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# A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Various - The Del Shannon Tribute: Songwriter, Volume 1

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 7 / 4 / 2014

Various - The Del Shannon Tribute: Songwriter, Volume 1
Label: Floating World Records
Format: CD


First-rate tribute album to 60’s singer-songwriter and rock and roll artist Del Shannon, which includes covers from Frank Black, Kelley Ryan and Don Dixon

In the same week that the Beatles made their very first chart entry in the UK with ‘Love Me Do’ American singer/songwriter Del Shannon also made the charts, but it was Shannon’s sixth showing within 18 months and the song in question, ‘The Swiss Maid’, even though being far from Shannon’s best, still achieved a higher placing than the Fab Four’s first stab at chart domination. It could be argued that Shannon, although still making regular visits to the charts (he had a further eight chart hits in the UK up until March 1965), was one of many artists whose career was cut short by the arrival of the beat groups. The fact is that Shannon, who will forever be remembered as the ‘Runaway’ guy, made some of the greatest music not only of his career after he stopped troubling the charts, but also some of the greatest music ever. After the death of Roy Orbison, Shannon was rumoured to be considered as a future member of the Travelling Wilburys which was no surprise really. Shannon had previously worked with fellow Wilburys Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne, and had connections with the Beatles going way back; Shannon was the first American artist to cover a Beatles song. Sadly, before Shannon had a chance to prove that he was a more than worthy replacement for Orbison, he committed suicide in February 1990. While many early rock and rollers got lost as the Sixties progressed Shannon always, while never losing touch with his rock and roll roots, moved with the times more easily and naturally than many of his contemporaries. In 1967 Andrew Oldham produced an album which was eventually released as ‘And the Music Plays On’ in 1978 (and which has been reissued at least a couple of times recently as ‘Home and Away’); confusingly the majestic title track was produced by Dave Edmunds in 1974, but its fits in nicely with the baroque style that Oldham created for this batch of new songs written in the main part by the cream of Oldham’s Immediate label songwriters. The following year Shannon expanded on this style with the album, ‘The Further Adventures of Charles Westover’. This time the majority of the songs were Shannon originals that proved, if proof were needed, that Shannon didn’t need the help of outside writers to keep his music current. Unfortunately the record buying public had deserted Shannon by now and, even though he was now making the most interesting music of his career, he was still the ‘Runaway’ guy. Even the Tom Petty produced ‘Drop Down and Get Me’ which featured Petty’s Heartbreakers and Phil Seymour from 1982 failed to bring Shannon back into the limelight for long. A single plucked from the album ‘Sea Of Love’ did return Shannon to the bottom reaches of the American charts, but again the album failed to attract the attention it so richly deserved. Shannon’s last album, the posthumously released ‘Rock On’ produced by Jeff Lynne and Mike Campbell, once again showed that even over thirty years from his breakthrough with ‘Runaway’ Shannon had lost none of his singing skills or songwriting talent. Del Shannon was one of the greatest singers that ever lived. His unmistakable falsetto vocal wasn’t the only reason Shannon appealed to so many; his tales of unrequited love, heartbreak and loss touched and still touch anyone who has loved and lost. But maybe more than that we all believed in Shannon. It was impossible not to. He always sang like he was waiting for his heart to be broken and that he was struggling through until the next letdown. The longing in not only his vocals but in his lyrics was all too apparent. Shannon’s work has been reissued many times. There are some decidedly dubious collections out there, but Ace’s ‘Complete UK Singles 1961-1966’ is exactly what it says and is a good place to start. The cheaper ‘Essential Collection 1961-1991’ on Music Club is an alternative and includes cuts from ‘Home and Away’, ‘Rock On’ and ‘The Further Adventures of…’ and also includes that Dave Edmunds produced classic ‘And the Music Plays On’ that really is essential. The Beat Goes On label have done an excellent job of releasing Shannon’s original albums, but Germany’s Bear Family Label have to take top honours for the box set ‘Home And Away 1960-1970’ although it obviously can’t take in the Tom Petty/Jeff Lynne sessions. So, now we have the first Del Shannon tribute album. The fourteen songs covered here are not just songs that Shannon has recorded but songs he wrote or co-wrote and thankfully the selection doesn’t just concentrate on his glory years. There is the inevitable cover of ‘Runaway’ but it comes from Randy Bachman, not really the first name that you would think of when imagining a cover of this song. Like other artists on this album Bachman doesn’t only add his slant to his chosen song, but totally reworks it. Bachman, who plays scorching guitar instead of trying to duplicate the Musitron that played a major part in Shannon’s original, turns in a shuffling, brooding, almost sinister, take of the song. It’s certainly an inspired reading; considering that the only other musician featured on this track is Bachman’s son, Tal, on drums and keyboards. It is a remarkably atmospheric piece of music. Another song, the lesser known single ‘Sister Isabelle’, (a co-write with another 60’s legend Brian Hyland) covered here by Frank Black takes a similar path; Black takes the song down to a funereal pace and, like the Bachman effort. exposes an eeriness that Shannon’s original never displayed so blatantly. Kelley Ryan’s version of ‘Drop Down and Get Me’ doesn’t stray too far from Shannon’s original, which was one of the Tom Petty productions. Ryan takes all the instruments on the song, handles the production; the only outside help comes from Shannon’s daughters Kym Wilkerson and Jody Westover on background vocals. After years of hearing Shannon’s vocals on this song it’s not only refreshing to hear Ryan singing those typical Shannon lyrics, but actually, despite some strong competition, she comes very close to contributing the most outstanding vocals on this tribute album. Marshall Crenshaw’s ‘The House Where Nobody Lives’ is exactly how you would expect Crenshaw covering Shannon to sound, the same can be said about the Rubinoos ‘Hats Off to Larry’; Dave Smalley (Raspberries) lends ‘Restless’ a country flavour which continues even more pronounced on the Marti Jones version of the little known ‘You Still Live Here’. Urge Overkill’s Nash Kato ups the psychedelic element of ‘Silver Birch’ slightly, and this one song alone should be proof enough that there was so much more to Shannon than just the pop hits like ‘Runaway’. Another atmospheric, mysterious song that is as far removed from Shannon’s early pop/ rock sides as possible. Max Crook whose distinct Musitron was Shannon’s trademark in many ways reprises his role on ‘So Long Baby’ which is covered here by Joe G & The Zippity Doo Wop Band; Richard Snow, an obvious choice for this project, takes the mid-60’s song ‘Over You’ and shows that his albums including the brilliant ‘Tuesday Music’ weren’t only just influenced by the Beach Boys and the Byrds. Shannon’s B-sides were often better than the promoted side, ‘You Never Talked About Me’ was the flip side of the lesser ‘Hey Little Girl’, but it was criminal that ‘Kelly’, given a faithful but fuller reading here by Overlord, was hidden away on the back of ‘Two Kinds of Teardrops’. ‘…Teardrops’ couldn’t fail to chart of course but surely ‘Kelly’ deserved more than being tucked away on a B-side, maybe Overlord’s version here will inspire a new generation to go and check out Shannon’s original. Don Dixon (Smithereens, REM) closes the tribute with ‘Distant Ghost’, another selection from the Tom Petty-produced ‘Drop Down and Get Me’ album, and like every single track here the song is assembled with such care and affection it’s difficult to criticise, especially given that Don Dixon can do little wrong for this writer but by the end of the song I really wanted to hear those familiar Shannon vocals on this particular song again. If you’ve yet to hear Shannon’s original and like Dixon’s take then take a few minutes and check out Shannon’s version; it’s all in that voice. The year that Del Shannon took his life Demon Records issued ‘True Voices’ a set of songs performed by eleven different artists which were written by songwriters sadly no longer with us. It was a fantastic set of performances, but the highlight was Pat Robinson’s version of Shannon’s ‘To Love Someone’. For many Shannon fans the seed was planted then that a whole album of Shannon covers would work, but I’m sure that this collection will exceed even the most devoted Shannon fans expectations. With excellent potted histories of all the artists contributing, their personal reminisces of Shannon plus a brief but brilliant and informative bio of Shannon by Brian Young included this is a must have for any Del Shannon fan. For those yet to hear Shannon’s music beyond the obvious chart hits it’s not a bad way to start either. Now let’s just hope that the Volume 1 part of the title rings true.

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