The Shangri-Las

The Best Of The The Shangri-Las (Mercury 96) Rating: A
Though their time in the limelight was brief (1964-1966, to be exact), The Shangri-Las nevertheless crafted a formidable body of work that only in recent times seems to have garnered the critical plaudits that long ago should've been theirs. Formed around the singing talents of a pair of sisters, Mary (who sang lead) and Elizabeth "Betty" Weiss, and identical twins Marguerite "Marge" and Mary Ann Ganser, The Shangri-Las had the tough gal look (I'm thinking tight leather outfits with go-go boots), the songs (often supplied by the legendary Brill Building tandem of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich), and the sound (producer George "Shadow" Morton was a rival of Phil Spector and was also very inventive) - they had it all, really, at least for a little while. Sure, they could be corny and melodramatic, especially with some of their trademark spoken word introductions (Mary was as much an actress as a singer), and they weren't above numbers that were sheer novelty ("Sophisticated Boom Boom"), but their brooding mood pieces could really transport you, as on their classic first single "Remember (Walking in the Sand)," where Mary's alternately dramatic and sexy lead vocals and Morton's realistic seagull effects put you right on the beach. Like Spector, Morton specialized in mini-dramas about teen romance, but though the Shangri-Las had their share of upbeat love songs ("Love You More Than Yesterday," "Long Live Our Love," "Right Now and Not Later") and campy classics (best exemplified by "Give Him a Great Big Kiss" and its immortal intro: "When I say I'm in love, you best believe I'm in love, L-U-V"), their specialty was the darker, often tragic side of love. Indeed, "Leader Of The Pack," probably their signature song, with its famous motorcycle effects from Morton, is arguably the definitive "death disc," and other tracks are equally affecting, such as "I Can Never Go Home Anymore," whereby our weepy narrator's heartbroken mother dies due to her neglect. Other highlights of this generous 25-track compilation include "Dressed In Black," with its wonderfully big chorus, "Maybe," a wistful cover of the famous Chantels song, "Paradise," which reaches a Spectorian splendor, "Out In The Streets," most notable for its lovely whispered vocals, "Past, Present, and Future," which was greatly admired by Pete Townshend, and "Heaven Only Knows," a catchy pop tune with airy harmonies that was much beloved by Morrissey. You see, the Shangri-Las had no shortage of admirers both old (Ramones, New York Dolls, Aerosmith, Blondie, Joan Jett) and new (The Pipettes, Amy Winehouse), and they were popular with both white and black audiences, no easy feat. These Queens, New York City girls were notoriously tough and sassy, yet their songs also exuded a youthful innocence (as did most "girl group" songs) and contained surprisingly sophisticated arrangements (again mostly due to Morton). True, not everything here is top-shelf, but a good many of these songs are terrific, and this is the best single cd collection on the market since it has the group's essential tracks (most recorded with Red Bird Records before it went under and the girls fortunes went with it) without going overboard.

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