Sunday, August 07, 2011

The Shangri-Las

Like a lot of people, I've been re-listening to Amy Winehouse over the past week or so, and really appreciating her pop sensibility. That's led me to explore some of Winehouse's pop/girl-group influences a little more thoroughly than before, esp. the Shangri-Las. The Shangs' best records are simply incredible: great songs including a bunch written by Brill Building, presiding geniuses Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, fabulously atmospheric conceptual productions, and great vocal/dramatic performances by Mary Weiss. A heck of lot of stuff that we all love from the last 40 years of music from the Velvets and Lou Reed to the Who to Gainsbourg to Abba to the Ramones to Blondie to Kate Bush to Propaganda to (I'd argue) MBV to Winehouse to Bat for Lashes is deeply indebted to the Shangs' colloquial melodramatics. And just look at them in early 1965:

And listen to where they got to by 1966:

and where they began in 1964:

They had 'it' from the beginning, and never lost 'it'. Just, wow. The Shangs haven't so far been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Greenwich and Barry are in, as are The Ronettes and Darlene Love). That should change. Lesley Gore and the Crystals deserve to be inducted too, but the Shangs are a bigger omission in my view. The conceptualness and cinematicness that the Shangs introduced to pop means that the history of pop and rock simply doesn't decode properly without them. Their omission may be part of what Frida from Abba had in mind when (at Abba's own induction) she pointedly, smartly drew attention to how few female artists had made it in to the Hall:

p.s. If you need convincing that Ellie Greenwich's genius extended beyond her monumental '60s tunes, consider the following:
EG: Yep. And years later, I was working with Cyndi Lauper on her single "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun". And during the rehearsals, they got kind of... stuck on the breakdown part of the song. So I thought for a minute, and then it came to me: "Girls. They want. Wanna Have Fun. Girls. They wanna have. Just wanna, they just wanna. Girls. Girls just wanna have fu-un." And so that's what we went with.
That, of course, is the bit of the song that pushed it over the top into joyousness/greatness, making it an instant classic/standard.

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