The spectacular German-language cover version of the immortal pop classic.
Leader of the Pack is perhaps the definitive ‘death disc’ – certainly the biggest selling of the craze for ‘teenage tragedy’ where love affairs always end in the death of one or both parties. Written in 1964 by George ‘Shadow’ Morton (who also produced the single), Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, the track was recorded by girl group The Shangri-Las as a follow-up to their smash hit Remember (Walking in the Sand), and fitted with the slightly streetwise, tough girl image that the band projected (at least in comparison to the other, almost painfully wholesome girl groups of the time).
As pop songs go, it’s near-flawless. In it, teenager Betty tells her school friends about her doomed relationship with Jimmy, a biker “from the wrong side of town”. When her father makes her break up with him, Jimmy speeds away -his eyes presumably blinded with tears – and fatally crashes on the rain-drenched road. It’s magnificently melodramatic stuff with a suitably dramatic performance from lead singer Mary Weiss – which of course, you know, because who hasn’t heard this classic track?
Leader of the Pack shot to Number One on the Billboard charts in November 1964. In Britain, the ever-twitchy BBC banned it from radio play – there was a blanket ban on these morbid ‘death discs’ at the time. Nevertheless, the song reached Number 11 on the UK charts and would be even more successful in 1972 – by which time the ban had been lifted and the track granted ‘classic’ status – when it reached Number 3 (it would chart again in 1976, rising to Number 7).
In the 1960s, it wasn’t unusual for localised versions of hit records to be released in different languages. Die Crazy Girls were a German trio – Rosi Rohr, Gretel ‘Grit’ Kästel and Dutch singer Ans Plevier – who had signed to Columbia Records and were produced by big band leader Paul Kuhn, who initially teamed them with Dutch beat group Die Javalins for 1963 single Hey Hey Na Na and, a year later, Hully-Gully Hop – a German reworking of the Ran-Dell’s novelty track The Martian Hop. Neither track was a hit, and in 1965 Die Crazy Girls dropped Die Javalins on the song Lass Dir Zeit, a cover on the instrumental Ventures track Walk Don’t Run with new German lyrics added. This too was a failure commercially, and the group were on borrowed time when they recorded a German-language version of Leader of the Pack, which is, without doubt, their masterpiece.
The German version of the track essentially follows the blueprint of the original, but has a touch more aggression to it and rather boosts the melodrama – especially at the end, as the warning cries reach new heights of anguish. It would be blasphemous – and untrue – to suggest that this is the better version, but it’s certainly as good a cover version as you could hope for.
Sadly, this too failed to sell and Die Crazy Girls broke up after one more single. Their version of Leader of the Pack slid into obscurity, reissued from time to time on novelty record collections. In more recent years, the fascination for foreign-language versions of familiar hits has seen the track experience something of a revival – though it’s still seen as something of a curio rather than the magnificent reworking that it is.
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