The Shangri-Las were an American pop girl group of the 1960s. Between 1964 and 1966 they charted with teen melodramas, and remain especially known for their hits "Leader of the Pack", "Remember (Walking in the Sand)" and "Give Him a Great Big Kiss."
The group was formed at Andrew Jackson High School in Cambria Heights, a neighborhood in Queens, New York City, in 1963. They were two sets of sisters: Mary Weiss (lead singer) (born 28 December 1948) and Elizabeth "Betty" Weiss (born 1946), and identical twins Marguerite "Marge" Ganser (4 February 1948–28 July 1996) and Mary Ann Ganser (4 February 1948–14 March 1970).
They began playing school shows, talent shows, and teen hops, coming to the attention of Artie Ripp, who arranged the group's first record deal with Kama Sutra. Their first recording in December 1963 was "Simon Says", later issued on the Smash label, on which Betty Weiss sang lead. They also recorded "Wishing Well" / "Hate To Say I Told You So", which became their first release in early 1964 when leased to the small Spokane label.
Initially, the girls performed without a name. But when they signed their first deal, they began calling themselves the Shangri-Las, after a Queens, New York restaurant.
Some discographies list The Beatle-ettes and The Bon Bons, who both issued singles in 1964, as early versions of the Shangri-Las. However, they are different groups.
Mary Weiss was the main lead singer; Betty, however, took lead on "Maybe" (the LP version), "Shout", "Twist and Shout", "Wishing Well" and a number of B-sides and album tracks. Mary Ann Ganser took lead on most of "I'm Blue", which is a cover of the Ikettes' biggest hit at the time, and was included on their 1965 album Shangri-Las 65!.
In April 1964, when the girls were still minors, their parents signed with Red Bird Records; Mary was 15, Betty was 17, and the Ganser twins 16. Having been hired by record producer George "Shadow" Morton, they had their first success with the summer hit, "Remember (Walking in the Sand)" (U.S. #5, UK #14). Billy Joel, a then-unknown working as a session musician, played on the demo of "Remember (Walkin' In The Sand)". The demo was nearly seven minutes long, too long for Top 40 radio. Morton had hired the group to perform on the demo, but Red Bird released a re-recorded version. Morton faded the new version out around 2:16.
The recordings for Morton featured lavish production with heavy orchestration and sound effects, and their next and biggest hit, "Leader of the Pack" (U.S. #1, UK #11), climaxes with roaring motorcycles and breaking glass. UK re-issues peaked at #3 in 1972 and #7 in 1976. The song epitomized the "death disc"; other examples include Ray Peterson's "Tell Laura I Love Her", Jan and Dean's "Dead Man's Curve", J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers's "Last Kiss," Mark Dinning's "Teen Angel", Dickey Lee's "Laurie (Strange Things Happen"), Twinkle's "Terry" and Jody Reynolds' "Endless Sleep".
The group as a trio in 1964.
After the sudden success of "Remember (Walking In The Sand)", all the girls were called upon to make personal appearances which required them to leave high school. Mary, however, stayed on for classes at a high school for young professionals in Manhattan.
By the end of 1964 the group was an established act. They performed with the Beatles, a Fall 1964 tour with the Rolling Stones, R&B artists such as The Drifters and James Brown (who, according to Mary Weiss, was surprised to discover the girls were white), and Cashbox magazine listed them as best new R&B group. The group was also a fixture on the Murray The K shows at the Brooklyn Fox from 1964-66. They also promoted Revlon cosmetics. In March 1965 they toured the UK with Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, Herman's Hermits, Del Shannon, and others.
The Shangri-Las appeared as a quartet to promote "Remember" starting with their stint on the 1964 Labor Day Murray The K show in September. Shortly before the Shangri-Las went to the UK for the aforementioned promotional tour in Oct. 1964, Betty Weiss dropped out temporarily, leaving the group as a trio. She still is featured on the recording for "Leader Of The Pack" which was recorded prior to the release of "Remember". The remaining trio went on to tour the US and also appeared on many TV shows including Hullabaloo, Shindig!, Hollywood A-Go-Go, and Lloyd Thaxton. Many TV clips and photos of the group taken at this time (just Mary Weiss and the twins) circulated at the group's peak in popularity and beyond, which led many to recall the group being only a trio. Betty then rejoined the group in mid-1965 (her first return appearance with the Shangri-las was listed as a June 1965 Hollywood A-Go-Go Show episode hosted by Cousin Brucie in NYC), and the group appeared as a quartet once again until the start of 1966 when they permanently became a trio again (MaryAnn and Margie left at different times replacing each other until the demise of the group).
The group alternated between touring with their own band and local bands. Among the latter were the Sonics, as well as the Iguanas, featuring a young Iggy Pop. They also appeared as headliners on package tours such as Dick Clark's Caravan Of Stars and as stated previously, tours with R & B acts like the Orlons and Joe Tex. Later in their career, the Shangri-Las did lots of college dates with bands like The Young Rascals, The Animals, and Vanilla Fudge.