Recurring Riffs Mark II: Shangri-La and the Great Big Kiss

October 23rd, 2013 by

One of the great girl groups of the 1960s, the Shangri-Las emerged during the twilight years of the Brill Building’s reign over the world’s teen audiences. Under the tutelage of producer/songwriter Shadow Morton, they not only unleashed arguably THE great teen tragedy song of the era in “Leader of the Pack”, but also projected a black-clad-in-leather, bad-girl persona that was something of an anomaly on the charts in 1964. Though leader Mary Weiss was only 16 when they took off, the group sang of teenage lust through the lens of a wild storm of rebellion, somewhat removed from the innocent lovelorn daydreaming that was most girl groups’ stock-in-trade. In so doing, they must have exacted a huge influence on many following acts which took a cue from their sweet-voiced glorification of edgy street culture, perhaps most significantly their hit “Give Him A Great Big Kiss”. It’s here that we get the ultimate description of the attractive “bad boy”, the natural elaboration on the Crystal’s “He’s a Rebel” (1962), and the main subject of this post.

The song kicks off with this famous rallying cry:

The Shangri-Las - "Give Him A Great Big Kiss" (1964)

The “L-U-V” bit was resurrected by the New York Dolls for a song off their 1973 debut record:

New York Dolls - "Looking For A Kiss" (1973)

And again by the Nation of Ulysses from their 13 Point Plan To Destroy America:

The Nation of Ulysses - "Today I Met The Girl I'm Going To Marry" (1991)

Three very different songs to be sure — a testament not only to the wide-ranging appeal of the phrase, but also its disarming quality as an assured pronouncement of love in the midst of anarchy. This is particularly true of the Nation of Ulysses track, whose title alone exudes an outward sweetness absent from much of their post-hardcore record, but it also applies to David Johansen of the Dolls assuring his girl that “I didn’t come here for no fix — I came looking for a kiss.”

One of the coolest proclamations on the Shangri-Las’ “Give Him A Great Big Kiss” comes in a spoken dialogue between the girls:

The Shangri-Las - "Give Him A Great Big Kiss" (1964)

This whole notion of “Good Bad — Not Evil” so perfectly encapsulates what they and their ilk are on about that it’s no wonder Black Lips used it as an album title in 2007:

Indeed, the spoken parts of “Great Big Kiss” are quite possibly its best moments, and here’s another:

The Shangri-Las - "Give Him A Great Big Kiss" (1964)

Sonic Youth referred to the “very, very close” line on this number featuring Kim Deal from 1995:

Sonic Youth - "Little Trouble Girl" (1995)

Of course, it’s hard not to think of the Shangri-Las’s “Mwah!” chorus on every tune that mentions a “Great Big Kiss”, whether related or not, like the Slits’ “Love und Romance”:

The Shangri-Las - "Give Him A Great Big Kiss" (1964)
The Slits - "Love und Romance" (1979)

From the proto-punk New York Dolls’ obvious admiration on through the other artists mentioned above, it’s easy to see why the Shangri-Las are said to have had an impact on the punk ethos at large. In the spirit of that, to close things out, let’s hear a gender-reversed cover by the legendary Johnny Thunders:

Johnny Thunders - "Great Big Kiss" (1978)
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12 Responses to “Recurring Riffs Mark II: Shangri-La and the Great Big Kiss”

  1. avatar Rudi says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6rp-yCvezFo :)

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    Ben Reply:

    Ha-hah! A brilliantly obscure addition, and most apropos appropriation.

    -”What color are his eyes?”
    -”I don’t know, he’s always wearing his spacesuit.”

    We may have to add the Avocado Baby’s “Outer Space Lover”…

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  2. avatar Shai says:

    new york dolls – rainbow store

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  3. avatar Mark Adams says:

    Another recurring riff can be found in Father and Son by Cat Stevens (1970), We’re Forgiven by The Calling (2001) and the theme song from The Elephant Princess.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vdMPuMeTxzY#t=16s
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5-YmULa_QIw#t=49s
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJgNIkFudMk#t=14s

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    Mark Adams Reply:

    I’ve already added X-Kid by Green Day (2012) and The Donkey Song (1935?) and now 5 Seconds of Summer’s new song: She Looks So Perfect also sounds like the others.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2BYmmTI04I#t=26s

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    Mark Adams Reply:

    And Fight Test by The Flaming Lips, which they stated they changed after they noticed it sounded like Father and Son. You can find this on Buzzfeed under 17 Songs That Blatantly Rip Off Other Songs. Sorry about my last post, The Donkey Song was 1936.

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    Mark Adams Reply:

    I stated that X-Kid also sounds like Basket Case and I know now what people mean when they say Basket Case was based on Pachelbel’s Canon (1694), part of it has the same melody.

  4. avatar Mark Adams says:

    I Love You Because by Leon Payne (1949), Till There Was You by Sue Raney (1957), which was a cover of Till I Met You by Eileen Wilson (1950) and is known for the Beatles version (1963) and Rock and Roll Girls by John Fogerty (1985), which also sounds a little like the verse of Downtown (1964), all have a similar riff or motif.

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  5. avatar Mark Adams says:

    Breakeven by The Script (2008), F**k You/Forget You by Cee Lo Green (2010) and Payphone by Maroon 5 (2012) all have a similar riff of motif, which you can get by adding a note into the first lines of the choruses of Telephone Line and 21 Guns (same with the pre-chorus of More than a Feeling, etc.)before the last note.

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    Mark Adams Reply:

    This song from a Commonwealth Bank ad (2013) also has this pattern, as does the second line of the pre-chorus of Good Time by Owl City and Carly Rae Jepsen (Jun 2012), except that’s clearly based on the first line. I’ll include a link for the Wikipedia page, because that also details a separate Copyright Infringement case. And for clarity’s sake, Payphone was released in Apr ’12.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21IdMLqNcOA#t=2m12s
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Good_Time_(Owl_City_and_Carly_Rae_Jepsen_song)

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    Mark Adams Reply:

    And the Oh-oh-oh-oh-ohs in question use the same motif of riff as one in True Love by Pink (Sep ’12, but she announced in Feb ’12 she had been working on the album in the studio) and Dream Catch Me by Newton Faulkner (2007).

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  6. avatar Mark Adams says:

    Penthouse Pauper by Creedence (1969), Superstition by Stevie Wonder (1972) and I Ain’t Superstitious by Europe all have a similar riff or motif.

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