Thursday, April 29, 2021

Widescreen


The Shangri-Las' great run of singles in the mid-1960s never fails to astonish me when I hear them. I recently found "Out In The Streets" in a box of 45s at a local joint, smitten as ever by the guitar slingin' red robin on the label. The names on are familiar: Jeffy Barry. Ellie Greenwich. Shadow Morton. Artie Butler. Yet the sum's nearly always greater than the parts in the best Shangri-Las tunes. This one's over in under three minutes and feels as dense and layered as a three-hour film. The atmosphere Shangri-Las and Shadow Morton create somehow merges bedroom longing and street rawness without sounding contrived or insincere, much of it is due to Weiss's naked, honest singing, much of it is due to the lyrics evoking rather than directly saying: what are the "wild things" her-now-good boy doesn't do anymore? (I'm imagining them.) And what about that long, isolated ooooohhh at the front? Is that wisdom or regret, or both? She loves him, yet it pains her that he lost himself in loving her back. And who's downstairs at the end?

One verse suggests biography, rumor, story, and back story in just thirty-six words
He grew up on the sidewalk
Streetlights shining above
He grew up with no one to love
He grew up on the sidewalks
He grew up running free
He grew up and then he met me
No wonder Springsteen was obsessed. He'd have killed to have written that. The sexiest line? "There's something 'bout his kissing that tells me he's changed." The Shangri-Las' nailed complicated sentiment like this: adolescent mysteries cloudily originating, and then shockingly revealed, in sex, then made even more more mysterious, all of it wrapped in moody, heartbreaking major-minor melody shifts (naive to curious, innocent to knowing) and decorous language, the vivid details—the facts—of his kissing graphically burning in the singer's memories, hers alone and tragic because of that. 

None of this is new, and yet the song still amazes me with each listen. No one sang stories quite like the Shangri-Las.

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