Thursday, 15 April 2010
I don't know what else I can do
Of all pop movements, the sixties girl group sound is one of my favourites, and of all the girl groups, my absolute all-time favourites are The Shangri-La’s.
Made up of siblings Mary and Betty Weiss,and Mary-Jane and Marge Ganser (MJ & Marge were identical twins), the group came from a tough, working class background in Queens, New York and were signed to Red Bird Records whilst still in their teens. Left in the capable hands of genius songwriter and producer George ‘Shadow’ Morton for a couple of months they were soon enjoying their first chart success with ‘Remember (Walkin’ In The Sand)’, a massively melodramatic mix of percussion, sound effects and lost love that, like so many of their really great records, sounds like the musical accompaniment to one of Roy Lichenstein’s famous pop art cartoon paintings.
More hits of an incredible calibre followed ('Give Him A Great Big Kiss’, ‘Leader Of The Pack’) but their operatic, emotional, essentially teenage pop music was a short-lived success quickly (and unjustly) eclipsed by other styles, other sounds and by 1967 they had faded away completely, never to return in their original incarnation (Marge died in 1970, the others retired, tied to exploitative contracts that forbade them from recording elsewhere).
Mary Weiss finally released a solo album in 2007, a mere 40 years after her last Shangri-La’s record. It feels good to have her back.
So, some 20th century pop art: ‘I Can Never Go Home Anymore’ was their last big hit (excluding reissues) and is a time capsule pop record – the arrangement and execution are flawless and guaranteed to wring a tear from even a blocked tear duct. ‘Dressed In Black’ sounds like a death disc, but is actually about forbidden love. Dripping in emotion and hormones, with more than a hint of the Gothic, it features the stark and sinister lyric ‘I climbed the stairs - I shut the door - I turned the lock - alone once more -and no one can hear me cry - no one’ and is absolutely brilliant. Finally, ‘The Train From Kansas City’ is another amazing song, originally released as a b-side (!). Frenetic and driving with some nice choo choo noises, this song is about someone else’s heartache, but the angst is no less keenly felt.
The Shangri-La’s receive my highest recommendation. For what it’s worth, I don’t think it is possible to have a full appreciation of pop music without knowing their records in the most intimate detail so, there you go, put that in your Meerschaum and take a lungful.