The Seagulls and the Shangri-Las
Recalling the Spooky Secret Weapon Behind “Remember (Walking in the Sand)”
The Shangri-Las were tough high-school girls who sang angelic songs about loneliness, abandonment, and death. Or, in early-60s pop parlance, a “hit machine.”
By that time, teen melodrama was already a well-established pop staple, but no one did it as darkly or death-obsessed as the Shangri-Las. Their songs were dominated by tragic tales of doomed young love, in which the boy invariably leaves and/or ends up splattered across the highway in a gruesome wreck, and the girl is left to pick up the pieces through bitter tears and three-part harmony.
The group’s “Leader of the Pack,” with its trademark motorcycle revs and climactic crash, remains the undisputed king of the “splatter platters” (which include Jan and Dean’s “Dead Man’s Curve,” Mark Dinning’s “Teen Angel,” and Jody Reynolds’ downright chilling “Endless Sleep”).
But the Shangri-Las had already experimented with offbeat percussion and dramatic sound effects on their previous (and first) chart hit, helping to make it their most affecting and indelible song.
The doomy, descending piano stabs that introduce 1964’s “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” waste no time in foreshadowing the epic heartbreak to come. The dirgelike beat, anguished vocals, and arrival of a fateful Dear Jane letter from across the sea all conspire to set the despairing tone.
But the secret weapon that takes this teenpocalpyse from simply great to sublime is those seagulls.
As fingers pop and whispers float, producer George “Shadow” Morton lets loose with a squall of seagull sounds and crashing surf, abruptly taking us back to the sandy, halcyon nights before our protagonist gave away her, erm, “light” to the boy who has now so cruelly left her adrift.
The screeching birds make for an ingenious and just plain weird narrative device that turns the song both literal and downright avant-garde, and puts “Remember” in a uniquely spooky class of its own.