IT WAS FIFTY YEARS AGO TODAY…

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I don’t do a whole lot of anniversaries here–and I don’t exactly need an excuse to celebrate the Shangri-Las….

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But today is the fiftieth anniversary of the date when their first Red Bird release, “Remember (Walkin’ In the Sand)” peaked at #5 on Billboard‘s Hot 100.

I wrote about what the record–and the group who made it–mean to me here and here, in the inaugural posts for this blog.

They don’t mean any less now. Everything is still measured against them.

Not just by me.

Cruising around the net this morning I found some of the old encomiums: Joey Ramone pegging them as the source DNA for punk, Dee Snider pegging them as the same for metal and so forth. Knew all that.

Didn’t know about Terry Hall of the Specials naming them as his favorite group ever and the best reason not to commit suicide. Or filmmaker Allison Anders naming them as the source point for her fantastic, overlooked film Grace of My Heart (and reminding me I need to watch it again soon…even if it did end up being about Carole King!).

There’s always something new. There always will be.

Youtube even turned up this (with a commentor indicating that Shadow Morton’s kids are still looking for the original demo):

But I guess the thing that moved me most was this, from their trip to England a few months later. You see, everybody was always insisting they sang about death, but I’m with Terry Hall–what they really sang about was survival:

SHANGSPIXMarge and Mary Ann Ganser are deceased. They didn’t survive the century. Shadow Morton passed last year.

I wouldn’t be too surprised if the music they made with Mary and Elizabeth Weiss ends up surviving anything that existed in the world fifty years ago today.

Because no matter how long the world lasts, someone will always need saving.

 

DID WE REALLY NEED ROCK AND ROLL?…UH, YEAH, I THINK WE DID.

I saw several posts last week that addressed the music that was on the charts at the time of John Kennedy’s assassination (Steven Rubio had a particularly nice take here)…But what might be at least as interesting is to take a look at the charts a year later.

For the record, the Supremes’ “Baby Love” was ending a month long run at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 on the exact anniversary. But, perhaps more to the point, “Leader of the Pack” was set to take over at the top of the following week’s chart (officially, Nov. 28, 1964, so it was, in effect, the #1 record of the anniversary week, which, for chart purposes began on Nov. 22).

In some ways identifiably old-fashioned (especially in its evocation of fifties-era biker imagery), it was probably also the first record–certainly the first chart-topper–to really suggest the style of extremity that would become a touchstone for much of the rest of the decade and a good deal more that has happened since.

And, of course, all that extremity did not happen in a vacuum. Nothing ever does. Not even Shadow Morton and Mary Weiss.

Somebody has finally posted the full version of the game show clip where the Shangri-Las (uncharacteristically dressed like all the other girls) perform “Leader of the Pack.” As a pleasant coincidence, that sure looks and sounds like the Supremes’ Mary Wilson introducing the clip. As a not-so-pleasant anti-coincidence, it’s worth noting that, eight full years after Steve Allen humiliated Elvis by having him sing “Hound Dog” to a basset hound, he’s still at it. Worth noting, too,  that Robert Goulet (Allen’s co-host, who also plays the “biker” here) became the main reason Elvis shot televisions.

And, finally, worth noting that the Shangri-Las were good sports in much the same way that Elvis had been (even if they weren’t subsequently known for blasting tv screens).

And that they didn’t blink. That, in addition to being pure rock and roll, they also–like all really great rock and rollers–remained professionals through and through even as the “adults” around them made fools of themselves.

(The first version below is the full ride…the video/audio isn’t very good, but it’s enlightening to see the whole thing and be confronted with the full depth of the culture clash that was looming even in the days when LBJ  was still promising to keep us out of Viet Nam…the second version doesn’t have the intro but has a much cleaner look and sound)

And, of course, I wouldn’t leave you with that, so here’s the Shangs–Cashbox‘s #1 New R&B Group for 1964 (Billboard didn’t keep an R&B chart that year) in their element, declaring–like all really great rock and rollers–for a future that returned to the Primitive (I’ll let you decide when) long before it ever caught up to them: