By Ken Zurski
In early 1965, a three-member American band named The Detergents released a single titled “Leader of the Laundromat.”
The song told the story of a boy named Murray who was seemingly in love with a pretty laundromat attendant, Betty, because she “looked so sad.” Then he abruptly tells her it’s over between them.
I’ll never forget the hurt and the funny look in her eye.
Betty, the jilted ex-girlfriend, grabs Murray’s laundry, runs out the laundromat door, and “directly in the path of a garbage truck.”
Watch out, watch out!
Those unfamiliar with a certain Shangri-La’s song “Leader of the Pack” might have been shocked out of their shoes.
But it was all in good fun.
I felt so messy standing there
My daddy’s shorts were everywhere
Tenderly I kissed her goodbye
Picked up my clothes, they were finally dry
The song was a parody, of course, but more specifically, it was a spoof. Until then, parody songs had been about something funny and usually with an original melody like “Itsy Bitsy Tennie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.” But the “Laundromat” song was different. It took the actual melody of a recent hit and twisted it. Basically, it spoofed an already established and popular tune.
But I won’t forget you, oh Leader Of the Laundromat
That didn’t sit so well with the writers of the original song. When the “Leader of the Laundromat,” reached #19 on the Billboard singles chart, the songwriting team behind “Leader of the Pack” sued The Detergents for copyright infringement and royalties and settled out of court.
Despite the legal wrangling, however, band members Ron Dante, Danny Jordan and Tommy Wynn, toured together as The Detergents for about two years before disbanding.
Dante went on to sing lead vocals for the novelty group The Archies and the hit single “Sugar, Sugar,” a contribution that was unacknowledged at the time thanks to the group’s association with the comic strip characters.
The Detergents short legacy includes an album of spoofs, a film like the Beatles, and some subsequent singles, like “Double-O-Seven” (A James Bond mockery) and “I Can Never Eat at Home Anymore” (inspired by another Shangri-Las hit “I Can Never Go Home Anymore”), but nothing stuck quite like the “Laundromat” song:
My folks were always putting her down (down, down)
Because her laundry came back brown (brown, brown)
(Lyrics reprinted from Google Play Music)