Monday, 15 May 2017

Death Discs: Leader of the Pack




Lyric Lowdown
The song is about a girl named Betty, who is asked by friends to confirm that she is dating Jimmy, the leader of a motorcycle gang, whose ring they see on Betty's finger. After singing of love at first sight ("(By the way, where'd you meet him?) I met him at the candy store/He turned around and smiled at me/You get the picture?/(Yes, we see) 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 reluctantly does as she is asked, and a crushed and tearful Jimmy speeds off on his motorcycle. Moments later, Jimmy crashes on a rain-slicked surface and dies; Betty's pleas for Jimmy to slow down are in vain.

The Birth of a Classic
The tune of "Leader of the Pack" has been credited to impresario George "Shadow" Morton together with Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich. Morton has said that 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)".



Morton claims he didn't know  he was expected to have a second idea ready to follow up "Remember (Walking in the Sand)" until Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller 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."

Legend Says
To add the authentic sound of a motorcycle engine, one was actually driven through the lobby of the hotel and up to the floor of the recording studio. Although no one was arrested, it didn't stop a ticket being issued.



Four decades later, however, Shangri-Las lead singer Mary Weiss claimed the motorcycle sound was taken from an effects record. Hugh Grundy, drummer for The Zombies, recalls revving up a motorcycle backstage when the Shangri-Las performed on a U.S. tour.

Reception
The record was released as a single by Red Bird Records, which was a Leiber and Stoller label, and hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 on November 28, 1964.

In the United Kingdom, the single 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.



Interestingly, even though the song had been banned by Auntie Beeb, that didn't stop it intruding on a Sunday morning service broadcast by the BBC from the chapel choir at Keele University. The choir had been singing Christ is Our Cornerstone as part of a commemorative service to mark the passing of Winston Churchill, when suddenly Leader of the Pack came blaring into proceedings, played it is said, by a free spirited drama student over the halls PA system in protest to the song being banned. The choir, in an attempt to drown it out, sang louder but it made no difference and the BBC simply faded the choir out and the recording was never repeated or ever completed.

Regardless, it charted three times on the UK Singles Chart: number 11 in 1965; number 3 in 1972 (by which time the BBC ban had been lifted); and once again at number 7 in 1976, when its sales figures as a reissue on two different labels (Charly and Contempo) were combined to arrive at its chart position.

*



Mm--"Is she really going out with him?
"Well, there she is, Let's ask her"
"Betty, is that Jimmy's ring you're wearing?"
"Mm-hm"
"Gee, it must be great riding with him"
"Is he picking you up after school today?"
"Mm-mm"
"By the way, where did you meet him?"

"I met him at the candy store
He turned around and smiled at me
You get the picture
"Yes, we see"
That's when I fell for the leader of the pack

My folks were 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 sad
That's why I fell for the leader of the pack

One day my dad said find someone new
I had to tell my Jimmy we're through
He stood there and asked me why, but all I could do was cry
I'm sorry I hurt you, the leader of the pack

He sort of smiled and kissed me good bye
The tears were beginning to show
As he drove away on that rainy night,
I begged him to go slow, whether he heard,
I'll never know Look out! Look out! Look out!

I felt so helpless, what could I do
Remembering all the things we'd been through?
In school they all stop and stare
I can't hide the tears, but I don't care
I'll never forget him, the leader of the pack

Ooh, the leader of the pack now he's gone
the leader of the pack now he's gone
the leader of the pack now he's gone


***

Previous Songs In This Series:

Johnny Remember Me - John Leyton
Endless Sleep - Jody Reynolds

4 comments:

  1. I love that song - can't beat a bit of big-haired girl band music. I used to get squiffy and belt it out when I was at Uni...

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  2. Well, who knew Leader of the Pack was such a dangerous song it was banned? Not I. Honestly, it is the sort of song that's been like background music my entire life and I simply never paid attention to the lyrics.

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  3. I always loved that song, which is a real classic. Had no idea it was banned by the BBC, though. Thanks for sharing its history. xxx

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  4. I loved this song when I was about 11, I bought it on 7" vinyl from a jumble sale and played it so often I'm surprised there's any grooves left on it!
    Fancy the BBC banning it! xxx

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