BY 1963, JACKIE DeSHANNON had released fifteen singles and she had just turned 22 years old! By the end of the decade, she would score a pair of Top 10 hits (What The World Needs Now Is Love and Put A Little Love In Your Heart) but would have problems getting any of her other fine sides played on AM radio none ever came close to the Top 10 again.
She had released her first record in 1956 when she was 15 (you know, the knee-high-to-a-grasshopper age in her home state of Kentucky). Christened Sharon Lee Myers, she released five singles in the ’50s—some country & western, some rockabilly—under four names: Sherry Lee, Jackie Dee, Jackie Shannon, and finally as Jackie DeShannon.
In early ’63, she achieved modest success when her soulful reading of Needles And Pins (Liberty 55563) reached #58 on the Cash Box Top 100 but only #84 on the Billboard Hot 100.
A few months later, Needles And Pins hit #1 on Canada’s CHUM Chart and Jackie DeShannon was starting to look a little like a hot recording artist.
This photo of Jackie DeShannon was taken for use as a standard publicity photo for Liberty Records in 1963.
In November 1963, Jackie released her own composition “When You Walk in the Room” as her eighteenth single. It was a Spectorian production with all the odd and wonderful percussive effects (castanets?) but also featured 12-string guitars. Whereas those same guitars had played a subtle role in “Needles and Pins,” here they were mixed prominently up front.
A great single, “When You Walk in the Room” was another disappointment, pooping out at #81 on Cash Box and #99 on Billboard. But the sound of those guitars—an instrument oddly neglected by rock & rollers because of its association with folk-type music—was an influence on the British beat-group scene.
In January 1964, the Searchers released their version of “Needles and Pins” and, with a nod to the DeShannon arrangement, there was a lovely acoustic 12-string guitar keeping rhythm throughout. The sound of this guitar attracted a lot of attention when the record topped the UK charts and became a big hit in the US as part of the initial British Invasion.
As for those guitars: “I think everyone knows by now that what they thought was a jangling twelve-string guitar on ‘Needles and Pins’ was, in fact, the very intriguing resonance of two six-string instruments created almost accidentally in the mix.” (Frank Allen)
These guitars on Jackie DeShannon and the Searchers’ records appear to have inspired George Harrison to give the instrument a try. When he expressed an interest, the manufacturers of Rickenbacker guitars presented him with the second copy of their new 360/12. Beatle George put it to marvelous use effect on the A Hard Day’s Night album in July 1964.
While PYE didn’t see fit to issue the Searchers’ single with a picture sleeve in their native UK, Pye’s outlets in other countries did. This sleeve was issued in Sweden.
“As soon as I joined the Searchers in August 1964 we set about creating a new single. Someday We’re Gonna Love Again had halted at a lowly #11 in the charts, a respectable position but rather disappointing from one of the leading groups in the UK if not the world and following on from the band’s third chart-topping record. The next one had to be good. And it was.
Jackie DeShannon, who had also provided the blueprint for Needles & Pins, a flop for her and a huge success for them (I say that because it was before my arrival and I make no claim to any contribution to its deserved success), had released [When You Walk In The Room] earlier that year and had once again missed out chart-wise. It was a great record but maybe a little too laid back and of course she was American and by this time the Brits had taken over the world.
We picked up the tempo a little and gave it a poppier, more commercial edge and we decided to emulate the twelve-string used on the original. There was a liveliness about this new sound that immediately grabbed attention. But we did not have one of these still rather rare guitars.
An acoustic model—a borrowed Gibson I believe, although I can’t be absolutely certain—had been employed on the IT’S THE SEARCHERS album early in 1964 and can be heard prominently on Can’t Help Forgiving You, intriguingly yet another DeShannon composition. But we had no access to the electric version. Rickenbackers were hard to come by and expensive.
The only British made model was by the Burns company designed by the founder Jim Burns, one of the pioneers of the British guitar industry. One of Mike’s early electric guitars had indeed been a cherry-red Burns Vibra Artiste six-string as seen on the first publicity shots at the outset of their success.
There are many who are avid fans of the make, although my opinion has always been that they were rather over-designed in a somewhat tacky way and lagged far behind the American brands like Gibson, Fender, and Gretsch. But full marks to Jim Burns for paving the way to everything else that followed.
We contacted Burns and they immediately despatched one of their Double Six guitars in a rather attractive translucent green finish. And that was the instrument used on When You Walk In The Room.” (Frank Allen)
Hoping to ride the British Invasion hit back up the charts, Liberty reissued “When You Walk in the Room” right after the Searchers’ record, but again nothing happened with the original version.
The video below offers Jackie at her best: She is pushing a great single, she does a good job of lip-synching, and she looks gorgeous—especially if you dig early ’60s female style and fashion. Her little dance routine is cute yet borders on really sexy.
I pretend it’s me you want
Regardless of the opening lines and the chiming 12-string guitar that drives the recording along, it’s not a happy song:
I can feel a new expression on my face.
I can feel a glowing sensation taking place.
I can hear the guitar playing a lovely tune,
every time that you walk in the room.
I close my eyes for a second and pretend it’s me you want.
Meanwhile, I try to act so nonchalant.
I feel a summer night with a magic moon,
every time that you walk in the room.
Maybe it’s a dream come true
Standing right alongside of you.
Wish I could tell you how much I care,
but I only have the nerve to stare.
I can feel something pounding in my brain,
just anytime that someone speaks your name.
Trumpets sound—I hear thunder boom,
every time that you walk in the room.
It’s about longing and reticence and unrequited love. It may not be of the same caliber as recordings based on similar yearning songs such as the Turtles’ Happy Together or the Temptations’ Just My Imagination, but it’s up there.
And someone needs to point out that the use of the acoustic 12-strings on this and Needles And Pins inspired the use of the electric 12-string on the Beatles and the Searchers picked up in 1964 which led to Jim McGuinn turning the Rickenbacker 360-12 into one of the most distinguished and distinguishing sounds in all of rock music with the Byrds.
While Jackie’s sexiness was often promoted in photos that Liberty used in her early years by showing some cleavage, by 1969 she was less obvious about her physical features. This picture sleeve from Germany makes her look like a model from a teen magazine.
Back to the British Invasion
The Searchers did a fine version of the song that rang with their 12-string-guitar and the four-part-harmony sound. Released at the same time as DeShannon’s, it fared much better, peaking in the US at #29 on Cash Box and reaching #35 on Billboard.
The Searchers were continually better represented in their native England, where this side was a Top 5 hit, their fifth! They were considered by many American record-buyers to be rather lightweight if not outright Beatles wannabes. This may pop up on oldies radio in the 21st century, but probably only during a local station does a phone-in-your-request show.
Jackie did achieve fleeting success as a singer in the US. Within a matter of months, her reading of What The World Needs Now Is Love reached #7 on Billboard and reached #8 on Cash Box in August 1965. It was her second chart-topper on the Canadian CHUM chart.
She would not have another major American hit until Put A Little Love In Your Heart reached the Top 10 in 1969. Her greatest success after that would be the recognition she received as the co-writer with Donna Weiss) of Kim Carnes’ monster hit Bette Davis Eyes. This idiosyncratic song and performance was arguably the biggest hit of 1981 and one of the biggest hits of the entire decade.
While the songwriting mechanicals no doubt swelled Ms. DeShannon’s coffers, it had no noticeable effect on her career as a recording artist. Despite making one fine record after another, she never made it big again as a singer. Nonetheless, when Jackie DeShannon walks in the room, she’s got zest appeal!
HEADER IMAGE: The photo atop this page is of the beautiful Ms. DeShannon during the late ’60s when she was breaking hearts left and right. While this photo appears in several places on the Internet, I could not locate a source for it. And I haven’t a clue as to why the photographer chose such an odd and disconcerting backdrop for this photo.