“Leader of the Pack” is probably one of the more well-known songs that come under the genre of “teenage tragedy” songs. There were several in the Late Fifties and early Sixties. It seemed like the teenage buying crowd had a death wish. Remember “Tell Laura I Love Her” by Ray Peterson from 1960, “Ebony Eyes” by the Everly Brothers from 1961. Also “Last Kiss” by J Frank Wilson in 1961 and “Dead Man’s Curve” by Jan and Dean from 1964. There were others, but you get the idea.
“Leader of the Pack” was the only “death” song that hit number one. It tells the story of boy meets girl, girl falls for boy, girl’s parents do not like the boy since he runs with a motorcycle gang. Girl breaks up with boy and despondent boy drives off only to crash and be killed on the wet highway. Very sad. The song was written by George Morton, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, the latter two having written other big hits, including “Chapel of Love” by the Dixie Cups which we visited earlier in the year.
The Shangri-Las were two sets of sisters, including one set of twins. They were Marge and Mary Ann Ganser (twins) and Mary and Betty Weiss. They met while attending Andrew Jackson High School in Queens, New York. At first, they didn’t have a name, they just liked to sing together. But, when they started getting attention and Artie Ripp of Kama Sutra Productions wanted to sign them to a recording contract, they took the name of the Shangri-Las which was the name of a restaurant in Queens. They were signed to the Red Bird label. Their first hit was “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” which peaked at number five.
Then they released “Leader of the Pack” which Ellie Greenwich says, she knew would be a hit when she wrote it. It is a well produced record and all of the sound effects really make the song memorable. A real motorcycle was brought into the studio to create the sounds heard on the record. It is said that Mary Weiss, who was singing lead, actually teared up a little while she was recording the song and you can hear that in her voice.
The Shangri-Las went on to chart four more times in the Sixties, before breaking up in 1968. This was the only number one that they ever had. The girls recorded as four girls, but Betty Weiss didn’t stay with them long, dropping out before the end of 1964. So, most videos you see of them singing their songs show only a trio.
“Leader of the Pack” entered the pop charts on October 24, 1964 and spent just one week at number one.
In the video, I’m pretty sure the guy on the bike is Robert Goulet, playing a cameo.