Sunday, August 09, 2009


Real fans of the pained and paranoid world of Del Shannon were delighted by Raven's 2 CD set, with annotated booklet, that not only contained the obvious, but unearthed some of the curious.
The most exciting finds were a pair of morbid unissued tracks: "Distant Ghost" and "Deadly Game," which were part of a "trilogy" that also included, "Alive But I'm Dead." Which had us Del-irious folk asking, "So, why was THAT track left off?"

Who knows.

The world of re-issues is a frustrating one. A missing track might have to do with rights issues, some compiler's judgment call, or just the time and money involved not only in licensing, but finding the masters.

Jeff Lynne wrote "Alive But I'm Dead," which Del recorded back in 1973, when nobody seemed to care one way or another.

Del Shannon, in his shortened lifetime, got very little recognition. His rather brooding looks were not like Fabian or Elvis, so even when he did have a hit, the fan mags weren't putting him on their covers. The songs that charted, did so in spite of the high level of hate and hurt on them..."Runaway" with its eerie keyboard solo, the bitter "Hats off to Larry," or the panicky "Stranger in Town." The songs were so good they could briefly push Rydell or Anka off the Top 10, the way a B horror movie could sometimes beat a major Doris Day release for a week or two at the box office.
Shannon also wrote "I Go to Pieces" which became a hit via smoother, friendlier covers than his own strained and stressed version, and soon he was just another guy on the oldies circuit. He sometimes got a second chance (the sadly titled "Drop Down and Get Me" album) but disappointment was inevitable. His third chance was an excellent Jeff Lynne-produced solo disc and a possible shot at joining The Traveling Wilburys. You all know what happened next; on very wrong anti-depressive medication, he took his own life.

Death hasn't given Shannon the spooky aura of Roy Orbison, or even the solemn respect given to Ritchie Valens. He's still obscure, which would not have surprised the cynical Mr. Shannon, who could make the song "Oh How Happy" sound painful.

As he frowned and grimaced and braced himself to sing "Runaway" at some oldies show for the zillionth time, he may have flashed on the line "Alive But I'm Dead," but who knows. He seemed to be a private man who was rarely interviewed and put it all into the music and lyrics. And here's one that almost got away.

ALIVE BUT I'M DEAD Instant download or listen on line, no pop-unders or porn-overs.

update 2011: here's a better, re-mastered version, 192 bit-rate:
ALIVE BUT I'M DEAD Instant download or listen on line, no pop-unders or porn-overs.


Jim Bartlett said...

Enjoyable article, however "Alive, But I'm Dead" was co-written by Del Shannon & Jeff Lynne, per both the U.S. Copyright Office and the BMI website. Shannon recorded six tunes, with Lynne in 1973 and six more in 1974 (per the Jeff Lynne Song Database website). One of the '74 songs was a different version of one of the 1973 recordings. Only three have been released. Another 1974 song ("Something To Believe In") was later remade by Del (in 1984) for the soundtrack of "Street Heroes" (an Australian film). That version was also recorded in Australia.

Ill Folks said...

Thanks for the update. Always hoping that the Lynne-Shannon material will someday get a release.