In 1975 Jackie DeShannon put out a marvelous album called New Arrangement. The fact that this masterpiece is now so far out of print that I may be the only person alive aside from Ms. DeShannon herself who even knows it ever existed is such a sad commentary on what is considered valuable in the world of popular music that it could cause even the strongest among us to tune the car radio to any of the popular stations in your home town and then get out of the car while still running, lie down under the front wheels, and throw a brick through the windshield hoping against all hope that it will hit the gear shift and move it from P to D1. Or, if you wanted to really use this flattening of yourself to make a more poignant point about the state of popular music in your life and time, you could lie behind the rear wheels and toss the brick through the rear window hoping to achieve the almost impossible bank shot off of the dashboard and throw the shift lever into R. Either way, it's a very difficult last trick, but pulling it off in reverse would be the better statement. I understand that folks reading this probably have way too much taste to pay attention to what is considered popular on the radio these days, but you cannot deny that the Grammies are still awarded and The Man still owns the radio buttons in your car.
As many times as I listened to that album by Ms. DeShannon back in the late 70s, my ears were not fooled when I heard a CD called White on Blonde by a band called Texas in 1997. I knew who this girl vocalist, Sharleen Spiteri, had grown up on. And I knew exactly which album meant the most to her.
There is no one song on White on Blonde which sounds exactly like a song on New Arrangement, but there is no mistaking a forgery when you hear it. I was first taken by the single on the radio called "Say What You Want." With the pistol-cock intro and the three-note guitar strum, this song should have won every award they gave that year for whatever they think constitutes "Song of the Year" or "Breakthrough Artist" or the much-needed "At Fucking Last: A New and Better Sound" category. There are no tricks: Just the usual verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus that we've all come to know and understand in a pop tune. There are no big solos or big string arrangements. In fact, it's a pretty simple tune with the high-hat providing the basic backbeat and a keyboard and guitar overlayered a couple of times. The mixing of the girl's vocal tracks is what makes it the best song that I heard that year and maybe for a few years afterwards.
That is the same thing that made New Arrangement by Jackie DeShannon a standard fixture on my turntable back in the late 70s. However, there was no song on New Arrangement that provided such a breakthrough moment in the "wow" department as did "Say What You Want." There was the "Bette Davis Eyes" song that wound up on the radio by someone else, even though Jackie's version of her own song was ten times the emotional investment. I will bet you that there were less than one out of a hundred folks who heard Kim Carnes sing that song who ever knew that it was written by the same girl who brought them "Put a Little Love in Your Heart" several years earlier. Sadly, probably most DJ's who were playing the song didn't know, either.
If you can get your hands on a copy of New Arrangement, I contend that there is not a bad song on that album. At least not for its time. As for this Texas CD, I would point to four songs you should hear. First and foremost, if you don't remember the radio hit "Say What You Want," be sure and listen to that one several times until you understand what makes a great pop song. Then the next two songs immediately following that one are where you and I can both hear the forgeries (assuming you were able to find Ms. DeShannon's old record).
"Drawing Crazy Patterns" is a clever mixture of "Let the Sailors Dance" and "Barefoot Boys and Barefoot Girls." "Halo" is a diabolical amalgamation of the title tune from "New Arrangement" and "Boat to Sail." As for the fourth song you should listen to on the Texas CD, it's the title tune of "White on Blonde."
I joke. I kid about these forgeries. There is no song actually stolen or incorporated from the New Arrangement album. But there is no mistaking an influence so deeply ingrained in these songs I've mentioned. I can imagine Sharleen Spiteri as a little girl, lying in bed with her huge headphones covering not only her little ears but half her face as well, crying like a baby as she listened to Jackie DeShannon weave magical stories of love and loss in a voice that would one day come out of her own little Scottish mouth.
"Sharleen's musical influences range from The Clash (the main reason she's playing a black Fender Telecaster) to Marvin Gaye and Prince."
I know I get fairly tired of my wife getting angry with me over something I didn't do. It seems like such an easy out when you want to start a fight. But I am fairly put out that there are three influences listed there and I don't see Jackie DeShannon's name anywhere.