Jackie DeShannon: “When You Walk In the Room”
There used to be a video on YouTube of Jackie DeShannon on an old TV show singing “Till You Say You’ll Be Mine,” and when I first saw it, I thought, this is what heaven must be like, this room full of dancing kids and go-go girls and Jackie DeShannon swiveling her hips. The video seems to have disappeared—I can’t figure out where clips like these come from, who puts them up, why these people have footage of old musical variety shows hanging around in the first place, and likewise I can’t figure out where they go when they’re gone. This clip, of Jackie singing a different song on the same or a different show, doesn’t have quite the same magic, but it’s still pretty special.
In the same way that certain writers are referred to as “writer’s writers”—which doesn’t really mean that only writers read and like them, but that they have some kind of modesty or quietness at the core of their work—Jackie DeShannon could be called a “musician’s musician.” This TV appearance was about as showy as she got, which wasn’t very. She was never going to be the sexiest singer, or the one with the most soulful voice. She sounded raspy and American, with a bit of Kentucky twang. She wrote her own songs, but she came too early for the Joni Mitchell generation of female singer-songwriters. Like Carole King, she supplied material for wave after wave of pop acts—Brenda Lee and Barbara Lewis, then Marianne Faithful and the Byrds, then Kim Carnes (“Bette Davis Eyes”). She played the guitar—other singers of her time just sang and gestured. Jackie was like the girl next door whom nobody knew got the best grades in the class. I imagine people didn’t know what to make of her. In 1964 she toured with the Beatles, and her second album is called Breakin’ It Up on the Beatles Tour!, as though she could only succeed in their reflected glory.
Here’s what I love about her. At the beginning of the clip of “When You Walk Into the Room,” she starts the song a few beats too early, and then realizes what she’s done and laughs. There’s that quality in almost all of her songs, of brightness and good cheer, no matter how distraught or mournful the lyrics. It seems like a matter of her constitution, that she’s the kind of person who can’t help but smile a lot. Not a fake, hold-it-for-the-camera smile, the kind where you can see the strain, but something more genuine, a smile not of the pop world at all, but of the real one.