Del Shannon's 10 greatest songs ever, ranked

5 October 2021, 12:39

Del Shannon in the studio
Del Shannon in the studio. Picture: Getty

By Mayer Nissim

Straddling rock 'n' roll and the British Invasion, Del Shannon kicked off the '60s with a pair of Musitron-powered hits.

Inspired by country stars Hank Williams, Hank Snow, and Lefty Frizzell, the young Charles Weedon Westover picked up a guitar and ukulele.

He hooked up with keyboardist Max Crook at the end of the 1950s and they became Charlie Johnson and the Big Little Show Band.

Another name-change later, Charles was Del Shannon, and poised to become a star. Not sure where to start with Del? We've got you covered with his ten very best songs.

  1. From Me To You

    Unlike many pre-British Invasion acts (Elvis included), Del Shannon was an accomplished songwriter and he wrote most of the songs on this list.

    But he was also a great interpreter of other people's work. His 1964 album Del Shannon Sings Hank Williams, paid tribute to the country icon, and he also covered the likes of the Rolling Stones ('Under My Thumb'), The Monkees ('She'), Phil Phillips ('Sea of Love'), Bobby Freeman ('Do You Wanna Dance') and others.

    But we can't not mention his cover of 'From Me To You', which Shannon decided to record after sharing a bill with the Beatles at the Swinging Sound '63 extravaganza at the Royal Albert Hall on Aprill 18, 1963.

    Not only is it an excellent version, it was also the first Lennon-McCartney track to chart in the US.

    The Beatles own 'Please Please Me' failed to chart in the US, as did their own 'From Me To You', but Shannon's scraped into the charts at 77. Not a big hit, but history all the same.

  2. Ginny in the Mirror

    'Ginny in the Mirror' flopped on its release, but that isn't an indictment on its quality and stop-start punky power.

    Shannon trades his falsetto for a gruff growl and there's flashes of brass to make this sound different from anything else Shannon put down in his career.

    The theme is suitably Del, though, with a guy thinking he's finally over his heartbreak only to be confronted by the taunting face of his ex in the mirror at night.

  3. Thinkin' It Over

    When Shannon's Beach Boys-esque collaboration with Andrew Loog Oldham Home and Away was shelved after the singles flopped in 1967, he wasn't deterred.

    He pulled himself together for the equally psychedelic The Further Adventures of Charles Westover, which had the gorgeous 'Thinkin' It Over' as its lead single and opening track, which captured that folk-rock-psyche sound that was in the aether.

    Fans and critics warmly received the song and album, but the wider public weren't interested and he moved from Liberty Records to United Artists soon after.

  4. So Long, Baby

    Del Shannon kicked off his career with 'Runaway' and 'Hats Off To Larry', so the pressure was full-on to keep up that momentum.

    He (almost) achieved that with another of his own songs ,'So Long Baby', which only got to 28 in the US chart but did just reach the UK top ten.

    It was one of those true-to-life Shannon songs that made vindictiveness, jealousy and revenge a bedfellow of heartbreak.

    In the song, Shannon shrugs off gossip that his girlfriend has been cheating on him "'Cause I got news for you / I was untrue too". Gasp!

  5. Hey! Little Girl

    One of Shannon's earliest hits from 1961, 'Hey! Little Girl' only scraped into the US Top 40 but went all the way to number 2 in the UK.

    Unlike many of Shannon's songs, while this one starts off with heartbreak and misery ("through the shadows I could see many tears") it ends with the hope of new love and happiness ("I'll make all your dreams come true!")

  6. Little Town Flirt

    The title track to Del's second album (or third, depending on where you lived), 'Little Town Flirt' got to number 12 in the US and even higher in the UK, Ireland, Australia and Canada.

    The song pre-empts the heartbreak of Shannon's other work, with its narrator warning you of an inevitably doomed relationship ("Yeah, I know she's gonna treat you wrong / So your heart just better be strong").

    Another of Shannon's enduring classics, it was covered by artists as diverse as Smokie, Altered Images and Electric Light Orchestra.

  7. He Cheated

    After the hits dried up in the mid-60s, Del Shannon took a sideways turn by hooking up with Rolling Stones manager and producer Andrew Loog Oldham, hitching his wagon to the burgeoning psychedelic scene.

    They came up with the lost classic Home and Away album, which didn't get released after its singles flopped. The songs eventually came out on 1978's And The Music Plays On, and the album proper was eventually released in 2006.

    As well as the downbeat 'Runaway 67' and a clutch of songs by Andrew Rose and David Skinner, there was also this stunning Shannon original, which was every bit as tender and beautiful as the Phil Spector/Beach Boys songs that clearly inspired it.

  8. Keep Searchin' (We'll Follow the Sun)

    One of Shannon's kinder but still bleak songs was his 1964 hit 'Keep Searchin' (We'll Follow the Sun)'.

    It tells the story of a man who runs away with his sweetheart who is mistreated by those around her "she's been hurt so much, they treat her mean and cruel".

    It was another top ten hit for Shannon, reaching number 9 and backed by the Shannon-penned 'Broken Promises'.

  9. Hats Off To Larry

    So many of Del Shannon's songs were about misery and heartbreak, but some were also shot through with a delicious spitefulness, too.

    The ultimate example was 'Hats Off To Larry', the follow-up to 'Runaway', which went top five.

    It told the story of another breakup, but this time didn't focus on Shannon's loneliness but instead that of the woman who dumped him when she's thrown over in turn ("Hats off to Larry / He broke your heart / Just like you broke mine / When you said we should part"). Brutal.

  10. Runaway

    Del Shannon's debut single in 1961 was also his first chart-topper, and remains one of the greatest songs of all time.

    Shannon and keyboardist Max Crook were convinced by manager Ollie McLaughlin to rework their earlier 'Little Runaway' and showcase Crook's new invention, a clavioline-based electric keyboard he called called a Musitron.

    The producer sped it up a bit, shifting the pitch of the piece and helping to give it that unique, otherworldly sound.

    It became Shannon's signature song, and one he was persuaded to revisit by producer Andrew Loog Oldham for the more spacious 'Runaway '67' on the shelved ultimately Home and Away album.

    While Shannon did so much more in the years that followed, if 'Runaway' were his only song it'd still rightly cement his place in rock history.

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