This is another beautifully compiled and annotated entry in Ace's "producers series," following ones for the likes of fellow sixties greats Bert Berns, Jack Nitzche, Jerry Ragovoy and Phil Spector. George "Shadow" Morton, who passed away this past Valentine's Day at age 71, not only knew and approved of this project, he granted exclusive interviews to its producer, Mick Patrick -- that is, whenever the elusive Morton could be reached. (His nickname was based on his notorious elusiveness going back to his early twenties.) His greatest success was with the defining New York City girl group of the mid-1960s, the Shangri-Las, before moving on to produce, among many others, Janis Ian, Vanilla Fudge, Iron Butterfly and (in 1974) the New York Dolls. The booklet included in this package is exceptionally comprehensive and an aesthetic treat: 40 pages, with 30 pages of text by Mick Patrick, gorgeous photographs, with a slew of reproductions of colorful record labels and jackets, promotional posters snd the like. Besides the interviews with Morton, there are a host of others with people who worked with him, including Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, Jerry Leiber, Janis Ian, Billy Joel and David Johansen.
The first two tracks, featuring the vocal stylings of the teenage "Georgie" Morton backed by his Long Island high school pals, are a bit hard to take and make it obvious why he would be much better off directing recording sessions than continuing behind a mic. The third is one of the many primitively recorded and rushed-onto-the-market ad hoc unknown girl group tributes to the Liverpool moptops at the onset of Beatlemania. This one by the Beattle-ettes [sic] is delightfully amateurish and garage-y. Oddly, its sporadic whoops make it sound like its paying simultaneous homage to Freddy Cannon -- adding to the fun.
Then we get to his commercial and artistic breakthrough with the Shangri-Las on Leiber and Stoller's Red Bird label with the immortal "Remember (Walkin' in the Rain)," heard here in an unissued early take that opened with a Mary Weiss monologue. This is not intended to be a Shangri-Las greatest hits CD, concentrating instead on noteworthy obscurities, with a few mostly minor hits here and there; thus, Morton's and the Shangri-Las' biggest hit, "Leader of the Pack" [#1 the week of November 28, 1964], is not here, although the story behind the song is. It's probably assumed that buyers of this collection would already own it, yet it seems odd for something titled "The Shadow Morton Story" not to include it.
This collection's catchy and danceable (after the opening monologue) title song, "Sophisticated Boom Boom" (1965) by the Goodies, on Red Bird's sister label, Blue Cat, went nowhere, leaving this contemporaneous Morton-produced girl group forever in the shadow [no pun intended] of the Shangri-Las. The Nu-Luvs met the same fate with their ultra-Shangri-Lasian ballad "So Soft, So Warm" (1966). Singer-songwriter Ellie Greenwich, in collaboration with Jeff Barry and Morton, thought they had a sure hit with her slow-building, dramatic "You Don't Know." The mistake was not going with the irresistible, upbeat flip side, "Baby," which was revived exquisitely this year by She & Him on their "Volume 3" album. Jeff Barry characterized Morton's productions as "little [teenage] soap operas with sound effects" -- with "Leader of the Pack" being the exemplar par excellence.
Morton's post-Shangri-Las most lasting masterpiece is clearly Janis Ian's Society's Child" (1966-67). He even came up with the superior title to the original "Baby, I've Been Thinking." Beyond the bold and brilliant lyrics, melody and vocal phrasing by the 15-year-old newcomer (who had to light a corner of Morton's newspaper on fire to originally get his attention), once session keyboardist Artie Butler added the organ and harpsichord parts, this stunner of a song could not be stopped, despite being banned from air play in most of the country. Yahoos could not accept a song about a teenage interracial relationship and a condemnation of adult racial bigotry. In Chicago, the reactionary crackpot management at 50,000-watt powerhouse WLS, who had banned the nation's #1 song, "Eve of Destruction," two years earlier, did the same with "Society's Child." Yet, right up the dial, rival Top 40 station WCFL (Chicago's "Voice of Labor") had no such problem with the song, which got to #12 on their record survey in the summer of 1967, two notches higher than nationally on Billboard.
Following the credible one-off blues-rock single by the Blues Project, whose title "Lost in the Shuffle" describes its fate, the psychedelic soul of Vanilla Fudge was next, with their heavy remake of the Supremes' "You Keep Me Hangin' On," which got to #6 in the summer of '68 (the album track is the version included here). This was the perfect segue to Morton's next logical step, Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida." Then finally (and refreshingly), came 1974 and a rollicking remake by the New York Dolls of the Cadets' novelty, "Stranded in the Jungle," from 18 years earlier.
This is a highly worthwhile acquisition, especially if coupled with a good-quality Shangri-Las best-of collection.