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The Leader of the Pack

Lawrence Bush
October 9, 2017
The Shangri-Las — four girls from Andrew Jackson High School in Queens — released their second hit song, “Leader of the Pack” (written by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich), on this date in 1964. Mary Weiss sang lead, backed up by her sister Betty and identical twins Marge and Mary Ann Ganser. They were the first white girl group to become major stars, sharing the stage with the Beatles, the Drifters, James Brown, Dusty Springfield, the Zombies, and other leading music acts of the day. The Shangri-Las’ hits included “Remember (Walking in the Sand),” “Give Him a Great Big Kiss” (“Mpwah!”), and “I Can Never Go Home Any More” — all expressing a tough and blatant sexuality and a romantic angst that felt genuine. Although it’s quite possible that they were not Jewish (the Weiss girls spent time in Catholic school), some fans and scholars claim they were (see, for example, Jon Stratton’s Jews, Race and Popular Music) — and the Brill Building, where Barry and Greenwich and numerous other songwriters wrote the hits of the day, was a virtual kibbutz. “—Is he tall? “—Well, I gotta look up. “—Yeah? Well I hear he’s bad. “—Mm, he’s pretty bad, but he’s not evil.” —“Give Him a Great Big Kiss,” by Jeff Barry and Eleanor (Ellie) Greenwich Watch The Shangri-Las perform (lipsync) “The Leader of the Pack” on I’ve Got a Secret (1964) with Robert Goulet mugging it up on the bike as the “leader.”

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.