Jackie DeShannon - "Put a Little Love in Your Heart"

by Bruce Pollock

They're Playing My Song is a column by Bruce Pollock, where he focuses on the one song that had the greatest impact on a particular artist or songwriter's career. Here, he speaks with Jackie DeShannon.

"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
Year: 1969
Chart Position: #4 (US)
Label: Imperial
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."
Jackie DeShannon: 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.

December 11, 2012.
Jackie's website is jackiedeshannon.com.

More They're Playing My Song

Comments: 8

  • John Westfield from NycJackie wrote the melody to bette davis eyes. She did not write the words. Her co writer Donna Weis did. They won 2 grammys song of the year and record of the year, the song was #1 in US for 9 weeks and #1 in 31 countries. The song beat out 9 to 5 and John lennon. Jackie original melody for bette davis eyes was a cheesy polka melody that can be heard on her cd. Kim cares made up the melody that is heard on her great recording of the song.
  • Valentine from Buffalo, NyI first heard "Needles and Pins" on a Canadian radio station -CKEY- in 1963. I fell in love with Jackie's husky voice and the strong emotion she put into every word. I vainly searched for a copy of the record but none were immediately available in my area. I had to order a copy from a record store owner I knew, and he was also able to get a copy of Jackie's first album, titled "Jackie DeShannon," an album of folk songs. A stunning and seductive photo of her under the song listings, captured my eye and turned my head each time I passed by. (I had it on display in my record room). Surprisingly, "Needles and Pins" was not on it, but "Little Yellow Roses, the follow-up single, was. I have since claimed this album to be my #1 favorite by Jackie. The sultry voice of this beautiful lady electrified the senses and sensitivities of a 15-year-old. The sentiment in the refrain of "Little Yellow Roses" guided me through life..."Why can't the world be like little yellow roses...Lies they don't know, truth only they grow." Thanks, Jackie, for a masterpiece little known.
  • Jeff Adler from UticaJackie DeShannon ... "Needles & Pins" "When You Walk In the Room" I always wondered why those two songs (as recorded by the British group 'The Serchers' were never in the U. S. top 10 when they were well into the Top 10 in NYC). This article explains that ... extremely unfair, of course. "What the World Needs Now," and "Put A Little Love In Your Heart" are the same beautiful song rewritten and both are wonderful and filled with hope. "Bette Davis Eyes" is a trip. One other thing that "the world needs more of" are songs by Jackie DeShannon.
  • Jim Branson from North CarolinaThe fact that "The Weight" wasn't Jackie's biggest hit was not from my not trying. I was stationed in Munich, Germany when that record came out and I would request it every day when the morning jock from the American Forces radio station came in to pick up the mail from the Post Office where I worked. I'm sure it was heard all over Germany and in many parts of the UK because the A.M. signal from that station carried quite a distance in the early morning hours.
  • Theheights from Michigan, Detroit SuburbI think Jackie has one of the cleanest sounding voice in music. Her voice sits up there with Celine
    Dion and Barbra Streisand, have always loved her voice. Strong, clean and very sweet, what more can you say?
  • Theo Hof from SwitzerlandGreat article/interview. Thanks, Mr. Pollock, for that; and thanks, Mrs./Ms DeShannon, for the music.
    Keep going, Songfacts!
    From Lucerne in the spring.
  • Jonnie King from St. LouisI began in Radio in 1967, and as Music Director & Program Director through the years, I have played, and added to my playlists, all of the songs Jackie mentioned in the Interview. And, I truly have loved her voice as well as her beautiful self. In fact, while I wsa MD & Air Personality at KAAY/Little Rock between 1969-1972, I actually dated and fell in love with a beautiful long-haired, 5'2", blue-eyed blonde that truly resembled Jackie...and who I'm still in contact with today ! "When You Walk In The Room", and "Needles & Pins" are still two of my all-time favorites, and I have them on a couple of CD mixes that I listen to very often in my car. Thanks to Bruce, and my friends a Songfacts for this GREAT Interview ! My only regret as a 45 year broadcast professional, is that I never have gotten to meet Jackie in-person to convey my thanks to her for all she's done professionally, and the pleasure that her voice, and soul, have given me personally for all these years.
  • Camille from Toronto, Oh"Put A Little Love In Your Heart" was a song that wrapped up the 60s very nicely. Jackie DeShannon had the most beautiful name, the blonde hair/blue eyes look that complimented the lyrics of the song, and the song's beat made it all a very easy song to listen to. It should be played more often on oldies radio.
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