Boomer Icon Mary Weiss Has Died

News came this past week that Mary Weiss, lead vocalist for the Shangri-Las, died at the age of 75 (December 28, 1948 – January 19, 2024). A boomer herself, Mary was in high school in Queens, New York when, together with her sister Elizabeth (Betty), they joined forces with twin sisters Mary Ann and Margie Ganser to form the Shangri-Las.

In 1963, while performing at school dances and sock hops, the group came to the attention of Artie Ripp. He signed the group to their first record deal with Kama Sutra Productions. Their first single flopped, but the group quickly signed a contract with Red Bird Records, where they met producer-songwriter George “Shadow” Morton. He would be key to their success. Morton co-wrote and produced the group’s first number one hit, Leader of the Pack.

Highlights from the Shangri-Las:

Remember (Walking in the Sand) (1964)

Leader of the Pack (1965)

Give Him a Great Big Kiss (1965)

I Can Never Go Home Anymore (1965)

Out In the Streets (1965) It was performed on the TV show Shindig! in 1965.

Early photos often show only three members of the group — Mary and the twins — and the Shangri-Las often appeared as a trio on TV and live performances. Shortly after the recording of Leader of the Pack, Mary’s sister temporarily left the group (reportedly to have a child). She rejoined them in 1965.

The Shangri-Las toured with the Rolling Stones, Herman’s Hermits, and Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, and played with many other popular bands of the 1960s. When James Brown hired them for a gig in 1968, Mary is quoted as saying Brown was shocked to learn the girls were white.

The group disbanded in 1968 amid contentious litigation that has not been fully explained. Suffice it to say that Mary herself, in interviews through the years, declined to provide details but complained about being taken advantage of by record companies. For a while, Mary spent time in San Francisco, only to return to New York and resurfacing as a purchasing agent. Eventually she worked in commercial furniture management and as a commercial interior designer. Finally, she was a furniture consultant to businesses in New York.

Mary and the Shangri-Las were hugely influential to other musicians. Some of the stars who listed them as influencing their work were Paul McCartney, Debbie Harry (Blondie) and Amy Winehouse, among many others.

Mary returned to music in 2007, releasing a solo album, Dangerous Game, on Norton Records.

A pre-teen Mister Boomer often mixed up the girl groups (in particular, the Ronettes, the Shangri-Las and the Shirelles). Though he and many other boomers may not have known Mary Weiss by name, he certainly knew her music.

What memories of Mary Weiss and the Shangri-Las do you have, boomers?

Boomers Greeted Mornings With Songs

In the boomer era, there were many songs that featured morning as a subject. Some were hopeful and optimistic, while others, not so much. See if you recall these morning songs of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s:

Woke Up This Morning — B.B. King (1953)
Mr. King is singing the blues in the morning after waking up alone: My baby she’s gone … I’m in misery.

Morningtown Ride — The Seekers (1966)
The song takes us on a train journey, where children are being guarded by the Sandman until they reach their destination in the morning.

Some Velvet Morning — Lee Hazelwood & Nancy Sinatra (1967)
Lee Hazelwood had written and produced many hits before Frank Sinatra asked him to see if he could help his daughter’s career. The result was These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ (1965), and a two-year collaboration. This song of unrequited love was part of an album that was the soundtrack to Nancy’s TV special, Movin’ With Nancy.

Sunday Morning — Velvet Underground (1966)
Word has it this song was written by Lou Reed very early one Sunday morning at the suggestion of Andy Warhol. Andy thought a song about the paranoia surrounding the experience of coming down from a drug trip might be a good idea.

Angel of the Morning — Evie Sands (1967)
It was Merilee Rush who had the first hit with the song in 1968. Juice Newton had a hit version of the song in 1981.

Chelsea Morning — Joni Mitchell (1969)
Though the song was written earlier, it didn’t appear on record until Joni’s second album, Clouds. She wrote it about living in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York, not London. Still, when Bill and Hillary Clinton first heard the Judy Collins version being played in the London neighborhood, they choose to name their daughter Chelsea.

Good Morning Good Morning — The Beatles (1967)
John Lennon wrote the sing after hearing a Kellogg’s Corn Flakes commercial. It was recorded for the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album.

Morning Will Come — Spirit (1970)
Included on The Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus album, it’s a love song about not waiting until morning.

Morning Has Broken — Cat Stevens (1971)
Based on a Christian hymn and a traditional Scottish tune, Cat Stevens relied on Rick Wakeman to fill out the length of the song with the distinctive piano solo that boomers will recall. Wakeman was not credited (or paid) for his performance. Stevens, re-emerging on the music scene as Yusef Islam in the 1990s, apologized to Wakeman and reportedly made amends.

There’s Got to Be a Morning After — Maureen McGovern (1973)
Written for the film, The Poseidon Adventure (1972), the song won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Maureen McGovern recorded it a year later, and it reached number one for two weeks in August of 1973.

Of course, there were others. Is your favorite morning song listed here, boomers?