Tuesday, January 25, 2011

New Oldies - The Prom by Del Shannon

You don't need to look for obscure artists to find buried treasure from the 1960's.  Some of the biggest stars had really great flip sides and album cuts that were more than strong enough to become huge commercial hits, given the right promotion.  In fact, some of these artists were cranking out so many great songs that they simply didn't need for all of them to appear on singles or hit the charts.

Here's a great example.  This is one of those "teenage angst" songs that were so popular back in the 1950's and 1960's. One of the first of these songs was probably Black Denim Trousers And Motorcycle Boots by The Cheers (featuring future TV game show host, Bert Convy).  The theme became even more popular in the 1960's with songs like Teen Angel by Mark Dinning and Tell Laura I Love Her by Ray Peterson.

This teenage death tune comes to us from Del Shannon. This song, The Prom, was never issued on a single, only as a track on his debut album, Runaway With Del Shannon [Big Top 1303 from 1961].

Del Shannon was born Charles Weedon Westover in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He was into Country music as a teenager, listening to folks like Hank Williams, Hank Snow, and Lefty Frizzell. He played in a band while stationed in Germany after being drafted into the Army in 1954. When he got back to Battle Creek, he took a job driving a truck for a furniture factory, and then sold carpeting. He worked part-time as a guitar player for a band at the Hi-Lo Club. When the lead singer of that group, Doug DeMott, was fired, Del took over the band, calling himself Charlie Johnson, and renaming the group The Big Little Show Band. A dee jay in Ann Arbor named Ollie McLaughlin heard the band and took some of their demo recordings to a talent agency in Detroit. Del and his keyboardist, Max Crook, were signed to the Big Top label in 1960. That's when he came up with the name Del Shannon, a twisted combination of Cadillac Coupe de Ville and the name of one of his friends.

You may not know this, but Del Shannon was more popular in England than he was in the USA. He was the first American to record a John Lennon-Paul McCartney song, too, when he covered From Me To You. His version of that song actually charted in the USA before we knew anything about The Beatles!  Here's another interesting fact you may not have known. Del Shannon discovered Bob Seger and produced some demo recordings for him, which he passed on to Dick Clark who hooked him up with Cameo Records in Philadelphia.  He also discovered Country singer Johnny Carver. 

Ironically, Del Shannon's own life ended tragically when he committed suicide, shooting himself with a .22 caliber rifle at his home in Santa Clarita, California, on February 8, 1990. He had been suffering from depression for many years. At the time, he had become a member of the Traveling Wilburys following the death of Roy Orbison. 

1 comment:

  1. Great song. I'm a big Del Shannon fan but haven't heard this. Also liked the Standells flip side. I'm also a record collector, DJ and former employee of a music scheduling software company. Thanks for the post!