Enigmatic. That’s a word that’s often used to describe Long Island songwriter and producer George Shadow Morton. In reality, that’s selling Shadow Morton short. It also overshadows the reality that Shadow Morton was an innovative and influential songwriter and producer, who enjoyed a long and successful career. His career started back in the late fifties, when Shadow’s family moved from Brooklyn, New York to Long Island.

The reason for this, was Shadow, who was born in 1941, was becoming increasingly involved in Brooklyn’s street gangs. By the time he’d entered his teens, he’d already been stabbed once. Things could only get worse. Realizing how this could play out, Shadow’s parents moved to Long Island. This would be the start of his musical career.

Having moved to Long Island, Shadow struggled to settle for the first few weeks. Then his mother sent him to the local diner for lunch. There he encountered between 150-200 gang members from all over New York. Their leader Bumpy, took Shadow under his wing. He would later became the inspiration for one of Shadow’s most successful songs, Leader Of The Pack. 

In Long Island, Shadow’s love for music grew. Jazz was his favorite. When he listened to local radio, Nina Simone, The Modern Jazz Quartet and Miles Davis were his favorites. He was a regular caller to Symphony Sid, his favorite disc jockey. His eclectic taste helped shape Shadow’s musical tastes. Before long, rather than just listening to music, George would be recording, writing and producing music. Among the eclectic selection of artists Shadow Morton worked with, were The New York Dolls, Mott The Hoople, The Shangri-Las and Vanilla Fudge. These artists feature on Ace Records latest compilation Sophisticated Boom Boom!-The Shadow Morton Story. That was still to come. Before that, George would form his first band, aged just sixteen.

Aged just sixteen, Shadow formed his first band The Markeys, with four of his friends. One of The Markeys, Marty Monaco, his mother had a basic recording studio in her basement. For Shadow, this allowed to begin learning his craft. The Markeys wrote and recorded a demo, which they played to the owner of a record shop. He liked it so much, that he arranged for The Markeys to audition for RCA. 

When RCA heard the demo, they didn’t wanted to sign The Markeys, just Shadow. They envisaged a solo career for Shadow. He stood firm. Loyal to his friends, RCA relented. However, rather than the Markeys, they were billed as The Markeys featuring Georgie Morton. Under their new name, The Markeys featuring Georgie Morton released their debut single in the summer of 1958. It opens Sophisticated Boom Boom!-The Shadow Morton Story. Best described as a youthful slice of rock ‘n’ roll, with doo wop harmonies, it was written by Shadow and Marty Monaco. This was the start of Shadow’s nascent career. He couldn’t have timed this better. The start of his musical career coincided with rock ‘n’ roll’s birth. Little did Shadow realize, that this was the first of many hit singles he’d write, produce or appear on.

The following year, Shadow graduated from high school. For a while, he drifted, working as a caddy, nightclub bouncer, hairdresser and selling ice-creams. Shadow was still involved in music. He recorded a number of singles using pseudonyms. His other release was I Want My Girl, which was credited to The Lonely Ones. Released on the Sir label, George delivers a heartfelt lead vocal, while the former The Markeys add harmonies. I Want My Girl was the last of Shadow’s music from the fifties to feature on Sophisticated Boom Boom!-The Shadow Morton Story.

As the sixties took shape, so too, did Shadow’s musical career. In 1964, Shadow became involved with one of the first girl-groups he’d work with, the Beattle-Ettes. He wrote Only Seventeen, which fuses elements of I Want To Hold Your Hand and I Saw Her Standing There. This resulted in two hook-laden minutes of finger-clicking pop perfection. The next time Shadow worked with a girl-group, it would be with The Shangri-las.

When anyone mentions The Shangri-las, inevitably one track is always mentioned, Leader Of The Pack. Shadow cowrote Leader Of The Pack with Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich. It was their sophomore single, released on Red Bird on 1964. Their debut was the joyous and catchy Give Him A Great Big Kiss, which Shadow wrote. He also wrote the followup to Leader Of The Pack, Remember (Walkin’ In The Sand). Rather than the original version, the version on Sophisticated Boom Boom!-The Shadow Morton Story features a previously unreleased version. Past, Present and Future is an understated track, one that’s filled with hurt and heartache. Inspired by the Moonlight Sonata, it’s quite unlike what you expect of The Shangri-las. Produced by Shadow, who cowrote the track with Artie Butler and Jerry Lieber, this dramatic and emotive opus is the best of the quartet of tracks from The Shangri-las. It surpasses I’ll Never Learn which is similarly dramatic and hurt-filled.

For a few short years, Ellie Greenwich and Shadow Morton’s careers were seemingly intertwined. Along with Jeff Barry, they were songwriting partners for The Shangri-las. Shadow and Jeff joined with Ellie to pen two of the singles she released in 1965. Baby and You Don’t Know were both released on Red Bird. Of the two tracks, You Don’t Know is the best. Her vocal is needy and filled with emotion and joy. Sadly, Ellie’s best known as a songwriter than singer, and only released two albums during her career.

Back in 1967, Shadow was hired to co-produce Janis Ian’s first session with George Sterner. Funded by Atlantic Records, three tracks were recorded. One became her debut single Society’s Child (Baby I’ve Been Thinking). It has a compelling arrangement, fusing everything from classical music, folk and pop with drama and emotion. Crucial to the arrangement is a harpsichord and organ, which provides the perfect accompaniment to Janis’ heartfelt vocal. The other track was Too Old To Go ‘Way Little Girl. It’s best described as a raunchy fusion of rock, country and folk. Both tracks were written by Janis, whose vocal breathes life and meaning into her lyrics. 

While some girl groups like The Shangri-las enjoyed a degree of longevity, that wasn’t the case for The Nu-Luvs. They only released one single So Soft, So Warm in 1966, which is reminiscent of The Shangri-las. This heartfelt paean with elegant, sweeping harmonies is something of a hidden gem. Proving that this wasn’t a one-off is the B-side to So Soft, So Warm. It’s also arranged by Shadow and George Michael. Take My Advice is best described as a soul-baring, slow-burner where heartache and hurt are ever-present.m

Just like Janis Ian, Shadow worked with Vanilla Fudge at the start of their career. Shadow directed Vanilla Fudge’s 1967 debut single You Keep Me Hanging On. It was released on Atco, and featured on their debut album Vanilla Fudge. This version of the Holland, Dozier, Holland classic totally reinvents the track. Here, psychedelia and rock unite head on. A year later, Season Of The Witch Part 2 featured on Vanilla Fudge’s 1968 sophomore album Renaissance. Eerie, haunting and dramatic, rock, blues, jazz and psychedelia unite seamlessly.

My final choices from Sophisticated Boom Boom!-The Shadow Morton Story are  The New York Dolls. Their unique fusion of rock ‘n’ roll and glam rock, has influenced several generations of musicians. So it’s fitting that they’ve two tracks on the compilation. These are their the raw and rocky Puss ‘n’ Boots and their 1974 single Stranded In The Jungle. Puss In Boots surpasses Stranded In The Jungle. It’s literally an explosion of energy that epitomizes everything The New Dolls music stands for.

Sophisticated Boom Boom!-The Shadow Morton Story, documents the musical life and times of an enigmatic and talented songwriter and producer. Covering the period between 1958 and 1980, this was the most successful period of Shadow Morton’s career. During that time, it’s no exaggeration to describe Shadow Morton as one of the best songwriters and producers of his generation. Shadow Morton was also an imaginative producer, one who strived to innovate. His determination to innovate, also helped launch and shape numerous band’s careers. Among them are The Shangri-las, Vanilla Fudge and New York Dolls. He also helped launch the careers of Janis Ian and Ellie Greenwich. Nearly all of these artists and groups went on to enjoy long and successful musical careers. Sadly, Shadow’s solo career didn’t enjoy the same success.

Like many successful songwriters and producers, Shadow’s solo career wasn’t as successful. Instead, he’s better known as a songwriter and producer. His production credits number seventy and he wrote or cowrote nearly 180 tracks. Much of the music he wrote and produced, was innovative and pushed musical boundaries. Often, musical genres and influences became one. Imaginative, this music would influence other musicians, songwriters and producers. So much of the music Shadow Morton wrote or produced is now seen as timeless. 

Whether it’s his work with The Shangri-las, Vanilla Fudge or New York Dolls, every generation of music lover has to discover the music of Shadow Morton. It’s akin to a right of passage, or coming of age. Only after discovering the music of Shadow Morton, can you call yourself a true connoisseur of music. For those who have still to discover Shadow Morton’s music, then Ace Records’ recently released compilation Sophisticated Boom Boom!-The Shadow Morton Story is the perfect starting point.

Sophisticated Boom Boom!-The Shadow Morton Story tells Shadow’s story in music. To do this, compiler Mick Patrick chose twenty-four tracks. This includes songs he wrote, produced or sang on. Sadly, rather than paying tribute to Shadow Morton, Sophisticated Boom Boom!-The Shadow Morton Story ended up being a tribute to him. Sadly, he passed away on February 14th 2013, aged just seventy-two. That day, music had lost one of its innovators. Thankfully, he leaves behind some of the most innovative music of an era. This is music which has stood the test of time, and will continue to do so. Not only that, but as the music on Sophisticated Boom Boom!-The Shadow Morton Story demonstrates, will inspire future generations of musicians and music lovers. Standout Tracks: The Shangrilas Past, Present and Future, The Nu-Luvs So Soft, So Warm, Vanilla Fudge You Keep Me Hanging On and New York Dolls Puss ‘n’ Boots.


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