Jackie DeShannon: The Girl with the Sunshine Hair

Jackie+DeShannon+jackieJackie De Shannon has a voice crackling with intelligence and Kentucky soul. Neither, histrionic, or overly sweet, her voice conveys a wild loving spirit as it burns through vinyl or digital. My first memory of Jackie is her singing ‘What the World Needs Now’ on the pre-teen television show, Where the Action Is. I seem to remember her singing, standing barefoot in the sand. Whether this is fact or a figment of my imagination, it’s an impression that stays with me all these years.

Jackie D has my utmost respect. Today, every accomplishment, misstep, blemish, and indiscretion lay in wait for the media to devour, dissect, and disregard. But the songs and image of Jackie De Shannon remain untarnished. Her success was set in a different time, and her continued success as a songwriter, puts her in another realm. She is songwriting royalty. The woman and her songs have earned her the title Pop Princess.

Rockabilly, Pop, folk rock, balladry; Jackie has sung it all and written it all. She has the distinction of opening for The Beatles first U.S. Tour, and if that was not enough, she cracked the boys club, writing with Jimmy Page and Randy Newman, wrote songs for Irma Thomas, Brenda Lee, The Searchers, The Byrds, and countless others, including yours truly, have covered her songs. She scored her first # 1 hit singing Bacharach. (try singing Bacharach well) These eclectic pop recordings, all have the fiercely feminine Jackie De Shannon touch.

You can hear her natural growling and hollering Wanda Jackson style on her early Liberty releases. “Break-a-way” combines that urgency with a girl group sound and has become an Irma Thomas classic. The British Invasion brought Jackie attention when the Searchers borrowed some of her sunshine and recorded both “Needles and Pins” and “When You Walk in the Room”. (Walk in Room was one of first songs Craig Leon and I chose for my MCA album) The polarization of pop music would come later, but the sixties were a big pot of fragrant simmering stew.

1965 was a very good year. “Come and Stay with Me” captured the new-sensibility of a young woman coming to terms with times that-were -a-changing. She was not getting engaged and going to the chapel. Marianne Faithful had a smash with the elegantly wistful Page, DeShannon song. Jackie recorded Bacharach’s “What the World Needs Now”, and the rest is pop history.

Pop Princess -Jackie DeShannon’s “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” embodies her fiery loving spirit. In 1969 she synthesized the times into a 3 minute song that still resonates today as it lives and breathes a warm message into today’s cold world of advertising.

Laurel Canyon is another fine Jackie find. A slightly different side, with gospel overtones to her pop. This record contains an lovely alternative version of “Come and Stay with Me” and the title track captures the rock n roll romantic Canyon aesthetic as does, the calm reserve of “Holly Would”. No one ever loved the way Holly could, Jackie sings.

A couple of notes: “I Can Make it With You” written by Chip Taylor, is a great piece of Jackie singing. And the late 70’s, “Don’t Let the Flame Burn Out” is a DeShannon record that deserves recognition. It has a Fleetwood Mac feel and production values, but Jackie’s burning yearning spirit shines though. A killer Jackie with the Byrds “Splendor in the Grass” appears on Rhino’s Where the Action Is set. This is a must buy.

I had the great pleasure of meeting Jackie a few years ago. It was cold as hell outside, but Jackie’s presence can turn even the bitterest New York chill into California sunshine. She has a snap crackle pop personality and we had a spirited conversation sans nostalgia but sprinkled with recollections like sparkling sand.

The Whiskey, Hollywood Hills, Laurel Canyon , Brian, McGuin, and Sunset; they’re all in the songs of Jackie DeShannon. So is a bite of a crunchy apple, a crackling fire, the warmth of the sun, and long straight blond bangs .

Special thanks to by Lisa Burns for this contribution.