute businesswoman opened a successful furniture business with her husband in Manhattan and is still operating it to this day.
Betty Weiss, had also gotten married, first to Jeremy Storch, a musician who may have had releases on RCA in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Betty and Jeremy divorced and Betty married a second time and is now known as Liz Nelson. She settled in the Long Island area and for a while may have been running a small business.
It seems that none of the girls did any more recording after 1967, but this may not be totally true. It has been said that if you find a first pressing of Aerosmiths Lp "Night In The Ruts" the liner notes or inside sleeve may credit Mary Weiss for background vocals on their version of "Remember (Walkin' In The Sand). The album was released on Columbia Records back in 1979.
In the 1980s there was a huge resurgence in the music from the '60s. We started seeing successful movies pop up like "The Flamingo Kid", "Losin' It", "Gremlins" "Lethal Weapon" "Mean Streets" "Cooley High" "The Wanderers" "The Outsiders" and a flood of others that used music for the '60s as their backdrop. Groups and singers that we hadn't seen in years started performing again, and one of the groups that started to pop-up was The Shangri-Las, or were they?
On the popular television show "Entertainment Tonight" there was a surprise for Shangri-Las fans in the summer of 1989. Mary Heart is introducing one of the top stories and it's about non-other than The Shangri-Las. One would hope that it was something positive, but as the story unraveled during the broadcast, it seemed the girls were in for the fight of their lives.
Entertainment Tonight's correspondent Garrett Glaser starts the story with Mary, Margie and Betty watching a video of a group calling themselves The Shangri-Las. The group in the video would go on to say "our songs" "our hit" and other references that would tend to lead an audience to believe they were the original singers of the original hits. The girls definitely and understandably did not look happy. Margie voiced her opinion on the alleged Shangri-Las stating "they, (Mary, Margie, Betty & MaryAnn) were the ones that worked hard to make the name", "went on the road", "did the one-niters", and "stayed in the lousy hotels".
This was done, not for the fun of it, but logically this was done to further the girls careers, make the name a household and world-known name. Betty (Liz), after seeing the video stated "We're not teenagers anymore and we don't have to take it anymore and we're not taking it anymore". Mary nodded in agreement with both of them.
The broadcast went on to show that Dick Fox was the person involved with booking the non-original Shangri-Las. When interviewed, Fox stated he "researched the name in Washington, nobody owned that name". He also went on to say, "doesn't know if anyone owned the name then", "it hadn't been used for so many years", "and I just registered the name", "I own the name". Dick Fox also stated in the interview on Entertainment Tonight that "If they (Mary, Betty and Margie), decide, they came to me and said, Dick, we want to come back and we want to do it, you got it, in a minute".
Richard Nader, (a concert promoter who strives to put on shows that feature groups that contain original members) was also interviewed on this same broadcast of Entertainment Tonight. Nader put it best when he made some very good points in the broadcast. Nader stated: "Why should three (3) individuals today, live off of the work product and reputation of people who were really the pioneers of Rock and Roll, who really had the hits 25 years ago".
Towards the end of The Shangri-Las segment on Entertainment Tonight, it was stated that the girls, (Mary, Betty and Margie) would reunite to perform again in the summer of 1989. One would think that everything would be back to normal, but that would be wishful thinking.
The Shangri-Las (Mary, Betty and Margie) were scheduled to perform in the Meadowlands in New Jersey for the Palisades Park Reunion on June 3, 1989. The concert was promoted over the radio and in papers, and got some very good promotion. What wasn't promoted was that The Shangri-Las, (Mary, Betty and Margie) would be in court very shortly.
Papers were filed and The Shangri-Las (Mary, Betty and Margie) went to The United States District Court For The Southern District Of New York on May 23, 1989. According to the court papers, two weeks prior to this date, (May 23, 1989), Fox Entertainment Corp., Dick Fox, Mars Talent Agency (run by Larry Marshack) and Jane Does moved for a preliminary injunction to block the scheduled June 3rd performance of Mary, Betty and Margie as The Shangri-Las.
The court papers also go on to say that if Mary, Betty and Margie are allowed to perform on June 3rd and if they are allowed to continue to advertise in advance of that performance, any opportunity to utilize the name Shangri-Las will have been dealt a mortal blow. Fox Entertainment Corp., Dick Fox, Mars Talent Agency and Jane Does were seeking exclusive rights to the name Shangri-Las.
Also in the papers Richard "Dick" Fox's deposition was referred to. In Dick Fox's deposition, it was disclosed that "he decided to use the name "Shangri-Las" at least in part because he believed that name would be remembered by the public". "He similarly admitted that the use of that recognized name would give him a commercial advantage". This writers interpretation of this is that if the public saw the name Shangri-Las advertised as performing in a certain place, they would think they were getting the girls that originally made that name famous and plunk down their money for a ticket to the show.
It was also stated in the court papers that advertisements for appearances for the non-original members Shangri-Las had the words "some personnel changes". The court papers went on to say: "some personnel changes" does not adequately explain the situation; not a single member of the original group has any relationship whatsoever to the Fox Entertainment, Richard Fox, Mar Talent Agency or Jane Does group at this time.
The girls were victorious and won the right to perform at the Palisades Park Reunion. I was lucky enough, not only to attend the show, but also to be there for the warm-ups of the acts. Everyone was just about the hallways and lobby. Ellie Greenwich, her sister from The Raindrops days, Richard Nader, and a whole host of others were just milling about talking to everyone, it really was just like a reunion.
The Shangri-Las were up next for their warm-up set, and they proceeded to go through song after song, not missing a beat or a note. They were in superior form both vocally and visually, and this wasn't even the show!
The show was hosted by Cousin Bruce Morrow, and also featured Little Anthony, Lesley Gore, Bobby Rydell, Freddy Cannon, Lenny Coco and The Chimes, along with The Tokens. All the acts put on a great show, especially Little Anthony Gourdine who's vocal delivery was outstanding. But, the best was saved for the end. Picture if you will, the stage lights dimming, the roar of engines, and Mary, Betty and Margie being brought on stage by motorcycle. The crowd went wild with cheers. All three were dressed in black. Mary in her black leather mini-skirt and spike heels, Betty, (along with her hat) and Margie dressed in tight black slacks. The girls performance was better than their warm-ups hours before, and those were pretty damn good! They moved from one song to another, flawlessly, keeping their moves and vocals picture perfect. It definitely was a night to remember.
The June 3rd, 1989 Palisades Park Reunion is the last know performance where Mary, Betty and Margie ever performed as a member of Shangri-Las in public. The Dick Fox, Fox Entertainment Corp., Mars Talent Agency non-original member Shangri-Las are to this day still performing throughout the U.S. as The Shangri-Las. Whatever arrangements or agreements were made to allow this to still happen is best kept between all parties involved.
To this day, the non-original Shangri-Las are still performing, for instance they non-original group brought in the New Year 2000 at the Riviera Hotel in Vegas and had their faces on $5.00 chips! I'm sure those show tickets didn't come cheap. It is not only a shame, but also a big disappointment to the fans of the original members who still number quite high. They were and still are the sound of the sixties, the epitome of the girl group sound, the sound of the city, a pioneer of rock, the precursor to punk, opening the way for other girl rockers to get their chance at fame.
One can only hope that Mary and Betty may one day perform again, not for the music business itself, but for the fans who really appreciate them and would love to hear them sing once more.
During the years following the Palisades Park performance, Mary went back to running the furniture business with her husband, Betty moved from the Bronx to Long Island, and Margie went back to Long Island and her job at Nynex.
Margie divorced her husband in the early 1990s and moved to Valley Stream where she continued to work for Nynex. In 1994, Margie was dealt a hard blow; she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She battled the disease bravely for two years but lost her battle on July 28, 1996 when she passed away at Calvary Hospital in the Bronx. Margie's parents and family had some of her ashes buried with her sister MaryAnn, and the rest were scattered in Hampton Bays, Long Island.
Margie and MaryAnn will always be remembered for their contribution to Rock 'N Roll, not to mention how pleasant they were to their fans. Even during the height of their popularity weather you saw them on the street or at Green Acres Shopping Center, they would stop and say hello, not to mention, they were like a walking gum and candy factory!
Not only did all four girls give us some great songs that will live on for years to come and memories that go with them, but they gave a part of themselves with it. Sure, they achieved fame, but they definitely did not amass a fortune back then. Performers from this time period were lucky to get paid a minimal amount, unlike the demanding, pampered, spoiled and many-times over-rated performers of today. While the girls could have been going to the school football games, dating, going to the prom, parties and dances, they were busy going from town to town making memories for all of us, which we should be grateful for.
They have left us, and rock n' roll a legacy from which many performers after them have drawn from and built on. One can only hope that the companies that own the old films of the girls different performances would release more than the miniscule few, (three) that have been legitimately circulating in the retail sector, (not to mention the videos that have been traded from various fans over the years). Let's also not forget the record companies that have sat back for YEARS and not re-mastered ALL the girls cuts into the Stereo format. These songs were all done on multi-track and can be re-mastered into real stereo. Although a few have surfaced in stereo, what about the rest of them, what is taking so long!
As recently as this past year, the girls were in the news again, this time fighting for the use of one of their songs that was included in a T.V. commercial for an investment company.
Hopefully, with all the research that was done, not to mention the jogging of my memory, this article gives the reader a good overview of The Shangri-Las along with answering some questions the reader may have had about these legendary ladies and the great accomplishments and contributions they made.
This article copyrighted by John Grecco and may not be reproduced without permission.
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