The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

8 February 2005

No one will understand what I've gotta do

Fifteen years ago today, Del Shannon took his own life.

In retrospect, those who knew him — including Dawn Eden, who did the last in-depth interview with him — probably saw it coming. And those of us who didn't, but who knew his music, weren't very much surprised: anxiety and paranoia and sheer undiluted fear run through so many of his songs, and even his last chart item, a cover of Phil Phillips' "Sea of Love" (Network 47951, 1982), makes you wonder if maybe he wasn't contemplating a mutual drowning pact.

And then there's his production of Brian Hyland's 1970 remake of Curtis Mayfield's "Gypsy Woman" (Uni 55240). While the Impressions' original is full of castanets and campfires and soft kisses on the wind, Del, through Brian, goes straight for the hopelessness angle: the tempo is stolid and unyielding, the middle-eight is a veritable death march, and Brian, a better singer than most of us polka-dot bikini fans gave him credit for, sounds actually scared on "how she enchanted me".

Historians, of course, will note that Del was the first to cover a Beatles song stateside ("From Me to You," issued on Big Top 3152 in June 1963, charted at #77, thirty-nine points higher than the Fab Four's own version on Vee Jay 522 the next month with full-fledged Beatlemania still half a year away), that he made an early foray into country music (recording a version of Roger Miller's "Fair Swiss Maiden," retitled "The Swiss Maid," which did so-so in the States but became an enormous British hit), and that he gave "I Go to Pieces" to Peter and Gordon (though the Searchers, to whom it was originally pitched, gave it a pass).

But when I think of Del Shannon, I think of my not-quite-eight-year-old self, a kid in the projects who had only just gotten his very first radio (it came with a long cord, one end of which you could stick into your ear, and the other end you couldn't stick anywhere because it was bent), who, after the end of CSC Concert Hall one night, pushed the dial a few kilocycles to the left and heard:

I'm walking in the rain
Tears are falling and I feel a pain
Wishing you were here by me
To end this misery
And I wonder
I wa-wa-wa-wa-wonder...

It took me twenty years to unravel that second line, but that didn't matter. (Who knows the actual lyrics to "Louie, Louie," anyway?) That odd chord progression, that wailing voice, and that weird proto-synthesizer thing in the middle were literally my introduction to pop-rock, my ticket out of my parents' little corner of Mitch Miller-land that day in 1961. And if my musical tastes developed at odd angles after that, well, how surprised should you be?

Del Shannon's last LP during his lifetime was called Drop Down and Get Me. In any reasonable world, we'd have had to reach up.

Posted at 11:46 AM to Tongue and Groove


TrackBack: 9:52 PM, 8 February 2005
» Remembering Del Shannon from Accidental Verbosity

I remember how sad I was to hear about Del Shannon's suicide, which Dustbury reminds us was fifteen years ago. The memorial post is rich with details I never knew. Mostly I just loved Little Runaway, and yet based on the one song, the manner of...

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TrackBack: 2:50 PM, 9 February 2005
» Catching my eye: morning A through Z (UPDATED) from The Glittering Eye
Here's what's caught my eye this morning: Dustbury remembers Runaway singer, Del Shannon, who took his own life fifteen years ago today. Musicians don't earn living from copyright, copyright hurts creators (hat tip: Boing Boing). Copyrights are based o......[read more]

TrackBack: 3:34 PM, 10 February 2005
» Thursday Blogburst Deluxe from rosenblog.com
Jeff Brazill at Au Fait has a fine and informed rant about the losers in the Virginia State Legislature, whose priorities are sagging. At BumperStickerPolitix, Spin Daddy has a great George & Laura & Bill & Hillary joke. The blog......[read more]

"pushed the dial a few kilocycles to the left and heard"....WTMA?

Posted by: paulsmso at 1:12 PM on 8 February 2005

Which was at 1250, a smidgen to the left of WCSC at 1390. In between was WOKE, but they only put out 250 watts at night back then.

Posted by: CGHill at 2:00 PM on 8 February 2005