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Out of the Shadow(s): Morton’s Story Features Shangri-Las, Vanilla Fudge, New York Dolls

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Shadow Morton StoryA scrappy street fighter with a knack for teenage melodrama, George “Shadow” Morton lived with a “self-invented mythology,” in the words of Jerry Leiber.  But his work with The Shangri-Las, Janis Ian, The New York Dolls and many more solidified Morton’s place as a real-life “leader of the pack.”  Ace’s new anthology Sophisticated Boom Boom: The Shadow Morton Story (CDTOP 1369) brings the songwriter and producer out of the shadow and into the (spot)light.

In a 1968 Time Magazine blurb:, Morton once claimed, “I am the greatest producer in the business.  I am also an egomaniac.”  But whether it was ego or a pure creative spark driving him, Morton was responsible for some of the most vivid records to emerge out of the 1960s.  Expertly compiled and annotated by Mick Patrick, Sophisticated Boom Boom plucks 24 tracks from Morton’s career as a producer, a songwriter or both.  Presented chronologically and accompanied by nearly 40 pages of Patrick’s liner notes, this is the definitive account of the man’s musical history.

Think of Shadow Morton and the group that usually comes to mind is the Shangri-Las, so it’s no surprise that four tracks from the Mary Weiss-led quartet feature here.  What is surprising, however, is that “Leader of the Pack” isn’t one of them.  The 1964 No. 1 hit – perhaps the epitome of the “death disc” – forever established the Shangri-Las as the toughest gals in town with a series of remarkable records for Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller’s Red Bird label.  With spoken introductions, sound effects, dramatic vocals and a rather foreboding atmosphere, The Shangri-Las’ records as produced and written by Morton were true mini-movies.

So although Patrick opted to leave out that crucial part of The Shadow Morton Story, the sweeping, melodramatic style of Morton and the girls is represented with the equally-powerful “Remember (Walkin’ in the Sand)” (heard here in a previously unissued alternate version), ebullient “Give Him a Great Big Kiss,” lesser-known Mercury side “I’ll Never Learn,” and the Red Bird record that perhaps was the team’s zenith: “Past, Present and Future.”  This unusual psychodrama recited by Mary Weiss over a Beethoven-inspired backdrop of theatrical strings unsurprisingly stalled at No. 59 on the U.S. Pop chart, but today stands apart for its completely singular quality.  In the liner notes, Billy Joel offers memories of playing on the session for “Remember (Walkin’ in the Sand).”

There’s more on Shadow after the jump, including the complete track listing with discography and order link! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

September 10, 2013 at 10:10