Shadow’s legacy

Back when I was a keen record buyer I was also an avid reader of liner notes, always keen to know who’d produced or engineered a disc, when and where it was recorded, what guest musicians were involved and so on. (Incidentally, of course, this aspect of music scanning is something that’s fast disappearing in the download age.)

It didn’t mean, though, that I was always on top of things enough to make some crucial connections. I’m therefore grateful to Richard Williams, who pointed out something I hadn’t realised in his obituary of the producer Shadow Morton – his work on two sixties records which, while not particularly celebrated these days, were deeply influential back then…and do echo on into today.

Morton’s first ever production and by all accounts first ever song (though I suspect there might have been a bit of myth manufacture going on there) was “Remember (walking in the sand)” by the Shangri-las. When this came out in ’63 it was a revelation,  a fully-formed piece of (for those of us so inclined) pop art/drama. It had something of Spector’s widescreen sonics but more importantly had loads of semi-visible, not quite explained story going on. The girls’ delivery was astounding – they were teenagers at the time – and  the stop/starts were unprecedented for the then world of the three minute single. It really did hit that Spector desire for “opera for the kids”.

The follow up was “Leader of the pack”. Need I say more?

Well, the more I need to say is that these records made a great impression on this particular teenager back in the day and that while some of that was on an entirely visceral level another way in which they hit me was in exactly how sound and music could be put together, of how one could build up a story by small inferences.

I suppose most people don’t see much of John Lee Hoooker or Howling Wolf in my riff constructions, still less the Shangri-las in the shaping of pieces of music. They’re there, nonetheless…

(And, of course, excellent use of brackets in the song title to boot!)

Spool on a couple of years…. (or lifetimes, actually, things happened so very fast between ’63 and ’68).

Shadow Morton produced bands by this time. One particular record really changed things up and, I’m sure, had a great effect on everything that followed thereafter, particularly from British bands.

It was “You keep me hanging on” by Vanilla Fudge. They were virtuoso musicians and the production and concept was equally startling. They took an out and out pop hit and made it into something which was emphatically rock…before such a categorisation really existed.

And it was done by, well, addition to/bigging up of riffs, of course… But also, most importantly, by slowing the whole thing down. And that in turn actually made it heavier. In a way it started that whole idea of heaviness (as opposed to excitement) as a component of music.

And believe me, a lot of UK bands of that time paid a lot of attention, learnt a lot of lessons, from that disc.

Morton also produced In-a-gada-da-vida. Personally I didn’t go for that so much but of course it *was* highly influential in a “we’re going to take this riff and beat it to death” way. Which obviously continues to this day.

After this Shadow Morton then drifted away from music completely. But what a legacy he left….

And how many inspirational people there have been in those liner notes down the years!

11 Comments on “Shadow’s legacy”

  1. A long time before I discovered PH (through ‘The Silent Corner And The Emply Stage’ in 1984) I enjoyed 7 inch singles a lot, and two that were played often were the Vannilla Fudge single of ‘You Keep Me hanging on’ and the Shangrilas ‘Remember (walking in the sand)’ and I used to get a real blast from the thirty second drum solo at the start of the Vanilla Fudge single, I also liked the use of the spaces between the notes and vocals, with The Shangrilas single, it was a long way from today’s music where the aim seems to be digitally fill in all gaps….. .

  2. Steve says:

    I must admit to not knowing anything of the “behind the scenes” effort…and now, after hearing of Shadow Morton and his passing, I’m looking him up and wondering just what goes into the production of a recording…how interesting it is to know that the likes of the Shangri-las and Vanilla Fudge were such a persuasion.

    My preference has been with the British bands, yet “here” is where those great British compositions started, as influenced by the Muddy Waters, the Howlin’ Wolfs, the John Lee Hookers, who sprung from the deep south, and the also-here Shangri-las (yeah, they are pretty cool; just saw them on YouTube). While it’s hard to see this stuff in VDGG, there’s a parallel – both the Shargri-la’s and VDGG’s ability to evoke images for the listener …the “building of the story” as it’s put.

    The creativity of that whole 60s era is indeed remarkable. It wasn’t just in music. Look at the production work / performances in television from then. Glad I can access The Twilight Zone and Star Trek over the (relative) non-production of today’s “reality” shows.

    The geographical lines are blurred, on the music side and maybe it’s just all one. And where does all this great delivery come from, well…


    • donald says:

      The Howling Wolfs, the John Lee Hookers? Surely it must be “Wolves”? Why on Earth do people feel the need to pluralise nouns? We have a well loved T.V. prog in Scotland whiich refers to the, “Wayne Rooneys of this world, not playing for a certain team. No, the one that plays for M.U.. may not, but the others would!! How the frig you begin to compare the Shangri las to VDGG I have no idea!

  3. Kevin M Flaherty says:

    Ah reading liner notes most assuredly a lost art. I too would look at the notes on the back of the cds that I bought. You never know what you might find. A case in point , there was a cd by an individual called Peter Gabriel, and who would appear as a back up singer on a trck or two, you gussed it one PH.

  4. Rick Chafen says:

    Wow! The Shangri-Las! On my fifteenth birthday in 1965, I sat with the three of them at the side of the stage while The Zombies performed. They were both part of the Dick Clark Caravan of Stars that hit my home town that day. One of the Zombies later mentioned a song of theirs that was only on the English release of their album, and that’s what turned my head permanently to Europe! A few short years later, Vanilla Fudge appeared as one of three support acts for The Jimi Hendrix Experience. The Soft Machine cemented my fate that night. Is it any wonder I’ve been hooked on VdGG / PH since 1970?

  5. Anonymous says:

    I was always thrilled by Hugh Banton’s claim that reggae was a big influence on “Meurglys”… so much so that I included the song and quote in my (forthcoming) book “If You Like Bob Marley, You’ll Love…”

  6. Dave Swanson says:

    Great tribute! I can see the connection of the ‘drama’ in those songs making it’s way into our heart and ultimately your writing. I can almost hear a PH cover of ‘You Can Never Go Home Anymore’ done up as just gtr and v. 😉
    One thing to mention, though it may not have impacted you, is that Shawod did return behind in 1974 the board to produce the second New York Dolls LP ‘In Too Much Too Soon’.

  7. Vadim Zaytsev says:

    “…this aspect of music scanning is something that’s fast disappearing in the download age.”

    But on the other hand, it’s countered by the ability to find out all you want about your favorite bands/records in the great field of information online.

  8. Harvey says:

    As one who also loved all these songs, I couldn’t agree more, though as a slightly younger teenager at the time I never knew who the producer was back then. But yes, I’m not all that surprised that you were also a fan. As for ‘You keep me hanging on’, well, this was really just returning the song to its fairly obvious blues roots, together with all the heaviness that was added.

  9. bayernmike says:

    Who’d have thought it, Van der Graaf inspired by the Shangri-Las. Thinking about it though I guess some of the drama in those songs have spilled out into VdGG and solo work.

    Although not a particular fan of 60’s girl groups it’s certainly preferable to be influenced by them than the Plastic Pollys that make up today’s manufactured girl bands.

    Keep up the good work

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