What the world needs now

is Jackie DeShannon. DeShannon’s birthday was this past Monday. She is of course the heartthrob who brought the quintessential Hal David-Burt Bacharach composition “What the World Needs Now” to life (with Bacharach’s production, if I’m not mistaken) in 1965. The song remains timely and moving, following the form of a prayer or a sermon. The form recalls the style of Johnny Mercer’s brilliant “Accentuate the Positive,” though so unobtrusivly that it’s easy to miss.

But 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. DeShannon’s “Don’t Doubt Yourself, Babe,” set to a big Bo Diddley beat, was a highlight of the Byrds’ debut album. Her biggest songwriting success was “Bette Davis Eyes,” the 1981 Kim Carnes smash. DeShannon’s own version of 1969’s “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” must run a close second.

DeShannon was and is a compelling 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” (her own composition) 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.


In 1972, Jerry Wexler, the legendary Atlantic Records executive, 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. 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 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.” (Since the release of the remastered “Jackie,” Great Britain’s Rpm Records has been releasing similarly remastered and enhanced versions of her Liberty albums.)

“Jackie” was the best pop release I heard in 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 video clips, samples of her music (check out Club JDS for a glimpse of Jackie performing) and career highlights. Click here for the site’s Jukebox. It’s a site that should put a little love in your heart.


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