Thursday, June 7, 2012

What motorcycle sang along with the Shangri-Las?

A Matchless motorcycle and rider posed with the Shangri-Las for an album cover,
but what motorcycle do you hear on "Leader of the Pack"?
Can you tell by its sound what kind of motorcycle you're hearing? The "thump" of the Royal Enfield Bullet is famous in India and Americans have all heard the "potato-potato" sound of the Harley Davidson V-twin. But what about the sound of the motorcycle revving up on The Shangri-Las' 1964 hit song "Leader of the Pack"?

"I would dearly love to know what make/model of motorcycle was used for the sound effects," wrote Bill, a member of the Yahoo Intercepter Owners Discussion Group.

"Music writers are pretty vague as to whether an effects record was used or a bike was brought in to the studio and recorded. In one pretty authoritative place it is claimed to be a Harley. To my ear it is definitely not a Harley but a British twin. It doesn't seem to have the bark of an Enfield and I can't quite believe it is a Triumph.

"What does the group think?" he asked.

The suggestions (or are they guesses?) came fast:

"Certainly a parallel twin, those that say it's a Harley clearly know nothing about bikes!"

"It sounds like a large twin to me, 500cc or over and a bit too throaty to be Japanese. Not sure how good the Japanese penetration in to the U.S. market was in 1964."

"It's the top-end jangle of an OHC engine on the overrun that I hear, hence my suggestion of a Honda. As to market penetration, I think you'll even find Elvis riding a Honda in his (dire) film 'Roustabout'!"

"I think it is a 180-degree Honda twin (305cc?). If you listen carefully you can hear the off beat running of the Honda motor."

"I agree: I'd always been of the opinion that it was some180-degree twin, and Hondas are the most common example. Certainly not a Harley, although that might be more glamorous in some circles."

John G. Sullivan, of Austin, Texas, gave the most complete response to the question so far:

"It sounds like a fairly large displacement British vertical twin — most likely a BSA or Triumph (most common at the time). Does not sound like a Harley Davidson nor Honda. If I recall correctly, the biggest Honda in 1964 was 305cc. It does not sound like one to me. And a little later (1970s) my brother had a Honda 350 and 450."

What do YOU think? Play the snippet below (turn UP your speakers to hear it) and leave a comment with your opinion.


  1. The song has always been a favorite of mine because of this story: As a young teen, my wife and three girlfriends were in the car being driven somewhere by her dad. The girls silently listened when "Leader of the Pack" came on the radio but when it got to the line: "Look out! Look out! Look out!" for some reason they all sang along. Her dad drove off the road!

    1. Anonymous6/08/2012

      It sounds like you should hear "I Want My Baby Back" by Jimmy Cross on the Tollie label. You find out what happened next...

  2. Anonymous6/08/2012

    i don't care what anybody says, that's definitely a small Honda twin cb77 or cb92 etc certainly not a Brit twin or a Harley, far to asthmatic.

    1. Anonymous6/08/2023

      It's a yamaha 100 cc twin cylinder with a crom gastank and crom fenders I have one in good condition first oil injected bike

  3. Anonymous6/08/2012

    Here's a link to a clip:

    Now that is definitely a little Jap machine!


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