So far so good, but Morton had never written a song in his life. He went to the beach on Long Island and thought hard. He recalled “Sketch” by the Modern Jazz Quartet and determined to write something around its opening section. Within half an hour, he had “Remember (Walking in the Sand)”.
By extraordinary luck, Morton’s friend had asked a 14-year-old boy, Billy Joel, to play piano. Morton told him, “Play bom-bom-bommmm” – and so the evocative start and refrain of “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” was created.
The Shangri-Las were a group of two pairs of sisters – Mary and Betty Weiss and twins Mary Ann and Marge Ganser. Sixteen-year-old Mary Weiss was perfect for the half-spoken, half-sung performance and Morton thought of himself more as a drama coach than a record producer.
Morton took his demonstration record to Greenwich and Barry. They were working for a new label, Red Bird, owned by the songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, and the former owner of Roulette Records, George Goldner. They all thought the demo had potential and all of a sudden Morton had a job as a record producer for $250 a week. His first job was to remake the single for release and he added ocean waves and seagulls for effect. Billy Joel said it taught him an early lesson, as he was never paid for the session.
When Goldner took Morton to Detroit to promote some records, he gave him $300 which was to be used to entertain disc-jockeys. Morton spent his money on drink and, if the story is to be believed, 24 prostitutes over four days. Because he had disappeared, Goldner christened him “Shadow”.
“Remember (Walking in the Sand)” was a million-seller, partly helped by The Shangri-Las’ attire of skin-tight jumpsuits and large white boots. When Morton was pressed for a follow-up, he sat in the bath with a bottle of champagne and a box of cigars. He thought about a girl who loved a Hells Angel and scribbled lyrics on a piece of shirt cardboard. Just how much of “Leader of the Pack” he wrote is questionable: he claimed to have written it all, and that Barry and Greenwich only had their names attached as part of the contract, but Barry and Greenwich called this fantasy, saying that they wrote most of the song.