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:
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)?
“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.
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: