Every time that you walk in the room.”—Jackie DeShannon, “When You Walk in the Room” (1964), from her The Best of Jackie DeShannon CD (1991)
There’s some question about a birthdate surrounding this post. Most reference sources that I’ve seen on the Web indicate that singer-songwriter Jackie DeShannon was born on this date 70 years ago in Hazel, Kentucky. Other sources push the date back to 1941.
I’m not in any position to clarify the question with Ms. DeShannon. In any case, I have it on good authority—any one of a number of women!—that a gentleman never asks a lady her age. So, let’s accept the younger age, shall we? After all, the best of her songs make us feel young and filled with the joy of hearing a bit of music in a new way.
Some of her best-known songs were actually written by others (Bacharach and David’s “What the World Needs Now Is Love,” Jack Nitzsche and Sonny Bono’s “Needles and Pins”). On the other hand, she wrote a monster hit for someone else (Kim Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes”), so it all works out in the end.
One of the most charming accounts of her early career came in this 2010 interview with NPR’s Terry Gross, recorded at the time of DeShannon’s induction into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame. There’s a great deal here about the politics and personalities of the music industry back in the Sixties (including the Beatles, for whom she opened on their first American tour). But I also got a kick out of her explanation for the story behind my favorite song of hers, “When You Walk in the Room”:
“I was waiting for a date to pick me up — who shall remain nameless and has for these many, many years. He doesn't even know that he's the one that I wrote it about. And he was late. And the guitar was sitting there, and I was very excited about the dinner date, and that's how it happened. And I just wrote it pretty fast, actually."
(Check out this YouTube video of her live performance of this classic two years ago. Nearly a half century after she first sang it, her voice remains in remarkably good form.)
Her own songs have been covered by countless artists, and as one of the first, most successful pop female singer-songwriters, she became a true pioneer in the entertainment industry. But one of the artists she influenced is rather unexpected: Bruce Springsteen.
Forty years ago, when he was starting out in the business, The Boss made a pilgrimage with buddy "Miami Steve" Van Zandt to the home of Ms. DeShannon, who played them tapes of unreleased songs she had composed with Van Morrison. A few years later, at his crucial Bottom Line gigs in August 1975, Springsteen performed a version of “When You Walk in the Room” that was every bit the equal of DeShannon’s original (not to mention the one that became a hit for the British group, The Searchers).
The Boss, obviously, knew a great song when he heard one. So does Ms. DeShannon: In her own 2001 Bottom Line appearance, she returned the favor to her long-ago admirer by playing a cover of Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart” as the final song of her well-received set.