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

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)

Polish station has own take on “CatrianiPlay”

Check this out: a Polish radio station called RMF has a series called ‘Gdzies to juz slyszalem’, which translates to ‘Somewhere I Heard That Before’. For their 9th installment, they’ve focused on the same oft-repeated melodic figure as heard on Keith’s ever-expanding CatrianiPlay post/video. Sure they’ve got an enthusiastic host, a bunch of view screens and some nice clips, but you have to wonder where they got the idea.

Here’s their video:

Here’s ThatSongSoundsLike’s

RMF video found at

The Beatles vs. Green Day

The Beatles vs. Green Day

Lord knows there’s been plenty of Green Day coverage already, but here’s one to add to Keith’s hitherto round-up of the band’s borrowed tunes. In fact, the song “Hold On” appears on what is quite possibly Green Day’s finest moment as a band, the juncture when they were on the brink of becoming their modern-day caricature, but still clearly feeling a charming sort of restlessness. The album Warning, which appeared in 2000, broke somewhat free of the pop-punk trappings that had emerged on ‘90s rock radio in the wake of 1994’s Dookie, and found the band adapting their usual schtick to an array of styles including acoustic-based ‘60s rock. In retrospect, it’s a shame that the album sold so poorly — such a thing may have been what diverted Green Day’s trajectory away from exploring such sounds more fully, and towards the contrived, pseudo-political arena rock preening that has defined the band since the lucrative American Idiot follow-up. Too bad they didn’t take their own Warning.

Returning to the particular song in question, “Hold On” borrows inarguably from the harmonica riff on the Beatles’ “I Should Have Known Better”. It certainly isn’t the most original thing they ever did, nor is it even remotely the best song on the album. It does, however, illustrate where the band members’ heads were during this point, since this one almost had to be intentional:

The Beatles - "I Should Have Known Better" (1964)
Green Day - "Hold On" (2000)