Mary Weiss, lead singer of the popular 1960s pop group Shangri-Las, whose hits included “Leader of the Pack,” has died. She was 75 years old.
Miriam Linna, founder of Weiss’s record label, Norton Records, said Sunday that Weiss died Friday in Palm Springs, California. No cause of death was stated. Rolling Stone first reported his death on Friday.
Founded in the Queens borough of New York City, the Shangri-Las consisted of two pairs of sisters: Weiss and her sister Elizabeth “Betty” Weiss, as well as twins Marguerite “Marge” Ganser and Mary Ann Ganser. They met at school and as teenagers began performing at school dances and youth hops.
After producer Artie Ripp signed them to Kama Sutra Productions, the Shangri-Las achieved tremendous success as a girl group with a tough, working-class image and drama-filled songs about teenage dreams and heartbreak that consumed the airwaves in the mid-1960s. Their name comes from a restaurant in Queens.
Their first hit, “Remember (Walking in the Sand)”, reached the top 5 on Billboard in 1964, released by Red Bird Records. Weiss was only 15 when she made the list. The song, which Aerosmith would later cover, was written by Brill Building pop songwriter-producer George “Shadow” Morton.
Morton would become a key architect of the Shangri-Las, developing a sound that combined Ronettes-style R&B with big youthful vibes. “Leader of the Pack”, co-written by Morton, was the top Billboard single of 1965. Weiss said in the song:
“My family was always putting him down
They said he came from the wrong side of town
They told me he was bad but I knew he was sorry
That’s why I fell in love with the leader of the pack.”
Shangri-Las didn’t last long. They disbanded in 1968 due to legal problems. But they remained a pioneering all-female group.
“I truly believe that where women are seen as products, a lot of men are considered artists, whether people write for them or not,” Weiss said in a 2007 interview at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
After the breakup, Weiss moved to San Francisco and retired from the music business. He worked in an architectural firm for years. It would be forty years before Weiss would again record an album of new material. He made his solo debut with the album “Dangerous Game” in 2007.
“I didn’t even sing on the car radio,” Weiss told Rolling Stone in 2007, describing her post-Shangri-Las years. “When I put something down, I really put it down.”
Weiss captured a bit more of the spirit and sound of the Shangri-Las in “Dangerous Game,” but from a more adult perspective.
“I just want to have fun now. And that’s what I’m going to do. “People can take advantage of you when you’re young,” Weiss told New York magazine. “And they won’t do it again. Being an adult has its benefits.”