What the world needs now

…is Jackie DeShannon. DeShannon celebrated her birthday this past Friday. She is of course the artist 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. Following the form of a prayer or sermon, the song remains timely these many years later. The form recalls the style of Johnny Mercer’s “Accentuate the Positive,” though so unobtrusively 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, Bobby Vee, Ricky Nelson, 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 version of her own “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” in 1969 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, the legendary Atlantic Records executive Jerry Wexler 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 might 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 beautiful 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 old albums, as has Collector’s Choice in the United States.


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