American songwriter Jackie DeShannon had two monumental top-10 hits as a performer, her own "Put a Little Love in Your Heart" and an indelible cover of Burt Bacharach and Hal David's "What the World Needs Now." But even with major chart success, she's been more commercially successful writing songs others brought to fame, including The Searchers' "When You Walk in the Room," Marianne Faithfull's "Come and Stay With Me," and Tracey Ullman's "Breakaway." Many of he compositions are perennial cover bait, returning to the charts in new versions by artists ranging from Dolly Parton to Al Green to Tom Petty to Pam Tillis.
As her own albums and hits collections show, however, her immense talent as a songwriter was matched by her work as a singer. Her original versions of "When You Walk in the Room" and "Breakaway" aren't merely songwriter demos - they're templates of the angst and joy that would mark every subsequent version. Her early version of "Needles and Pins," written by Sonny Bono and Jack Nitzsche, has all the hooks that made the Searchers' subsequent cover a hit, and her original take of "Till You Say You'll Be Mine" showed a young Olivia Newton John just how the song should sound (the Searchers' string-lined cover pales in comparison to both the ladies' versions).
This 28-track collection spans 1958 to 1980, but focuses most heavily on DeShannon's output for Liberty between 1959 and 1970. Both of her hit singles are here, along with singles the flopped and originals of songs that became hits for others. DeShannon proves herself to be much more than a songwriter trying to cut their own tunes, she's a talented vocalist equally comfortable with chirpy rockabilly, pop, soul, girl group harmony, and especially chiming folk-rock. DeShannon's later ballads (those recorded after the success of "What the World Needs Now is Love") often suffered from mundane orchestrations, but this collection keeps such tracks to a minimum.
This 1994 set was nominally replaced in the EMI catalog by the cover-laden and less satisfying Ultimate Jackie DeShannon. Better is Raven's Come and Get Me and its recent companion, High Coinage. Of the four, this Definitive collection still provides the most balanced portrait of DeShannon's key years and the best starting point into DeShannon's catalog. All four collections feature tracks not on the other three, so you might pick up more than one, or use any of the four as a map to the recent original album reissues. Finally, the Ace volume Break-A-Way: The Songs of Jackie DeShannon provides a good helping of others' covers of her writing. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]