First Hit #1: November 28, 1964
It’s always interesting when a song can be a throwback and yet completely of its time. The Shangri-Las Leader of the Pack takes the ’60s love of studio experimentation – turning a motorcycle into an instrument is frankly genius – and combines it with some old school teen tragedy. A tale of star crossed lovers which ends with a deadly crash, it’s something that could have easily come out in the late ’50s with nobody batting an eye. But it’s in 1964, and I’d actually argue that it’s the strongest of the teen tragedy songs.
It’s partially due to the inventiveness, the production is brilliant and the spoken word conversations are a clever and interesting way to keep interest. The Shangri-Las can sing, but they can also talk to each other in an entertaining way. The best part about it though is it doesn’t rely on stupidity to move the story forward. The singer, while falling for a rebel, never comes across as anything but a level-headed young woman. Sure, she falls for a guy her parents don’t approve of, but that can be said of every young woman, and her actions are entirely sensible. His actions are less so, but it’s an emotional moment. It captures her guilt and despair, but it keeps it honest. It’s a teen tragedy in order to tell a complete story, not to exploit emotions.