It makes sense, in my mind, to write about these two together. They mark, really, the beginning of a more independent pop-addiction which began from about the age of nine or ten: these were sounds that I liked, regardless of the records which Judy had (precious few of them –‘Walk Right Back’ by the Everly Brothers; ‘Wooden Heart’ by Elvis…) or the records we were borrowing from Susan’s friend Enid (‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’ by the Platters; ‘Poetry In Motion’ by Johnny Tillotson…) or the records I was played in Cynthia Jeffries’s front room (thereby hangs a tale… more of this in a future blog). And these two were artists whose output I ‘pursued’, as far as a ten year old can, for… as long as youthful obsessions last.
With both of them it was all about the sound. I had probably heard Sedaka’s ‘One Way Ticket’ and the flip of this double A side ‘O Carol’, in my Cynthia Jeffries sessions; but I remember hearing ‘Little Devil’ for the first time on the radio of a bus taking us… where? Was it the Saturday lunchtime bus that took Allan and I from New Tredegar to Ninian Park to watch Cardiff City play? It’s possible. The words seemed nonsense – in fact I thought it was ‘Hey diddle diddle’, I think (‘Hey diddle diddle I’m gonna make an angel out of you..’?) –but the jaunty repetition of this, backed by the screechy doo-wop girls gave it a lively bubblegum effervescence which hooked me. And perhaps most of all, I liked his surprisingly sissyish singing voice – aware, I think, even then, that my own voice had less-than-standard valleys-machismo to its timbres! Incidentally, when we bought the single, the B side ‘I must be dreaming’ proved even better, and an infinitely more enduring listen.
Del Shannon’s iconic chart topper was also a matter of unusual sound –the nasal drumming of the ‘Run-run-run-run runaway’ and probably too the famously leaping falsetto which became his sort of trademark. (His producers presumably tried to capitalise on this and market it as a kind of alpine yodel in ‘the Swiss Maid’ –which I also loved!) Though the sound was richer and fuller than those two elements: consistent plinky piano going down the chords, farty horn sounds punctuating and underscoring everything, Del’s voice hoarse, urgent and driving even when he wasn’t wailing up there somewhere. And that funny ‘stylophone-type’ musical instrumental break? Del Shannon became so much of an obsession, in fact, that I actually joined his fan club –still the only official fan club I have ever joined –which provided me with – what? -annual newsletters, perhaps, about his possible plans to come to the United Kingdom, and –if I sent in my autograph book, the fan club organisers would ensure that he’d sign it for me. He did. They also suggested that I play my part: I could bombard radio stations with requests for them to play his latest single. I seem to recall on that occasion that it was ‘Two Kinds Of Teardrops’
My family humoured me. Here’s a ferinstance: when my sister Judy went on her first holiday abroad, to Italy, her present to me on her return was a record of Neil Sedaka’s ‘Happy Birthday Sweet 16’ with a picture cover, and the title also in Italian. The first ever LP disc I had – for Christmas 1962 or 1963 I imagine –my main gift that year from my parents, was ‘Runaway’ by Del Shannon – featuring the famous hit and, if truth be told, a dozen more mediocre songs. Still, I was thrilled, more about owning it than listening to it. Hmmmm…
My infatuation with Neil died away earlier than my infatuation with Del, though not until I had amassed a collection of singles by both. ‘Breaking Up Is Hard To Do’ got more plays on the record-player than most, but I remember also getting very excited about coming across some of Neil’s early singles like ‘Run Samson Run’ in a local junk shop. I was still buying Del Shannon singles into the late sixties I think –when was it that he covered ‘Handy Man’? By then, though, we were all moving on –the kinship of an effeminate lisp or the thrill of nasal falsetto didn’t do it for me like they once did; and sorry, especially, to Del/Charles: I was obviously never enough of a fan to stick with him through a perhaps more interesting later career and the darker years to his untimely death. Neil, your increasingly cheesy career did fine without my patronage. Still, here is a nod of gratitude to both.
[A funny memory just occurs: at least once a week, when I taught in Paraguay, I would take a guitar into the classroom and teach a song – in English, of course –to my pupils. While most of these were Jesus songs, and some of them were my own songs, I occasionally threw in something else. My ‘quinto curso’ class learnt ‘From A Distance’, ‘The Living Years’, but one they really loved singing was ‘Runaway’. Ifmagine, then, twenty odd Latino-inflexioned accents launching enthusiastically into “as I walk along I wonder/what went wrong with our love/A love that was so strong….’ and getting more than excited on the ‘Why why why why why she went away…’ Ha. Nice memory. Thanks again Del]