- Released: November 7, 2008
- Label: Ace Records UK
Record Collector (magazine) - p.1034 stars out of 5
-- "Folk-rock enthusiasts will enjoy The Boys' 'Splendor In The Grass' and The Bandits' 'I Remember The Girl,' while East Coast doo woppers The Concords turn in a fine 'Should I Cry.'"
With this volume, Ace Records' songwriters series -- which had previously documented such well-known early pop/rock composers as Burt Bacharach, Leiber & Stoller, and Goffin & King -- takes a more daring step into the catalog of a writer less famous, though not less talented. Though she had a couple big hit records of her own in the 1960s and released many discs in the decade, Jackie DeShannon was even more active as a songwriter, with many of her compositions (including many she never released under her own name) getting covered by artists in both the U.S. and U.K. This compilation has 27 such songs, some written by DeShannon herself, and some in collaboration with noted figures like Sharon Sheeley, Jimmy Page, and Jack Nitzsche. Though there's one big hit here (the Searchers' "When You Walk in the Room") and another track that was on a famous hit album ("Don't Doubt Yourself, Babe," from the Byrds' 1965 debut LP), for the most part these are songs known only to record collectors, and in a couple cases more known by versions other than the ones represented here.
Like all of the other CDs in the Ace songwriters series, this isn't exactly a best-of as regards DeShannon covers, mixing some of her most famous tunes with rarities by big names, and just plain rarities by singers hardly anyone's ever heard of. While DeShannon went on to record quite a bit of material in a late-'60s/early-'70s serious singer/songwriter vein, these songs make plain her skill at creating catchy Brill Building-style pop, sometimes with a gutsy sexy and folky streak missing from the more pop-oriented Brill Building tunesmiths. For all her talent, however, these interpretations don't always do the material full justice. "When You Walk in the Room," "Don't Doubt Yourself, Babe," and Irma Thomas' "Break-A-Way" (a great song given wider exposure when Tracey Ullman made it into a Top Five British hit in 1983) are the only really superb tracks. A few others (P.J. Proby's "Just Like Him," Brenda Lee's "So Deep") are pretty good; a few of the better ones were done better by other artists (notably Cher's "Come and Stay with Me" and Gay Shingleton's "In My Time of Sorrow," both given superior treatments by Marianne Faithfull); and a few are disappointingly tame or clumsy versions of clearly fine songs (Diana Dawn's "Back Street Girl," the Bandits' "I Remember the Girl"). And while several other stars are represented (such as Duane Eddy, Rick Nelson, Peggy March, Bobby Vee, and Dobie Gray), their cuts aren't highlights in either their or DeShannon's careers.
Break-A-Way, of course, is still a fine compilation, put together and annotated with Ace's customary expertise. But while this might be a somewhat insider collector-oriented point, such collectors know that DeShannon herself -- a great singer in addition to being a great songwriter -- recorded versions of some of these songs (like "Back Street Girl" and "Blue Ribbons") for rare publisher demo LPs that, both vocally and production-wise, were immeasurably superior. It's to be hoped that some or all of the material from those demo LPs eventually sees CD release to put the record straight, which doesn't seem to be as far-fetched a whim as one might think, since the Break-A-Way CD itself closes with a previously unissued folky 1967 DeShannon demo, "Only You Can Free My Mind." Even if such releases don't come to pass, DeShannon was so prolific that additional compilations of covers of her compositions would be welcome. ~ Richie Unterberger