Mary Weiss, lead singer of the 1960s pop group The Shangri-Las, has died at the age of 75. Who were The Shangri-Las and why do they still matter to this day?
Mary Weiss, the lead singer of the 1960s pop group The Shangri-Las, whose hits included ‘Leader of the Pack’, has died at the age of 75.
Miriam Linna, founder of Weiss’ label, Norton Records, said yesterday (Sunday 21 January) that Weiss died Friday in Palm Springs, California. No cause of death was given.
“Mary was an icon, a hero, a heroine, to both young men and women of my generation and of all generations,” Linna said in a statement.
Who were the Shangri-Las?
One of the most underrated bands of all time, that’s who.
They developed a sound that fused Ronettes-style R&B with big teenage emotions, and their songs have been covered by the likes of Aerosmith, ABBA, Blondie and Amy Winehouse.
The pioneering all-female group who paved the way for similar bands decades later, and became an influence on the punk scene, with the Ramones and the New York Dolls owing them a massive debt.
The Shangri-Las formed in the New York City borough of Queens. They were made up of two pairs of sisters: Weiss and her sister Elizabeth “Betty” Weiss, along with twins Marguerite “Marge” Ganser and Mary Ann Ganser. They met in school and as teenagers began performing at school dances and teen hops.
After producer Artie Ripp signed them to Kama Sutra Productions, the Shangri-Las found enormous success as band with a tough, working-class image and drama-filled songs of teen dreams and heartbreak that consumed mid-1960s radio waves.
Their biggest hit would come in 1965 with ‘Leader of the Pack’, a song about a young girl falling for a boy “from the wrong side of town” who later dies in a motorbike crash.
Sadly, The Shangri-Las didn’t last long. They disbanded in 1968 amid legal issues.
After the break-up, Weiss moved to San Francisco and fell out of the music business. For years, she worked at an architectural firm. It would be four decades before Weiss recorded an album of new material again.
She made her solo debut with the 2007 album ‘Dangerous Game’, in which Weiss recaptured some of the spirit and sound of the Shangri-Las but from a more adult perspective.
Where to start with The Shangri-Las?
The hit: ‘Leader of the Pack’ (1965)
After several early hits, the band teamed up with producer and songwriter George “Shadow” Morton, who wrote and produced this enduring classic.
‘Leader of the Pack’ went to number one in 1964 and stands as one of the ultimate tragic love stories and “death songs.” It managed to capture the spirit of teenage rebellion.
The protagonist Betty tells her friends that she’s going with bad boy Jimmy. She breaks up with him to please her disapproving parents, and a broken-hearted Jimmy speeds off on his motorbike and crashes to his death. The final chorus has her screaming out his name as she breaks down in tears.
The tune: ‘Remember (Walking in the Sand)’ (1965)
Considered by many as a follow-up to ‘Leader of the Pack’, this stunning song describes the protagonist walking on the beach and being reminded of her lost love.
Its emotional depth has made it an enduring classic of 1960s pop.
More recently, the “Oh no, oh no, oh no no no no no” lyrics have been adopted by TikTokers in many videos.
The hidden gem: ‘Sophisticated Boom Boom’ (1965)
Try not falling head over heels for this one…
I was walkin’ down the street
And it was gettin’ mighty late
Well, the truth of the matter is
This poor girl had been abandoned by her date
When, from out of nowhere came this music loud and clear
Let me see, from over there?
(No, over there.)
Well, I open up the door
And much to my surprise
The girls were wearin’ formals
And the boys were wearin’ ties
And I feel that I should mention
That the band was at attention
They just stood there, oh, so neat
While they played their swingin’ beat
So I grabbed this little boy
Who came struttin’ ‘cross the room
And I say, “What’s that?”
And he say
“Sophisticated boom, boom”
It’s been long overdue
Sophisticated boom, boom
We been needin’ somethin’ new
Sophisticated boom, boom
Mary Weiss – 1948-2024