Del Shannon – Greatest Hits

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I don’t remember the first time I heard “Runaway” and I am almost positive it took a little bit after that before I knew who Del Shannon was, but I was familiar with the song by the time I was seven. I didn’t think much about Shannon again until the news of his suicide in 1990. Shannon was born Charles Weedon Westover, and after a stint in the Army, he worked a series of jobs in Michigan, most consistently selling carpeting, when he joined a local band as a guitar player, later taking over the unit when the leader was dismissed for drunkenness. He took the stage name Charlie Johnson and, most importantly, recruited local musician Max Crook into the band in 1959. Crook was a musical wunderkind who had invented an analog synthesizer he called the Musitron (based on the existing Clavioline). Crook also got the band noticed after he mailed out recordings, and after he and Westover signed to the Bigtop label in 1960, Westover was persuaded to adopt the stage name Del Shannon. Shannon had hits into the mid-60’s, and was particularly popular in England. He made some forays into country music and attempts at a rock comeback – he eventually worked with Jeff Lynne as well as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Dave Edmunds, and the Smithereens, and was rumored to become the replacement for Roy Orbison in the Traveling Wilburys – never quite succeeded. He wrote the Peter & Gordon hit “I Go to Pieces.” He was the first U.S. artist to cover the Beatles, in 1963. He also helped a young Bob Seger get his career off the ground.

What I Think of This Album

I can only hope that for many years to come, every week or so, some kid hears “Runaway” and becomes captivated and either contemporaneously or later, further explores the music of Del Shannon and helps to keep his memory alive. 

Rhino thankfully presents these twenty tracks in chronological order. It helps to appreciate what Shannon was up against, as “Runaway” was his first and biggest hit, a song he was never able to top even as he wrote and released several other excellent singles. And as the liner notes take pains to emphasize, Shannon should not be lumped in with the teen vocal idols of the 60’s because he was a rocker, from his songwriting abilities to his skills as a guitarist to his modern-looking thematic concerns of loss, rejection, and regret. 

“Runaway” is a monster track, immediately grabbing you by the ears with the dramatic, Latin-esque guitar and piano intro, the pumping sax, Shannon’s lyrics efficiently describing bewilderment and agony, building to his gritty prechorus vocal, and THEN you get to Shannon’s falsetto and THEN you get the space-age Musitron part, which is somehow both disorienting and perfectly complementary, and holy fucking shit! This is a masterpiece whose only flaw is that it is way too short.

“Hats Off to Larry” is a fantastically bitter and biting tune, which in seeking to repeat the success of “Runaway,” also features a critical falsetto part and the haunting sounds of Crook’s Musitron. The chugging “So Long Baby” is another surprisingly sophisticated tale of psychosexual drama, with easily the best kazoo solo in rock history. “Hey! Little Girl” rounds out the four Top 40 Hits Shannon had in 1961.

Other highlights include “Cry Myself to Sleep,” which is very obviously the basis for Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock.” “Two Silhouettes” is an excellent story of betrayal. “Stranger In Town” is compelling and creepy. “Show Me” has some hints of surf rock to it, while “Sister Isabelle” borders on lite-psych, with a surprisingly soulful vocal. 

As the liner notes point out, “Little Town Flirt” has the same opening lyric as the Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale” and “Keep Searchin’ (We’ll Follow the Sun)” is the precursor to all those Springsteen songs about how we gotta get out of this town (though with a falsetto outro that Bruce could never have pulled off).

Max Crook’s story is interesting in its own right. Born into a musical family, he built his own recording studio by the time he was fourteen and the Musitron around the age of 23. In addition to working with Shannon, he recorded instrumental songs under various guises including the name Maximilian. He passed in 2020.

Fun facts: “Runaway” was recorded in A but the producer sped the recording up to juuuuuust below B-flat; Shannon recorded a new version of the song in 1967 with half of Led Zeppelin (Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones) and Nicky Hopkins; the Misfits covered the song; Echo & the Bunnymen reference it on “Over the Wall” and Tom Petty references it on “Running’ Down a Dream.”

The Best Thing About This Album

“Runaway” is the, you can guess it, runaway winner.

Release Date

1990

The Cover Art

I like the early ‘60s lettering and color scheme and the not-at-all-convincing smile on Shannon’s face speaks to the dark themes he explored in his songs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Proudly powered by WordPress | Theme: Baskerville 2 by Anders Noren.

Up ↑