Rhino has a series of digital books they call “Single Notes” that, as far as I can tell, are meant to resemble an extended version of liner notes for albums. Are You There God? It’s Me, Mary: The Shangri-Las and the Punk Rock Love Song by Tracy Landecker looks at the musical and cultural impact of the Shangri-Las, arguing effectively that they were precursors to a lot of different music in the 70s and beyond.
Landecker offers fairly detailed commentary on the Shangri-Las’ hits. Those comments are especially welcomed for the lesser-remembered songs that don’t show up on every 60s anthology: “Out in the Streets”, “Past, Present, and Future”, “He Cried”. But the heart of the book, and of the band, lies in the classics: their first hit, “Remember (Walkin’ in the Sand)”; their most famous song, “Leader of the Pack” (for me the one time camp overwhelms the band); my personal fave “I Can Never Go Home Anymore”; and “Give Him a Great Big Kiss” with its immortal opening happily stolen by the New York Dolls, “When I say I’m in love, you best believe I’m in love, L-U-V!”
I may be misjudging the audience for this book, but for me, Landecker spends too much time in a relatively short essay connecting the band to the events of the day. They seem perfunctory, but then, if you’re reading it and have no idea who the Shangri-Las were, I suppose the brief summary of the 60s is necessary.
What Landecker does best is make the band, and in particular lead singer Mary Weiss, into icons that would ring true to future fans like Landecker herself. As I read, I thought she was stretching it a bit, making a bigger case for the Shangri-Las than they deserved. But reading the book sent me to the music, and it took barely a minute for me to realize Landecker was right: the Shangri-Las really were great. And Landecker makes all of the group’s songs seem like a coherent whole. This was not just a “hits” band.
So if you have an e-reader, get yourself a copy, read it, and crank up the music. Rhino has even provided a Spotify playlist from Landecker to accompany the book.
Here’s “I Can Never Go Home Anymore”: