Del Shannon – 1961-1990: A Complete Career Anthology (1998)

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Contrary to collective belief, there was a lot of good music to be had prior to the worldwide invasion of the Beatles in 1964.

So many folks insist rock and roll expired in the late ’50s, when Elvis joined the Army, Chuck Berry was sent to jail, Little Richard turned to religion, Jerry Lee Lewis created a scandal when marrying his teenage cousin, and Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens perished in a plane crash. But a quick glance in the rearview mirror tells us surf music was in vogue, girl groups were happening, swinging soul sounds thrived, dance records were hot, and talented tastemakers like Roy Orbison, the Everly Brothers, Rick Nelson, and the Four Seasons were kicking it.

And, of course, there was Del Shannon!

Born Charles Westover, the Michigan-based singer, songwriter and guitarist was a permanent presence on the airwaves from 1961 to 1965. Endowed with a staggering falsetto, so powerful it was seriously capable of shattering glass, Del simultaneously had a flair for authoring extraordinary songs. Soap operas, caked with frustration, deceit and revenge were the central themes of his superbly-scripted written essays. Exploding with emotion, these songs may have spelled misery, but they were ridiculously irresistible and projected a sense of uniqueness that set Del apart from his contemporaries.

A double-disc dandy, 1961-1990: A Complete Career Anthology exhaustively confirms what an amazing artist Del Shannon was. Those who weren’t there when he was riding high on the charts are still probably familiar with “Runaway,” “Hats Off To Larry,” “Little Town Flirt,” “Keep Searchin’ (We’ll Follow The Sun)” and “Stranger In Town,” as these tunes are regularly heard on vintage stations across the land.

Stamped with swarms of sparkling textures, squealing keyboard thrills and jars of jumbo-sized hooks, here are the sort of songs that are immediately embedded in one’s brain cells. Chirpy soul-suffused female harmonies and cool brass arrangements further symbolized a great deal of Del’s early missives.

Roaring with rocking heft, “Move It Over” rumbles with the type of energy normally reserved for shaggy-haired garage bands, while “I Go To Pieces,” which articulates the pain of heartache with spot on conviction, was nicked by Peter and Gordon, who scored a monster hit with the beautiful weeper. Flooded with drama, the glimmery glare of “Two Silhouettes” edges terribly close to “Silhouettes” by the Rays in terms of subject matter, and then there’s the jumpy, plucky rhythms of “Break Up,” the punchy polish of “That’s The Way Love Is” and an enthused reading of “From Me To You“ that wins a prize for being the very first cover version of a John Lennon and Paul McCartney composition.

1967 saw Del connect with Rolling Stones manager and producer Andrew Oldham, and the results proved to be positively spectacular. Placing a strong emphasis on detail, the “Friendly With You” and “Cut And Come Again” are meticulously-molded slices of orchestrated pop, recalling a style akin to that of the Beach Boys and the Left Banke.

Several years later, Dave Edmunds twirled the dials on “And The Music Plays On,” a solid pop rocker, and “Cry Baby Cry” (not to be confused with the tune of the same title by the Beatles), a collaboration with Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra, testified to be just as catchy and memorable.

Come 1981, Tom Petty sat behind the boards on Drop Down And Get Me that proceeded to accent Del’s forte for performing sturdy, full-bodied rocking poppers. As evidenced by these sessions, Del was loved and respected by modern day musicians, who never hesitated to reference him as an influence. Due to the sorry fact his star had faded so badly, these fellows lent their support and encouragement, hoping to volley him back into the limelight where he belonged.

Struggling with a series of stops and starts, including an offer to replace the recently deceased Roy Orbison in the Traveling Wilburys, Del took his life in February of 1990. A tragic end for a man who was blessed with multiple gifts, that were unfortunately only appreciated and accepted by the mass public for a short time.

Overflowing with juicy jewels, 1961-1990: A Complete Career Anthology hangs tight and right as a rich and rewarding selection of songs. There’s honestly not a stinker in the bunch, and if you’re not a fan already then you’re sure to develop a fondness for the man after spinning this retrospective.

Hats off to Del Shannon for his wonderful music!

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Beverly Paterson

Beverly Paterson

Beverly Paterson was born the day Ben E. King hit No. 4 with "Stand By Me" -- which is actually one of her favorite songs, especially John Lennon's version. She's contributed to Lance Monthly and Amplifier, and served as Rock Beat International's associate editor. Paterson has also published Inside Out, and Twist & Shake. Contact Something Else! at
Beverly Paterson
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