Out In The Streets: The Story of The Shangri-Las
by John J. Grecco
With "Give Him A Great Big Kiss" coming off the national charts and "Shout" slipping off the regional charts the girls were ready for their next release. "Out In The Streets", an Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry tune, really seemed to capture the girls' versatile ability to handle a vocally difficult song.
From the intro of the song it seemed like Margie and Mary Ann stepped back into Sacred Heart to pull those opening chords, as the listener is transformed to a church-like setting. Mary's lead vocals were filled with raw emotion, and it appears as if she abandoned restraint when delivering the lyrics. The girls, still traveling as a trio without Betty, hit the road to promote the tune, breaking it nationally on Shindig, performing it live and without a hitch.
It's also interesting to note that this was one of, if not the first, public appearance where the girls were clad in what is now referred to as the cat suits (later worn for the cover shot of the "I Can Never Go Home Anymore" LP). Many eyes, especially in Hollywood, must have been on them, as almost a year later the producers of the T.V. series "Batman" (which ironically replaced Shindig) attired Julie Newmar in almost the identical outfit for her "Catwoman" appearances.
Around the time that "Out In The Streets" was released, tensions started flaring at the girls' record company. A meeting to discuss a possible merger with Atlantic Records went asunder due to one partner. The other partners were looking to escape the label because of others dealings with some surly characters and as a result of this, acts that were to be signed to Red Bird such as The Young Rascals and Neil Diamond, were nixed. The thinking at this time by Leiber and Stoller was if the label carried on making hits, then they would be obligated to stay on, when in fact they were anxious to leave. Once the hits slowed down, then it would be possible to jump the sinking ship, which would happen shortly.
With the unfortunate chart showing of "Out In The Streets", the next single, another Greenwich and Barry tune titled "Give Us Your Blessing" (released two years prior by Ray Petersen), was given the full Shadow Morton and Jeff Barry treatment, pulling out all the stops on the production. Mary again poured her emotions into the song and Margie, Mary Ann and Betty's background vocals blended and solidified it. The girls (still sans Betty), cat suits and all, went on the road again to promote the single. The first outing for a broadcast appearance in support of "Give Us Your Blessings" was on Dick Clark's "Where The Action Is", along with a performance of "Remember (Walkin' In The Sand)" on the same episode, with both tunes receiving a very good reception from the crowd. The song shot up the charts to the top 10 and 20 in various regions, finishing nationally at a very respectable number 29. The girls were now back in action on the charts, and follow-up tunes for single releases and an LP were in the works.
Shangs vs. the Bunnies
Although the newly-christened Goodies waxed a double-sided classic with Maryann Gesmundo's solid lead vocals, backed by sisters Maureen and Diane Reilling and fourth member Sue Gelber, the single inexplicably received no push or promotion from the powers that be at Red Bird. Although The Goodies' version did chart in many markets regionally, without any support from the record company, it failed to chart nationally.
With the unfortunate demise of The Goodies' recording of "The Dum Dum Ditty," the record company scrapped any ideas of releasing the Shangri-Las version as a single, so it remained an LP cut. There was still much material to choose from. One song, "Never Again" which is my all-time favorite track by the girls, should have been released as a single, but unfortunately was passed over, also remaining an LP cut. "Never Again" features both lead and background vocals that fluctuate repeatedly during the song, from lower to higher and back again, building up towards a final crescendo. A tune delivered with powerful, straightforward, no-nonsense vocals with a backing track to match perfectly. Still searching for that next single, outside writing help came from Bob Bateman and Ron Moseley, with a tune titled "Right Now And Not Later".
The waxing of "Right Now And Not Later" would be the first time since joining forces with Shadow Morton that someone other than he, Jeff or Ellie would produce the girls. Motown's hit making writer/producer team of Bateman and Moseley brought the Detroit sound, blended it with the urban beat of the Brill Building resulting in a knock out beat driven classic. When finished, the track would give Martha & The Vandellas a run for their money, forget The Supremes as Diana Ross definitely didn't have the pipes to handle the vocals for this one. Bateman and Moseley also produced singles for Evie Sands and The Bouquets before moving on from Red Bird. "Right Now And Not Later" was paired on a single with "The Train From Kansas City", another Greenwich and Barry tune that on its own merits could definitely have been an "A" side and may have caused split airplay because of it.
'65, the Summer of Stars
Finishing the tour after the end of summer, the girls appeared on Shindig on October 23, to promote the release of "Right Now And Not Later". Although Shindig had many acts on each program, this particular episode really showcased the girls, having them do the opening with a bit of Chuck Berry's "Thirty Days", and featuring them in two separate segments, one for "Give Him A Great Big Kiss" and the other for the premiere of "Right Now And Not Later". If this was not enough, the Shindig finale was centered around their version of Bert Bern's legendary "Twist and Shout" with the Shangri-Las taking center stage. With the exposure the girls were giving the tune, it should have been a given that their record company would do some promotion on it, but alas they didn't and it seemed that trouble was brewing back at company HQ.
It should, however, be noted that while the girls were having difficulty with their records being placed in the states, their songs were doing very well in countries such as Japan, England, Spain, Canada and others. It's also interesting to note that with the girls' popularity, Florence Greenberg re-released "Wishing Well", not on Spokane, but on her flagship label, Scepter. This also prompted Quality Records in Canada to release the single, ironically pressed under the old Red Bird imprint.
With everyone vying for a piece of the action, it wasn't long before Mercury Records found and leased the master tape of the earlier "Simon Says" live session for their Smash division. With three companies now releasing Shangri-Las singles, it did not help and most likely hindered the chances of the girls' records being spun on the radio. During this period, the broadcast radio industry was still feeling the stings from the payola hearings. Station managers frowned on disc jockeys playing multiple tunes from an artist, unless, of course, they were British. With multiple releases of Shangri-Las singles flooding the stations, it was like signing a death warrant on the group.
Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, staff writers for Don Kirschner, ironically released one of Barry's singles, "Talk To Me Baby" on Red Bird in late 1964. But in 1965, what would have truly been Barry's crowning achievement as a writer and singer, "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place", failed to be promoted quickly enough before Mickie Most and The Animals rushed out their cover version, thereby canceling the release of Barry's. One has to wonder, with all the money going into Red Bird from the record sales of 1964 and early 1965, why was there no money available for promotion later on in 1965? Could it have been owed and provided to those sharply dressed men?
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© 2002, John J. Grecco. All rights reserved.
With the owners, writers and groups like The Dixie Cups, Jelly Beans and Trade Winds following the long line to the exit door, plus the industry buzz of what was going on there, it fell to The Shangri-Las to be Red Bird's main source of income.
Even the promoters got a credit here!
Some may think that the girls were reaping in profits from the sales of records, tours and personal appearances, but let's set that straight right now. It's true the girls' records sold in the millions, but they got charged back for every bit of studio time, musicians' costs, arrangements and anything else that could have been deducted from their profits. This also was true with public appearances: charge-backs for food, clothing, transportation, lodging, management and the like usually left the girls with about fifty to one hundred dollars each for their performances. As far as royalty checks for the sales of their singles and albums, after all the deductions, they were dismal to say the least and it's debatable that they ever received accurate accountings.
After the Bateman/Moseley session, Shadow Morton was again the producer in charge coming up with a song for the girls called "I Can Never Go Home Anymore". This tune, although similar to other Shangri-Las tragedies, was different in its approach and treatment. Mary's storytelling abilities almost seemed as if she was confiding in a close friend. Margie, Mary Ann and Betty's background vocals had never sounded better and peaked during a bridge where they sung a lullaby. The girls and Shadow had finished a masterpiece with an interpretation of a song that no other artist/producer team at that time could have done half so well.
"I Can Never Go Home Anymore" was released in late 1965. For the first time in a while, trade ads were taken out in the papers. The single shot up the charts within just a few weeks, the girls were in the number 6 position nationally. Regionally the song went even higher just edged out of the number 1 position in a few markets. Overseas, the tune also climbed the charts, not just in England but also Japan, where the groups' popularity caused it to be graced with a picture sleeve showing all four girls.
The record stayed on the charts through the end of 1965, not coming off until after the new year of 1966. With the popularity of the tune, the girls LP "Shangri-Las 65!" (released just a few months prior) was re-titled and re-mastered to feature the hit single, with a new cover slick showing all four girls clad in their cat suits and frilly blouses gracing the cover. Their popularity was still very high and there were no shortages of appearances.
Some practical jokes have become infamous, such as the one with Murray the K and his motorcycle, or Dick Clark bearing the brunt of their mischievous side when they wreaked havoc with him at an appearance, or the overzealous fan who got locked in a room for some time. These pranks, gags and jokes were all done for fun, nothing more and nothing less. The girls and those on the receiving end got a good laugh out of them, and it helped to let off some steam. Unfortunately, over the years, the girls' jokes took on a life of their own, with people wanting to make more out them, blowing them out of proportion with interpretations leaning to the sinister, but they were simply harmless pranks pulled by fun loving teenage girls.
Not wanting to lose momentum, Shadow again had the girls back in the studio where he produced "Long Live Our Love". For the last time, a trade ad was taken out to promote the song. With ABC taking Shindig off the air, the girls premiered the song singing live on the episode of Hullabaloo that aired January 10, 1966. Although a decent and well done record, it was ahead of it's time for the fact that awareness of the Vietnam War had not fully impacted us yet, therefore, the record buying public did not really identify with the song. This said, the record did do considerably well, achieving a national position of number 33 and, yet again, higher positions regionally.
"He Cried", a great re-working of the old Jay & The Americans' tune "She Cried", would be the girls' next release. With both Shindig and Hullabaloo off the air, "Where The Action Is" about to get the ax from the ABC lineup, and Red Bird once again failing to promote the tune, it only reached the number 65 position nationally and, as usual, higher regionally.
Possibly owing to a combination of the grind of tours, club dates and appearances and the neglect of the record company, around this time, with Betty back in the touring group, Mary Ann decided to take a very short break from touring. The disappointing chart showing of "He Cried" did not discourage the record-buying public in Queens from plunking down their money, as it was included in many a teens' record collection and area jukeboxes. If given the proper exposure and promotion, the single could have climbed higher on the charts. The flip of "He Cried" was "Dressed In Black", now famous as a cult tune, a somber song with the vocals and music capturing the mood and setting. This may have been one that Shadow saw great promise in as aside from his demo version, he re-cut it with "The Nu-Luvs" on Mercury and possibly The Pussycats on Columbia, as production credits went to "Phantom" but may have been Shadow.
The final track the girls released on the old Red Bird label was "Past, Present And Future". Shadow had the girls do it in a vocal arrangement and styling somewhat similar to "I Can Never Go Home Anymore". Although a great tune and production, it's possible that for its time, with the implications that the song held, it may have been too risky for some station managers to air it. Again, promotion from the record company, aside from the exposure the girls could give it, was nonexistent. Even with all this against it, the single managed to climb to the number 59 position nationally.
Loss of 'Paradise'
Strangely enough, promotional copies had "Paradise" on the flip as well as the first run of retail copies, but the second run had a different "B" side, "Love You More Than Yesterday", a decent track, but definitely B-side material. It is interesting to note that The Ronettes cut a version of "Paradise" around the same time as the Shangri-Las version. Although the Ronettes did a very good version of the tune, (released in 1976 on a Spector LP), The Shangri-Las version, even with it's flawed engineering is still the stronger version of the song.