Jackie DeShannon and 'Born to Run'
Bruce put a little love of the pioneering singer-songwriter in his first famous song.
Greg Mitchell is the author of a dozen books, including “Hiroshima in America,” “Atomic Cover-up,” and the recent award-winning “The Beginning or the End: How Hollywood—and America—Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” His “Atomic Cover-up” just debuted on PBS and you can watch here. And “Memorial Day Massacre: Workers Die, Film Buried" remains free on the PBS site. Both have companion books, which you can easily find at Amazon.
Jim Farber’s lengthy interview with Jackie DeShannon in The Guardian this week reminded me of a little incident from almost half a century ago The occasion for the interview was the release of an album of Jackie’s country recordings back in her native Kentucky when she was a gal of fifteen. Soon she would become one those very rare things—a woman who wrote and was allowed to record her own songs in rock or pop (pre-Joni Mitchell).
Her hits included “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” as well as covers such as the Burt Bacharach/Hal David “What the World Needs Now” in 1965. See below for a collection.
Anyway, my anecdote. One afternoon in 1974, I was visiting Bruce Springsteen at his little rental in Bradley Beach, NJ. We had become friends starting in late 1972 after, with Peter Knobler, we published the first major piece about him at Crawdaddy. A den or living room near the front of the house, as I recall, held a couch, a battered little upright piano, an acoustic guitar, and his cheap (as we used to call them) “record player.” Bruce said he wanted to play for me a new song he thought might be the centerpiece of his third album, already delayed as issues with manager/producer Mike Appel developed.
It was “Born to Run.” My memory is that he played it first on the piano and then the acoustic guitar. Or maybe just on one of the instruments. In any case, to illustrate the rock ‘n roll sound he was aiming for, Bruce put on a record. Again, I can’t be sure if it was an album or a 45. In any case it was The Searchers’ classic “When You Walk in the Room.”
Jangly and one of the greatest rock songs ever. Written by the woman who had first recorded it in 1963, Jackie DeShannon (frequent partner Sharon Sheeley mainly provided lyrics). I got the electric guitar idea immediately, although it would take another year or so for “Born to Run” to emerge on the album of the same name. Crawdaddy’s Springsteen cover story, penned by Knobler, would pre-date the legendary ones at Time and Newsweek. Sure enough, Bruce would play it live during that “Born to Run” tour.
Anyway, here’s the song by The Searchers, then Bruce, then Jackie.
Then there’s this, from the Farber piece:
Her issues with Liberty began with her very first album, a self-titled work in 1963. For that project, DeShannon had a bold idea inspired by an event she had just attended. “I saw Bob Dylan’s first concert at Town Hall,” she recalled. “For the first half, he sang traditional blues songs like See That My Grave Is Kept Clean. I was going, ‘that’s nice but I don’t see the fuss.’ Then, for the second set, he came back with songs like Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright, With God on Our Side, and The Times They Are A-Changin’. I went crazy.”
Consequently, she told Liberty she wanted to do an entire album of Dylan songs, which would have made a historic statement at the time. They balked, allowing her to only cut a few, including Don’t Think Twice, a song she felt should be the single. Liberty disagreed. Shortly afterwards, Peter Paul and Mary’s version of that song became a top 10 smash. For DeShannon’s second album in 1964, she recorded a piece she wrote that became a classic: “When You Walk in the Room.”
A few more Jackie factoids: Eddie Cochran got her into the rock ‘n roll business via his girlfriend—Sharon Sheeley. Wrote early 1960s hits for Brenda Lee. She hired young Ry Cooder for an early touring band, then Jimmy Page for studio gigs (they dated and their breakup was allegedly the subject of the Led Zep song “Tangerine”). Co-starred in the movie Surf Party and (inevitably) dated Elvis. Wrote UK hits for Marianne Faithfull and co-wrote songs with then little-known Randy Newman. Sang backup for Van Morrison. Wrote and recorded “Bette Davis Eyes” six years before Kim Carnes made it a hit and a top Grammy winner. Portrayed by Liz Phair in episode of TV series “American Dreams.”
And more from Jackie:
Put A Little Love in Your Heart certainly caught the lyrical mood of 1969.
What the World Needs Now (she had the hit, pre-Dionne)
She wrote this for the Byrds’ first lp, here in her demo form.
Her quite different 1975 version of her song “Bette Davis Eyes.”
Cartoons of the Day
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