HomeaflMary Weiss, Lead Singer of The Shangri-Las, Dead at 75

Mary Weiss, Lead Singer of The Shangri-Las, Dead at 75

Mary Weiss, who fronted the influential 1960s-era girl group The Shangri-Las, has died at the age of 75.

Hailing from Queens, New York, The Shangri-Las was composed of two pairs of sisters: Mary and Betty Weiss and Marge and Mary Ann Gangser. As teenagers (Mary was just 15 years old), the quartet signed a record deal Red Bird Records and were teamed with producer George “Shadow” Morton. They experienced almost immediate success, achieving a pair of hit singles in quick succession. Released in August 1964, “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” hit No. 5 in the US and No. 14 in the UK. (Billy Joel, then an unknown session musician, played on an early demo version of the song.) The following month saw The Shangri-Las climb all the way to No. 1 with “Leader of the Pack.”

By the end of 1964, The Shangri-Las’ popularity had skyrocketed and the group found themselves sharing concert bills with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and James Brown.

The Shangri-Las continued to release music over the next several years, but their popularity eventually waned and they managed to earn only one more top 10 single with “I Can Never Go Home Anymore” in 1965. By 1968, the group disbanded, reportedly in part due to a disagreement with their record label over royalty payments. They briefly reunited in 1977 and again in 1989.

Despite their short existence, The Shangri-Las proved immensely influential. In comparison to other girl groups of their era, The Shangri-Las embraced a “tough girl” aesthetic and their songs frequently touched on topics like alienation and loneliness. This would later resonate with punk bands like the New York Dolls, Ramones, Blondie, and The Go Go’s, all of whom cited The Shangri-Las as an influence. The New York Dolls even interpolated The Shangri-Las in their song “Looking for a Kiss,” while The Go Go’s frequently covered “Remember (Walking in the Sand).”

Other artists who referenced The Shangri-Las as an influence and/or covered their music included The Damned, Aerosmith, Sonic Youth, Redd Kross, and Kathleen Hanna. Amy Winehouse also occasionally performed “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” as the bridge of her song “Back to Black” during live performances. “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” was also sampled by the rapper Capone on the 2005 track “Streets Favorite” and later became a trending sound on TikTok.

In 2007, Weiss returned to music and released a solo album called Dangerous Game with the backing of Tennessee rock band Reigning Sound.

Weiss’s death was confirmed (via The Messenger) by Miriam Linna, who runs Norton Records, which released Dangerous Game.

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