One of the strangest songs ever, "Past, Present and Future" was recorded by the Shangri-Las in 1966, and reached number 59 in the US charts, their last release on Red Bird records. Despite that, its fame has lived on thanks to its musical curiosity and overpowering sense of drama.
Written by Jerry Lieber (of Lieber and Stoller fame), George Morton (the group's manager), and Artie Butler, the song has a simple structure. The lyrics are entirely spoken over a spare piano-based backing based on Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. An orchestral interlude in the middle gives a break from the melancholy, representing a dance along the beach, before the tune returns to its repetitive, almost monotonous, piano chords. Although it will strike some people as comically over-dramatic, the actual lyrics are understated: the heartbreak is revealed gradually rather than pronounced out loud, and is all the stronger for that.
The track's admirers include Pete Townshend of The Who, who called it one of the ten best singles of the 1960s1. More recently, echoes of the song can be heard in Alicia Keys's hit "Fallin'", and in the spoken-word intro to "Never Ever" by All Saints.
Past? Well now, let me tell you about the past. The past is filled with silent joys and broken toys, laughing girls and teasing boys. Was I ever in love? I called it love. I mean, it felt like love. There were moments when, well, there were moments where...
Go out with you? Why not? Do I like to dance? Of course. Take a walk along the beach tonight? I'd love to. But don't try to touch me. Don't try to touch me. 'Cause that will never happen again.
Shall we dance?
Tomorrow? Well, tomorrow's a long way off. Maybe someday I'll have somebody's hand. Maybe somewhere, someone will understand. You know, I used to sing "A tisket, a tasket, a green and yellow basket. I'm all packed up and on my way and i'm going to fall in love." But at the moment it doesn't look good. At the moment it'll never happen again. I don't think it will ever happen again.
by Lieber/Morton/Butler, no publisher
1 Wilson and Allroys' Record Reviews, "The Shangri-Las", http://www.warr.org/shangrilas.html, viewed August 31, 2002.