The Shangri-Las, together with producer Shadow Morton, carved out a truly unique sound among the girl-groups of the early '60s. Not only were their songs darker than the rest, but Shadow Morton's production, though perhaps not up to the maniacal standards of Phil Spector's, had an unusual sense of invention. Lead vocalist Mary Weiss not only had the bad-girl lyrics and image, but the voice to put across the songs' melodrama. RPM's 33-track 1994 release (and it's re-configured, 2002 reissue, RPM 506) is far-and-away the best collection of the group's material that's ever been made available.
Included among the tracks are the group's best known hits ("(Remember) Walkin' in the Sand" "Leader of the Pack" "Give Him a Great Big Kiss" "I Can Never Go Home Anymore"), lower-charting singles (a cover of the Chantels' "Maybe," "Out in the Streets," "Give Us Your Blessing," "Right Now and Not Later," "Long Live Our Love," "He Cried," "Past, Present and Future") and superbly selected B-sides and album tracks.
Highlights include Barry & Greenwich's love torn "The Train From Kansas City" (featuring one of their best-ever lines, "I'll be back in the time it takes to break a heart," rendered by Weiss with a wrench of the heart that lingers long after the song ends), Morton's truly bizarre spoken-jazz "Sophisticated Boom Boom" (covered by ex-Box Top Alex Chilton in his solo live set), Ike Turner's fabulous "I'm Blue," and Harry Nilsson's "Paradise."
Morton's production often used sound-effects (like the train of "Train From Kansas City" and seagulls of "(Remember) Walkin' in the Sand"), though at times his arrangements sounded more like Phil Spector's work with The Crystals ("The Dum Dum Ditty," complete with castanets), or even Motown ("Right Now and Not Later," with running bassline, organ, horns and vibraphone). The variety among these tracks is all the more impressive for the short period of time in which they were created.
The songs, filled with over-the-top melodrama, could still be quite chilling. From teens driven to a grisly death by their parents disapproval ("Give Us Your Blessings") to the fractured present of an apparent rape victim ("Past, Present and Future"), the Shangri-Las lived up to this disc's title, "Myrmidons of Melodrama." RPM digs deeply into the vault to extend this collection beyond the group's well-known Red Bird releases. Also included are an alternate version of "Give Him a Great Big Kiss," along with a pre-Red Bird single ("Wishing Well"), and a quartet of radio spots featuring Mary Weiss discussing everything from good taste and dating courtesy to Revlon.
What's missing (and only because they physically wouldn't fit on the CD) are the group's other pre-Red Bird single ("Simon Says"/"Simon Speaks") and their two latter-day singles for Mercury ("Sweet Sounds of Summer" and three other sides). Unfortunately, the only way to accumulate everything is to get this disc (RPM 136), the revised version (confusingly issued in 2002 with the same title, but a slightly different track selection (including, apparently, additional true stereo mixes), a different cover, and a new stock number: RPM 506), and Polygram's "The Best of the Shangri-Las."
With its stellar track selection and detailed, well-illustrated, humorous liner notes, this disc (or the revised RPM 506 version) is the first one to buy, whether you're just interested in digging past the well-known hits, or you're starting on the road to fanatical completist. RPM's slogan says it all: "By collectors, for collectors." 'Nuff said.