Song of the Week 57: Needles & Pins – Jackie DeShannon/The Searchers

“I saw her today, I saw her face
It was the face of love, and I knew
I had to run away
And get down on my knees and pray, that they go away
And still it begins, needles and pins”

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Time to get this baby back on the road. A post of the short and sweet variety, about a song just as petite, but a little more bittersweet.

As Nick Cave said back in Song of the Week 46 Into My Arms, all the best tunes have a little duende in them. Anyone who’s ever had a heart has had a broken heart. Loves hurts. This is nothing new. Eros the Bittersweet.

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Officially credited to Sonny Bono and Jack Nitzsche, the song was written in 1962. In his autobiography, Bono wrote that he sang along with Nitzsche’s guitar playing, creating the melody and lyric, using Nitzsche’s chord progression as a guide.

Singer-songwriter Jackie DeShannon was the first to record the song in 1963, and she claims she wrote most of the song with Nitzsche with some input from Bono. Hmmm…  The guitar part does bear a striking resemblance to her own When You Walk in the Room, which is also worth checking out.

“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.”

On the surface it sounds like a simple pop song, but it’s got an interesting structure. There’s quite an unusual key change of 4 semitones in there after the bridge, which drifts through a few strange chord changes sounding like they had to engineer a passage to the new key, a jump up of a major 3rd for all you music theory buffs. In the DeShannon version it starts off in the key of C and ends up in E. The Searchers version starts in the A and ends in C#. The Ramones in F# jumping up to A#. As a result it’s not the most straightforward song to play on the guitar, and you have to do a bit of searching to find a key that will suit your singing range.

I absolutely love the DeShannon version, especially the Wall-of-Sound feel Nitzsche and Bono created. Sonny Bono maintained that Phil Spector was jealous of the success the song would go on to achieve. As the saying goes “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”, so it’s safe to say Bono was jealous of Spector’s success too.

And Spector definitely was impressed because Nitzsche went on to become his full-time conductor and arranger. I’ll return to Mr Nitzsche one of these days. He had a colourful history in rock n’ roll.

Have a listen to the song…

As good as it sounds the record stalled at #84 in the Billboard Charts. “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 Searchers heard British performer Cliff Bennett sing the song at the Star-Club in Hamburg (that club should be familiar to Beatles fans), and wanted it to be their next single.

“There was a group called Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers. They were from London. And they actually did it in their set. And we’d sit and listen and say, “Yeah, that’s a good song, man.” We did it totally different to the way they did. The lead singer, he sang it differently to the way I did. And I, of course, added that little “pin-za” as opposed to “pins.” When we did the session, I remember singing it and at the end of the take, I said to the producer, “I’m sorry. I said ‘pin-za,’ instead of ‘pins.’” He said, “No, man, leave it in. It’s good.” I don’t know why I sang “pin-za.” It’s just something that came out. People in America, they call out, “Hey, Mike, what about pin-za?!” Mike Pender (lead singer and guitarist of The Searchers)

They were part of the 1960’s Merseybeat scene that included fellow Liverpudlians The Beatles, Gerry & The Pacemakers, The Fourmost, The Merseybeats and the Swinging Blue Jeans. John Lennon said at the time that Sweets for my Sweet (their first hit) was “the best record to come out of Liverpool”. They were the second group of that scene to have a hit in the States when Needles & Pins reached #22, but it hit #1 in the U.K. and in several other countries around the world.

“We had a job, when I think back, convincing the record company to release that song, because, after “Sweets For My Sweet,” “Sugar and Spice,” they said, “Come on, man, don’t fix it. It’s not broken. Give us another sugary, sweetie type record.” That’s what record companies do, though! We said, “No, man! We’ve got to change direction, do something different. And we’ve got to do this song.” And we played it and they said, “Well, it’s a good song, but are people going to like that song? It’s a bit personal – ‘I saw her today, I saw her face. It was a face I loved. And I had to go away and break down and cry.’” And they said, “No, it’s too serious, man. People won’t like it.” And we said, “No, we’ve got to do it, man.” And we were proved right in the end.”

The Searchers performed this song along with Ain’t That Just Like Me on the Ed Sullivan Show while making their U.S. debut in 1964.

Their version is a remake, which cuts the bridge in half, and later covers took their cue from The Searchers version, so maybe they deserve a credit too. Unfortunately, you don’t get any credit for cutting bits off songs, even if it sounds better.

The Searchers were one of the first groups to employ the jangly 12-string sound that later became their trademark, and they were an influence on the most famous group to do it, The Byrds. Mike Pender had seen Lennon play a six string Rickenbacker during their Hamburg Days backstage in the Star-Club, but his first view of a 12-string Rickenbacker was when he saw George Harrison on TV performing Hard Day’s Night with The Beatles and thought to himself: “Hey, that guitar looks good. And it sounds different! Ah, it’s a 12-string guitar! I’ve got to get one, man!”

Actually, although it sounds like a 12 string, the intro to Needles & Pins consists of two 6 strings playing in unison, but the engineer accidentally left the echo switch on, and was happy with the result. Some more useless pop trivia: If you listen closely you can hear the faulty bass drum pedal, which squeaks the whole way through the song. It’s particularly audible during the opening of the song.

The Searchers’ version was produced by Tony Hatch, who is responsible for the theme to the TV Show Neighbours, and Petula Clark’s Downtown.

Nevertheless the success of the song was a major shot in the arm for Sonny Bono as a songwriter, that he could use as a springboard to later success with his future wife Cher, who herself covered the song with Bono on production duties. Here you can listen to Sonny directing musicians in the studio. Cher sings the DeShannon version of the bridge.

 

The Searchers would go on to cover DeShannon’s next hit When You Walk in the Room, which sounds like a mix between early Beatles & The Byrds.

“And still it begins, needles and pins
Because of all my pride, the tears I gotta hide

For our French readers, Petula Clark had a #1 hit in France with a French language version of the song called La Nuit n’en Finit Plus.

Other notable versions include a live recording by Tom Petty & Stevie Nicks (of Fleetwood Mac fame), which reached #37 in the States in 1986. And at their peak, in 1977, Smokie hit #1 in several countries. Here’s their version.

The first version I remember coming across is The Ramones version, which takes after The Searchers edit of the song, so I’m going to post that one too.

The Searchers returned to the song in 1988 and recorded a very 80s version of it replete with 80s drums and an over the top electric guitar solo that I’m not very fond of. Well it was the 80s. We’ll forgive them for that. I ain’t gonna post it.

Well that’s all for this week. It won’t be a weekly blog from now on, but I’ll post little nuggets from time to time.

Merry Christmas everyone! Thanks for listening (and reading)…

Lyrics:

I saw her today, I saw her face
It was the face of love, and I knew
I had to run away
And get down on my knees and pray, that they go away
And still it begins, needles and pins
Because of all my pride, the tears I gotta hide
Oh I thought I was smart, I stole her heart
I didn’t think I’d do, but now I see
She’s worth to him than me, let her go ahead
Take his love instead, and one day she will see
Just how to say please, and get down on her knees
Oh that’s how it begins, she’ll feel those needle and pins
Hurtin’ her, hurtin’ her
Why can’t stop, and tell myself I’m wrong, I’m wrong, so wrong
Why can’t I stand up, and tell myself I’m strong
Because, saw her today, I saw her face
It was the face of love, and I knew
I had to run away
And get down on my knees and pray, that they go away
And still it begins, needles and pins
Because of all my pride, the tears I gotta hide
Needle and pins, needle and pins, needle and pins

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7 thoughts on “Song of the Week 57: Needles & Pins – Jackie DeShannon/The Searchers

  1. Oh many thanks to dedicated one go on this song. Always one of my all-time favourite.

    Very complete and we’ll documented. I’ll have a go later on today and listen to each version. I have never heard about this (If you listen closely you can hear the faulty bass drum pedal, which squeaks the whole way through the song.), fantastic!

  2. Welcome back Padraig. In the early 1980s the Searchers enjoyed a slight revival when they were signed to Sire. They headlined a pre-Xmas gig at my favourite music venue, the Albany in Deptford S London. The group had headed for cabaret as soon as the hits dried up & they seemed to be enjoying playing for a younger crowd. After the first encore the audience demanded that they play “Needles and Pins” again and the place went nuts. It felt like the holidays had begun.
    Oh yes, Jack Nitzsche = genius.

    1. Thanks! Nice one! Keep sharing your experiences. That’s really cool that you’ve seen them. Yep, as I said I’ll return to Jack Nitzsche again, cause he’s been involved in so much quality music. Happy New Year!

  3. Thanks for following my blog. This is a terrific history lesson. I did not know the original authors. I do agree the additional “za” syllable accents the song and gives people a conversation with fellow listeners. Keith

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