Shannon drops down and comes up empty
By Gary Graff
Columbia Missourian — March 21, 1982
Del Shannon. Drop Down and Get Me (Elektra Records).
An apt title here would be Del Shannon and the Heartbreakers. This is Shannon’s comeback, his first record in almost 10 years, and his first album is new material since many years before that.
So he does things up big-time, signing on Tom Petty as producer, thus ensuring back-up from the Heartbreakers.
Shannon, lest we forget, composed and performed such early ’60s hits as “Runaway” and “Hats Off to Larry.” His recording career stopped in about 1967, and, except for a nostalgic live album in 1972, he’s basically been retired.
The temptation is to say he’s too old to be dropping suddenly into Petty’s circles, but Shannon’s age isn’t the problem with Drop Down and Get Me. Shannon’s songwriting is solid — nothing spectacular but nothing downright dreadful, either. The album’s product is the key weakness.
Drop Down and Get Me suffers from a lack of cohesion. The album was recorded during three sessions spanning more than a year and a half, presumably between Petty’s recording dates and tours. Hence the album loses that certain snap that comes with familiarity, and Shannon and the Heartbreakers slip into the right groove only on a couple of numbers.
The songs that work just miss making the whole package worth owning. The title track, a dead-ringer for any Petty song, is the album’s best. “Midnight Train” is a steaming rocker with some sprite sax fills, and “Life Without You,” a combination Petty/Pat Benatar/Crosby, Stills and Nash derivation, is, at the very least, interesting.
Limp production flaws the rest of the album, though. Petty is still a novice behind the board (his own albums were co-produced with Jimmy Iovine and engineer Shelly Yakus), and he can’t seem to get the energy of his albums onto Shannon’s vinyl. Only two of the three recording sessions used the same engineer, and cohesion again is hampered in the process.
It also doesn’t help that Shannon has a penchant for writing country songs. Petty isn’t exactly a producer well-qualified for that style, and the Heartbreakers aren’t exactly a country studio band. Mike Campbell’s guitar playing has too much muscle behind the twang, and Benmont Tench’s keyboard style rolls more than it honky tonks. “Sucker for Your Love,” “Liar” and “Never Stop Tryin'” all wander between straight rock and country, and Petty doesn’t help much by mixing the vocals louder to hide the band’s shortcomings.
Not does the Petty/Shannon team totally succeed with a trio of covers. Remakes of “Sea of Love” and the Stones’ “Out of Time” are mediocre, and the team’s rendition of the Everly Brothers’ “Maybe Tomorrow” is awkward — proof positive that the Heartbreakers shouldn’t be playing country and western.
As a comeback album, Drop Down and Get Me could be worse. But there’s enough there to realize that it could be better, too, and maybe next time around, all the concerned parties will stay within their limitations, and things will work out fine.