Heard the news that Shadow Morton passed away on Valentine’s Day, as I was driving home from my show on KPFK this past week. Shadow Morton is perhaps best known as the driving force behind one of the greatest girl groups ever, The Shangri-Las. As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, the Shangri-Las are one of my all-time favorite bands and “Remember” is one of the most amazing songs I’ve ever heard. When I set up a “Pound For Pound” between the Shangri-Las and Ronettes, I acknowledged that the Shangri-Las had a more lasting influence and strangely enough it seems Shadow Morton himself took notice.
I don’t know if that was really Shadow Morton or not, but I’d like to hold on to the idea that it was. Morton wrote songs, produced and recorded a number of bands in the 1960s and 1970s. According to his NY Times obituary, Morton wrote over 300 songs, most of which were never recorded. I sincerely hope his family finds a way to get those songs into the hands of gifted musicians so that we will be able to get an even fuller appreciation of Morton’s considerable talent. With the fundraiser ongoing at KPFK (including an Oscar special this week, we’ll be back on the air next week), I won’t be able to pay proper tribute to Morton, but I wanted to definitely take a bit of time to mention a few of my favorite Shadow Morton songs/productions.
The Shangri-Las – “Remember (Walking In The Sand)”
While “Be My Baby” is still my favorite girl group song of all-time, “Remember” as a song is so much more stunning. Nothing else really sounds like this song. Yes, it has elements of the style of the time, but the way everything comes together is so distinctive and fascinating sonically that again there’s really no comparison to this song and any other from this period of time. The fact that Morton essentially put this together in a matter of hours, all of it, writing the song, finding the band and a space to record the demo, is absolutely astounding.
The Shangri-Las – “Give Him A Great Big Kiss”
I know “Leader Of The Pack” is the big song from the Shangri-Las, another track that Shadow Morton wrote for the group. But to me, there’s nothing better than Mary Weiss’ introduction to this song, “When I say I’m in love, you best believe I’m in Love…L.U.V.”! and later on when the girls ask Mary about her new man and she says “He’s a Good Bad, but he’s not Evil”…pure bad girl perfection.
Vanilla Fudge – “You Keep Me Hanging On”
For some time I was a really big fan of the Box Tops version of this track, until I realized that Vanilla Fudge were the first group to employ this over-the-top rocked out treatment of the Supreme’s hit. As much as I love Alex Chilton, there’s really no comparison, particularly in those drums from Carmine Appice, who later on would feature in one my favorite 1970s LPs, from Cactus. The fact that this was “directed” by Shadow Morton (as described on the 45), just makes it even more special.
Iron Butterfly – “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”
This one might be more legend than reality. But even though he is uncredited, it appears that Shadow Morton played a major part in this classic bit of psychedelic music. Apparently the band had a hard time recording this song, so Morton convinced them that there was some kind of malfunction but that they should keep playing to work out the kinks, while secretly recording the unsuspecting band. Morton himself at times confirmed the story and at other times mentioned how he was so drunk that he didn’t really remember too much, so it might have all been because of engineer Don Casale. No matter what, it’s such a great story and it is clear that Morton was in the studio, even if he never receivetd a formal credit.
New York Dolls – “Human Being”
It was pretty clear that the New York Dolls were fans of the Shangri-Las, after appropriating the opening lines of “Great Big Kiss” for their song “Looking For A Kiss” on their debut. It must have been a dream come true for the band to work with Morton on their second album Too Much Too Soon, one of the best examples of Rock’n’Roll America has ever produced. “Human Being” might just be my favorite song from the Dolls, and it’s something that wouldn’t sound quite the same without production from Shadow Morton.