So I’m guessing that you saw my shameless self-promotion earlier this week for my new show, Postcards From A Dead Dog, which had a great opening last night. Well, believe it or not, I’ve found a way to connect my new show to this edition of Adventures Through The Mines Of Mellow Gold!
Henry Gross – Shannon (download)
“Shannon” is a Mellow Gold classic recommended to me by woofpop and Dave P, who both separately agreed that it’s one of the wimpiest songs they’ve ever heard. It also has the distinction of being one of the biggest Beach Boys ripoffs ever recorded, but we’ll get to that in a bit. First, let’s fill you in on a bit of Henry Shannon history.
Henry Gross: stealing outfits from Dave Mason since 1970.
Born on April Fool’s Day in 1951, Henry Gross began performing at an early age, influenced by his mother, who had performed with the Metropolitan Opera Chorus. By the time he was 13, Gross was featured at Catskill Mountain resorts during the summers, and even performed at the 1964 World’s Fair. Upon enrolling at Brooklyn College in 1969, Gross co-founded a band you may recall: Sha Na Na. Sha Na Na became famous after their performance at Woodstock, and Gross had the distinction of being the youngest performer at the festival. However, Gross left the band by 1970 (presumably infuriated by the flamboyant, homosexual advances of Bowser) and ventured off to start a solo career.
Gross released two albums, Henry Gross and Plug Me Into Something (I love that title!). The wiki states that these albums “had several large regional hits.” I don’t know what that means. Does that mean that his song “Skin King” (I don’t love that title!) was big in McClusky, North Dakota? Did Benny Mardones have some competition in Syracuse when Gross released “Come On Say It?” I don’t have the answers to these questions. All I know is that Gross’s career-defining moment was the one involving “Shannon.”
Henry Gross and (his) Shannon:
They not only shared love, but a haircut as well.
Now, we’ve already stated that “Shannon” is, essentially, a Beach Boys song that just happens to be missing the Beach Boys. But I’m not just talking about the music. See, while promoting his first album, Gross had toured with the Beach Boys, and became close with Carl Wilson. One day, while visiting with Wilson, Gross mentioned he had an Irish Setter at home named Shannon, to which Wilson replied that he, too, had an Irish Setter named Shannon!…except she had been hit by a car and died!
One day, Gross was sitting on his bed with HIS Shannon, and while listening to a record entitled The Ultimate Seashore, was inspired to write a song dedicated to Wilson and the loss of his precious Irish Setter. Which, of course, prompted Gross’s Shannon to say, “I’m right here! I CAN HEAR YOU! What the fuck??” Oh, Shannon, if only you could understand: the love for a canine simply cannot match the love for a Beach Boy. (Unless it’s Mike Love. He sucks.)
Gross desperately wanted Wilson to record backing vocals for “Shannon,” but it never happened. (I can’t help but wonder if Wilson was thinking, “Uh, maybe you should have written this for, y’know, your dog?” but I’m sure he was honored nonetheless.) So instead, Gross did the next best thing, and found as many Beach Boys-esque vocalists as he could to record the song. (Prompting Sha Na Na to say, “I’m right here! I CAN HEAR YOU! What the fuck??”) “Shannon” resonated with the record-buying public, and spent a full month in the Top 10, peaking at #6 in June of ’76.
When I first heard “Shannon,” I was blown away. Not because of the lyrical content, but because I just couldn’t believe that the Wilsons didn’t sue the polyester slacks off of Gross for copyright infringement. The song is great, and Gross has a gentle, beautiful voice – but listen to those backing vocals. This is a Beach Boys song through and through, from the Carl falsetto to the California-twinged vocal. (Henry Gross was from Brooklyn, by the way.) You may also notice that there’s no bridge. I don’t think it mattered to Gross – he got those harmonies locked down and realized (correctly) that the song needed nothing more than a few chords and those blatant Beach Boys influences.
Lyrically, the song’s quite interesting, mainly because it’s not necessarily apparent that the song is about the death of a dog.
Another day’s at end
Mama says she’s tired again
No one can even begin to tell her
I hardly know what to say
But maybe it’s better that way
If Papa were here I’m sure he’d tell her
Okay, so at this point, I have no idea what’s going on. In fact, if anything, Gross has confused the matter more by introducing a dead father into the plot. We soon find out that this has absolutely nothing to do with the song. I’m sitting here trying to figure out why he’d even mention it: “Hmmm…dead dog = sensitive, but dead dog + dead dad = Mellow Gold!” I honestly don’t know.
Shannon is gone, I heard
She’s drifting out to sea
She always loved to swim away
Maybe she’ll find an island with a shaded tree
Just like the one in our backyard
You know, I’m still not convinced that this is a dog. Couldn’t it also be about a stoned hippie? “Yeah, man, y’know, she, like, really dug….trees.”
But it wasn’t just that the lyrics were ambiguous. Have you listened to Gross’s vocal? What I hear in the vocal is, interestingly enough, similar to Gary Larson’s famous Far Side cartoon, “What Dogs Hear“:
Shannon is wah wah wah
She’s wah wah wah to sea
Wah wah wah wah wah swim away
Ladies and gentlemen, I’m proud to introduce the man who invented the word WAIL (and may have inspired the word BLEAT). I mean, you can tell that this is the kind of man who weeps when his Corn Flakes get soggy. If that weren’t enough, we have further proof that Henry Gross was the ultimate wuss: he’s wailing, bleating and weeping over someone else’s dog. He never even met Carl Wilson’s dog! (If I were Gross’s Shannon, I probably would have thrown myself under the milk truck.)
Either way, writing a song about a dead dog is not only a wimpy, Mellow Gold move, but a smart one, as well: I’m sure that this song has become an integral part of many a doggie funeral, and I’d also be willing to bet there a number of Shannons out there who are forced to explain that yes, they were named after a Beach Boy’s dog. We can only hope that Henry Gross’s canine eulogy continues to earn him a few bucks now and then.
There’s another person who will never forget “Shannon,” by the way: Casey Kasem. Many of our readers will remember the famous “Casey Kasem Goes Fucking Bezerk” clip that has been in circulation for the past two decades, but you may not know that Kasem’s diatribe was about Gross’s tune.
For those who aren’t familiar, the basic story goes like this: in 1985, Kasem was recording an episode of American Top 40. “Dare Me” by the Pointer Sisters had just played, and Kasem’s producers set up one of the famous “Long Distance Dedications” for him to record immediately afterwards. Kasem had to dedicate “Shannon” to a man who had recently lost his dog Snuggles, and…well, why don’t you just listen to the clip, which is definitely not safe for work:
I’ve listened to that clip hundreds of times in the past 10 years, and it just keeps getting better and better.
Anyway, as with many of our Mellow Gold artists, Henry Gross never matched the success he had with “Shannon.” His follow-up single, “Springtime Mama,” sold “just short of gold,” according to the wiki, but again, that could mean just about anything. Thankfully, Gross seems to have a sense of humor about his success, and wrote a one-man show entitled One Hit Wanderer.
He’s also filmed a documentary about the show, and both are being shopped around. Check out Henry’s website for more information (as well as the more detailed story of “Shannon,” which involves a dude living upstairs blasting Latin music). Hey, maybe it’s just me, but I would totally check out this show if it came to town.
So when I first found out that I would be performing in Postcards From A Dead Dog – a play that also features the death of an Irish Setter – I figured: what better track to open the play? So I e-mailed the track to Troy, our director, and Jackie, playing my mother. Later that day, we received an e-mail from Jackie:
Could there be a more perfect song? It’s wonderful. Who the fuck is Henry Gross?
Well, Jackie, now you know who the fuck Henry Gross is. And for any of you that come to see Postcards: as the lights go down and the play begins, you’ll hear the now all-too-familiar gentle guitar strums of “Shannon.” Granted, the song fades out before there’s any real indication of what it is, but the important part is that you’ll know why it’s there. Feel free to shout out your own Casey Kasem-esque diatribe as I walk out on stage!
That’s all for this week! Thanks for indulging me (more so this week than usual), and see you next week for another edition of Adventures Through The Mines Of Mellow Gold!