|"Put a Little Love in Your Heart" |
Artist: Jackie DeShannon
Writers: Jackie DeShannon/Randy Myers/Jimmy Holiday
Album: Put a Little Love in Your Heart
Chart Position: #4 (US)
With a resumé that includes touring with the Beatles as an opening act in 1964, a Song of the Year Grammy Award for "Bette Davis Eyes" in 1981 (Jackie co-wrote the song and recorded the original version in 1975), and induction into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame alongside Leonard Cohen, Laura Nyro, and Bob Marley in 2010, Jackie DeShannon is at something of a loss when it comes to picking out the one song that had the most impact on her career. "Well, I have a several choices," she said. "As a songwriter, 'Dum Dum' by Brenda Lee was my breakthrough in 1961. As a singer, 'What the World Needs Now Is Love' was my first major hit in 1965."
Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, that song was among the many they sampled for Jackie before going into the studio. "When Hal suggested that Burt play 'What the World Needs Now' Burt was not that enthused about showing it to me at that moment," Jackie said. "So we went on, played some more songs, and tried to decide on the four sides that we would record for the session. At that point Hal again suggested that Burt play 'What the World Needs Now.' And reluctantly, I think, he played it for me. Of course it was love at first hearing and first sight at those gorgeous words and fantastic melody. There were cornfields and wheat fields in my back yard where I grew up in Kentucky on a farm, and I heard a little bit of a gospel feel in the chorus. I thought it was a match made in heaven. The minute Burt heard me singing it, he said, 'Off to New York! We're off to New York!' That's where we recorded the song."
Although "What the World Needs Now" would hit the top ten in the spring of 1965, Jackie wasn't immediately able to follow it up. "I did have some chart records but there were a lot of issues with the record company, a lot of marketing things I wasn't happy with. For instance, 'Needles And Pins' was top 5 in Detroit, top 5 in Chicago, and top 5 in every city it was played in. However, unless you're coordinated across the country and the song hits the charts at the same time, you can't get the big leaps. My record didn't have that, because it would be going down in Chicago while it was going up in some other city. So that was a problem.
'The Weight' was another story. I absolutely said, 'No way I'm going to do it, it's The Band's record, goodbye.' But the label kept calling me, so I finally said, 'Well, if you can get confirmation from The Band that they're not putting it out as a single and I can do it with their permission, then okay.' So, I recorded it. The record's going up the chart and all of a sudden, here comes The Band's single. Then Aretha Franklin's version comes out. So I was at a radio station talking to the program director, and there were two other people promoting the same record outside the door."
With that in mind, Jackie came to the conclusion that nothing meshed her twin careers as a writer and a performer better than her 1969 smash, "Put a Little Love in Your Heart."
I was just writing for this album that was up and coming, and that was one of the songs. My brother Randy was playing this little riff and I said, "Gee, I really like that riff, that's great." All of a sudden, "Think of your fellow man, lend him a helping hand, put a little love in your heart," came just like that. I owe some of that to my mom, because she was always saying that people should put a little love in their heart when things are not so good. I'd like to say it was very difficult, but it was one of those songs you wait a lifetime to write.
So we went into the studio to record it and it took a long time to get the right feel. It was either too slow or too fast. The demo was so good that everything we worked on to try to recast it didn't feel right. It's just something that you feel and if it wasn't close to the same feeling you just had to keep pushing on. Some people record the same song for days. After about eight hours we finally got it and I just felt that I had done probably one of my best vocals ever. But when I came back in to hear it somehow my vocal was erased. Somebody must have hit something. I called my mom and I said, "You know what, I'm just heartbroken. I've probably done the best vocal ever - at least it felt to me that it was right on the button - and I have to go do it again." So I went right back in there fast, before I lost the muse. When I got to hear the new vocal I felt that, of course, I wished I could have had the other one. But who's to say? Maybe this was the better vocal.
The song was released in June, even before the album was done. It was the first single. I was very fortunate. A program director in Atlanta, I believe, was the first person to go on it. And then other stations heard it and they went on it. I think by August it was doing pretty well. Of course, I was watching it every week as it went up the charts. It's so thrilling to be part of something like that. At around #30, WABC went on it in New York and that was it. Because WABC usually picked records for their Pick of the Week that were Top 5. But they went on it early and then the rest of the country went on it. The airplay was great, and in those days if you had a record in rotation, that could be very good money. I was actually able to buy a car for my dad, and I bought a house for my parents.
A lot of people still know that song. It came out at a time when we were all trying to make things better in this world. Everybody was sort of pulling together. I believe around that time I put together a show. I did the Copa in New York and some other major places. I did quite a lot of touring with that song. I went to a lot of places where I would just ask people off the street, or if I was doing a show and I was early, I would ask someone that was setting up tables, "Have you ever heard the song 'Put a Little Love In Your Heart'?" And they'd always say, 'Oh, yeah.' I think it's been recorded by over 60 artists. Mahalia Jackson did a great job on it. Annie Lennox and Al Green weren't too bad either. I'm thrilled with everyone that recorded the song. It was in a Smart Balance commercial for the last two years. Someone called me and told me it was done on American Idol. It's definitely the gift that keeps on giving.
After it peaked in the fall of 1969 we took "Love Will Find a Way" from the album, and that did chart. But it's very difficult to follow a "What the World Needs Now" or "Put a Little Love in Your Heart." You have to remember that I, being a woman at that time, did not have the kind of leverage that young women today have. They go in, they own their publishing, they're the producer, they're the writer, they're everything. In those days, I would go in with producers and they would agree with me before we got in the studio about the vision of the song. Then we would get in the studio and they'd change it all around and if you said anything, you were being difficult. Now the more difficult you are, the more they respect you. But it was hard to get that respect. I was producing demos all the time, but when I went in the studio with many, many different producers, a lot of things fell apart because it wasn't my vision. Having a hit certainly helped in the short term, but you have to remember, there's a heckuva lot of songwriters around and a lot of politics. A lot of different things that the public probably isn't even aware of that go on with getting songs in this movie, and getting songs in that television show. It's not just Oh, let's sit down and pick the best thing. I'd rather not talk about those things. I don't want to go down that trail. I just feel very blessed to have had the success that I've had. Being chosen for the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2010 really kind of capped it all off.
Another highlight on my career is a song I just did for Africa. It's called "For Africa, in Africa." It's a song I wrote about pitching in and digging wells for clean water for Africa. I'm really proud of it. I actually sent a copy to Nelson Mandela. I have a lot of nerve, don't I? I wrote, "My name is Jackie DeShannon and I'm the composer of the song 'Put a Little Love in Your Heart.' You have been such an inspiration to me and the rest of the world that I was inspired to write a new song, 'For Africa, in Africa,' for you and the organizations working to provide clean well water for Africa." Then I put, "This is a link to the video on YouTube. I hope you have the opportunity to hear this song. With love and admiration, Jackie DeShannon." And I got a lovely, lovely note back. "Dear Ms. DeShannon, we would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your correspondence and the song which you have sent to Mr. Mandela. Your kind thoughts are most appreciated and will be conveyed to Mr. Mandela." How about that? Because they did not have to respond at all. I'm sure they get one or two notes, right? So I'm so very proud of that. Just to think that he would hear this song makes me feel tingly. I have such admiration for him. I mean, who in the world could withstand what he went through and come out with a smile, and forgiveness? That puts things into perspective. When you say I've given it everything I have, he's the example. So that's definitely the icing on the cake.
Songfacts contributor Bruce Pollock ("The Next to Last of the Rock Journalists") is the Deems Taylor Award winning author of ten books on music, including Working Musicians: Defining Moments from the Road, the Studio, and the Stage; By the Time We Got to Woodstock: The Great Rock Revolution of 1969; and The Rock Song Index: The 7500 Most Important Songs of Rock and Roll History. Visit Bruce at brucepollockthewriter.com. Jackie's website is jackiedeshannon.com.
December 11, 2012.