Sunday, May 31, 2009
The Shangri-Las "Myrmidons of Melodrama"
I have for some time now been thinking that I needed to get some Shangri-Las into my life. Finally I stumbled across a compilation that did not look like it had been put out by Honest John's Cheap And Cheerful Records-U-Like. This compilation (on the RPM label) seems to have been put together by people with genuine love for the band. It comes with extensive sleevenotes. It includes well-mastered versions of all the band's key tunes.
You may only know one Shangri-Las tune, with that tune being 'Leader of the Pack (Vroom Vroom)'. It is a great song, laying down the template of the Shangs sound – conversational inserts, sound effects, doomed love, astonishing production, and sudden melodramatic death. Sometimes people do not die in the songs, but every day crises (a boy says he loves you, and then proves untrue) are still presented as the most terrible of events. Hence, I suppose the title of the record.
Doom is never far away in the world of the Shangs – young lovers elope but then die in car crashes, mothers die of grief when their daughters run away, boys prove unfaithful (or worse). One track I found particularly striking is 'Past, Present, and Future', a track mainly comprising Mary Weiss talking over a setting of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. The lyrics are pretty oblique, but they do refer to a love affair that seems to have gone horribly wrong; the sleevenotes' reading that it is a song about date rape is not contradicted by the song, though it is not the only interpretation. The song was not a number one hit.
There are some happy tunes here, of course – 'Give Him A Great Big Kiss' is all about how the singer is in love (or L.U.V.) with another long-haired dodger, but it all seems to be working out fine, perhaps because the young gentlemen in question is "good bad, but not evil". Nevertheless, the track still has its transgressive quality, with the band coming across like junvenile delinquents. Maybe it is all down to lead singer Mary Weiss's voice, both when she sings and when she converses with the others. She does not sound like a good girl.
A lot of the tunes here were written by some fellow called Shadow Morton. It is funny to think of the Shangs not writing them themselves, they seem really to inhabit the tunes. Oh well. They probably made no money whatsoever out of music in the long-run, such is life. I have heard, though, that on the road they were out of control, with concert promoters everywhere relishing the money they would bring in but fearing the chaos they would leave in their wake. Live fast, die young.
If you have only heard the odd Shangri-Las track or two here and there then srsly, seek out this record. No one with ears could fail to enjoy it. As a special treat it comes with some bonus tracks of radio ads the Shangs did at the height of their fame. Hearing Mary Weiss giving us tips on dating courtesy reminds once more what a performance genius that young lady was ("Don't put out on a first date – oral is more than enough to keep him coming back", she does not say). You get the picture?
More Shangs action
Leaders of the pack