What the world needs now…

…is Jackie DeShannon, who celebrates her birthday today. She is of course the artist who in 1965 brought the quintessential Hal David-Burt Bacharach composition “What the World Needs Now” to life with Bacharach’s inspired arrangement/production. 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 one of several highlights on the Byrds’ debut album. (Listen to DeShannon’s demo version of the song here.) 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” — a song that also recalls the style of “Accentuate the Positive” — must run a close second.

DeShannon 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 and should have reintroduced her to discerning fans. The album, however, never found an audience.

Rhino Records has remastered and enhanced the album under the name Jackie…Plus 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 grace note, with a beautiful gospel song performed magnificently, “Through the Gates of Gold.”

Since the release of the remastered Jackie, Collector’s Choice has released remastered and enhanced versions of many of her albums in the United States. (First posted in different form in 2003.)

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