Defenders of current sleaze-talk TV are fond of citing such shows as the mirror of the media dispossessed, those whose fears and glories are rarely noted outside the glare of Montel’s spotlight. It’s not hard to hear parallels between the Shangri-Las’ impassioned ’60s soap operas and today’s video weepfests. The Las sure were a lot more artful, though, thanks in no small part to the utter commitment they brought to Shadow Morton’s scenarios of bad boys, broken-hearted girls, and often clueless parents. This definitive collection, one of four new Mercury Chronicles girl-group packages, imposes chronological order on the material. The effect is sometimes jarring, with epics of often tearful streetwise poetry rubbing shoulders with tacky covers (“Maybe”), cheap grabs at the S/Sgt. Barry Sadler market (“Long Live Our Love”), and bland love songs (“The Dum Dum Ditty,” accurately titled). The best of these records, though—both the tunes that survive on oldies radio (“Remember [Walkin’ in the Sand]” and “Leader of the Pack”) and those with a more cultish patina, like “Past, Present, and Future”—remain as indelibly moving and unique as any Brill Building product. The Las’ influence didn’t stop with the New York Dolls, either, and can be discerned in Morrissey, whose favorite song was once said to be “Heaven Only Knows,” and Superchunk, who covered “The Train From Kansas City.” Buy this and join them in knowing the answer to the question “How does he dance?” (“Close. Very, very…close.”)

—Rickey Wright