"Leader of the Pack" is a 1964 pop single recorded by girl group The Shangri-Las. It is one of the group's best known songs as well as a popular cultural example of a 'teenage tragedy song', produced by longtime pop impresario George "Shadow" Morton. Due to its evergreen popularity, Rolling Stone ranked the song among the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, at #447, in 2004.
Contents[edit | edit source]
- 2 Plot
- 3 Cover versions, tributes, and parodies
- 4 See also
- 5 References
- 6 External links
Original Shangri-Las recording[edit | edit source]
The tune was credited to producer George "Shadow" Morton with Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich. According to Morton, he wrote the song for the Goodies (also known as the Bunnies), but instead it was needed as a follow-up to the Shangri-Las hit "Remember (Walking in the Sand)". He said he did not know that he was supposed to have a second idea ready to follow up "Remember (Walking in the Sand)" until Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller (Red Bird Records co-owners with George Goldner) asked him, "Hey, what do you want to do for the second record?" Morton said he "got a bottle of champagne, two cigars" and "went into the shower, sat down, drank the champagne, smoked the cigars, and wrote the song on a shirt cardboard with my kids crayons." Morton claimed he credited Barry and Greenwich as co-writers for business reasons; his recollection has been questioned by Ellie Greenwich.
In July 1964, Morton recorded the vocals for the song with the Shangri-Las at the Ultrasonic Sound studio on the second floor of a Manhattan hotel. These vocals were dubbed over the instrumental parts, which had been previously recorded at the Ultrasonic Recording Studios in Hempstead, New York. Billy Joel, then a young session musician, claimed on November 16th, 2010 during an interview with Howard Stern that he played piano on one of the demos for "Leader of the Pack," and was not sure if any of his parts made the final recording. In fact, the piano part was played by Roger Rossi, a staff musician for Ultrasonic Recording Studios at the time. Rossi said, "I remember the date like it was yesterday, there were no written charts, so unfortunately, some musicians kept making mistakes. As I recall, it took 63 recording takes before Shadow Morton was satisfied." Rossi added, "By the end of the session, in take 62, I also messed up and Morton laughingly yelled out, 'Ohhhh, noooo. Not you, too!'"
According to legend, to add the authentic sound of a motorcycle engine, one was driven through the lobby of the hotel and up to the floor of the recording studio. No one was arrested, but a ticket was issued. However, in an interview four decades later, Shangri-Las lead singer Mary Weiss said the motorcycle sound was taken from an effects record. The Zombies' drummer Hugh Grundy recalls revving up a motorcycle backstage when the Shangri-Las performed on a U.S. tour.
In the United Kingdom, the song was refused airplay by the BBC, probably due to its death theme, although some have speculated that it was considered likely to encourage violence between mods and rockers. It charted three times: #11 in 1965; #3 in 1972 (by which time the BBC ban had been lifted); and once again at #7 in 1976, when its sales figures as a reissue on two different labels (Charlyand Contempo) were combined to arrive at its chart position. The record also reached number 1 in Australia. In 1990, it was featured in the soundtrack of the Martin Scorsese film, Goodfellas.
Plot[edit | edit source]
The song is about a girl named Betty, asked by friends to confirm that she is dating Jimmy, the leader of a motorcycle gang. After singing of love at first sight ("I met him at the candy store/He turned around and smiled at me/You get the picture?/That's when I fell for the Leader of the Pack"), Betty's heart turns to despair as she bemoans her parents' disapproval. The parents claim Jimmy hails from "the wrong side of town" and ask Betty to tell Jimmy goodbye and find someone new.
Betty does as she is asked, and Jimmy speeds off on his motorcycle. Moments later, he crashes on a rain-slickened surface and dies; Betty's pleas for Jimmy to slow down are in vain.
Cover versions, tributes, and parodies[edit | edit source]
- In 1984, a Broadway musical, Leader of the Pack, opened, based on the songs of Ellie Greenwich.
Parodies[edit | edit source]
- In 1965, "Leader of the Laundromat," written by Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss, was released by The Detergents. This resulted in Morton, Barry and Greenwich filing a lawsuit for plagiarism.
- The Downliners Sect also released a parody on their 1965 "Sect Sing Sick Songs" EP called "Leader Of The Sect."
- Also in 1965, the parody "I Want My Baby Back" was released by Jimmy Cross. In 1977, this was awarded the title of "The World's Worst Record" by British radio DJ Kenny Everett.
- In the 1982 musical Little Shop of Horrors, Ronette, one of the backup singers, says "Here he is, girls, the Leader of The Plaque" during the song "Dentist". Orin, the dentist, notably rides a motorcycle that sounds similar to that in the song.
- Bob Rivers also did a parody of "Leader of the Pack" which is called 'Leader of Iraq'. The song was centered around the execution of former president of Iraq Saddam Hussein.
- The tune was used by the political satire group The Capitol Steps for their song "A Leader Like Barack", about Barack Obama.
- A parody version of the song ("Our leader is Lurpak") was used in a claymation TV advertisement for Lurpak butter in the UK.
- In 2009, the BBC produced a trailer for the children's TV show Shaun the Sheep featuring a parody of the song called 'Leader of the Flock'.
Cover recordings[edit | edit source]
- On her debut album The Divine Miss M, Bette Midler did a version which began in the original tempo, sped up in the second verse, and was so fast by the end that it became difficult to understand the lyrics.
- French singer Frank Alamo (1942-2012) recorded this song in French in 1965 as "Le chef de la bande".
- In 1985, heavy metal band Twisted Sister put a cover version from the eponymous Leader's perspective on their album Come Out and Play.
- The comedian Julian Clary recorded a cover version of the song in 1988.
- In the U.S. television series American Dreams, the song was performed by Hilary and Haylie Duff, acting as members of the Shangri-Las.
- In the 2006 movie Happy Feet, it was sung by the character Néstor, with a sad rhythm quite different from the original.
- Alvin and the Chipmunks did a cover version, changing "Jimmy" to "Alvin". On the album Chipmunk Rock, the Chipmunks are portrayed as the girls.
- Estonian singer Margit Viirma recorded a cover version of the song in 2009, entitled "Jõugu liider".
- Seventies pop duo, The Carpenters, did a cover of the song on their first live album, Live In Japan. They performed it as part of an oldies medley in most of their concerts from 1973-1975.