If you want to drive LEDs the '595 is good. For a more general shift register I've used the 8-bit 74HC299 - it doesn't latch like the 595 (so wouldflicker if driving LEDs), but does do either serial->parallel or parallel->serial conversion and can shift in either direction - so plenty to play with.
this flicker that you speak of, can it be overcome with capacitors to keep them lit instead of "flickering" during the high or on output of each pin?
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