Monday, January 10, 2011

Raw Not Cooked: Del Shannon: "Hey! Little Girl"

By 1962, Roland Barthes was probably already working on the idea of the grain of the voice; the punctum of the voice, if you will. Some songs work because the lyrics are so good; others work because the voice that sings is so, well, grainy that there is no way to ignore it. Del Shannon's voice is one that sounds almost perpetually on the edge of being too rough and out-of-key for proper singing; unlike the operatic Orbison, he jumps over the idea of a 'normal' or 'average' voice that could be expected from a pop single. It's not a non-voice as such, or an anti-voice, but there is a certain punctum here that takes a song as nominally average as this one and makes it into a virtual short story. He is walking the street; he sees her crying; he remembers wanting her and not being able to talk to her, even to learn her name. His open and honest growls and cries makes his desperation more than credible (and makes him the godfather to emo, along the way) and his addressing this girl is far more intense and anguished than the easy-going Bruce Channel - suddenly with this song the story* here deepens, the plaintive tone that probably started in the chansons of yore has come back with a vengeance.

Otis Blackwell (the song's writer) must have been happy that this was a much bigger single here than in the US; and it almost goes without saying that a certain group still to be accepted by a record label must have listened to him with keen interest, their own directness coming in part from Shannon's brave example.

*The story of the 60s in this case; a decade that is about to change in ways that were unthinkable to most, including a lot of musicians who were unaware that something big was about to happen. Shannon wasn't one of them.


Bob Stanley said...

So that'll be Hey Little Girl's 'chacha-CHA' rhythm and its vocal climbing to frantic screech on the chorus of Please Please Me... I'd never noticed that before in the dozens of times I'd listened to both records. Thanks, Lena.

I have to say HLG has always sounded like a chippy limp remake of Runaway to my ears, weak alongside So Long Baby's raucous tuneless spite (in 1961!) or Cry Myself To Sleep (which is basically Crocodile Rock 11 years early) or Ginny In The Mirror's mix of Frankie Laine and proto new wave angles.

Lena said...

I still have to listen to Del Shannon in more depth - I thought "Speedy Gonzales" had some influence on "Crocodile Rock" but of course forgot to write it at the time - jazz makes me space out a bit! Thanks for your kind comment and reading my blog - I am always happy if someone can hear something new or make a new connection from what I have written.