by Jeff Fiedler
Albums from the Lost & Found is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com in which contributor Jeff Fiedler reviews and helps us rediscover great pop albums that seem to have been lost to time.
A new year means new beginnings, so it’s only fitting that our Albums from the Lost and Found column for this week takes a look at three very unexpected comeback albums, all with an added common thread: they were all each made possible with the help of a very red-hot artist.
Unlike a lot of other major rock stars of the pre-British-Invasion era such as Elvis Presley and Ricky Nelson, Del Shannon actually wrote most of his own hits, and he scored eight Top 40 singles during the first half of the Sixties, including the chart-topping “Runaway” (which sat at Number One for four weeks in 1961), the underrated “Little Town Flirt,” and the Top Ten hits “Hats Off to Larry” and “Keep Searchin’ (We’ll Follow the Sun).” However, after 1965’s “Stranger in Town,” his Top 40 hits would dry up, and Shannon would find greater success in the latter half of the decade behind the scenes, writing the Peter & Gordon hit “I Go to Pieces,” arranging the rock band Smith’s hit cover of the Shirelles classic “Baby It’s You,” and producing Brian Hyland’s 1970 #3-peaking comeback hit “Gypsy Woman.”
In 1979, however, Shannon’s career got an unexpected boost thanks to longtime fan Tom Petty, who would lure him back into the studio and oversee the recording of a new album. Only a few cuts were recorded at the time, but Petty and Shannon would pick up the project again in 1981 to record another handful of sides to round out the affair, and the result was 1981’s Drop Down and Get Me, released on the Elektra subsidiary Network.
Drop Down and Get Me not only features Petty in the producer’s chair (Petty also pops up on background vocals, harmonica, and percussion), but the Heartbreakers serve as the backing band on every cut, and because this album was recorded over several years, the disc has the unusual distinction of featuring both original Heartbreakers bassist Ron Blair and his replacement Howie Epstein. The disc also sports cameos from the Motels’ Marty Jourard on sax (on the delightful closer “Midnight Train”), Dwight Twilley Band drummer Phil Seymour (who’d later score a Top 40 hit of his own with the very underrated “Precious to Me”) and future solo star (and Lifehouse producer/co-writer) Jude Cole (“Baby It’s Tonight,” “Time for Letting Go.”)
Though Shannon had typically written his own material, this disc is highlighted by a trio of delightful covers. The rocked-up re-arrangement of the Fifties classic “Sea of Love” (originally made famous by Phil Phillips) would take Shannon back into the Top 40 for the first time in seventeen years. [The Robert Plant-led supergroup The Honeydrippers would cover the same song only two years later and take it into the Top Ten, but it’s Shannon’s harder-edged version that’s more likely to appeal to rock buffs, as the Honeydrippers’ version is lushly orchestrated and doesn’t deviate terribly from Phillips’ shuffle-styled original.] Shannon also turns in great covers of the Rolling Stones’ “Out of Time” (featuring Seymour and Cole on backing vocals) and the Everly Brothers’ “Maybe Tomorrow.”
But seven of the ten tunes on Drop Down and Get Me are thankfully penned by Shannon himself, and while none of his compositions here can quite compare to the sheer pop perfection of “Runaway,” it’s certainly not a bad set of songs, either, and the disc benefits from fine originals like “Midnight Train,” “To Love Someone,” and, best of all, the title cut, which, like “Maybe Tomorrow,” features Seymour and Cole singing backup.
It would sadly be the last studio album of new material Shannon would release during his lifetime; a few non-LP singles would be released, and Shannon would pop up in cameo form on other discs (including the Smithereens’ Green Thoughts.) Stories circulated after Roy Orbison’s death that Shannon might take the “Oh Pretty Woman” singer’s place in the Traveling Wilburys, but Shannon would pass away in 1990. A Jeff Lynne-produced posthumous album, Rock On!, would surface the following year, however, and Shannon would be posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999.