MY MORE OR LESS FAVORITE ALBUMS BY ARTISTS WHO HAVE NEVER BEEN NOMINATED FOR THE ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME (Volume 1: The Sixties)

Just for fun…here’s the rules:

1) I didn’t include solo artists who are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of a group or one off groups who contain Hall of Fame members (so no Jerry Butler or Derek and the Dominoes for instance).

2) I didn’t include comps (no Dionne Warwick, Paul Revere and the Raiders, etc. who I know mostly through greatest hits packages).

3) I didn’t include anyone who has been inducted in one of the “extra” categories (so no Carole King, since she’s in as a songwriter).

4) I didn’t include anyone who isn’t eligible yet (No Roots or Moby, for instance….you’d be surprised how often this comes up in on-line discussions…for the record, an artist becomes eligible in the “Performer” category 25 years after the Hall determines they released their first record).

5) As the title of this post indicates, I didn’t include artists who have been nominated but not inducted (so no War or Spinners, who would otherwise have multiple entries)

6) This is not an argument that any or all of these acts should actually be in the Hall of Fame. Some should be, some shouldn’t, but I’ve made those arguments elsewhere (you can check the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame category on the right for further details if interested).

All that to keep it simple. Like to 25 or so**. Otherwise it was gonna get complicated. (**Note, that 25 was a general number for the total. Pretty sure it’s gonna be more like 30…or so. I keep remembering.)

So, in roughly chronological order (by year, but I didn’t look up month and day for those in the same year):

The Shangri-Las I Can Never Go Home Any More (1965)

FAVALBUMSSHANGRILAS

Note: I’ve never actually owned this album. I do have the original release Shangri-Las 65, which would be worthy on its own. This drops “Dum, Dum Ditty” (perhaps their weakest track) and adds the title track (one of their greatest) so it’s a no-brainer it’s the better album, even before taking the killer cover photo into consideration. I have a private theory that this cast a longer and deeper shadow than Rubber Soul. Me and Amy Winehouse are going to collaborate on a white paper proving this theory next time we get together at the big think tank in the sky. No neocons allowed.

Pick to Click: “Never Again”

Love (1966)

FAVALBUMSLOVE1

Note: A racially transgressive sound that’s still radical. Oh, what might have been.

Pick to Click: “Signed DC” (pretty sure the Moody Blues cashed the intro into “Nights in White Satin”…roughly speaking)

Love Forever Changes (1967)

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Note: This is enough of a touchstone of its era it actually creates a backlash of sorts. You can prove how hip you are by preferring some other Love album to this one. Heck, you might even be right. I’ll just make my own distinction by saying several of Love’s other albums are great. This one’s on the order of a miracle. (Even with the guess-you-had-to-be-there cover, which will be a developing theme here!)

Pick to Click: “Bummer in the Summer”

Moby Grape (1967)

FAVALBUMSMOBYGRAPE

Note: Another touchstone but not too many people insist anything else they did was greater. With reason. Not too much anybody did was greater.

Pick to Click: “Omaha”

Manfred Mann The Mighty Quinn (1968)

FAVALBUMSMMANN

Note: American version of an LP that was called Mighty Garvey in England (with a slightly different track selection). In case that and the cover aren’t 1968 enough for you, it actually has a (wonderful) song called “Cubist Town.” Didn’t sell, even though the title track was a big hit, and didn’t get them any street cred, even though it didn’t sell. I picked it up on a very strange and exhilarating day in 1979 which also involved Boone, North Carolina, a surly record store manager, choir practice, “Beach Baby,” “Cruel War,” a made-for-TV Monkees comp and my first ever speeding ticket. Basically the kind of day you can only have when you’re eighteen. Either that or in a dollar store somewhere a short time later. The memory hazes. Either way, It’s been making me smile ever since.

Pick to Click: “Each and Every Day”

Clarence Carter This Is Clarence Carter (1968)

FAVALBUMSCLARENCECARTER

Note: Most of the soul giants have at least been nominated. No love for Clarence. Then again he never sounded like a guy who expected to be treated fairly and on his first album, his mournful side meshed perfectly with his definitivelly wicked sense of the absurd.

Pick to Click: “Do What You Gotta Do”

Joe South Introspect (1968)

FAVALBUMSJOESOUTH

Note: Did somebody mention 1968? Based on the cover, South might have been hanging out at Haight-Asbury. He was actually hanging out in Nashville and Atlanta which meant the entire world had gone crazy or he was some kind of visionary who couldn’t be explained by ordinary marketing schemes. I’ll take both. The still, small voice in the back of everyone’s mind, who stayed there even after “Games People Play” broke wide open.

Pick to Click: “Redneck”

The Turtles The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands (1968)

FAVALBUMSTURTLES

Note: Chasing cred, they parodied themselves and everybody else. They sort of got the cred and would have really gotten it if the biggest parody (“Elenore”) hadn’t gone top ten everywhere in the English-speaking world. That’s all very representative. It should have been a catastrophe on every level. Instead it came out…wistful. They probably liked themselves better than they thought.

Pick to Click: “Earth Anthem” (or else “Surfer Dan”…some choices really are too existential to permit any sort of oppressive concept like finality)

Mother Earth Presents Tracy Nelson Country

FAVALBUMTRACYNELSON

Note: Actually this and Mother Earth’s Living With the Animals got swept away in the great CD selloff of 2002 (along with about 98 percent of the collection I had been building for fifteen years…life’s for making mistakes and regretting them as they say) and I’ve never managed to either forget or replace them. There’s nothing here to match Animals’ “Down So Low” but my memory is that this one was more cohesive. Brilliant in any case and as foundational of the alt-country concept as anything Gram Parsons was involved in.

Pick to Click: “Why, Why, Why”

Nancy Sinatra Nancy (1969)

FAVALBUMSNANCY

Note: The other side of the sixties (a long way from Manfred Mann, let alone Tracy Nelson), where Show Biz never died and still contained multitudes. I said my piece about this one here.

Pick to Click: “I’m Just in Love”

Fairport Convention What We Did on Our Holidays (1969)

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Note: Let’s put it this way. The name of the album is What We Did on Our Holidays. One of the cheerier tracks is called “The Lord Is in This Place…How Dreadful Is This Place.” That’s telling it like it is baby!

Pick to Click: “Meet On the Ledge”

Fairport Convention Unhalfbricking

FAVALBUMSUNHALFBRICKING2

Note: Oh death, where is thy sting? Right here? No, no, that was our last album. Cheer up lads. Affirmation has arrived. Sort of. Time for the seventies to begin, maybe?

Pick to Click: “Si Tu Dois Partir”

(Volume 2: The Seventies, and Volme 3: The Eighties, to follow…soon, I hope)

THE LATEST UPDATE FROM THE STORY THAT NEVER ENDS…

SHANGRI-LAS1

Here’s a quote from a Chicago-based website announcing a visit from Greil Marcus for his book tour promoting the book I discussed here and here…and, no. this isn’t about Greil Marcus:

As an example, he describes the 1958 Phil Spector song recorded by the Teddy Bears, “To Know Him Is to Love Him,” which Marcus thought of as “treacly,” and was a pop hit. The song took on new life in 2006, when it was recorded by the late British singer Amy Winehouse, influenced by the Shirelles and the Shangri-Las, two 1960s sister acts from Queens.

(Source: Nancy Bishop, “Greil Marcus: Legends in Words and Music at the Old Town School” Gapers Block, Feb. 23, 2015)

I started this blog with the long and winding tale of how I first encountered the music of the Shangri-Las and, of course, they have had their own category here ever since, right along with Elvis and John Ford. A lot of that first post (and a lot of the “Shangri-Las Forever” category in general) is consumed with what I hope are wry takes on my various experiences with what I’ll politely term “misinformation” and why I think so much of it exists–even beyond mankind’s usual propensity for laziness and screw-ups–regarding both the Shangri-Las and girl groups in general.

But I never ran into this one before.

Here, the Shangri-Las, who consisted of two sets of sisters, are identified as a “sister” act (a term usually reserved for an act that consists entirely of sisters from the same family, the way, for instance, the Everly Brothers might be described as a “brother act”).

And, of course, they are paired with the Shirelles because….

SHIRELLES1

…well, because, while the Shirelles may or may not have had the same kind of influence on Amy Winehouse that the Shangri-Las did, at least they were another famous girl group who also consisted of sisters (or at least had some sisters among their membership) and were also from Queens.

…Except, of course, the Shirelles weren’t sisters (and didn’t have any sisters in their lineup).

And they were from Passaic, New Jersey, where I bet exactly nobody ever mistakes themselves for being from Queens.

Hey, these things happen. And they don’t only happen when the Shangri-Las are somehow involved.

They just happen a lot more when the Shangri-Las are somehow involved.

So I can only conclude that it’s continuing to spread…that mysterious disease that affects all who try to penetrate the mystery that consists entirely of more mysteries…

Shangri-La-itis!

 

WHAT WE SHOULD EXPECT FROM CRITICS (Ninth Maxim)

I’m still debating whether to do a full review of Greil Marcus’ latest, which I posted about here. If/when I do, I’ll doubtless be speaking yet again of the good and the bad.

For the good….

The History of Rock ‘N’ Roll in Ten Songs has a lot of the best sustained writing Marcus has done in years. The piece on Buddy Holly and the Beatles ranks with his best ever. The essay on “Money/Money Changes Everything” had me hearing new things in Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual after years of obsessive listening (and deepening my long-held conviction that it was the finest album released in the eighties and likely the greatest debut released by a solo artist in the rock and roll era). It turned me on to John Kaye’s The Dead Circus, which is the most fun I’ve had reading a modern novel in I don’t know how long.

He even admitted to now knowing Marge Ganser was long dead when he and Robert Christgau slandered her a few years back (see the link above) in the notes for a fine essay on Amy Winehouse and the Shangri-Las.

Then, for the rest….

Following up on my George Goldner post, there’s this:

“There would have been no rock & roll without him,” Phil Spector said when Goldner died, in 1970. Just months before, Goldner told the Rolling Stone writer Langdon Winner the story of how he got Arlene Smith, the seventeen-year-old lead singer of the Bronx quintet the Chantels, to do what she did–to go into the depths of doo-wop ballads like a maiden sacrificing herself to volcano gods. Winner had published a retrospective review of The Chantels, issued on Goldner’s End label in 1958, raving about Arlene Smith: “What’s so great about her voice? Well, to be frank, it starts where all the other voices in rock stop…When she reaches for a high note she just keeps going. There is never a hint of strain. Nothing drops out. Her tone expands in breadth to match the requirements of high pitch…Like a three-thousand dollar stereo system playing Beethoven’s Ninth, the highs, lows and mid range extend into infinity.”

“Shortly after the review appeared,” Winner wrote me in 2013, “I received a telephone call from George Goldner, legendary New York City record producer and businessman who’d recorded a number of early R&B, doo-wop and rock groups including the Chantels. He said he was coming to San Francisco on business and invited me to dinner. During a two-hour conversation, Goldner told a number of marvelous stories about Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, the Crows, the Flamingos, and other groups he’d produced over the years. It was clear that he was happy to be getting some notice in the pages of Rolling Stone and wanted to make sure he was receiving sufficient credit for his contributions to rock and roll. At one point, for example, he proudly explained that the ‘boy’ celebrated in the Ad Libs 1965 hit ‘The Boy from New York City’ was actually he himself.

“Eventually,” Winner went on, “I asked Goldner about the extraordinary intensity in Arlene Smith’s vocals. ‘Obviously, she has great natural ability and control of her voice,’ I said. ‘But she sings in a way that often seems right on the brink of emotional break down. Where did that come from?’ ‘You see,’ he said, ‘the Chantels were always very well prepared and sang beautifully. The first take of any of their songs was usually just about perfect. But I realized what a phenomenal talent Arlene Smith was. I wanted to push her to reach for something more. My strategy was to record two or three takes of a song and then storm out of the booth and start ranting. “This is horrible! Your singing today is lifeless, sloppy. Haven’t you been rehearsing? We’re just wasting our time here! What the hell’s the matter with you?” I’d look Arlene right in the eye and yell at her until she was nearly in tears, and then finally say, “OK, I give up. Let’s try it again.” The next cut was always the one I was looking for. The edge you hear in her voice, the tone of desperation approaching hysteria is what I was trying to pull out of her. And sometimes I succeeded.”

Marcus seems to swallow this version of events whole and–to some extent at least–view it with some approval.

That Arlene Smith herself might have a different view (as evinced in the link I provided in my last post, which has an hour-long interview with her from 2009 where, among other things, she goes to some lengths to stress that, while Goldner was sometimes present at her sessions, Richard Barrett discovered her, actually ran the sessions and approved final takes), seems to have never occurred to either Marcus or Langdon Winner.

Later in the book, Marcus says that Shadow Morton’s later history with the Shangri-Las sounds srikingly similar:

In the obituary (Morton’s) “Yeah, Well I Hear He’s Bad…” the journalist David Kamp recalled a conversation with Morton in the 1990s. “He kept talking about ‘the Ba-CAH-di’ that did him in…[He] seemed especially remorseful about his behavior towards Mary Weiss, the striking lead singer of the Shangri-Las; he said the Ba-CAH-di made him do some things to her so terrible that he didn’t want to go into them”–to my mind, the kind of things George Goldner did to Arlene Smith.

If, as seems likely, Goldner was feeding Langdon Winner a lot of hooey in 1970–doing what a lot of record producers (and movie directors) have done when a young woman is involved and transferring most of the credit for any magical results to himself–then, of course, it is not impossible that he patterned his memory after what he observed going on between Morton and Weiss (which Weiss, incidentally, has pushed back on to some degree on other occasions–not so much as to what happened [she did cry in the studio] as to why–personal pain, not harassment).

But what’s key here is that Marcus swallows the narrative he finds most appealing–does not question it or do due diligence in finding out whether this version of the story might be false, or at very least, incomplete. It’s not the first time he’s been guilty of same (I wrote about another instance here). But this time, it’s springing from a mind set that’s uncomfortably close to the one he evinces in the next quote– a sort of dark continuum from Goldner to his most famous protégé, Phil Spector:

Since 2009, when he was convicted of second-degree murder in the 2003 shooting death of the nightclub hostess, unsuccessful actress, and sometime blackface Little Richard impersonator Lana Clarkson at his mansion in Alhambra, California, Phil Spector has been serving nineteen years to life at a division of Corcoran State Prison. Amy Winehouse has been dead since 2011. If you listen to the Teddy Bears’ record now, and ignore what Spector did with the rest of his life, or even what he did in the few years after he made “To Know Him Is to Love Him,” his fate may not seem like such a tragedy. If you listen to Winehouse sing the song, you can hate her for what, as over a few July days she drank herself to death, she withheld from the world.

Now we’ve gone from the dubious to the unconscionable. From swallowing George Goldner’s brag about making Arlene Smith cry (for her own good of course–isn’t it always?), to Lana Clarkson being the cause of a tragedy that belongs not to her, a murder victim, but to her murderer–who wouldn’t have been a tragedy either if he hadn’t made such great records.

And, of course, to “hating” Amy Winehouse, for what “she withheld from the world.”

Bear in mind that this is what passes for serious discourse–and it’s nested rather casually inside writing that actually is serious discourse, like a snake hiding in the garden. The two things become indistinguishable, redolent of a spirit that is searching for some sort of emotional high and doesn’t care where it finds it.

If it can be found in the mystical link between Buddy Holly and the Beatles that’s wonderful.

If it can be found by de facto blaming Lana Clarkson for her own murder, because she was “unsuccessful” and did a bad Little Richard imitation, or hating Amy Winehouse for her suicide, while reserving the word “tragedy” for Phil Spector’s fate….well, evidently, that will do just as well.

All of which leads us, in a rather roundabout way, to the Ninth Maxim:

NO SYMPATHY FOR THE MURDERER.

No, not even if the murderer once lived the rock and roll dream so transcendently that he transformed himself from this…

Philspectorfirst

to this…

philspectorsecond

And, no, not even if, in the last moment before his genius gave way to his monstrous demons, he was responsible for this:

 

LIFE AND DEATH….IN A SHANGRI-LAS RECORD, WHERE ELSE? (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #33)

You think you know….You don’t know…

SHANGSSubject: The Shangri-Las’ “I Can Never Go Home Anymore.”

How many times have I listened to this song? A thousand maybe.

And how many times have I listened close…I dunno. Nine hundred and ninety-seven maybe.

I don’t use the Shangri-Las for wall paper or “background” music. I’m not sure I could if I tried. And even if I did use them for background music, I certainly wouldn’t try it with this.

But, as I like to say, with these young women, the story never ends.

So last week I’m listening for that thousandth time–just another night with the fantastic (if unfortunately named) Myrmidons of Melodrama set that RPM put out some years back (a godsend that finally–finally!–collected all of their classic Red Bird sides in one place).

Basically, RPM put out the album twice. The first was released in 1995, acquired by me some time in the late nineties and one of about three (out of a thousand) that survived the great CD sell-off of 2002.

Then, in that same year of 2002 (and unbeknownst to me at the time–when you see me selling my CD collection, you know my life is at stake and my mind is, er, occupied), they released a slightly altered version, which it took me some years to acquire. Frankly, with so many items to replace or upgrade (still not done yet by the way), there didn’t seem much urgency.

Still, I knew it had a couple of things that weren’t on the first one. Nothing major, just a couple of pre-Red Bird sides replacing the other pre-Red Bird sides (all good, but none of which Mary Weiss sang lead on) and “stereo” mixes on ten songs, including the big hits (of which “I Can Never Go Home Anymore” was one). There were also, as it turned out, a few magical extra seconds of “Remember (Walkin’ in the Sand),” which I didn’t know about and which therefore came as both a pleasant surprise and reason enough to be happy I had sprung for what even I–a Shangs’ fanatic–considered a luxury item.

There were other reasons to be happy. RPM had already done a better job of remastering this music than anyone else, and–surprisingly, because mono is the watchword for records from this period–the stereo mixes were vastly superior to any previous release of these endlessly repackaged songs, most of which I have in a dozen or more sources.

So, in all that, I missed this…

At the end of the bridge of “I Can Never Go Home Anymore”–a bridge that is the peak moment in rock and roll arranging (I rank the overall arrangement slightly behind “Midnight Train to Georgia,” where Gladys and the Pips spend four minutes finishing each other’s breaths, but the bridge here is unmatchable) and ups the already impossible emotional stakes five times in twenty-seconds.

Only it turns out that in this mix–and no other–it’s six times in twenty-three seconds.

And that extra three seconds lifts the song to a whole other plane.

Mind you, I say this as someone who, before last week, would have sworn such a thing wasn’t possible.

Shoulda’ known better than to ever underestimate Mary Weiss.

Because, here, after one of the Gansers (I think) shouts Mama! and the strings soar past her (and every opera aria in history) and the group croons/chants You can never go home anymore like a tolling church bell and somebody (Marge? Mary Ann? Mary?…I can’t find out and it’s driving me crazy) shouts MAMA! and Mary cuts her off with No I can never go home anymore, she then tops herself–or make that, tops herself topping all the other crazy stuff that has gone on for two and half minutes and been taken to whole new levels of craziness those five times in twenty seconds.

On every other version I’ve heard, Weiss then cuts straight to the last verse.

Here (listen close!) she says:

“Listen…I’m not finished.”

When I finally heard that last week (maybe the sixth or seventh or tenth time I’ve “listened” to this particular mix), it was like having my own life grab me by the throat.

Because that’s the essence of everything the Shangri-Las stood for in the rock and roll revolution.

Sixteen-year-old working class kids who were born to be kicked saying: “Listen…I’m not finished.”

From there, you can go anywhere you want.

Amy Winehouse used this music to drink herself to death.

I’ve been using it for thirty-five years to stay alive.

Different strokes for different folks I guess.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominations are out and I’ll have plenty to say about that later in the week.

Had to get this–by a group that recorded barely thirty sides and is more deserving than thirteen of this year’s fifteen nominees (and not behind the other two)–in here first.

 

DEVIL OR ANGEL? I CAN’T MAKE UP MY MIND….or GREIL MARCUS VS. GREIL MARCUS (Segue of the Day: 9/17/14)

GMARCUSBOOK

I’ll probably be giving this a full review in a week or two. But meanwhile…

The best thing about Greil Marcus is that he has spent a lot of his life chasing down stories that generally reside in the shadows and bringing them to people like me, who would almost certainly not hear them otherwise. Here’s the priceless highlight of the tale of Peggy Sue Rackham (nee Gerran) and Donna Fox, from a chapter on Buddy Holly in Marcus’ latest book The History of Rock ‘N’ Roll in Ten Songs that constitutes his finest sustained writing in years:

“I never knew there was a Peggy Sue,” Fox says in the film [a 1993 documentary called Peggy Sue]; Peggy Sue didn’t know there was a Donna. “And it was even more amazing,” Rackham says, “to find out we were living in the same town–and had for years. I called Donna at her office, and luckily got her on the phone. ‘Is this Ritchie Valens’ ‘Donna’?’ ‘Yesssss…’” Rackham remembers Fox saying, her guard up–she’d had calls like this before. “‘Well–this is Buddy Holly’s ‘Peggy Sue.’

“Want to do lunch?”

As stories go, it doesn’t get much better than that.

Now…The most exasperating thing about Greil Marcus?

At the end of the book (I’m about half-way through but I skipped ahead to read this part), he has a good piece on Amy Winehouse and the Shangri-Las.

Except for a few brief, subsequent pieces on Shangs’ lead singer Mary Weiss in his regular columns, Marcus’ last lengthy mention of the Shangri-Las prior to this was here, from the June 30, 2004 edition of City Pages–the last entry of the last “Real Life Rock and Roll Top Ten” Marcus wrote for that publication:

10) Shangri-Las, City Hall Park, New York City, June 19 In the May 17, 2001 edition of this column, then running in Salon, I included an item, written more than a week earlier, on an A&E documentary that featured an interview with Mary L. Stokes–formerly Mary Weiss of the Shangri-Las, the lead singer with long, straight blond hair. She was talking about why the 1964-65 tragedies of “Remember,” “I Can Never Go Home Anymore” or “Leader of the Pack” were not difficult for her: because, she said, she had enough pain in her own life to stand up to the songs. A few days after the destruction of the World Trade Center, I heard that Stokes, now a manager for a furniture company, was present when the towers were hit and when they came down; I contacted her and asked her to write about that day for this column, and she did. When I read that the Shangri-Las would be performing in New York City, I asked my friend Robert Christgau to cover the show; as this will be my last column in City Pages for at least a year, the idea of tracing that circle, if not closing it, seemed right.

Christgau reports: “This may be the oldest crowd I’ve been in anywhere short of the Metropolitan Opera (and a beatnik poetry reading I attended a few years back). Intros by Randy Davis of WCBS-FM, ‘New York’s oldies station,’ promising to ‘walk you right down memory lane’ in the ‘real heart of New York City.’ ‘They were known as the bad girls of rock and roll…’ Backing band all in black, three ladies in black slacks with V-cut red satin tops. Stage left a brunette in her twenties, stage right a well-preserved forty/fifty something, also brunette. But there’s no Mary Weiss in sight–unless she now has brownish hair in a curly frizz, which would be bad for business. Four or five dozen onlookers come up in front of the stage in the sun, those on benches stay there, most of the crowd of perhaps 200 hangs back in the shade, including senior latecomers who really need to sit. The band vamps, sounding way too perky, and they are: The opening number is ‘You Can’t Hurry Love,’ followed by ‘Give Him a Great Big Kiss,’ the nicest hit in the Shangri-Las’ repertoire, which is also too perky. It’s a generic oldies set (‘Johnny B. Goode,’ ‘The Loco-Motion,’ ‘Be My Baby,’ etc.) with three Shangri-Las tunes.”

It turns out the Shangri-Las are the Shangri-La: Marge Ganser, “the twin who didn’t die of a barbiturate overdose,” accompanied by her daughter Mary and a friend. Christgau: “Five blocks from Ground Zero, we’re told (well, not ‘we,’ but the younger fans Marge was looking down at; we ‘survivors’–yes, the term was adduced, by young Mary–know enough to stay out of the midday sun) we’re going to have ‘a hell of a history lesson.’ And the lesson is that although the Shangri-Las live (except for the dead Ganser) their individual-collaborative achievement does not; the lesson is that the past is already smooshed together into one perky playlist.”

Bye-bye.

And, at the end of Marcus’ notes for Ten Songs…sans apology, with the proverbial straight face:

“Shangri-La Mary Ann Ganser died in 1970 at twenty-two; her twin sister Marge Ganser died in 1996 at forty-eight.”

Oh..so he does know.

He might have also mentioned that Marge Ganser did not have any children–named Mary or otherwise–but perhaps that information has not yet filtered through.

So, okay, maybe exasperating isn’t quite strong enough a word. Let’s just say it’s the cool contempt for the great unwashed–the assurance that everybody is a sucker (or a con) but them–that slays me.

And kind of makes me wonder if that great story up top there is even true.

I’ve posted it before, but for a reminder of how the living, breathing Shangri-Las felt about having their name and image (a perfect name and revolutionary image which they, unlike most groups of their era, made up entirely on their own) and money stolen from them you can watch this:

Of course, since Robert Christgau saw fake Shangri-Las in New York City in 2004 (assuming he didn’t just make the whole thing up), we know how their court fight came out. So here’s a happier memory:

And, in case you were wondering….these guys had their money stolen, too….Which is why they were on the road in February, 1959, hopping a plane so they could get off that freezing tour bus on the day something in the music really did die:

 

…More on the book, good and bad, shortly!

 

HOW MUCH CAN ONE RECORD MEAN…VOLUME ONE:

“Remember (Walkin’ in the Sand)”

Recorded: 1964

Writer: George Morton

Artist: The Shangri-Las

“Remember (Walkin’ in the Sand),” embraces a series of strange contradictions before it even escapes its first line.

There’s a single piano chord repeated three times, crashing ever more ominously with each repetition (rising and falling, fading and returning throughout the rest of the record).

Then a female voice comes in.

The voice sounds at once impossibly young–like she might have just spit out her bubblegum–and ancient–as if she might be carrying the weight of a lost civilization.

She sings a perfectly colloquial, rather countryish line–”Seems like the other day”–over a swelling, “ooh-wah-h-h-h”-ing chorus that could be called ethereal if it weren’t so umbillically engaged with both the singer and the listener she’s already so clearly and–as yet mysteriously–desparate to reach.

After that, the song gets complicated.

Rumors of a never-released seven-minute demo notwithstanding, “Remember” in its present forms (which seem to range from 2:10 to 2:41, with the standard version clocking 2:17) is sufficiently dense and bottomless to suggest any addition would only be subtraction.

Not that I wouldn’t like to hear that seven-minute version, if only because every second of Mary Weiss’ recorded existence is worth chasing. She sang this, her first lead on a record, the way she sang nearly everything in the Shangri-Las’ brief existence–as if she believed it might be her only shot.

And right there you have part of the key–a big part of why the record opens up into so much more than any lyric, however profoundly conceived or executed, can convey.

The one-shot is part of rock and roll–not to mention plain old American–mythology and, like any really useful mythology, it’s got more than a grain of truth in it.

But the one-shot isn’t really supposed to be just one shot. Of course it’s a result in and of itself. But it’s also supposed to lead to something–to be the solid, irrefutable proof that the person in question is worthy of something better than whatever the cosmos had planned for them in the first draft.

What that something is can range around, God knows, but–in the part of the mythology that keeps it fresh and appealing–it’s usually some version of happiness, even if that version is transparently fleeting.

“Remember (Walkin’ in the Sand)” doesn’t quite work that way.

It rejects all versions of happiness out of hand.

Which only leads to another set of contradictions. In a way, it’s the ultimate one-shot tease (how are they possibly going to top this–how are they possibly even going to get out of this), and yet it’s also impossible to think this combination of people–singer, group, producer, writer, arranger, label, studio crew–won’t get more chances. It makes perfect sense to think that the young woman singing will be dogged by rumors of early death–even suicide–for decades to come, and equally perfect sense to think that only someone far too tough and sane to succumb to such beautiful loser cliches could pull this off.

The Shangri-Las would become known, with their next release (which was “Leader of the Pack”) as the demi-goddesses of a sub-genre which, for reasons that might be interesting to speculate about at some future date, flourished throughout the early sixties–the “teenage death disc.” In a sense, they’ve been stuck with this false limitation ever since and, great as their own version of an otherwise not-exactly-transcendant phenomenon was, there must have been some part of Mary Weiss that wanted to tell writer/producer George (soon to be “Shadow”) Morton:

“Hey, listen….I don’t really need all this tricked-up melodrama…I mean, I can remake something by Jay and the Americans and freeze every drop of blood in the room.”

Which turned out to be both true and salient.

It just couldn’t entirely overcome the part of Morton that heard that voice and thought:

“This girl needs to be singing about death.”

Before she sang about death, though, (directly present in “Leader of the Pack,” “Give Us Your Blessings,” and “I Can Never Go Home Anymore”–hanging around the margins of at least half a dozen others) she did indeed have to get out of “Remember (Walkin’ in the Sand).”

(Please note that even the title was clearly meant to blow minds–what could have provided more reassurance to the unsuspecting in the summer of ’sixty-four than your local dee-jay taking a break from Beatlemania and Satchmo growling “Hello Dolly” to remind you: “Hey kids, up next, it’s a brand new group called the SHANGRI-LAS and they’re gonna’ REMEMBER walkin’ in that sand with YOU!…Don’t turn that dial!”–it’s a testimony to the group’s enduring, revolutionary power that not a single one of the associations that would have been deemed normal prior to August of 1964 for a group of this name singing a song with this title ever made sense again.)

So…

Three crisp verses (I count sixty-three syllables) which convey this much story:

Her boyfriend got drafted (in 1964, “It’s been two years ago/since I saw my baby go” and “he went away ’cross the sea” didn’t mean he was doing grad-work at Cambridge).

She’s been faithful. (Why else would she–or we–care? Besides, even in sixty-four, the Shirelles had already taught us how this went in “Solder Boy.”…”I’ll be true to you-ou-ou-ou.” That’s how it went.)

A letter just came for her.

It’s a Dear John letter in reverse. I’ll-be-true-to-you has been rewarded with “It said that we were through/He’d found somebody new.”

So far, then, it’s only a reversal on convention.

Clever and unusual to be sure, but lifted beyond the reverse-ordinary into cosmic daring only by the singer’s ability to pull us so disturbingly far inside her head while her sisters (and it’s worth noting, because it’s been a point of controversy and is exceeding rare in producer-dominated genres of any period, Weiss’ strong, credible claim in recent years that no one sang on Shangri-Las’ records except Shangri-Las–and to add that this was perhaps because no one else could) are carrying on a now-dipping, now-soaring call and response with that chorded piano.

And then:

“Oh…let me think…let me think…What can I do?”

I first heard this song on an oldies’ 45 playing on a very cheap turntable in 1979 (under circumstances I explained in detail with my initial post). I’ve listened to it many hundreds of times through a variety of formats, settings and equipment upgrades since–including at least a dozen times with this specific post in mind–and that perfect hair-pin turn still makes me look over my shoulder to see if something’s gaining on me.

At the very moment when even a blues singer would either resort to metaphysical mysticism or just start clearing things up–the song begins to dissemble emotionally even as the visual detail becomes sharper and more specific.

It turns out that what the singer “can do” at first is to begin moaning–”Oh no!…Oh no!…Oh no-no-no-no-no!”

Not because it rhymes with anything but itself (it doesn’t). Or because it’s time to play with some melisma (she enunciates with painful clarity–these aren’t sustained wordless notes because every note is a word–and every word counts). Or because of any other reason that would have suited every pop song ever written up to that point.

Some other reason then.

Some new reason.

Maybe just because saying “oh-no-no-no-no-no” is what you do when your mind is about to snap?

Maybe.

Then–either because her sisters (one literal, two spiritual) start prompting her (“Remember…Remember…Remember”) with hand claps and finger-snaps that seem to have suddenly dropped in from some other, cheerier place on the dial only to be instantly claimed by the ominous mood just like the crying-sea-gull-washing-wave sound effects, or because she’s recognized the point where insanity starts and decided to pull back from it and get her act together, she starts….remembering.

Or projecting.

Every once in a while–maybe no more often in a teenaged life than any other, though some have claimed otherwise if only so they could claim music like this only matters to teenagers as a prelude to its not mattering at all (and if you think such claims do no damage you can perhaps ponder your conclusion at the next dinner party Amy Winehouse won’t be giving)–the present becomes so overwhelming that the experiential plane completely disappears and there’s a moment when only the past and the possible futures that the mind is forming in order to receive or repel it, really exist.

The chorus of “Remember (Walkin’ in the Sand)” takes you there, to that rare, hole-in-the-world moment.

I’m not going to say it was the first or last record to do so. I can think of a tiny handful of others. I might even manage to write about some of them later on.

But unless maybe John Coltrane’s “Alabama” counts–and that’s a decision I’m going to put off to another day–I can’t think of another record that does so by claiming the serenity of a reverie in the midst of so much emotional chaos.

And I have to say that–great as the song is, great as the production is, great as the group’s famously haunting harmonies (worked out in bedrooms where Everly Brothers’ 45s were evidently in endless rotation) are–this is primarily the singer’s triumph.

She “gets out” by diving so deeply into her character’s happy memories–happy memories which have just that instant been turned into smoke and ash–that by the time she’s first singing…

“Then he touched my cheek…with his fingertips,”

…then singing/speaking…

“Softly…Softly…”

…she’s called up a state of physical intimacy that’s so palpable the famous sound effects are no more relevant than a B-movie that’s projecting on the screen in a half-empty theater in a run-down neighborhood when the couple behind you in the next to last row start making out and you realize they’re only doing it here because they don’t have any place else to go and because, well, they can’t not do it.

Then she sings, “We’d meet with our lips,” over crashing chords and you realize it went a long way beyond making out, those things they couldn’t not do there on that beach that is now retrievable–or worth retrieving–only in her mind.

I told you it got complicated.

After that there’s a second set of verses. Shorter, more elliptical, than the first.

She wonders what happened to “the boy that I once knew.”

Then she wonders what’s going to happen to her. To “the life I gave to you…What will I do with it now?”

Then she realizes she’s already answered her own questions–or else decided they don’t have answers.

Not bearable ones anyway.

So it doesn’t matter what has happened. It doesn’t matter what will happen.

She’s back in the present, which is now overwhelmed not so much by the past she was recalling a moment ago or the fact that she’s just been punched in the stomach, but by the very act of recalling. It’s not the memory itself that provides the illusion–or is it only illusion?–of comfort when she plunges back into the chorus. That was only for the first trip in.

Now what matters is the process of remembering.

The process is the new present–the new reality.

And, illusion or no, this is her way out–an illusion (or no) that will keep on overtaking reality until she’s either damaged beyond repair or healed.

Maybe in the thus-far-mythical seven-minute version there’s a definitive answer to that last. (George Morton supposedly thought the lyric up on his way to the studio for the hastily assembled demo-session…or while drinking champagne in the shower…or after having been abducted by aliens and returned to Earth with a life-time supply of Bryl Cream and very delicately altered brain chemistry…or…well, let’s face it, if you came up with this at the precise moment you also stumbled on the only singer in the world who could pull it off–a singer who was all of fifteen years old and hadn’t been the lead on any of her group’s four previously released sides–you probably wouldn’t remember exactly how it happened either.)

In the versions that exist, there’s no final answer. Just a sort of peace. The kind of peace that splits the difference between some well-earned tranquility and the last measure of desolation.

She might walk into the ocean.

She might go back up to the boardwalk and say thanks for listening and get on with her life.

Can’t tell.

Oh you can tell what happened to Mary Weiss. Check the internet.

She, thank God, got all the way out.

But the girl in the song…?

Can’t tell.

On the longest of these versions (released on the 2002 edition of The Myrmidons of Melodrama–their complete Red Bird recordings and, yes, that awful title tells you all you need to know about how painfully and thoroughly the Shangri-Las have been pulverized-into-mythos by even their most ardent admirers–how important it has always been to keep them somehow at arm’s length from any sort of humanizing exegisis–but the set really is otherwise indispensable) there’s an extra thirty seconds where a third chorus is started and then cut off in the middle…with the singer now sunk even further in her own new reality than before.

You can tell that much–because she’s calmer than ever.

More shattered, though?…Or more at peace?

Broken completely…or on the way back?

Sorry.

Can’t tell.