"Leader of the Pack" is a song written by George "Shadow" Morton, Jeff Barry, and Ellie Greenwich. It was a number one pop hit in 1964 for the American girl group the Shangri-Las. The single is one of the group's best known songs as well as a popular cultural example of a "teenage tragedy song". The song was covered in 1985 by the heavy metal band Twisted Sister, who had a more modest hit with their version (no. 53 in the US).

"Leader of the Pack"
Single by the Shangri-Las
from the album Leader of the Pack
B-side"What Is Love"
Released20 September 1964[1]
LabelRed Bird
Producer(s)George "Shadow" Morton
The Shangri-Las singles chronology
"Remember (Walking in the Sand)"
"Leader of the Pack"
"Give Him a Great Big Kiss"

Background and composition


The tune of "Leader of the Pack" is credited to pop impresario George "Shadow" Morton together with Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich. According to Morton,[3] he wrote the song for the Goodies (also known as the Bunnies[4]), but instead it was needed as a follow-up to the Shangri-Las hit "Remember (Walking in the Sand)".

Lyrical content


The song is about a girl named Betty, who is asked by friends to confirm that she is dating Jimmy, the leader of a motorcycle gang, whose ring they see on Betty's finger. After singing of love at first sight ("(By the way, where'd you meet him?) I met him at the candy store/He turned around and smiled at me/You get the picture?/(Yes, we see) That's when I fell for the Leader of the Pack"), Betty's heart turns to despair as she bemoans her parents' disapproval. The parents say Jimmy hails from "the wrong side of town" and ask Betty to tell Jimmy goodbye and find someone new. Betty reluctantly does as she is asked, and a crushed and tearful Jimmy speeds off on his motorcycle. Moments later, Betty's pleas for Jimmy to slow down are in vain as Jimmy crashes on a rain-slicked surface and dies.

The Shangri-Las original version




In July 1964, Morton recorded the vocals for "Leader of the Pack" with the Shangri-Las at Mira Sound Studios located on 145 West 47th street on the second floor of a Manhattan hotel. The song was produced by Morton. These vocals were dubbed over the instrumental parts, which had been previously recorded at the Ultrasonic Recording Studios in Hempstead, New York.[citation needed]

In 2007 Tony Visconti wrote that pianist Artie Butler played on the track.[5]

To add the authentic sound of a motorcycle engine, one was reportedly driven through the lobby of the hotel and up to the floor of the recording studio. No one was arrested, but a ticket was issued. The motorcycle belonged to the assistant engineer on the session, who was Joe Venneri.[6] However, in an interview four decades later, Shangri-Las lead singer Mary Weiss said the motorcycle sound was taken from an effects record. Hugh Grundy, drummer for The Zombies, revved up a motorcycle backstage when the Shangri-Las performed on a US tour.[7]



"Leader of the Pack" was released as a single by Red Bird Records, a Leiber and Stoller label, and the song hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 on November 28, 1964.[8] On Cashbox's R&B chart, it went to number 8.[9] In the United Kingdom, the single was refused airplay by the BBC, probably due to its death theme,[10] although some have speculated that it was considered likely to encourage violence between mods and rockers.[11] It charted three times on the UK Singles Chart: number 11 in 1965;[12] number 3 in 1972[13] (by which time the BBC ban had been lifted); and once again at number 7 in 1976,[12] when its sales figures as a reissue on two different labels (Charly and Contempo) were combined to arrive at its chart position.[14] The record also reached number 1 in Australia in 1964, and 39 in 1973.

Cash Box described it as "a heartbreaking cha cha thumper about a gal in love with the 'Leader Of The Pack'—who loses his life in a cycle crash" with "sensational vocal and instrumental sounds" and a "powerhouse" production."[15] In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked the song among the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time at number 447.[16] In the 2010 revision of the list, it was moved to number 454 as new entries were added. In the 2021 update, it was moved to number 315.[17][18] Billboard named the song #9 on their list of 100 Greatest Girl Group Songs of All Time.[19] In 2019, the song was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame under the new singles category created in 2018.[20]

The song appeared in a Broadway musical based on the songs of Ellie Greenwich, Leader of the Pack, which opened in 1985.[21] In 1990, the song was used in the Martin Scorsese film, Goodfellas.

Chart performance

Chart (1964-1972) Peak
Australia (Australian National Charts)[22] 1
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[23] 3
New Zealand (Lever Hit Parades)[24] 1
UK Singles (OCC)[25] 3
US Billboard Hot 100[26] 1
Chart (1973) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report)[27] 39

Twisted Sister version

"Leader of the Pack"
Single by Twisted Sister
from the album Come Out and Play
ReleasedNovember 1985[28]
GenreGlam metal[29]
Producer(s)Dieter Dierks
Twisted Sister singles chronology
"The Price"
"Leader of the Pack"
"You Want What We Got"

In 1985, the heavy metal band Twisted Sister recorded a cover version of "Leader of the Pack" from the eponymous leader's perspective, where it is the female lover that was in a car accident, although, in the video, she does not die.[30] The track was included on the group's fourth studio album, Come Out and Play, and was released on Atlantic Records as the album's lead single. It reached number 53 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and number 47 on the UK Singles chart.[31]



Twisted Sister began playing "Leader of the Pack" when performing live in the clubs during the early years of their career.[32] They first recorded a demo version of the song at Electric Lady Studios in Greenwich Village, with Eddie Kramer as the producer, in November 1979,[33] and this recording was released on the band's 1982 EP Ruff Cutts.[34]

When working on their fourth studio album, Come Out and Play, in 1985, frontman Dee Snider suggested Twisted Sister should record "Leader of the Pack" as their next single. Inspired by Mötley Crüe's recent success with their cover of "Smokin' in the Boys Room", Snider was convinced "Leader of the Pack" would "appeal to everybody, including the parents of our fans who knew the original from when they were growing up". He recalled in his 2012 autobiography Shut Up and Give Me the Mic: A Twisted Memoir, "I was positive this was the track that would break down any barriers left for Twisted Sister and bring us to the level of Springsteen, Prince and Madonna. I believed that we were the band that could bring metal to the mainstream."[32]

Critical reception


Upon its release as a single, Nancy Erlich of Billboard wrote, "The guitars are megaton metal, the melody is unchanged, and it's the girl who gets killed; one of the year's odder cultural artifacts."[35] Cash Box considered it to be a "supercharged version of a classic [which] is perfect for the comic book rock of Twisted Sister". They added, "Snider's vocal interpretation is heartful and humorous, and the power-chord backing is sure to catch the ear of many CHR and rock radio programmers."[36] Malcolm Dome of Kerrang! noted that, as with the band's earlier recording of the song, "the humor is still prevalent as well as a genuine respect for a classic pop number", but this time there's "a fine production and a firmer, resonant arrangement".[37]


Chart (1985-1986) Peak
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[38] 80
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[39] 45
UK Singles (OCC)[40] 47
US Billboard Hot 100[41] 53
US Mainstream Rock (Billboard)[42] 32

Other versions



  • In 1965, "Leader of the Laundromat", written by Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss, was released by The Detergents. This resulted in Morton, Barry and Greenwich filing a lawsuit for plagiarism. This parody was a favorite of Dr. Demento.
  • The Downliners Sect also released a parody on their 1965 "Sect Sing Sick Songs" EP called "Leader of the Sect."
  • Also in 1965, the parody "I Want My Baby Back" was released by Jimmy Cross.[43] In 1977, this was awarded the title of "The World's Worst Record" by British radio DJ Kenny Everett.
  • British punk rock group The Damned quoted the first line of the song ("Is she really going out with him?") in their single "New Rose". The song was the first ever single released by a British punk band.[44]
  • In 1977, EMI records released "Packer of the Leads (Leader of the Pack)" by The Roadies (Lewis 'n Luce) in the UK.[45]
  • In the 1982 musical Little Shop of Horrors, Ronette, one of the backup singers, says "Here he is, girls, the Leader of The Plaque" during the song "Dentist". Orin, the dentist, notably rides a motorcycle that sounds similar to that in the song.
  • "Jonny Don't Go", from the 1993 musical Zombie Prom, is melodically similar to, and likely a parody of, "Leader of the Pack". The song centers around Toffee, a high school senior whose parents forbid her from seeing her boyfriend Jonny because they believe him to be "no good" and force her to break up with him. She reluctantly does so, and Jonny immediately throws himself into a nuclear power plant, despite Toffee's pleas for him to stop.
  • British comedian Julian Clary sang a parody of "Leader of the Pack" in 1988–90 as part of his then-act, The Joan Collins Fanclub. It was released as a single in the UK and reached a peak position of No.60 on the UK singles chart in the summer of 1988.[46] Clary sang the lead part from the point of view of a camp 28-year-old gay man bewailing the loss of his biker love interest in a fatal motorcycle accident.
  • Bob Rivers also did a parody of "Leader of the Pack" which is called 'Leader of Iraq'. The song was centered around the execution of former president of Iraq Saddam Hussein.
  • The tune was used by the political satire group The Capitol Steps for their song "A Leader Like Barack", about Barack Obama.
  • A parody version of the song ("Our leader is Lurpak") was used in a claymation TV advertisement for Lurpak butter in the UK.
  • In 2009, the BBC produced a trailer for the children's TV show Shaun the Sheep as a parody of the song called "Leader of the Flock".
  • Gilda Radner, Jane Curtin, and Laraine Newman did a song entitled "Chevy, Chevy" on an episode of Saturday Night Live, which has a spoken part very similar to the one in this song. Sonic the Hedgehog and Touhou Project fans have made their own parodies of aftermentioned SNL song.

See also



  1. ^ "The Shangri-Las - Leader of the Pack".
  2. ^ Everett, Walter (2009). The Foundations of Rock: From "Blue Suede Shoes" to "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes". Oxford University Press. p. 360. ISBN 978-0-19-531024-5.
  3. ^ "Shadow Morton-6". Archived from the original on February 21, 2007. Retrieved 2007-02-19.
  4. ^ "Girl Group Chronicles: The Bunnies/Goodies". Archived from the original on October 23, 2009. Retrieved October 25, 2009.
  5. ^ Visconti, Tony. The Autobiography: Bowie, Bolan and the Brooklyn Boy. New York: HarperCollins, 2007. ISBN 978-0-00-722944-4. pp31.
  6. ^ "The Shangri-Las!". Redbirdent.com. Retrieved September 27, 2016.
  7. ^ Barry Miles (2009). The British Invasion. Sterling Publishing Company, Inc. p. 88. ISBN 978-1-4027-6976-4.
  8. ^ Bronson, Fred (2003). The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits. New York: Billboard Books. p. 160. ISBN 0823076776. Retrieved July 6, 2012.
  9. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-2004. Record Research. p. 520.
  10. ^ "Rocklist.net...Banned Recordings". Rocklistmusic.co.uk. September 13, 1997. Retrieved September 27, 2016.
  11. ^ "Norton Records". Archived from the original on November 13, 2006. Retrieved 2006-09-28.
  12. ^ a b "UK Top 40 Chart Archive, British Singles & Album Charts". everyHit.com. March 16, 2000. Archived from the original on July 17, 2007. Retrieved December 8, 2013.
  13. ^ "The Shangri-Las Page". Tsimon.com. April 20, 2000. Retrieved September 27, 2016.
  14. ^ Betts, Graham (2004). Complete UK Hit Singles 1952–2004 (1st ed.). London: Collins. p. 693. ISBN 0-00-717931-6.
  15. ^ "CashBox Record Reviews" (PDF). Cash Box. October 3, 1964. p. 12. Retrieved January 12, 2022.
  16. ^ "The RS 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on December 17, 2006.
  17. ^ "Rolling Stone Magazine's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time - How many songs have you listened to?". Listchallenges.com. Retrieved September 27, 2016.
  18. ^ "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Rolling Stone. September 15, 2021. Retrieved June 23, 2022.
  19. ^ "100 Greatest Girl Group Songs of All Time: Critics' Picks". Billboard. Retrieved July 11, 2017.
  20. ^ "Songs by The Isley Brothers, The Shangri-Las honored at Rock Hall 2019 ceremony". March 29, 2019. Retrieved April 28, 2019.
  21. ^ "Greenwich Seeks More Support for 'Leader'". Billboard. June 15, 1985. p. 48.
  22. ^ "Billboard Magazine, December 5, 1964". Billboard. December 5, 1964.
  23. ^ "Top RPM Singles: Issue 4675." RPM. Library and Archives Canada.
  24. ^ "Lever hit parades: 03-Dec-1964". Flavour of New Zealand.
  25. ^ "Shangri-Las: Artist Chart History". Official Charts Company.
  26. ^ "The Shangri-Las Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard.
  27. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 270. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  28. ^ "Great Rock Discography". p. 849.
  29. ^ McPadden, Mike (June 6, 2015). "Brace Yourself For The Top 10 Hair Metal Hits of 1985". VH1 News. Archived from the original on June 27, 2022. Retrieved July 14, 2021.
  30. ^ "Twisted Sister - Leader of the Pack (Official Music Video)". YouTube. Retrieved July 19, 2021.[dead YouTube link]
  31. ^ "Twisted Sister Album & Song Chart History – Hot 100". Billboard. Retrieved October 10, 2015.
  32. ^ a b Snider, Dee (2012). Shut Up and Give Me the Mic: A Twisted Memoir. Gallery Books. pp. 327, 350–351. ISBN 9781451637397.
  33. ^ Ruff Cutts (UK 12-inch EP sleeve). Twisted Sister. Secret Records. 1982. SHH 137-12.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  34. ^ Rivadavia, Eduardo. "Twisted Sister - Ruff Cutts; Album Reviews, Songs & More". AllMusic. Retrieved December 22, 2023.
  35. ^ Erlich, Nancy (November 23, 1985). "Reviews: Singles". Billboard. Vol. 97, no. 47. Billboard Publications, Inc. p. 67. ISSN 0006-2510.
  36. ^ "Single Releases". Cash Box. Vol. 49, no. 24. November 23, 1985. p. 11. ISSN 0008-7289.
  37. ^ Dome, Malcolm (January 23, 1986). "Short Kutz". Kerrang!. No. 112. p. 27. ISSN 0262-6624.
  38. ^ "Top RPM Singles: Issue 0622." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved October 30, 2023.
  39. ^ "Twisted Sister – Leader of the Pack". Top 40 Singles. Retrieved October 30, 2023.
  40. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved October 30, 2023.
  41. ^ "Twisted Sister Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard. Retrieved October 30, 2023.
  42. ^ "Twisted Sister Chart History (Mainstream Rock)". Billboard. Retrieved October 30, 2023.
  43. ^ "Single File". Dustbury.com. Retrieved September 27, 2016.
  44. ^ "The Joe Jackson Archive: Footnotes to "Look Sharp!"". www.jj-archive.net. Retrieved November 13, 2018.
  45. ^ "Roadies (Lewis 'n Luce), The* - Packer Of The Leads (Leader Of The Pack) (Vinyl)". Discogs.com. 1977. Retrieved September 27, 2016.
  46. ^ "Julian Clary - "Leader of the Pack" - original stereo video". YouTube. Archived from the original on December 21, 2021. Retrieved September 27, 2016.