After the week that was, I thought it might be time for another installment of this series to take a break from the news in search of lost time and placid thoughts. Yesterday Sharon Lee Myers — better known as Jackie DeShannon — celebrated her 80th birthday. I want to seize on the occasion to take a look back at a few highlights of her career.
Jackie made a mark as an incredibly talented singer/songwriter well before the singer/songwriter phenomenon. Her sultry beauty didn’t hurt a bit, but it may have taken some of us down the wrong path in getting a handle on her gifts. She seems to have written, recorded, or played with virtually everyone. She was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2010. Terry Gross interviewed her at the time for NPR (transcript and audio posted here).
Marc Myers interviewed Jackie for the Wall Street Journal in 2013 (here, buried in the Journal’s Real Estate section), and profiled Jackie in this 2018 Jazzwax post (with videos). I learn from Myers that she has written more than 600 songs. Even the briefest summary of DeShannon’s career is full of surprise and delight. I recommend Chris Kieft’s under the video of “Dream Boy” or, as always, Allmusic’s here.
Jackie signed to Liberty Records as a teenager in 1960. By 1964 she was touring as the opening act for the Beatles. Her first (modest) chart success with Liberty came with the Sonny Bono/Jack Nitzsche number “Needles and Pins” in 1963. Although it made it to number 1 in Canada, the Searchers had the big hit with it in the United States and Great Britain the next year.
Jackie wrote “When You Walk in the Room” and also had a modest hit with it in 1963. The Searchers took it to the upper reaches of the charts in the United States and Great Britain the next year. It’s a terrific song that Pam Tillis returned to the charts as a big country hit in 1994.
Chris Hillman has a terrific cover with Jay Dee Maness on pedal steel, but it’s not an upbeat song. I have always wondered what it would sound like if you slowed the tempo down. That’s what Jackie did when she revisited it in 2011. Love hurts.
Jackie spent some time in England in 1965. She teamed up to write and record with Jimmy Page, as in the protopunk “Dream Boy.”
Living in Los Angeles, Jackie must have crossed paths with the Byrds at Ciro’s. She wrote “Don’t Doubt Yourself Babe” for their debut album. She had easily absorbed a Dylan strain into her songwriting and the Byrds added the 12-string, the harmony singing, and the Bo Diddley beat. What a great track.
This is what it sounded like when Jackie revisited the song in 2011.
Liberty must have known it wasn’t capitalizing on Jackie’s talent. The executives teamed her up with Burt Bacharach for a session in New York in 1965. Written by Bacharach and Hal David, “What the World Needs Now” was the result (released on Imperial, Liberty’s sister label).
Dionne Warwick was the usual vessel for Bacharach and David’s work, but Warwick had rejected the song — fortunately, in my opinion. No one (including Warwick) has ever touched DeShannon’s version of the song. With DeShannon’s heartfelt vocal and Bacharach’s production — listen to the horn — this is one perfect pop song.
Warwick had rejected the song, Bacharach speculated, as too preachy. In form, I think the song is in fact a sermon, a la Johnny Mercer’s “Accentuate the Positive.” That is how I hear it anyway, and DeShannon took a lesson from it for her own songwriting.
DeShannon moved on to Capitol Records to no great effect on her career. Her singing was at its peak, however, as I hear it in her 1:17 rendition of William Bell’s “You Don’t Miss Your Water.”
Here is her rendition of “Sweet Inspiration,” also produced by Chips Moman for Capitol.
Jackie moved on from Capitol to Atlantic. Neither Capitol nor Atlantic was able to do much for her, but in 2003 Rhino rereleased the 1973 Atlantic album Jackie with 11 previously unreleased tracks under the title Jackie…Plus in a limited edition. My copy is number 520 of 2500, so it can’t have sold too many copies, but I thought it was the best “new” disc of 2003.
Six of the unreleased tracks were produced by Van Morrison. Here is Jackie singing Van’s “Sweet Sixteen” (with a little help from Van).
And here is Jackie singing Van’s own “Flamingos Fly” (with a little help from Van).
The last number on Jackie…Plus is “Through the Gates of Gold,” a true Sunday morning gospel song produced by Tom Dowd. Cissy Houston contributes one of the backing vocals.
Jackie wrote “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” with Randy James Myers and Jimmy Holiday. Randy was Jackie’s brother. He died a few months ago on March 10. Taking a cue from “What the World Needs Now,” the song is in the form of a sermon. That’s how I hear it anyway.
Jackie wrote “Bette Davis Eyes” with Donna Weiss for her own album New Arrangement (1974). It needed a new arrangement! The one on New Arrangement is unlistenable. Kim Carnes et al. gave it a new arrangement in 1981’s giant hit version. This is what it sounded like when Jackie revisited it in 2011.