Leader Of The Pack

Album: Leader of the Pack (1964)
Charted: 3 1
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  • The "leader of the pack" is the archetypical bad boy - the guy you definitely don't want your daughter to date. He's head of a motorcycle gang, and in this song, the girl falls for him hard. Her father forbids her from seeing him, so she breaks it off. He gives her one last kiss, then rides off into the rain, meeting his doom when he crashes his bike.
  • This is a tale of young love, parental disapproval, and death by motorbike. Mary Weiss, the lead vocalist of the Shangri-Las, said in Telegraph magazine, April 14, 2007, "I don't think I would be able to put feeling into the song unless I had really thought about the lyrics. I put a lot of my own pain into that song. I don't think teenage years are all that rosy for a lot of people - they certainly weren't for me. They are the most confusing time of people's lives and there is a tremendous dark side to the record, which I think teenagers related to. The studio was a great place to let the pain out."

    She went on to comment: "I thought it was amusing when they (British radio and TV stations) banned 'Leader' because of the mod and rocker stuff. When I got off the plane in my leather jacket everyone knew which side I was on."
  • This was written by Ellie Greenwich, Jeff Barry and producer Shadow Morton. Morton was looking for a follow-up to the first Shangri-Las' hit, "Remember (Walking in the Sand)." He had a motorcycle and was part of a motorcycle gang in his youth, so he, Greenwich and Barry decided to use that as the theme. Together, they came up with the rather dramatic story, being sure to name the characters in the lyric (Betty and Johnny) so the listener could form an attachment. A hallmark of the song is the spoken dialogue that sets up the story.
  • A young Billy Joel played the piano on this song - probably. He explained to Uncut in 1998: "I know I played piano on a session. The girls themselves weren't at the session, but that kinda happens all the time, the singers come in later. I played note for note what is on the record, but I wasn't in the musician's union – I was about 14 or 15 – so for all I know they may have got a union guy in to do it later. I never got paid, never got a form to show it was me on the record, so I can't say for sure it's me, but I like to think it was. Actually, it was my very first recording session – a guitar player friend got me in. I also did 'Remember (Walkin' In The Sand)'.

    The producer, Shadow Morton, was a strange guy. He had a very theatrical way of producing, he used to wear a cape in the studio. I don't know if he'd been taking any intoxicating substances – what did I know at that age? – but he was very intimidating to a young kid like me. I just kept my head down hoping no one would find out I wasn't in the union, but I never got paid, so maybe someone squealed on me."
  • According to Jeff Barry, they used a real motorcycle for the sound of the revving engine. Shadow Morton sometimes talked about how they wheeled the motorcycle into the studio to record it, but Barry explained that they attached a microphone to a long cable and recorded it on the street outside the New York City studio (Mirasound Studios on 47th Street). The bike was a Harley Davidson owned by Barry's engineer, Joe Venneri. Fortunately, Venneri's Harley was not used to create the crashing sound - that was a sound effect.
  • The opening bit of dialog in this song, "Is she really going out with him?," was used by The Damned to open their first single, "New Rose," in 1976, with lead singer David Vanian reciting it. In 1979, Joe Jackson appropriated the line for his hit "Is She Really Going Out With Him?"
  • Later in 1964, the producers Ron Dante ("Sugar, Sugar"), Tommy Wynn and Danny Jordan released a parody of this song called "Leader Of The Laundromat," which they issued under the name The Detergents. In that song, a guy falls for a girl in a laundromat, and it doesn't end well. This parody went to #19 in the US.
  • In the UK, this charted three times: first at #11 when it was initially released, then at #3 with a 1972 re-release, followed by a 1976 re-release at #7.
  • This song has been covered by a wide range of artists, including Twisted Sister, The Chipmunks, and Bette Midler. Runaways lead singer Cherie Currie teamed up with Stooges guitarist James Williamson to release their version in 2019.

Comments: 25

  • Bob G from Wickliffe, OhHaving owned a few Harleys, that's the lamest Harley I ever heard. My guess is that it could have been Harley-Davidson's single cylinder 250 Sprint. Still a Harley but definitely not a V-twin.
  • Chloe AI always thought this song was ahead of its time. Wicked tune!
  • Happy from HonoluluBRRRRRRRROOOOM! BRRRRRRRRRRRROOOOOOOOM! I have the bike of Joe Venneri still intact running its a piece of history that makes me so happy Avery time I ride it ....
  • David Maskrey from Bangkok In the black n white video of the "leader of the pack" what bike was used in the video "not the sound the bike"
  • Ross Vertigan from Morwell Victoria AustraliaEvery time I hear this song it makes me sad, as the lyrics of this song talk about young love being frowned upon by an uncaring society. Although I didn't grow up in the 50s or 60s, this song has a Shakespeare influence in its emotionally poetic storyline and will haunt me forever.
  • Paul Osman from Liverpool, EnglandI don't know if any USA senior citizens remember a similar British song called TERRY, sung by a teenage singer called Twinkle. In the song Terry is like the LOTP killed while on his motor bike. The two songs came out around the same time, mid 1960s. There is a poignant line "Please wait at the gates of heaven for me, Terry". Sadly Twinkle died a few years ago. I hope she was reunited with Terry at the gates of heaven.
  • Jennifur Sun from RamonaJohny is the picture of you? also to me the really sad saga they recorded was Give Us Your Blessing. had never (although I grew up in the late 50's and into the now 2000 but I had never heard that song or Never Go Home Anymore. have to say the last one just gave me goosebumps. and i'm very surprised to find out here, that Phil did not engineer their recordings, it does sound like his Wall. also if he didn't who played on their recordings, if it was in LA, I bet it was the Wrecking Crew, If not, who then?
  • Moanin' Lisa from Chillicothe Mo.Cool song from '64. I hear it's called a teen tragedy now. Back then, me & my cousins would come home after school and play our new records & this was one. You couldn't dance too well to it, but it was popular. It sounded a bit like a Phil Spector "Wall of Sound" production, but I learned the producer was Shadow Morton. A real weirdo. I was a Shangri-Las fan back then & had several of their 45s. They had a good sound.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn January 13th 1965, the Detergents performed "Leader of the Laundromat" on the ABC-TV program 'Shindig!'...
    At the time the song was at #21 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; the week before it was at #19 {for 1 week} and that was also its peak position the chart...
    The trio had one other Top 100 record, "Double-O-Seven", it stayed on the chart for 3 weeks, peaking at #89.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn October 4th 1964, "Leader of the Pack" by the Shandri-Las entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #86; and on November 22nd, 1964 it peaked at #1 { for 1 week} and spent 12 weeks on the Top 100...
    On November 29th, 1964 the parody of the song, "Leader of the Laundromat", by the Detergents entered the Top 100 at #80 and at the time "Leader of the Pack" was at #3, the week before it was at #1...
    Between August 1964 and June 1966 the Shandri-Las had eleven Top 100 records, with three making the Top 10, their two other Top 10 records were "Remember (Walkin' in the Sand)" {peaked at #5 in 1964} and "I Can Never Go home Again" {reached #6 in 1965}.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn July 10th 1966, the Shangri-Las performed at the Surf 'N See Club in Seabright, New Jersey...
    At the time their record "Past, Present, and Future" was at #63 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; it would peak at #59 and it was also their 11th and last charted record...
    Also on the bill that night was a local band, 'The Castiles', and 16 year-old Bruce Springsteen was a band member.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, Nyhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4dEuqKAgn8&feature=related
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyIn 1974 Brownsville Station released a record titled "I'm the Leader of the Pack", it peaked at No. 48... I personally don't remember this song, is it an answer song or a stand alone song???
  • Johnny from Hershey, Pa, PaIf you go to starfiresforever.com and click on photography, you will see a photo of the Starfires, a band from Wilkes-Barre, PA, on stage with the Shangri-Las in 1965. Look for the left-handed musician. This was pre-"Leader of the Pack."
  • Meredith from Wauwatosa, WiYes, he died in a motorcycle accident. I like this song, but it's depressing.
  • Chenel from Salamanca, NyMy mom & dad were acting out this song for a talent show at our local Bingo Hall. as my mom was singing, my dad was playing the leader of the pack. when it came time for him to "crash and die" so to speak, he fell and actually did a great job. some old lady did not know the song and she came over to my dad to help him up and ask him if he was okay. but anyway, this is one of the greatest teen tradgedy songs i have ever heard. :)
  • Krista from Elyria, OhStiv from bathurst canada, that band is twisted sister!I like both versions.
  • Fyodor from Denver, CoWhat do y'all think: did the leader of the pack hear her when she told him to be careful?
  • Frank from Westminster, ScThe longest motorcycle skid in history...LOOK OUT! LOOK OUT! LOOK OUT! LOOK OUT!!
  • Howard from St. Louis Park, MnBRRRRRRRROOOOM! BRRRRRRRRRRRROOOOOOOOM! Leader of the Pack was a classic girl-group song and one of the great teen tragedy hits. I always got a kick out of the motorcycle sound. I have been a Billy Joel fan for years and I didn't know he was the piano player of the song.
  • Melissa from Duluth, MnThe "Detergents" did the Leader of the Laundromat. The Detergents were Ron Dante (of the Anchies and the Cuff Links), Tommy Wynn and Danny Jordan. Went to #19 in 1964.
  • Bob from Sacramento, CaAnybody know who did the parody (the original is pretty much a parody of itself, but never mind...) the parody of this called "Leader of the Laundromat," also circa 1964? I figure they had to set it in a laundromat so they could use the lines, "My folks were always putting her down/Because our laundry came back brown" and, "She was in a quandary/when she left the laundary."
  • Stiv from Bathurst, CanadaThe heavy metal band recorded a version of this song on their album < Come out and play>
  • Mikael from Helsinki, FinlandMy first comment ever on Songfacts ... I've read that BBC banned "Leader" for violence, immorality or some other dubious reason. Can anybody tell more? Here are comprehensive lists of banned or otherwise suspect tunes.


    Great site, at least so far! ;o)
  • Eric from Buffalo, NyThe song was written by Ellie Greenwich and is featured in the musical "Leader of the pack:The Ellie Greenwich Musical"
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