The Shangri-Las – “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” and “Leader of the Pack”

Ah, writing about music I like. The thing where I open up fifteen tabs and regret never having studied music in any capacity. (I’m sure my week-long stints teaching myself chords every couple of years, then abandoning the guitar before calluses form amounts to absolutely nothing.) 

It’s digital equivalent of this guy and my brain is tired.

Not being hugely into the girl groups of the 50s and 60s, even in a retro kind of way, I thought listening to these two songs were going to be a mild agony. There’s something I don’t love about a clear-as-a-bell voice tone, which is just a taste thing and not a value judgement, but it is what it is. It just happens that those clear, steady voices were popular in those girl groups (also, holy shit they were young, The Shangri-Las were literally a bunch of teenagers, so it’s no wonder they sound like a children’s choir). 

For both of these songs, the subject matter in “Leader of the Pack” and the minor chords in “Remember” serve in opposition to the innocent voices singing the lyrics, which may be why I ended up liking these songs. It’s definitely not how I expected to feel.

“Leader of the Pack” is one of those songs you find on compilations, it’s almost like a novelty. I guess there is a “grand tradition” of teenage tragedy songs, like “Last Kiss” or “Run Joey Run,” to which “Leader” belongs, but knowing this doesn’t make it any less strange. 

This particular song entered my life in high school when one of my friends choreographed a routine for a small group of us to perform as an act break between plays at our community theater. It’s had a special place in my heart since then and I was pleased to dive a little deeper on it for this project. The sing-along quality makes a song that could easily be annoying more fun. 

Looking into the history of the song, wikipedia pointed me toward a bunch of weird covers:

The Carpenters with a very playful Karen Carpenter strutting around in a very 70s ensemble.
Bette Midler making some weird tempo and ad lib choices.
Twisted Sister with a version that charted at 53 in the US and 47 in the UK in 1985. What even? (The Shangri-Las version hit #1 in the US but that was in 1964.)

I also found out that Ellie Greenwich, one of the writers and producers credited on “Leader” performed in a jukebox musical based on her own life, called, of course, “Leader of the Pack.” This album cover of hers fills me with joy – a proud multi-hyphenate! She seems to have been a really bad-ass songwriter and a prodigy, so I’m definitely interested in finding out more about her work, both writing for others and music she put out herself. 

As of writing this, I’ve only known this song for a day but something about it is so familiar to me. In 24 hours, I listened to “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” about 21 times in various versions trying to unlock whatever it is that’s so familiar. Searching for some context, I found out that Amy Winehouse mashed up this song with “Back to Black” during some of her live performances. Maybe it’s the similarity of the two songs that makes me feel like there’s something uncanny about “Remember,” especially when I never really got into Amy Winehouse, so her song is only vaguely familiar to me…like the song’s structure was just floating on the edges of my pop-culture consciousness. After discovering the similarities, I spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to use online remix tools to meld the songs together. I’m sure it would work in more capable hands than mine. 

Like “Leader,” this song is weirdly dark for a group I would have associated with like, sock hops and milkshakes. I’m not sure the lyrics play out logically, the narrator is reminiscing about her guy who’s been overseas for, we find out in the second verse, literally two years and being hurt he found somebody new. Girl. But you can’t let logic ruin a good time, said anyone who ever loved a Max Martin song

I would love to be able to verify the story on wikipedia, which has “Remember” songwriter George Morton going to see his ex-girlfriend, Ellie Greenwich, to break into songwriting and in a pissing match with her new writing partner (who would later become her husband), proclaimed that he wrote “hit songs” despite never having written any before. He hired The Shangri-Las to sing and came back into the studio with “Remember.” Since it made it to the top five of the Billboard Hot 100, his statement ended up being true. However, that story lacks a source and it sounds like Morton told several versions of how he came up with “Remember” over the years, so who knows. 

This is another song that has been covered to death and is still being covered today. Here are a few of the highlights of the versions I came across:

Aerosmith, whose version charted in 1980
The Go-Gos making it sound kind of punk?
Giselle on her album Not Ready to Grow Up from 2017
The Aqua Velvets doing an instrumental that really unlocked the Back to Black connection for me

If you search, you’ll find no shortage of other covers. It’s sort of shocking that I’d never heard it before, considering a) I love a cover and b) it’s still being covered pretty widely – at least for a song so old.

So will this turn me into a 60s music fan? Probably not. I did check out some of The Shangri-Las other songs on their debut album, but none were as good as “Remember” or as silly as “Leader.” Still, I’m glad these songs were part of the Rolling Stone project. And if I ever create a decent mashup of “Remember/Back to Black,” I’ll be sure to let you know.

“Classic” Music

Rolling Stone Lists

Without reposting the entire list in full, I think I’m going to start with the Rolling Stone-curated list of 500 Greatest Albums and 500 Greatest Songs of all Time Lists to conquer the classics I feel like I’ve missed. On the music page, I’ll list my goals and progress, once I have at least one review up.

I know their lists are hardly progressive and there aren’t many genres represented, but I’m using these lists only as a jumping-off point. After selecting the music I was most interested in from both lists, on a giant nerd spreadsheet, I then used a randomizer to pick the albums and singles to explore first. I figured, the less choice I had, the less dithering there would be. Only once I’ve made my way through these lists, then I’ll allow myself to look further into other genres and hopefully more inclusive “best of” lists.

First up will be The B-52’s self-titled debut and The Shangri-La’s singles: “Remember (Walking in the Sand),” which I don’t think I’ve ever heard and “Leader of the Pack,” which I definitely have – a lot.

Grammy Winners & Nominees

Reaching back to the first annual Grammy awards, I discovered the disturbing fact that Ella Fitzgerald and Ross Bagdasarian (the Chipmunk song guy) won the same amount of awards – three each. I’m fully bewildered.

For these, I’ll listen to as many of the nominees as I can bear but honestly, I’m not a huge 50s/60s music fan and I’m not going to force myself through anything I truly hate.

AMA, Brit Awards, and ARIA Winners & Nominees

I never really think about the American Music Awards until they happen and some of their categories are confusing. Are they like the People’s Choice Awards of music? Whenever there are categories for “favorite” instead of “best,” I feel kind of suspicious. Anyway, I’ll be starting following the AMAs by mixing in music from 1974 into the mix.

I’ll also be following the BRITs from 1977 and the ARIAs from 1987. Their nominees are available so, interest and time permitting, I’ll give them a look too. Why not?

Billboard Music Award Winners & Finalists

The Billboard Awards started in the 90s? They’re the last of the big-three awards (with the Grammys and AMAs) so I figured I’d include them rather than going through every weekly top 40 chart and driving myself completely insane. Besides, Billboard updates their own Hot 100 Spotify playlist that I can follow for current music. But this post is about classics!

Since the Billboard Awards are chart, sales, and airplay-based, they have finalists, rather than nominees, so that’s why I’ve made that distinction. However, I can’t find any lists of finalists for the 90s edition, so I’ll pick those up as they become available.

Special Consideration: MTV VMAs and Eurovision

As sketchy as the nominations and winners for the MTV Video Music Awards may be (like the Kids’ Choice Awards, I’m pretty sure they award those willing to show up, right?) the winners of the VMAs have always been a snapshot of the zeitgeist of their time. I’ll be watching the videos as much as I’ll be listening to the songs, so that’s why I’m considering this a special consideration. It won’t be a playlist I can easily throw together. I’ll be starting with the first ones which aired in 1984.

Along those same lines, I’ll be delving into the Eurovision Song Contest. Ever since I became aware of it, I’ve loved it. Often cheesy, weird and fun, the show is the best part of the experience. As I did with the lead up to the Oscars, I will be delving into each category, or country in this case, and watching as many of the finalist competitions as I can. In the lead-up to the ceremony in May, I’ll be posting links as I find them. I may start to look into the past awards, but all of the fun is really in watching the performances, much more than enjoying the music itself. It all depends on what old broadcasts and videos are readily available. I’m not going to go crazy tracking these down.

To sum up:

This feels like a sprawling mess of a start, but it’s a start nonetheless. I’m sure it was really sexy and fun reading about my methodology, but I had to get my thoughts together about this. Plus, this post is a great, albeit verbose, link-dump so I can easily reference all of the awards and “classic” music categories I’ve identified.

I’ve already started listening to The B-52’s album mentioned all the way at the beginning (and not having the time of my life), so I’ll be posting about them relatively soon!