DOES JACKIE DeSHANNON belong in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? Making an argument for her or any artist is not easy for two reasons. First, the Hall does not have any set of criteria by which fans can assess potential candidates. Each year each vote appears to be a reflection of the mood of the nominators and voters of that year.
Some “journeyman”-type artists appear to have been inducted due to their Top 40 hits and their Gold Record Awards (think of Chicago and the Doobie Brothers). Other artists with few or even no hits and minimal sales appear to have been inducted based on their “influence” on other artists (think of Buffalo Springfield and the Velvet Underground).
“Jackie DeShannon was a behind-the-scenes innovator in the creation of folk-rock.”
Also, recent artists have to be inducted regularly to keep young people interested in the whole affair, regardless of how dubious their connection to rock & roll music. (Think of any country or rap artist.)
After all, the Hall of Fame is a commercial organization and must look to its own future. Most people under the age of 30 know almost nothing about anyone from pop and rock music’s past except for a handful of superstars. (Think artists on the level of Elvis, Beatles, Beach Boys, Stones, Dylan, Queen, etc.)
These and other matters do not auger well for artists from the ever more distant past with tenuous claims on a place in the Hall’s pantheon. Or what I call borderline prospects—talented, accomplished artists who haven’t done anything “sparkly” to catch the Hall’s attention.
Songwriter’s Hall of Fame
The second reason that it’s difficult to argue for Jackie DeShannon’s induction is that she is one of those borderline prospects! Despite her obvious singing and songwriting talent—neither of which any sane observer would deny—and her ardent fans’ enthusiasm, she has very little upon which to stake her claim.
In an earlier incarnation of this article from a year ago, I stated the following:
“In June 2010, National Public Radio announced that singer-songwriter Jackie DeShannon will be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I have no idea who would leak erroneous information to NPR, but she was not inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2010. At the same time, she was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. It may have been that NPR confused the one Hall with the other.”
I double-checked that statement when I wrote the original article two years ago. But when I went looking online for that statement for this article in 2021, I could not find anything about it but another blog. It may have been that NPR confused the one Hall with the other, made the announcement, and has since deleted all posts with that error from the active internet. Or it may be that the error was mine.
Either way, it does not appear that Jackie DeShannon has been given any really serious consideration for the Hall of Fame by the Hall’s nominators, despite her being eligible since 1989. Needless to say, this does not bode well for her chances in the next few years (and she will be 80 years old later this year).
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
Aside from her songwriting credentials, Jackie DeShannon was a fine singer and one of the first soulful white pop singers. Her complete body of recorded work is very impressive. I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that most historians and Hall of Fame nominators and voters have begun to appreciate the entirety of her work in the ’60s, let alone what followed.
Jackie as a hitmaker
We can’t make an argument for her as a dominant presence on the charts. For most people, her entire reputation as an artist relies on her two Top 10 hits, What The World Needs Now Is Love in 1965 and Put A Little Love In Your Heart in 1969. After those two blockbusters, she only reached the Top 40 one more time.
She placed a total of seventeen sides on either the Billboard Hot 100 or the Cash Box Top 100. Most of these spent a couple of weeks in the lower rungs of those surveys and then disappeared. Effectively, this means that the vast majority of Top 40 radio listeners never heard any of these records, even once.
Jackie as a best seller
We can’t make an argument for her as a dominant presence in the marketplace either. In the more than sixty years since her first record was released, she still doesn’t have a single RIAA Gold Record Award.
Her two hits (cited above) certainly sold more than a million copies each globally, not domestically. So, she wasn’t acknowledged by either the singles-buyers or the album-buyers as big enough during her heyday.
Aside from her songwriting and singing skill, is there anything else we can present as an argument for her induction?
The influential Jackie DeShannon
So, we’re not going to get Jackie DeShannon into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a massively popular maker of hits and seller of records. But we can argue as her being an “influential” artist, as her early ’60s recordings anticipate aspects of the folk-rock of the mid-’60s.
Unfortunately, key members of the rock intelligentsia and those critics who interpreted and determined the history and meaning of rock back in the ’70s and ’80—especially those associated with Crawdaddy and Rolling Stone magazines—never made this argument. Had that be done—had she been recognized as “influential” rather than just a fine artist who never made it to the Big Time of commercial success—it certainly should have had an impact on the Hall of Fame nominators and voters.
In his excellent history of Turn! Turn! Turn! – The ’60s Folk-Rock Revolution, Richie Unterberger:
“DeShannon, like the Searchers and others dovetailing with folk-rock, has been overlooked by historians documenting the genesis of the folk-rock sound. Needles And Pins (released in April 1963) marked what was probably the first appearance of the ‘classic’ ringing, repeated folk-rock guitar riff on record, played by well-traveled session man Glen Campbell.
DeShannon’s songs, though anchored to romantic angst, were clearly something more personal than the usual Top 40 trivia. Informed by her infatuation with Bob Dylan’s early work, they were colored by an adult sensuality in both the words and the fetching-yet-earthy delivery.
As one who absorbed folk sensibilities into rock rather than going the more usual route from folk to rock, she was a pioneer. DeShannon would not, for all her early groundbreaking, make folk-rock the focus of an unnervingly eclectic career.” (Turn! Turn! Turn!, page 88-90)
In his biography of DeShannon for All Music, Steve Legget states:
“She was among the first artists to realize that folk and pop could work together and was a behind-the-scenes innovator in the creation of folk-rock. And she did it all with style and grace, singing with a sexy, husky voice full of energetic passion and writing songs that gracefully belied the craft behind them. By all accounts, she should be a household name instead of just a respected rock & roll footnote.”
Blogger Peter Lerner may go a tad overboard in calling her the “virtual inventor of American folk-rock,” but I would certainly look forward to an article making that argument as it could prove enlightening. But at this time, the Hall isn’t apparently paying much attention to bloggers such as Lerner.
For want of one killer album
Probably worse, there’s no One Great Jackie DeShannon Album that they can point to and go ga-ga over. In fact, most of Jackie’s albums are inconsistent in terms of quality. Of course, this was the norm for most artists of the time—especially “pop artists” and especially female pop artists.
And, since nothing was hitting for her regularly, she was all over the map in terms of style, recording rock & roll, soul, pop, folk-rock, and even a lot of easy-listening standards. While this can be used to argue for her versatility, it doesn’t give historians a sense of who she was as “an artist.”
“Jackie DeShannon should be a household name instead of just a respected rock & roll footnote.”
An example is Dusty Springfield’s album DUSTY IN MEMPHIS from 1969. The importance of this one record to her elevation to the status of critics’ superstar cannot be overstated. And it all turned on one thing: Greil Marcus’s review of the album in the November 1, 1969, issue of Rolling Stone.
Most record reviewers at that time were way too hip to be paying attention to chick singers noted for ditties like I Only Want To Be With You and Wishin’ And Hopin’ and other saccharine pop records.
Marcus’s enthusiastic review baffled not only many readers but also turned the heads of many rock-writers (few of whom considered themselves to be “critics”). DUSTY IN MEMPHIS helped define Dusty as an artist and redefine what she had done prior to 1969.
The hit singles that had been dismissed as “pop”—a denigrating term at the time for most of us “serious” rock fans—were re-evaluated and Ms. Springfield’s star ascended up the pantheon of acceptably groovy artists, a position she still holds decade later.
Alas, Ms. DeShannon never made such an album and therefore never was the subject of a revelatory, transformative review.
Another side of Jackie
Richie Unterberger wrapped up his summation of Jackie DeShannon by looking at an unreleased album from 1965:
“There does exist a rare LP, recorded for her publisher Metric Music, of twelve demos on which she’s accompanied only by echoing acoustic guitar. Boasting internal rhyme schemes that seem influenced by many nights of listening to ANOTHER SIDE OF BOB DYLAN, It contains heartrendingly sung, slightly raw, and wonderfully haunting compositions.
Reflecting the doubt, confusion, and excitement of finding one’s adult identity, these include versions of Don’t Doubt Yourself Babe, recorded by the Byrds on their first album, and the stunning minor-keyed With You In Mind, covered by Marianne Faithfull. It is the only glimmer of what might have been if DeShannon had taken her folk-rock leanings to a higher level.” (Turn! Turn! Turn!, page 90)
Perhaps this could have been the one album that transformed DeShannon from pop singer to rock artist. A bootleg album titled Don’t Doubt Yourself Babe: Acoustic Demos was issued that apparently includes all these demos. Instead of an album like this, Jackie released seventeen albums for five record companies between 1963 and 1978, almost all of which were geared towards soulful pop—easy listening music for my generation.
So, does Jackie DeShannon belong?
As I write this, there are 338 inductees in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Many of these inductees are “questionable” for many reasons. Hell’s Belles, there are artists in the Hall that I like, that I respect, and that I listen to that I would not have voted for because they don’t belong there. (Louis Armstrong and Chet Atkins spring to mind.)
As for my borderline artists, I would rather the Hall elect a few artists who may not deserve induction than not elect those who do deserve induction. So, why not Jackie DeShannon? Well, if we apply the criteria that appear to have gotten Chicago and the Doobies (and ABBA and the Dave Clark 5 and the Jackson 5 and others) inducted into the Hall, then, no, she does not make the grade.
If we apply the criteria that appear to have been responsible for getting Buffalo Springfield (and the Velvet Underground and Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and others) into the Hall, she just might break on through to the other side and find a place alongside “the influencers.”
If you credit the folk-rock of Dylan and the Byrds with bringing adult lyrics and themes to rock and pop music—showing the Beatles, the Stones, the Kinks, etc., an alternative to lyrics about love and lust in the Tin Pan Alley tradition—then Jackie’s contributions should elevate her stature among critics and historians and, hopefully, the folks at the Rock & Roll Hall.
Would I vote for Jackie DeShannon?
I decided to count the artists already in the Hall who I believe should have had to wait for Jackie’s induction. (And I am not impeaching the induction of these artists, only the order in which they were inducted.) I didn’t know what number I would find but figured it wouldn’t be all that big.
I went alphabetically, so the first artist I believe should have had to wait was ABBA. I stopped counting at the Doobie Brothers. I had twenty-four names and I hadn’t reached the fifth letter of the alphabet!
So, would I vote for Jackie DeShannon in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?
Hell, yes!In 1981, Kim Carnes recorded 'Bette Davis Eyes' and it became the #1 song of the year on the Billboard and won Grammys as Song of the Year and Record of the Year. It was also the capstone to Jackie DeShannon's career as a songwriter. Click To Tweet
FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page is Jackie DeShannon performing on stage in 2011. What every writer knows is that what the world needs now, along with love sweet love, are good editors and good proofreaders. Mike Griffiths acted as both for this article.