In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, as we regret the New Year’s resolutions we’ve already cast aside, we’re picking our favorite songs about broken promises.
Even if a teenage girl appears calm on the outside, inside she usually wants to lay down on the floor and die of something—heartbreak, embarrassment, loneliness, anticipation. The Shangri-Las, teenagers themselves for much of their short career, understood this angst. Following the success of “Leader Of The Pack,” they became known as the “bad” girl group, foregoing the white gloves and ladylike demeanor of their contemporaries for stiletto boots and songs about juvenile delinquency. And bad-girl angst is more intense than a good girl who’s never even ridden on the back of a motorcycle could ever hope to understand.
Keeping all this in mind, “You Cheated, You Lied” is actually one of the less dramatic breakup songs in The Shangri-La’s catalog. At least this time nobody died, even if lead singer Mary Weiss sings like being cheated on is a terminal condition. The lyrics are simple, mostly repeating the lines “You cheated, you lied / You said that you love me / You cheated, you lied / You said that you want me” over a gently swinging doo-wop beat. But like longtime Four Tops lead singer Levi Stubbs, Weiss has a gift for extracting every available ounce of emotion from a song, her voice almost (but not quite) breaking as she belts out, “So please, try to love me / Love me like I love you” over a soft cushion of “aaaahhhs” from the rest of the group.
Unlike most of The Shangri-La’s songs, written by their producer George “Shadow” Morton and/or a team of Brill Building professionals, “You Cheated, You Lied” is a doo-wop standard. Credited to “Levon Helm,” the song actually originated with Austin, Texas, trio The Slades, who released it on the Domino label in 1958. Called simply “You Cheated,” the song was a minor chart hit for Los Angeles R&B group The Shields that same year, before being covered by acts including rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins (whose backup band The Hawks later reformed as The Band, thus the “Levon Helm” mixup), Pittsburgh doo-wop crooners The Del Vikings, and Philly’s The Orlons. The Shangri-Las’ fellow girl group The Murmaids’ take on the song was noticeably more demure, and The Hustlers even did an uptempo garage-rock version in 1964. But only The Shangri-Las’ version captures the rawness of adolescent heartbreak, an emotion that’s fun to relive for two and a half minutes, then set aside. Who’s got time for that kind of drama anymore?