Out in the Streets of Shangri-La

He don´t hang around with the gang no more
He don´t do the wild things that he did before

Mary Weiss, the last surviving Shangri-La, doesn´t like the tag "girl-group" for her old band and all the other...erm, trios-with-girls-singing-songs-of-others.

Listening again and again to my favourite Shangri-La-song "Out in the streets" (after reading the great Interview with Mary Weiss I now know, it is her fave too) I understand what she meant.

"Out in the streets" is not just a perfect teenage-drama like so many others of their sad songs. It is much more a full-blown tragedy of love-gone-wrong for all the wrong reasons.
From "Out in the streets" to "deep in the suburbs", the singer laments that her once proud "leader of the pack" has turned into a lifeless couch-potato. Like a glimpse into an alternative future, she sees what would have happened if all the sad-ending Shangri-La songs ("Leader of the Pack", "Past, Present and Future", "Remember (Walking in the sand)", "I can never go home anymore") would - for once - have had a happy-ending.

The Shangri La´s - Out in the streets (1965)

In "Out in the streets" Mary finally got the "bad, but not evil"-boy with the wild spirit for herself. She soon finds out that she has domesticated a wild animal. The "dirty boots", the passionate kiss, and even his cute smile have gone, because "his heart is out in the streets". Because she loves him, she decides that she has to "set him free" and even wishes she had never met him.
Of course this is all too late!
Would he still find his way around the streets after he was domesticated? It´s the magic of "Out in the streets" that it also tells a story about things that are not even mentioned in the lyrics.
Writers Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry really knew what they were doing here!

The backing vocals of the late Ganser-twins were a perfect match for Mary, the good-girl-about-to-go-bad-siren.
The twins were not only providing a backing choir, they would give depths and gravitas to the drama Mary had to endure. Clearly not as beautiful as the singer, they were the voice of millions of girls who would also stand in the second row, because they were not pretty or fierce enough to hang out with the leader of the pack.

"Tell me more", they would plead constantly. Always hoping to live their lives through Mary, who -in return- would have all the thrill but also all the pain.

In "Out in the streets" the choir is playing a more complex role. Part gossiping neighbours, part mourning friends, they howl and wail like professional mourners or wolfs in the streets. Then - like a Greek choir - they foreshadow the sentiment of the heroine.

It´s simply heartbreaking and amazing in its simplicity. Although the beginning of the song is almost gothic in it´s slow pace, the following bridge comes crashing in like a burst of sun light and makes "Out in the streets" a memorable classic. The music changes from its funeral-tempo to a rolling be-bop number.
"He grew up on the sidewalks, he grew up running free, he grew up and then he met me!"
There we have it: It is always HER fault that he turned into a limp couch potato!

After this short outbreak of life, the music returns to the slow march of the first verse, but this time all registers are pulled, doors to echo-champers are pushed open and a pizzicato string orchestra rips away at the strings for the final part of the song.

The fun with melodrama is the fact that there is banal truth behind it. The great triumph of "Out in the streets" is that it tells us truth we don´t want to hear. It tells a story of failed communication, unspoken desires and the inability to break out of gender expectations. "Out in the streets" also tells the story of the packaging and selling of myths! A society that shuts their venetian blinds to focus on a half-lit vision of themselves, while the wallflowers of suburbia continue their wailing.

Watch the wonderful, haunting clip of the Shangs performing on "Shindig". This version is recorded live for the show (and then lip-synched in the studio) so it sounds different from the record. As an extra, the stark b/w lighting makes the outfits of the girls look like latex.


Anonymous said...

Mary you tamed the beast in me love your music love you so much Hall of fame it's about time !!!!

Anonymous said...

Hall of fame it's about time Love you Mary Michael