Adventures Through The Mines Of Mellow Gold 24

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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!

awkward silence

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:

[audio:http://www.wwmmd.net/tunes/inline/kasem.mp3]

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:

Troy, Sonny-

Could there be a more perfect song? It’s wonderful. Who the fuck is Henry Gross?
Love,
Mommy

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!

  • Ahhhhhhhhhhhh…nooooooooooooooooooo…make it stop!
    Oh God this is one of those 70’s AM Gold songs that just makes my teeth hurt.
    I have this recurring nightmare where I wake up in the middle of the night, turn on the TV and the first thing that comes blaring out is this song on a Time/Life commercial.
    Oh, wait, that really happened.
    I just don’t think it got any wimpier than that. This song makes The Osmonds look like Slayer.

  • I want to know how we got Casey’s recording? And he’s right, too, what the hell is it with those weird transitions? "Okay, baby, we’re going to take it down a notch… a dozen notches… let me see, oh, HERE’S the most depressing thing I’ve seen in a week, let’s do this one!"

  • As far as regional hits go, Henry’s earlier song "Simone" got a lot of airplay on FM 97 in Mobile, Alabama (back when FM stations outside of a college campus were still listenable). I still have a fondness of "Simone," a nostalgic reminder of those days when Henry could rock…errr, everything good about the old 97.

  • Yeah Richard, as someone who didn’t grow up in the ’70s it seems bizarre that there was a time where you could find radio stations that weren’t all playing the same 25 songs over and over again. I’m nostalgic for a time that I never even lived in! Great track by the way, and I love the follow ups about these one hit wonders. At the very least, Gross tried something more creative than "Shannon ’96" or "Shannon – The Remix."

  • Pete

    I want a "Who the Fuck is Henry Gross? Love, Mommy" t-shirt. Jason, I’m gonna try and check out your show next week. If I do I’ll make sure to say hello.

  • When Jackie sent that e-mail, I spit water all over my keyboard.

    Thanks, Pete – I appreciate it!  Looking forward to seeing you.

  • woofpop

    Jason,
    Perfect segue from the show to Mellow Gold – outstanding, sir. I can never hear this song and not think of eighth grade, 1976. For some reason, our teacher let us play the radio in our homeroom in the afternoons, and I remember this song coming on. There was this girl – we’ll call her Debbie – who burst into tears upon hearing it. At the time, we thought that it must have been a subject close to home, but maybe Debbie’s musical tastes were slaughtered by this one??

  • Gross is even more of a hack for giving his dog a trite name. Giving an IRISH setter an IRISH name is akin to every little girl in the world naming their orange cat Tigger. But a song called “Tigger” absolutely would have triggered a lawsuit.

  • Nice job, Jason. I, too, wonder just how creeped out Carl Wilson was by all this attention being paid to his dead dog. Not to mention the appropriation of his band’s singing style.

    Nevertheless, Henry Gross seems like a decent guy, and it appears he’s got an Alan O’Day-like sense of humor about his status in pop music history. Good for him.

  • Agreed, Dave.  The problem is that the nicer these guys are, the worse I feel about mocking them.  It was so much easier when I was just dealing with obnoxious, self-deluded a-holes (like the one I try to sneak into almost every Mellow Gold if possible).

  • woofpop

    Re: The picture of ’70’s Henry and Shannon – ever hear the comment that dogs and their owners resemble each other? Re: Henry today – he looks a little like Danny Bonaduce, no?

  • See, the chorus of the song is perfect… But the verses are sooo irritating. Sooo veeerrrry iiiirrrriiitating.If it were possible to iTunes ONLY choruses to songs, I’d definitely consider it for this one.

  • Carmelita

    I know "Shannon" is awful, but damn if it doesn’t make me sob like a frakkin’ baby every time I hear it.

  • I had an Irish Setter!  And I LOVED her! (See Seinfeld episode with "Manya" and her pony). 

  • Stephen

    I think as far as Beach Boys rip offs (he wasn’t the first and certainly not the last, people made careers off copping their style) it’s pretty good musically. Lyrically, however…

  • David

    Also, Peter Criss wrote “Beth” about Gene Simmon’s cockatiel.

  • Dan

    You don’t seem to have the funniest part of the Casey clip; where he rants and curses then immediately trasitions back to "Smooth Casey" like nothing had happened.

  • Oh my god, there’s MORE?  Every version I’ve ever heard has stopped here – where can we find it?

  • Dan

    side-note: it is Mike Love’s (mentioned above) aand Rockwell’s (mentioned in your 3/9 post) birthday today.

  • Wow.  Today is the worst day in the history of the world.

  • Gene Simmons’ cockawhat?

  • jb

    “Maybe she’ll find an island
    With a shady tree
    Just like the one in our back yard”

    Because heaven isn’t heaven without good bathroom facilities, apparently.

  • From now on I think I’m going to read these “Mellow Gold” write-ups a day after they’re posted. Reading Jason’s weekly entries and then following it up with 20+ smart, funny comments is a great way to end a Thursday afternoon.

    Henry’s dog had really awesome highlights. Did he take her to a doggie stylist? By the way, Sha Na Na appreciates any attention you can give them, Jason.

    If you’d like, I can send you the one-minute-51-second version of Casey’s rant that I have on a CD. I love that rant, but I never knew the context, so it was great to find out. Does anyone out there know where Negativland sampled Casey’s rant (circa 1987?) about U2, the one where he says, “These guys are from England and who gives a shit!”? What I mean is, does it exist as a whole the way the “Snuggles” rant does and can it be found on LimeWire? Someone told me years ago that he saw the Replacements in concert around ’87 or so and that they came onstage right after the “Snuggles” rant was played over the PA.

    Stephen, I too am nostalgic for a time I never lived in (ah, to be in eighth grade in 1976), but as Billy Joel said, “The good old days weren’t always good, and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.” He’s right, of course. But I’m still a nostalgic fool.

    Dw, I feel the same way about most of those Rick Springfield songs Jefito posted a few weeks ago — strong hooks in the choruses, clichéd lyrics in the verses surrounding them.

    When I found out that Bread’s “Everything I Own” was about David Gates’s dad passing away, I was thrown for a loop. I thought David was just drowning in self-pity over a girlfriend who had left him, but the song goes deeper than that. I should listen to lyrics more closely. Except Rick Springfield’s, of course. But his fans say his songs about HIS dad are some of his best.

  • P.S. I’m pretty sure David is kidding about “Beth” being written about Gene Simmons’s cockatiel, but I’m 100% sure that Simmons’s “Plaster Caster,” from Kiss’s 1977 album “Love Gun,” is about his cock.

    But David, you did get me curious, so here’s the Wikipedia entry on “Beth,” which mentions that Simmons reportedly suggested that the original title, “Beck” (short for Becky), be changed so that no one would think Kiss had recorded a tender ballad about Jeff Beck:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beth_(song)

  • I’m a loser, baby / So come serenade me (Peter Criss is in the house, yo)

  • I messed up that link, didn’t I? Here’s the correct one:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beth_%28song%29

  • BD

    I used to sing this to a co-worker named Shannon. She probably thought I was creepy. And I wasn’t even 30 yet.

  • Old Davy

    I guess I’ll go out on a limb and say that I really like this song a lot.  Love the harmonies, and even though the lyrics are kinda sappy, the tune is really beautiful.  I remember another Henry Gross song called "What A Sound" that I liked even more.  I have it on an album, but the dang thing is so warped that song won’t track.

  • woofpop

    Also, Peter Criss wrote “Beth” about Gene Simmon’s cockatiel.
    LINE OF THE WEEK!!!!!!!!!

  • mike

    See, I hear a Carl Wilson influence now that you mention it, but probably would have never picked it up otherwise.  Give "Shannon" credit for at least not being "Beach Baby" in its BBs homage.

  • mike

    Also, this totally could have been covered on the Langley Schools Music Project album next to "Wildfire."  Perhaps you could have a special Lost Pets section of Mellow Gold one of these weeks.

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  • Ray

    I just recently discovered this blog and had a blast with the "Wham Bam Shang-A-Lang" entry, so I decided to check out the rest of them and OMFG I am literally LMAO reading this entry!  I also have this 45 somewhere and I’m pretty sure it actually hit #1 in Chicago on WLS for a week or two back in the spring of ’76.  I’m not sure if I’ll EVER be able to listen to "Shannon" again without breaking into a fit of hysterical laughter… bravo!!!

  • Welcome to the site, Ray – glad to have you here!

  • Ray

    Glad to be here Jason!  Enjoying the site immensely, especially "Mellow Gold" and "Chart Attack".  Oh and one more thing… "Dare Me" and "Shannon" are now a MANDATORY two-fer from here on out!  (I know I’m a sadistic bastard, but what the hell!)

  • Allen

    Did a Google on Shannon… one of the oldies stations here in Tennessee has picked it up and plays it a couple times a day. I agree with the catchy tune, sappy lyrics… had no idea what the lyrics were about all these years; I was overseas in ’76 so you can tell my age group. I thought it was about his sister for the longest time but then the lyrics didn’t make any sense either.

    FANTASTIC BLOG: I will bookmark the site and review all the other entries… I always knew CK had a mean streak in him and I knew that NOONE is that smooth all the time…

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  • Tony

    I know Henry and while people can have their opinions about music let me say that he is a super guy and great musician. Shannon is a great song and he would have had many other major hits if he would have had the right management. He has a great sense of humor and his One Hit Wanderer show is very entertaining. If you are anywhere near Jackson or Memphis Tennessee he is performing his show on October 30th in Jackson and Nov.1st in Memphis.Check his website for more information.www.henrygross.com

  • Geoff

    Found ATtMoMG when Googling Charlene yesterday (don’t ask) … been LMAO since. Funny how so many of the songs are guilty pleasures. But listening to the lyrics too closely and you risk morphing into a SNAG (sensitive new age guy). OTOH, isn’t actually listening to these songs like watching a James Bond film for the plot?

    I second the opinon above on “Simone.” FM station I listened to in Colorado in 1974 had it on rotation. It was a “regional hit.” Too bad it was not a national success, although it probably would have provided more fodder for these Mellow Gold pages. And, get this, I saw Henry as one of the opening acts to a (pre-McD) Doobie Bros. concert in spring 1975, i.e., before Shannon was a gleam in Henry’s eye. Great act. “Rocked” is too strong, but lots of nice uptempo pop. Glad to hear he has a sense of humor about his 15 minutes of fame.

  • Stymye

    Your treatment of Henry Gross gives me the impression you are a total self absorbed asshole . it’s a great song ,, he didn’t “steal” anything from anyone .. inspired by– yes .. but outright stealing or copying ?..  hardly … and by the way I know this song and know the name Henry Gross .. however I have never heard of you. until I happened upon your smarmy ,,”I’m so cool and crafty wanna be this hip quasi rolling stone writer” blog.
    ..you simply come across jealous of Henry Gross’s fame..and that makes me actually feel sad for you.

  • Willie

    Interesting site. I hope it’s still running. Henry Gross and “Plug Me Into Something” were really popular in and around Atlanta in the late 70s. Believe me when he and his band blew the roof off of The Great Southeast Music Hall, nobody was thinking about “Shannon”. Henry’s a creative talent but if you were going to rip off a sissy song The Beach Boys would be the place to look. Here’s one for you: The Band gets no credit for Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” but that songs opens with Richard Manual’s piano screaming like a “wheel on fire”. Levon said so himself and I’ll not quote but it was something to the point of Richard picking up and finishing a lot of Dylan’s stuff. Did Neil Diamond pay homage to Mozart’s “Song sung blue” before or after he got caught? Wonder what else has fallen through the cracks of time to be played later as someone’s ingenious creation?