What the world needs now…

is Jackie DeShannon. She is of course the heartthrob who brought the quintessential Hal David-Burt Bacharach composition “What the World Needs Now” to unforgettable life in 1965. Listening to the song on the radio this morning, it struck me, as always, as deeply moving, ever timely. What had not previoulsy struck me was how the song follows the form of a prayer or a sermon, a little in the style of Johnny Mercer’s brilliant “Accentuate the Positive.” Forgive me for repeating the following comments, originally posted here last year.
Jackie DeShannon is far more than a one-hit wonder. She is herself a talented songwriter. In the ’60s her songs were covered by Brenda Lee, Irma Thomas, and the Byrds, among others. Her biggest composing success was “Bette Davis Eyes,” the 1981 Kim Carnes smash hit, though her own version of 1969′s “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” must run a close second.
DeShannon was and is a riveting performer in her own right. Her recordings of “Needles and Pins” (written by Jack Nitzsche and Sonny Bono) and “When You Walk in the Room” were copped and turned into hits by the Searchers. She opened for the Beatles on their first American tour in 1964 just before “What the World Needs Now” broke.
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In 1972, Jerry Wexler, the legendary founder of Atlantic Records with Arif Mardin, signed DeShannon to Atlantic and turned her loose in American Sound Studios in Memphis, the studio that had revived the recording career of Elvis Presley in the late ’60s and early ’70s. The resulting album — “Jackie” — showcased DeShannon with material and arrangements that put her multifarious strengths on display in what should have been a crowning achievement. The album, however, never found an audience.
Rhino Records has now remastered “Jackie” and released it on compact disc under the auspices of its “Handmade” specialty division (available only via the Internet). In addition to the “Jackie” album, the disc includes twelve bonus tracks, ten of which are previously unissued Atlantic recordings including four terrific songs Van Morrison wrote and produced for DeShannon in April 1973. The disc closes on a high note, with a gorgeous gospel song performed magnificently, “Through the Gates of Gold.”
The disc is a knockout, perhaps the best pop release of 2003. Click here for a look at the Rhino page devoted to “Jackie.” The page includes audio samples of all the songs on the disc. Click here for DeShannon’s own Web site, with what looks like a recently recorded Flash video as well as many samples of her music.

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