POP SYMPHONIES (Segue of the Day: 4/4/17)

The way it was in ’65.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Those of you who have been following along for a while here know I’m fond of Time Life’s year-by-year surveys of music from the fifties, sixties and seventies.

The foundation for it all is a handful of CDs a fellow at work gave me about twenty years ago in lieu of sending them off to Goodwill. They survived the great CD selloff of 2002 because the record store wouldn’t take them. First among those were 1965: Classic Rock and its companion volume 1965: The Beat Goes On.

With oldies’ radio now a distant memory in my market, these are my closest proxy. (Somehow, listening to “radio” on the internet, or my satellite TV package just isn’t the same.) And, while I almost always learn something when I listen close to any given volume, these are the ones that still startle me the most.

With the Beatles, Stones and Dylan all missing (due to their catalogs being jealously guarded), you could still pick any couple of the forty-four cuts on these two discs, where there is nothing close to a pedestrian side, and write a short history of the Universe.

Relax: I’m not gonna do that.

I’m just going to talk about the Supremes and the Shangri-Las, two of my favorite subjects anyway, and paired here on tracks 16 and 17 of The Beat Goes On.

Funny enough, I had never really noticed it before: “I Hear a Symphony” and “I Can Never Go Home Any More” set back to back. This…

which, given Diana Ross’s gift for finding seduction in the saddest, most desperate breakup songs and melancholy in the most joyous love songs, could just as well be about the guy who left Mary Weiss in this…

…the most wrenching tale in the Shangs’  own little universe, which has more wrenching tales than any universe I know.

It’s not implausible to think that, if Berry Gordy had grown up in Queens instead of Detroit, Wiess might have had a dozen #1s and Ross might have had one or none.

But it’s probably not that simple. Alternative universes never are.

Diana Ross would have been driven by ambition wherever she was born. Even before she was famous–or Berry Gordy’s squeeze–it’s fair to assume that each record was part of a larger plan.

Weiss’s genius was for making every song she sang sound like it might be her last. That’s not exactly a surefire formula for building a career.

These two songs running together on a comp made her and Diana sound like sisters who never quite got along and thus walked different paths that only crossed at commitment to something larger than themselves.

They used to call that culture and rock and roll existed to extend it, make it larger, let new voices from places like Queens and Detroit sing out and express whatever special quality they possessed. Culture is supposed to make the world larger.

Except when we’re fooling ourselves, we don’t call it culture or anything else now, because the essential thing that made these records possible has vanished like smoke. Not the technology or the musical training or the will or even the voices themselves. Just the belief that it matters to something more than the bank account.

These days, everyone has an eye on their career from the cradle to the grave, so no one gives too much away in any single moment.

Once you start down that path–where Mary Weiss can’t exist–then Diana Ross can’t exist either, because there’s nothing for her to measure herself against.

If you want to know what that sounds like, now that even the 70s are becoming a distant memory, you can turn on your car radio any hour of the day and let it run straight from the lowest number to the highest.

And if you think that’s depressing, just be glad I”m not giving you access to what went through my head concerning the Roger McGuinn picking vs. Jeff Beck shredding guitars on “Turn, Turn, Turn” and “I’m a Man!” because, except through a pair of cheap headphones, we can’t go back there either.

SECOND VERSE, SAME AS THE FIRST (Occasional Sports’ Moment #28)

Vis-a-vis the Giants-Cubs game of 10/1//16, let me repeat the rules from the Giants-Mets game of last week, when the shoe was on the other foot.

First, the new scenario: Giants lead 5-2 going to the ninth at home, trying to stave off elimination. Manager Bruce Bochte (one of the game’s best) takes out pitcher Matt Moore, who has pitched eight innings of two-hit ball with ten strikeouts (and clearly gotten stronger as the game has gone on).

The result, one inning and five pitchers later?

Book the Cubs for the NLCS.

Now for the new rules, same as the old rules:

  1. Never take a hot pitcher out if you’re tied or ahead (no, not even to pinch hit for him). This goes double for a post season game.
  2. If the other dugout wants you to take your guy out….you shouldn’t.

Yaddah, yaddah, yaddah.

And now, for a little ditty:

MY FAVORITE SHANGRI-LAS RECORD…NOT BY THE SHANGRI-LAS (Not Quite Random Favorites…In No Particular Order)

Without even going into if-you’re-a-hammer-everything-looks-like-a-nail mode, it’s not difficult to hear the Shangri-La Effect seeping into the subsequent history of rock and roll. Almost anything that smacks of emotional extremism (especially extremism validated) owes them some sort of debt. That’s why large swathes of metal, punk, gangsta rap et al are hard to imagine without them even if few in those genres ever put as much of themselves at stake as Mary Weiss on an actual record…let alone one record after another.

But I’m actually going to ignore most of that–and most of the straight rips, parodies and inevitable posturing as well. I’m going to stick with the records I think actually lived up to the Shangri-Las ethos, those they might have been proud to call their own. And since even that list could get pretty long, I’ll stick to the very top where even a handful of selections amount to a shadow history of the world mostly hidden in plain sight. As ever, most to mostest:

“Love Child” Diana Ross and the Supremes (1968): A little obvious, but it’s worth noting that even Motown–hip to everything–took nearly half a decade to catch up to the implications of pretty much every song recorded by the group which was hurt most by the absence of Motown style management.

“I’m Eighteen” Alice Cooper (1970): This would have been really liberating for Weiss, who often sang as though she didn’t expect to reach eighteen. This would have needed a transfer from the first person (“he’s eighteen” for “i’m eighteen”). No problem. Weiss was all about empathy. And in case you think the Shangs weren’t adept at gender re-writes, you should check their version of Jay and the Americans’ “She Cried” and remember that Jay Traynor (the first “Jay”) was a much better singer than Alice. Well, except for maybe just this once.

“Wish You Were Here” Pink Floyd (1975): David Gilmour has acknowledged his Shangs’ influence (well, Shadow Morton’s anyway). This was the one record where the debt  turned from visceral to spiritual. I never heard it, oddly, until Fred Durst sang it at the memorial concert for the victims of 9/11. Since then, I’ve never been able to unhear it, or ever wanted to.

“Because the Night” Patti Smith Group (1978): A song Weiss expressed specific regret about (“God I would have loved to sing that song”) when she finally emerged from exile decades later. She heard her own influence–or felt her own hidden presence–even if nobody else did.

“The Coldest Days of My Life” The Chi-Lites (1972): The Shangri-Las were the basic girl group ethos in extremis. Coming from far left field, reaching for the same space, this is the Shangs’ own ethos in extremis.

“Independence Day” Martina McBride (1994): Just in case you thought country Gothic was a horse of a different color.

“Papa Don’t Preach” Madonna (1986): Certainly the greatest Shangs’ tribute record ever made, even if it was never acknowledged as such.Featuring Madonna’s greatest vocal, it even quotes “Give Us Your Blessings” directly. Apropos from the woman who benefited the most from the space the Shangri-Las opened up. Eventually, she turned that space into her own personal joke on the world, something along the lines of “Fooled ya’!” But for a brief, shining moment there, she stood on the highest mountain.

But it wasn’t quite the greatest Shangri-Las’ record not made by the Shangri-Las.

For that, you need to go back to the beginning, the one moment when the direct competition measured up in the moment.

“I’m Nobody’s Baby Now” Reparata and the Delrons (1966)

…Did I mention that summer was here? The summer of our discontent no less. Should be fun!

NEXT UP: My Favorite Truly Obscure B-Side

LOOKS AREN’T EVERYTHING…BUT THEY AREN’T NOTHING (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #78)

I came across this picture of what the Shangri-Las looked like when they looked like what every record company wanted every teen girl group to look like:

shangri-lasyoung

And after they decided what they wanted to look like (becoming, so far as I can tell, the first rock and roll women to force such a choice on the world)?

This…

shangrilasalbum1

“That’s why I like those outfits on the Leader album. That was my thing.”
“Whose suggestion was that?”
“Nobody’s. That was us.”

(Mary Weiss, from the Norton Records interview posted at their website in 2007, which, unfortunately, has been removed. Suffice it to say she went on at some length to also suggest it was no big deal. She shopped the Village thrift stores. That was how they dressed. Trust me, it was/is a big deal. Enough of a big deal that a number of folks spent a lot of time and effort across several decades suggesting/implying they couldn’t possibly have thought of it themselves.)

Not that they needed those outfits, or any other sympathetic element, to get their point across, or keep their cool….Not even in the presence of the man who inspired Elvis to shoot televisions–that’s Robert Goulet on the motorcycle, mocking them–on the show hosted by the man who had Elvis sing to a basset hound–it’s Steve Allen’s show.

MARY WEISS REMEMBERS…AND I REMEMBER (Segue of the Day: 5/31/16)

First, Mary Weiss remembers 1964.

I probably should have linked to these a while ago. Just slipped my mind actually, but I ran across them again today–two snippets from an interview Mary Weiss gave at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame several years back. I wish they would post the whole thing, but the small segments made available are worth listening to in their entirety. Key quote for those in touch with the spirit of this blog:

“Plus I think it was very difficult back then because I truly believe that a lot of men were considered artists, whether or not other people wrote for them, where women were considered product. And I always found that difficult to accept because rock and roll has no sex to me. Maybe my thinking’s screwed up. But I don’t think so.”

Other key quote, on the Everly Brothers:

“…an encyclopedia of harmony.”

Personally, I’d like to see the Shangri-Las inducted into the Hall if only to hear what further bits of sanity Weiss might have to impart in the inevitable round of interviews, not to mention her induction speech. Maybe my thinking’s screwed up…..But I don’t think so.

…and just in case you think the inability to lie ever goes away (as I remember 2007):

 

 

MORE NOTES FROM THE STORY THAT NEVER ENDS–April 26, 2016 (The Shangri-Las, Greil Marcus and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame)

From Marcus’s latest “Real Life” column (and from whence, upon a little further research, came yesterday’s post):

8. The Shangri-Las, “Leader of the Pack” (Red Bird, 1964) Another shot on the Trump rally soundtrack—against the objections of Shangri-Las lead singer Mary Weiss. But really, Trump ought to know the song. He was 18 in New York when the New York group hit the top of the charts. Doesn’t he realize the leader of the pack dies?

(Source: Pitchfork, “Real Life Rock Top 10” 4/25/16)

The answer, incidentally, is you bet he does. Many sources have confirmed that Trump picks his own rally music. I believe them, and, however comforting the notion might be, I don’t believe anything is there by virtue of accident or misunderstanding.

As to what it means? Well Marcus took a stab at it, following on from his next entry, which turned on Steve Miller’s recent laudable call for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame “to keep expanding your vision. To be more inclusive of women. And to be more transparent in your dealing with the public. And to do much more to provide music in our schools.”

Women: the Shangri-Las have never been nominated, let alone inducted. But maybe that’s why Donald Trump doesn’t really know “Leader of the Pack”—they’re losers, and he doesn’t truck with scum.

Well, maybe. But that’s only going skin-deep. Trump’s appeal isn’t exactly to the winners. If it were, he never would have gotten off the ground. The “winners” always have an embarrassment of lackeys to choose from and Trump’s one really fascinating quality is the fear he has struck into every one of the kingmakers. Frankly, I liked Weiss’s response (posted yesterday) better. It was angry and policy based, not merely contemptuous and dismissive. I don’t think Marcus even realizes how much he has in common with the overlords on this subject.

But far more significant to me, is the Rock Hall part. I seem to remember that Marcus long ago turned down an opportunity to be on the Hall’s nominating committee, a place from whence he might have been enormously influential. As far as I know, he has mostly observed silence on the subject ever since. So for him to be making some much needed noise is highly welcome news. And it wasn’t in a vacuum, because all of this followed on his answer to a question about the Hall’s relevance on the “Ask Greil” feature of his website (which is fascinating in any case) from a few days ago:

I know this: regardless of what we may think of the white boys club, its myopia, its kitschiness, or the way they are really scraping the bottom of the barrel with Cheap Trick and Deep Purple to avoid the Shangri-Las, the Adverts, X-Ray Spex, the Mekons, the Chiffons—are the Shirelles in? How could they not be?—not to mention keeping NWA out as if they had to wait politely by the door like children or dogs, being in there means everything to the performers. It makes them think they did something good with their lives, and that they won’t be forgotten. That’s a lot.

I’ve been beating this drum since the early nineties, when it first became evident that women artists were clearly being shoved to one side in the Hall’s process. (I wrote a long-g-g-g-g letter to Dave Marsh at the time. He was then, and still is, on the nominating committee. Coincidentally or not, several of the acts I mentioned, including the Shirelles, got in over the next several years, though, of course, anyone who follows this blog knows that it remains, ahem, a problem). But Greil Marcus has a much bigger platform than I do and his assessment of why the Hall matters is perfect.

This is the most Hall buzz the Shangri-Las have had since right after the Ronettes were inducted in the wake of former nominating committee member Phil Spector being indicted for murder. It’s fair enough, since, perhaps inadvertently, the willingness of Marcus and so many other first generation rock critics to swallow anything “white boy” svengalis like Spector and George Goldner told them, helped set in stone the narrative that the producer was king.

The cracks in that stone continue to grow. I do my best to track every single one of them.

Because, believe me, when it’s finally rolled away, we’ll all be living in a better world.

MORE NOTES FROM THE STORY THAT NEVER ENDS–April, 25, 2106 Update (Mary Weiss and Donald Trump)

Mary Weiss, from about a month ago, on Donald Trump using “Leader of the Pack,” at his rallies. (Note: I’ve seen it mentioned on playlists reported by the media but have never actually heard it at post-Trump rallies, which I often make a point of catching as they tend to be the most hypnotically intriguing bit for those of us who fear we’re all just circling the drain and can’t get too worked up about getting flushed one way or the other.)

“I do not want anyone to think that I would in any way shape or form endorse this man. A letter will be sent, but if you hear one of our songs at any of his engagements, please note I did not and never would authorize it. Thank you for your understanding. Actually I throw up in my mouth a little knowing that this is being done! Of all the people…I will never endorse hatred of any groups of people and would never give my permission to use this song. Thank you, Mary.”

(Source: “Donald Trump Is Not The Leader of Mary Weiss’s Pack” Bust.com, 3/21/16)

For the record, I would be very happily surprised to learn Weiss or the Shangri-Las own any of their copyrights. So, for the record, this is almost certainly purely rhetorical.

Also for the record, this is by far the strongest, most direct statement made by any of the musicians who have had their lawyers issue some sort of  “we weren’t asked for permission to use this song” statement (Steven Tyler, Elton John, The Rolling Stones, Adele, et al) and have made it clear they so-o-o-o-o do not endorse Donald Trump!

Which means that she, the only one who is not extremely rich and famous, is also the only one I’d ever bet my life wouldn’t play his inaugural for any amount of money.

Of course she is.

GOOD NEWS FOR A CHANGE…THE LATEST UPDATE FROM THE STORY THAT NEVER ENDS

Usually, when I post the latest news from Shangri-La World, it involves some Voice of Eminence having gotten yet another fact wrong or added some dubious twist to the tale. This time around it’s all good news.

There’s been a post on YouTube for years (it’s still there) which has a snippet of the Shangs performing “Remember (Walkin’ in the Sand)” looped through the entire song and therefore unsynched after the first thirty seconds or so. The clip–always tantalizing enough to make me long to see more–was obviously from a TV performance but nobody seemed to know from where.

I still don’t know from where but somebody has come up with the whole thing, which reveals, among other things, that it’s great for slow dancing. (I suppose the WTAI stamp could stand for Where the Action Is, but it could stand for a lot of other things, too–one thing I do know is that “TAMI Show” logo that shows up in the first second or so and then disappears is a mystery, because this sure ain’t The T.A.M.I. Show). Then again the Shangri-Las always invite mystery and confusion so who can be surprised?

One thing that isn’t surprising is Mary Weiss’ enigmatic smile, which still doesn’t tell me whether she’s getting ready to walk into the ocean or head back up the beach. To quote Shadow Morton: “I was asking her to be an actress.” And, as she said: “I had enough pain in me at the time to make anything believable.” Even when she was smiling and lip-synching:

 

MY FAVORITE FANTASY ALBUM (Not Quite Random Favorites…In No Particular Order)

Introducing a new category, “Not Quite Random Favorites”:

Beginning with My Favorite Fantasy Album, just beating out Al Green Sings the Delta Blues, which should have occurred along about 1978.

The Shangri-Las Do Dylan (which should have occurred along about 1966)

Preferably with this for the cover photo.

SHANGS1

Inevitably, of course, the humorless plugs in legal and marketing would have liaisoned and changed the title to The Shangri-Las Sing Bob Dylan’s Golden Hits or something. No matter. I would have settled for any compromise if it meant hearing Mary Weiss take on “I Want You,” which she once listed as one of her ten favorite records.

As for how the enlightened would have dealt with any of that (under any title or any cover), you can check this fascinating little time capsule from The Village Voice published in the immediate aftermath of Dylan “going electric” to a chorus of boos at Newport in 1965. (Unfortunately, you have to squint and read the article as a reproduction. I found it worth the effort but in case you don’t here’s the relevant statement: “The irony of the folklorists and their parochial ire at Dylan’s musical transgressions is that he is not Guthrie or the Shangri-Las, but this generation’s most awesome talent. And in 60 years you will read scholarly papers about his themes (terror, release) and the images (so similar to the disharmonies and exaggerations of a William Burroughs). And those learned men will be benefited by the most comprehensive set of readings that any poet ever provided.”

Of course, the Shangs’ reference is buried in contemporary hipster post-ironic irony (or something along those lines) delivered in the style which exists so that any inferred meaning can be accepted or denied as the situation calls for.

Meaning one is going out on a limb to say for absolute certain that it’s not a compliment.

Believe me. It’s not a compliment.

One of these days I’ll write about Dylan’s version of “Talkin’ World War III Blues” from Volume 6 of his official bootleg series, which captures his concert at the Philharmonic in the fall of 1964 (one of the greatest concert recordings ever, incidentally). That includes the bit where he slapped the Shangri-Las and Martha and the Vandellas up side the head and got one of the biggest laughs of the night. It may, among other things, explain why a Village Voice writer would not-so-randomly pull the Shangri-Las out of the air and stick them between Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. But for now, I’ll just dream on…and then look at things like this and wonder who the real revolutionaries were. (As Weiss once said about the London rivalry between the Mods and the Rockers: “I got off the plane dressed in black leather. They definitely knew where I stood!” Got her clothes in the Village by the way.)

shangs2

Next up: My Favorite Murder Ballad.

THE LASTEST UPDATE (NOT A REPEAT!) FROM THE STORY THAT NEVER ENDS …

MARYWEISSDOUBEL

I’m up to 1991 in Greil Marcus’s Real Life Top Ten. It’s still running like a freight train most of the time. Then, every once in a while, the Shangri-Las drift in from left field and everything grinds to a halt:

3) Ed Sanders, The Family: The Manson Group and its Aftermath (Signet/NAL) reissue, 1971)….

Here sex can seem uglier than murder, murder more casual than sex, sex so often ritual, dog blood poured on copulating bodies a logical extension of the standard Family initiation or its everyday, California, do-your-own-thing version of Adamite and Free Spirit beliefs and practices that went back almost a thousand years. Even without the material on the Process Church of the Final Judgment and the Solar Lodge of the Ordo Templi Orientis, removed after the first edition because of lawsuits (that’s what libraries are for), Sanders’ narrative casts a spell so strong it can suck in almost anything. I saw the Shangri-Las in a TV nostalgia clip doing “Give Him a Great Big Kiss”  and in their blithe teenage nihilism they could have been from Manson’s harem…

So, to previous descriptions/assumptions of Mary Weiss as…

Dead: (“The In Between Years,” Mark Sten, included in Rock Almanac, Stephen Nugent and Charlie Gillett, eds., Anchor Press, 1978)

Black: (James Brown, 1964. Also numerous YouTube commenters of recent vintage)

Jewish: (Are You There God, It’s Me Mary: The Shangri-Las and the Punk Rock Love Song, Tracy Landecker, Rhino Kindle, 2012…it was released on Sept. 11. proving somebody, somewhere has a sense of humor; Jews, Race and Popular Music, Jon Stratton, Ashgate, 2009, along with numerous articles/comments that can be found on-line, whether feeding the “research,” herein or drawing upon it is anyone’s guess.)

Catholic: (Most everyone else. Of course, one can be ethnically Jewish and of the Catholic faith. My guess, and it’s only a guess, is that Mary Weiss is neither.)

Brunette: (The Heart of Rock & Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made, Dave Marsh, 1989…He mixed the Weiss sisters with the Gansers so he specifically had her in a beehive. Mary Ann Ganser was identified as the lead: “a straight-haired blonde.”  The error was not corrected in the 2nd edition).

Betty Weiss: (Golden Hits of the Shangri-Las, Phillips International, 1966, and various liner notes to a number of other comps over the years.)

Marge Ganser: (A book on Rock and Roll Death I picked up and thumbed through in a book store once. I couldn’t afford to buy it and I never saw it again. Today, the internet yields no solid clues as to the book’s actual existence. But I swear it happened. It’s out there. No, really. On any bible you want!)

Patty Hearst’s soul mate: (“How the Other Half Lived,” Greil Marcus, Village Voice, Sept. 8, 1975...I had my say about that here.)

We can now add…

Manson girl…not to mention teenage nihilist: (Real Life Rock, Marcus, Yale Press, 2015. Reprinting a column from March, 1991, originally published in Artforum)

There are at least six different versions of the Shangri-Las performing “Give Him a Great Big Kiss” on YouTube, but the “TV nostalgia clip” Marcus encountered was likely this one, which I’m almost certain is the only one that has ever been “officially” released (and thus the only one licensed to be on television) and which, when I first saw a piece of it in the 1983 documentary Girl Groups: The Story of a Sound, I took as a sign from Heaven that life on Earth was indeed worth living. Different strokes for different folks, I guess:

And, no, all these years later, I still don’t see Susan Atkins or Patricia Krenwinkle in there. Quite the opposite in fact. Call it joy. Call it knowing. Call it the joy of knowing….something. Something not everybody knows.

Call it “nihilism” and I’m liable to think you are making stuff up.

Me not being a certified psychoanalyst, there is clearly way-y-y-y too much disturbance in the male psyche going on in Marcus’s piece for me to be comfortable with any further speculation on which of us might have a screw loose somewhere.

But I will say none of it matches what I still consider the weirdest description of Weiss I’ve ever come across.

It’s from the 1983 updated edition of Charlie Gillett’s The Sound of the City (the original 1970 version did not contain it). He described Mary Weiss’s voice thus:

“Deadpan.”

I ain’t going anywhere near that.

UPDATE: One thing I should have mentioned is that, in the liner notes of her (very fine) 2007 solo album, Dangerous Game, Weiss included Marcus in the list of those she thanked for their “encouragement and support.” His reaching out to her for a response via email to the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks may well have been one of the stepping stones that lured her back into the studio. Greil Marcus does some very good things. Which may be why I find his own nihilistic streak very disorienting.