Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Del Shannon

Del Shannon’s last hit came in the spring of 1966. It was a remake of Miss Toni Fisher’s The Big Hurt and it only made it up to 94 on Billboard. I have it, though not on this collection. I have it on a CD called This Is My Bag / Total Commitment, which pairs two of Shannon’s mid 60s LPs on one collection. And it’s great example of time passing someone by.

Shannon managed to stay afloat even as The Beatles and their British contemporaries took over the musical imagination of North America. But once The Beatles started to go further afield, getting into their Revolver / Sgt. Pepper period, and psychedelia became the new musical lingua franca, the erstwhile Charles Westover had no place to go. So he tried his best, covering popular hits of the day, doing a few originals, but the effort was doomed. And so the pop charts never saw Del Shannon again.

The musical landscape is like our personal experience. Not all friends are long-term friends and not all relationships are long term relationships. Not all recording artists are meant to stick around. For every Rolling Stones, there are hundreds, thousands more likely, of Del Shannons. And they serve their purpose, and they enrich our lives, and they go their way…

Del Shannon:

Runaway - While Mark Dinning and Ray Peterson and Dickie Lee and J. Frank Wilson were singing about death, Del Shannon took a slightly different tack in an apparent attempt to get the new music to tackle serious subject matter. If this song weren’t so brilliant, it would be totally ridiculous. It’s offspring that run away, not girlfriends, though I suppose someone’s girlfriend is someone else’s offspring. On the other hand, she may be in a women’s shelter, which would make this song more sinister than I care to believe. It’s all too complicated for me to figure out. Doesn’t matter, though, when you hear that whatever-it-is solo in the middle. It’s as spooky as it needs to get. Del kicked his career off with this song, which reached number 1 in the spring of 1961. He started at the top, and worked his way down…
Hats Off To Larry – Good old Larry. You ever know a Larry? I did. But he didn’t dump anyone that I’m aware of. “I know it may sound strange,” sings our hero, “I want you back, I think you’ll change.” He’s right, it does sound strange. This song of romantic revenge was a hit in the summer of 1961.
So Long Baby – Ah, this is what I like, no whining, just good riddance. From the fall of 1961.
Hey! Little Girl – You know this is a daydream. You’ve been hurt, I’ve been hurt, let’s make each other feel better. A daydream. From the winter of 1961 / 1962.
Little Town Flirt – There’s one in every town. There must be, because each one has her own song. From the winter of 1963.
Two Kinds Of Teardrops – Just two? From the spring of 1963.
The Swiss Maid – This is where the fantasy gets really flaky. Heidi anyone? From the fall of 62.
Keep Searchin’ (We’ll Follow The Sun) – Del and his girl are being pursued. By whom? Don’t know. Why? Don’t know. Dave Marsh has called Del Shannon rock’s greatest paranoiac, and this is why. And the more out there he gets, the better the music gets. Great stuff. From early 1965.
Cry Myself To Sleep – Routine sadness. Not The Four Seasons song. From the summer of 1962.
Two Silhouettes – A total ripoff of The Rays’ hit from the late 50s. And the original is better. This is just a bit too over the top, without the redeeming hysteria of his better hits.
Stranger In Town – “We run, yeah we run..” Del shrieks. They are running, apparently, from some unexplained “stranger.” One imagines a cloaked figure with a derby hat and sunglasses (at night yet), lurking just out of sight. The drama of this is over-the-top, but the music is superb. From the winter of 65, this followed Keep Searchin’, which makes total sense.
From Me To You – Ok let’s talk about this. Nobody in North America had heard of The Beatles. A few independent record companies (notably Vee Jay) had released some of their early records, and they sank. Del Shannon comes along, picks up one of their early gems, does a more than respectable rendition, and, in the summer of 1963, half a year before I Want To Hold Your Hand changes history forever, the song climbs to number 77 on Billboard, disappears, and is forgotten. But give him credit. He was the first to put a Beatle song on the North American pop charts, and that fact that this wasn’t a massive hit says more about the arbitrariness of pop success than anything about the record itself, which would do anyone proud.
Do You Want To Dance – Another version of Bobby Freeman’s ground breaker, to sit alongside versions by The Beach Boys, Cliff Richard, The Mamas And The Papas, Bette Midler et al. From the fall of 1964.
Handy Man – A Revival of The Jimmy Jones I-am-a-stud anthem, which was only 4 years old then. From the summer of 1964.
I Go To Pieces – A Del Shannon original that became a hit for Peter & Gordon.

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