A FEW YEARS AGO, I wrote about Del Shannon and offered a brief introduction to his music. I mentioned I Go To Pieces as a song he wrote and arranged as a nod to the British Invasion of 1964. After that, Shannon kept searching for a place to stay in the world of pop music.
The two original articles were “1,661 Second With Del Shannon” and “Tears Are Falling And I Feel The Pain.” I combined the two and rewritten much of the text and made some alterations to the images. I did this so that I could post a link to this “new” article on a new fan page on Facebook, Del Shannon (born Charles Weedon Westover). So, from here on is the rewritten article!
In 1963, Del Shannon grasped the importance of the new music from England and actively encouraged young artists, including the Beatles!
We really old rock & roll fans—“old” here meaning fans of pre-Beatles rock & roll—were surprised in 1973 when United Artists released a new album by Del Shannon, an artist we hadn’t heard from in a while. Despite several Top 40 hits, he was peddled as a One Hit Wonder on oldies but goodies stations.
His album LIVE IN ENGLAND, recorded in Manchester in December 1972, was a wake-up call for many of us who had written him off merely as one of the best rock and rollers of the early ’60s and then forgotten or overlooked his ongoing work.
In 1975, Sire Records followed up the well-received (at least by some record reviewers) with THE VINTAGE YEARS, an amazing two-record set of 45 and LP sides from the previous decade.
Long out-of-print print, this is worth finding, buying, and listening to over and over. It includes I Go To Pieces, a song he wrote that was a hit for Peter & Gordon.
Released in 1972, Del Shannon’s Live In England was a remarkable record, showing the man in great form with a strong, commanding voice. Few people bought it new and many of us found it in cut-out bins with a greatly reduced price.
And I go to pieces
Del Shannon initially gave I Go To Pieces to Lloyd Brown, a rhythm & blues singer. In early 1964, Shannon took Brown into the studio, where he arranged and produced a version for Brown. The arrangement featured a xylophone instead of the 12-string guitar that opens the more familiar Peter & Gordon record.
The overall arrangement is slower than the familiar hit version, with accented choruses that resemble a Roy Orbison single of the time. Unfortunately, Shannon could not find a company interested in releasing it as a single.
In September, Shannon shared the bill with fourteen other acts on a tour of Australia. Supposedly, he pitched I Go To Pieces to the Searchers, who weren’t interested in it! Supposedly, Peter Asher and Gordon Waller overheard Shannon singing it to the group and asked him for first crack at the song.
In October, Peter & Gordon recorded I Go To Pieces with Vic Flick (of The James Bond Theme fame) playing the distinctive acoustic 12-string guitar that opens the side. The duo’s reading had a slower beat than Brown’s version and the tasty piano in the background gave it a stately feel.
In November, the Peter & Gordon single was released in England to almost no acclaim. In the Us, I Got To Pieces peaked at #6 on Cash Box and reached #9 on Billboard in early ’65.
This is the front cover for Del Shannon’s ridiculously titled album One Thousand Six Hundred Sixty One Seconds (Amy LP-8006).
1,661 seconds with Del Shannon
In March 1965, Shannon finally completed his own version of I Go To Pieces. This time, he based his arrangement firmly on Peter & Gordon’s, including the 12-string guitar. But on Del’s recording, instead of going for a Searchers sound, the guitar is a harbinger of the sound and feel that Jim McGuinn would get with his Rickenbacker 360-12 for the Byrds’ folk-rock sound of 1965.
Del’s arrangement does differ in that he retained the feel of the Brown demo with a backbeat that pounds Orbisonianly during the choruses. Unlike so many “older” rockers, Del Shannon grasped the meaning and importance of the “new” music emanating from England, and actively encouraged those artists, as a mentor and as a recording artist.
The track was included on his sixth album ONE THOUSAND SIX HUNDRED SIXTY ONE SECONDS WITH DEL SHANNON (Amy LP-8006-M and LP-8006-S), released later in the year. (Yes, that’s the title; yes, it’s a mouthful; and yes, it’s terrible.) Unfortunately, Del’s fifteen minutes of fame were up and almost no one paid any attention to his records in the mid- ’60s.
This was neither Shannon’s first association with the new British beat music nor his last.
Del Shannon’s version of the Beatles’ From Me To You was the first record released in the US to feature a McCartney-Lennon composition! It failed to reach the Top 60 on any national survey.
On April 18, 1963, the Beatles appeared at Swinging Sound ’63, an all-star concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London. There they played their new single From Me To You, which had been released the week before and destined to be the Beatles’ first single to top the charts of every major UK weekly survey!
Like their first two singles, EMI’s American affiliate, Capitol Records, did not pick up the option to release it in the States. Vee-Jay Records picked up From Me To You and released it as a single but, like most British pop records, it failed to make the US charts.
Del Shannon was also one of the Swinging Sound ’63 acts, and unlike many established American pop stars, he took a great interest in the sounds that were emanating from England. He was particularly hip to the Beatles. After the concert, he told John Lennon that he was going to record From Me To You to give the group some exposure in America.
“At that time no one had heard of the Beatles here,” Shannon later said, “but I knew they were great writers so I just picked up on one of their songs.”
In June, Bigtop Records released Shannon’s version of From Me To You. Its biggest departure from the original was that it lacked the loose swing of the ska-like rhythm of the Beatles’ take. And it lacked the Beatles’ marvelous harmonies.
From Me To You entered the Billboard Hot 100 on June 29, the first Lennon-McCartney composition to make the American charts. It spent four weeks on that survey, reaching #77. One week later (July 6), it entered the Cash Box Top 100, eventually peaking at #67, also spending four weeks on that survey.
Del Shannon’s version of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards’ Under My Thumb (Liberty F-55904) was released as a single in late 1966 in the wake of the Rolling Stones’ Aftermath album. It failed to reach the Top 100 on any national survey.
Rolling Stones connection
In 1966, Del recorded a version of the Rolling Stones’ Under My Thumb that closely followed the original arrangement, including Shannon aping Jagger’s vocal mannerisms. This had the effect of making some younger fans of the ‘new rock’ who were unfamiliar with Del Shannon think that he was no better than a mere imitator.
It didn’t matter: the ongoing ignoring of established, older US artists interpreting the newer, younger UK artists’ songs continued and this record failed to reach the top 100 on either Billboard or Cash Box.
In early 1967, Shannon was touring England and there met Andrew Loog Oldham, manager and producer of the Rolling Stones. Oldham approached Del about producing an album with him and received the go-ahead from Liberty Records in the US! The album became such a project that I devoted an article to it. Read that here.
This promotional pressing of Big Top 3152 was probably manufactured before the pink label version above, so should be considered the very first appearance of a Lennon-McCartney song on an American record.
Avid Record Collectors Price Guide
At any given moment, there are hundreds (perhaps thousands) of Del Shannon records for sale on the internet. The three of interest to this article are not among the more common Shannon titles for sale.
Big Top 3152
This record should hold lots of interest for fans of rock & roll and especially for Beatles collectors and sell for hundreds of dollars. It certainly isn’t an easy record to find, especially in near mint condition. The last copy with pink labels sold on eBay in that condition was in 2016 and it sold for $25. The most recent sale was in 2020 when a copy graded VG++ sold for $40.
On Discogs, there are currently more than two dozen copies for sale, most are VG or less. Only one is listed as near mint with an asking price of $29.90.
The only white label promo sold on eBay was twelve years ago when a near mint copy for a mere $24. There are four for sale on Discogs, the best being graded VG+ ($18).
Big Top is 12-303
An unmixed two-track master for Runaway was issued on the rather rare stereo version of the RUNAWAY album (Big Top is 12-303). The mono version of this album has the same catalog number as the stereo album. Should you want to purchase a copy of the stereo album, make sure the front cover is embossed “STEREO” in gold and the record has “STEREO” printed on the labels.
In 2015, a stereo copy graded mint sold for $3,696! More recently, a copy graded M- sold for $1,500 in 2021. Even copies graded VG can sell for close to four figures.
Mono copies are easier to find but even then, finding one in near mint condition is difficult. Expect to spend at least $50 for such a record.
More than a dozen copies of the black label single are currently for sale on Discogs but only four are graded near mint ($14, $28, $29, and $50). There are ten promo label records (“Audition Copy”) on sale right now on Discogs but only one is graded near mint ($24).
In 1981, Del released Drop Down And Get Me, an album produced by lifelong fan Tom Petty and featuring backing by the Heartbreakers.
Del Kept Searching
Del Shannon had a typical career for a hitmaker in the pre-Beatles world of rock and pop music. He broke into (onto?) to scene running with a big hit—here, the extraordinary Runaway, which reached #1 on charts around the world in 1961. He had a few more hits but was starting to see the end of the tunnel in 1963.
Unlike so many American artists, his airtime on Top 40 radio did not come to a halt with the British Invasion: in 1964-1965, he had his final significant hits: Handy Man, Do You Wanna Dance, the amazing Keep Searchin’ (We’ll Follow The Sun), and Stranger In Town, the latter three from the ONE THOUSAND album.
Then he struggled.
He never really sold enough singles to matter and, like most pop artists, his LP sales were negligible. And there were no sold-out concerts at huge stadiums to fatten his wallet.
While he achieved the recognition he deserved—mostly from other artists and European fans— after years of depression (a malady associated with weakness at the time, definitely not something most men wanted to be tagged with), Del Shannon ended his life with a gun at the age of 55.
While he will always, rightfully be associated with Runaway, the song that sums up Del Shannons for me is different: “Gotta keep searching, find a place to stay—searching, every night and day. If we gotta keep on the run, we’ll follow the sun . . .”In 1963, Del Shannon grasped the importance of the new music from England and actively encouraged young artists, including the Beatles. Click To Tweet
FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page was taken from a program titled Tito Burns Presents The Del Shannon Show. This was from his 1964 tour of the UK, where he was a much bigger star than in the US. I found this piece of history on the Vinyl Frontier website. To see more about this program, click here.
Finally, I eliminated my hastily made review of Del’s magical HOME & AWAY album, one of the “Great Lost Albums of the ’60s.” Recorded in 1967 with producer Andrew Loog Oldham, it was inexplicably scrapped and not released for ten years. I recommend the excellent review “Del Shannon’s Shelved ‘Home and Away’ Finds New Life on Remastered Reissue” on The Second Disc site. To read that piece in its entirety, click here.
Mystically liberal Virgo enjoys long walks alone in the city at night in the rain with an umbrella and a flask of 10-year-old Laphroaig who strives to live by the maxim, “It ain’t what you know that gets you into trouble; it’s what you know that just ain’t so.
I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn, and a college dropout (twice!). Occupationally, I have been a bartender, jewelry engraver, bouncer, landscape artist, and FEMA crew chief following the Great Flood of ’72 (and that was a job that I should never, ever have left).
I am also the final author of the original O’Sullivan Woodside price guides for record collectors and the original author of the Goldmine price guides for record collectors. As such, I was often referred to as the Price Guide Guru, and—as everyone should know—it behooves one to heed the words of a guru. (Unless, of course, you’re the Beatles.)