Leader of the Pack: An appreciation

For reasons that I cannot explain I downloaded a heaping helping of 60s Girl Groups today — The Ronettes, The Supremes, The Chiffons and The Shangri-Las. It is awesome. I’m no Ronnie Spector, but that doesn’t stop me from rocking a solid “wo, wo, wooooooah.”

I got all the classics, “Be My Baby,” “Can’t Hurry Love,” ” He’s So Fine,” and my absolute favorite all the girl group hits of all time “Leader of the Pack.”

What is it that makes “Leader of the Pack” so incredible? There are so many things it’s hard to count. First, I’m sure my adoration of this song stems from the Fonzie-fetish I had as a child. I loved everything even remotely Fonziesque, and that included songs about motorcycles apparently.

I can’t even remember how or where I discovered this song. But I do remember loving it from an early age. Maybe it was on an episode of “Sha-Na-Na” or I caught on some oldies station. I can’t remember. What I do remember is that it was love at first listen. Really, who couldn’t love this song at first listen? It’s got everything: thwarted Romeo & Juliet teen romance, death, and motorcycle vrooom noises. Is there more you want in your sugar-coated pop songs? No.

When the song opens we’ve got two girls having a chat. “Is she really going out with him?” (please note the present tense). “I don’t know,” the other girl replies. “Let’s ask her.”

So they ask Betty if she’s really going out with Jimmy. They get some monotone, mmhmm and hmmummms for answers until they ask, “by the way where’d you meet him?

This bursts Betty’s dam and she launches into the history of their ill-fated romance. It starts at a candy store when he turns around and smiles at her, but her parents were always putting him down. She explains her attraction in the best line of the song, “They told me he was bad, but I knew he was sad. That’s why I fell for the leader of the pack.”

Betty continues on with her tale of woe while the girls randomly interject questions she ignores. Eventually, she has to break it off with Jimmy and he peels out on his motorcycle and even though Betty asked him to go slow, he doesn’t listen.

Then comes what is probably the best sound effect in a song ever. Betty screeching “look out look out” followed by the sound of tires squealing, a crash, and broken glass falling to the ground. I’m pretty sure it was this dramatic sound effect that launched the song into my heart forever.

And then the song takes a turn for the super morbid.

First Betty claims “In school they all stop and stare,” which is in direct opposition to the entire beginning of the song. Because the two girls ask her if Jimmy’s going to pick her up after school today, right? So do they already know he’s dead and are just being super bitches? I would argue yes.

Because after Betty talks about being unable to hide the tears the girls start in with their spooky “leader of the back and now he’s gone. gone gone gone.” chant. That is some cold shit. And yet, such an awesome song.

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5 Comments

  1. Melissa 13.Apr.11 at 2:23 pm

    I too was raised on the awesomeness of oldies. I remember loving this song, along with so many others. Though in retrospect quite a few of them were pretty dark.

    Reply
  2. Doug 15.Apr.11 at 2:25 pm

    Three thoughts:
    How long before you expect you’ll have to explain the “Fonzie” reference to a youngster?

    The Girl Groups have the best versions of Xmas songs.

    I’m pretty sure the opening of “Baby Got Back” was, in its own way, an homage.

    Reply
  3. Peabo 15.Apr.11 at 3:38 pm

    I used to lay on the floor in front of the speaker of my dad’s stereo and listen to this song over and over and over again. I loved it then, I love it now, and I thank you for reminding me of it today. I’m going to go listen to it.
    (PS…never connected the present tense in the beginning to the end…clearly this song was never workshopped in a Vodo or Dale class.)

    Reply
  4. meow point1 14.Mar.16 at 12:55 am

    I don’t like that song very much as it is too sad, and when I heard the song and saw Happy Days, I thought “Oh no, does that mean Fonzie’s dead?”

    He’s NOT DEAD, is he?

    Reply

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