George “Shadow” Morton, the songwriter and producer behind the Shangri-Las’ hits “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” and “Leader of the Pack,” died on Thursday at the age of 71, the New York Times reports. A family friend said the cause was cancer.
Morton was born in Brooklyn in 1941 and spent his teenage years on Long Island, where he sang with a doo-wop group in high school. He wrote his first song, “Remember,” in a frantic attempt to talk his way into a job at the Brill Building, pulling together a girl group from Queens, seagull sound effects, and (rumor has it) a young Billy Joel. The song went on to reach Number Five on the Billboard singles chart in 1964 and the Shangri-Las became mainstays of the period’s teen-angst girl groups. Without ever learning to play an instrument or read music, Morton wrote several more hits for the Shangri-Las, including “Leader of the Pack” (written with Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry), “Give Him a Great Big Kiss” and “I Can Never Go Home Anymore.”
Morton became the chief producer of Red Bird, the record label run by Brill Building legends Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller. He went on to produce a diverse list of records, including Janis Ian’s “Society’s Child,” Vanilla Fudge’s “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” and Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Via.” Morton eventually left the music industry and started a second career as a designer of golf clubs, but he never stopped writing songs. A family friend said that by the time he died, he had written more than 300, though most were not recorded.