The Shangri-Las Make an Impression

The Shangri-Las Make an Impression

Debbie Harry loved songs like “My Boyfriend’s Back” when she was young, and learned a lot about singing from listening to them. “Their lyrical themes were a little bit different than sort of what I ended up with,” she recalled. “They were all sort of a smitten and slightly abused from love, relationships. And I think my position was a little bit more sneering.” One group she was drawn to was the Shangri-Las, a 1960s girl group from Queens who became punk favorites (they even reunited for a show at CBGB later in the 1970s). They sang gum-smacking odes to rebel boys, eschewing feminine clothes and copping some serious ’tude in their tunes—which often strayed into unladylike territory. “When I was a kid I thought the Shangri-Las were too commercial,” Blondie’s Chris Stein said, “but then later on it just clicked and I realized how awesome it was. I still think they’re incredible.” That 1960s girl group was one of the common musical denominators that Blondie shared, and drummer Clem Burke explained the Shangri-La’s proto-punk appeal: “They had their black leather vests and their tight black leather pants, and they sang ‘Give Him a Great Big Kiss.’ They sang about dirty fingernails, wavy hair, and leather jackets, and things like that.” The Shangri-Las cast a long shadow over glam and punk rock. The New York Dolls’ “Looking for a Kiss” borrowed the spoken word intro from their “Give Him a Great Big Kiss,” and another Dolls song, “Trash,” copped the campy “How do you call your lover boy?” line from “Love Is Strange,” a catchy 1956 hit by Mickey & Sylvia. The group’s final album, Too Much Too Soon, was produced by Shadow Morton, who had crafted the girl group classics “Leader of the Pack” and “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” for the Shangri-Las.

From Chapter 4 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


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