When Del Shannon died back in 1990, I’m pretty sure that I wasn’t too phased by it. I was taken aback — and, of course, saddened — that he had committed suicide, especially at the relatively young age of 55, but from a purely self-centered point of view, his death didn’t affect my musical landscape very much. I knew his major hit, “Runaway,” and was kind of familiar with a couple of his other early tracks, but in my mind, he had been without a major hit for decades and for whatever reason, I hadn’t bothered trying to dig any deeper into his catalog.
As time passed, I slowly started to understand why his fans loved him so much. The guy was a major talent who — at least in the States — never really got the recognition he deserved. Granted, having three Top Ten hits, including a number one smash with “Runaway,” is better than most could ever hope to achieve in the recording biz, but it happened too quickly and was over too soon.
Subsequent singles and albums came and went with little to no fanfare. His sound matured throughout the Sixties, and he kept up with the times pretty well, but 1965 was the last year he was in the top 40 until 1981.
He managed to stay busy and make some money by touring, particularly in England, where his fans appreciated him a lot more than they did back home. His time in the recording studio during the 1970s was sporadic at best, which is where The Dublin Sessions comes into play.
In 1977, Shannon recorded 11 tracks at Dublin Sound Studio with Smackee, a Coventry group who also served as his touring band in the United Kingdom during that time. Even though he had been playing the Oldies circuit for a good while by then, he never lost the desire to write and record new material. Four of the songs were covers, and the rest were originals proving that Shannon still had a lot left to give.
What happened next is probably no surprise. He brought the tapes back to the USA, shopped them around, got no takers, and after awhile they just ended up on the proverbial shelf. Shannon was battling some personal demons at the time, and when he got through that morass, he began working on another album with Tom Petty. The Dublin tunes fell by the wayside.
Fast-forward 40 years, and Shannon’s Dublin tapes finally see the light of day thanks to RockBeat Records. These 11 tracks prove that Shannon still had plenty to offer. His seven original songs sound very 1977-ish, but in a classic way. Rather than jumping on the disco bandwagon with many of his musical contemporaries, these tracks offer a more straightforward rock sound, thanks in large part to Smackee, who were clearly a tight band that knew how to make a Del Shannon song sound good.
Anybody listening to a new album by an old-school ’60s rocker expects some uptempo material, and Shannon proved he could hold his own with “Best Days of My Life” and “One Track Mind.”
Del Shannon’s bread and butter was singing about heartbreak — he perfected it early on with “Runaway” — and he revisits the sadness with “Love, It Don’t Come Easy.” It’s an adventurous attempt to merge two different songs together a la the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life,” and it works well.
There are some beautiful songs on here, including “Till I Found You.” Though Shannon was not known for singing positive love songs, when he did attempt them, they were lovely.
As mentioned earlier, four cover songs were recorded as part of the album. It’s no surprise that he does all four justice, and while he really doesn’t make anybody forget the original versions, he puts in a good performance. To be fair, who could outdo Roy Orbison’s performance of “Oh, Pretty Woman” anyway? A somewhat surprising choice is the country staple “Today I Started Loving You Again,” and it turned out quite well.
If you’re a Del Shannon fan, it’s a no-brainer that you need this album. It’s a great listen and worth revisiting many times over. The sound quality is terrific, and Brian Young’s liner notes do a marvelous job in telling this formerly-lost part of Shannon’s story.
If you’re unfamiliar with Del Shannon beyond his hits, this probably isn’t the best starting point. A thorough greatest hits collection is where you need to begin. Once you absorb that and start digging deeper, The Dublin Sessions needs to be on your to-listen list of albums. Chances are, you’ll appreciate him even more, and he deserves all the credit he can get.
Del Shannon’s The Dublin Sessions is out now. Click here to order your copy.