#679: Hark, Is That A Cannon I Hear by Bobby Vee

Peak Month: February 1962
9 weeks on Vancouver’s CFUN chart
Peak Position #6
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ did not chart
YouTube.com: “Hark, Is That A Cannon I Hear

Bobby Vee was born in Fargo, North Dakota. He was part of a highschool band that was asked to step in and perform for the concert that was to be headlined by Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper. Each had died in a small plane crash the day before. And the concert was held in Moorhead, Minnesota, across the Red River from Fargo. Fifteen year old Vee and his band were a hit and he got a contract with Liberty Records. It was his fourth single release, Devil or Angel, that catapulted him into the Top Ten and teen idol stardom. Other hits followed including Rubber Ball (#2), Take Good Care of My Baby (#1), Run to Him (#2) The Night Has a Thousand Eyes (#3) and Come Back When You Grow Up Girl (#3).

Briefly, Vee’s back-up band in Fargo included Elston Gunnn whose birthname was Robert Allen Zimmerman. Gunnn was hired to play the piano. But after the first practice it was learned Elston could only play piano in the key of C. In addition, he didn’t have a piano. It soon became unfeasible to have a piano player with no piano in the band so Bobby Vee had to fire Elston Gunnn. (Yes, that’s G-U-N-N-N with three N’s, as Bobby Vee would later recall). A year later Elston Gunn would adopt a different pseudonym: Bob Dylan. Dylan would credit Bobby Vee with helping him establish himself in the music business. Bobby Vee remembers being in New York City in 1962 and seeing the cover of an album titled Bob Dylan, and thinking, “that guy looks a lot like Elston Gunnn.”

In September 1961 Bobby Vee had a #1 hit with a Gerry Goffin-Carole King number titled “Take Good Care Of My Baby.” With the song ranking at #12 for the year-end charts on Billboard’s Top 100 of 1961, Liberty Records released an album titled Take Good Care Of My Baby in early 1962. Another track from the album, “Walking With My Angel,” was also composed by Goffin-King. The songwriting duo would also compose “Sharing You” and “In My Baby’s Eyes” for Vee that same year. The latter were tracks from his eighth album, A Bobby Vee Recording Session. Goffin and King were prolific in the early 60’s penning “The Loco-Motion” for Little Eva, “Chains” and “Don’t Say Nothing Bad About My Baby” for The Cookies, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” for The Shirelles, “Up On The Roof” and “Some Kind of Wonderful” both for the Drifters. Carole King had also written “Crying In The Rain” in 1962 for the Everly Brothers. The pair wrote “Go Away Little Girl” which was first recorded by Bobby Vee in March 1962. Steve Lawrence had a number one hit with “Go Away Little Girl” later that year. They also co-wrote “Keep Your Love Locked” for Paul Petersen. Goffin and King had earlier co-written “How Many Tears” for Bobby Vee in 1961.

One of the tracks off Take Good Care Of My Baby was “Hark, Is That A Cannon I Hear.”

Hark, Is That A Cannon I Hear by Bobby Vee

Hark, is that a cannon I hear?
I put it in my heart ’cause you’re coming near.
I hear it every time I see you’re loving so fine,
so tell me is that a cannon I hear?

Hark, is that a cannon I hear?
… it’s coming loud and clear.
I hear it every time that your hand is in mine,
so tell me is that a cannon I hear?

I said, I hear a boom-boom-boom,
when your near it’s going all around.
I’m not sure if it’s in my heart,
it’s making such a great big sound.

So tell me dear is that a cannon I hear?

I said, I hear a boom-boom-boom,
when your near it’s going all around.
I’m not sure if it’s in my heart,
it’s making such a great big sound.

Hark, is that a cannon I hear?
… it’s coming loud and clear.
I hear it every time that your hand is in mine,
so tell me is that a cannon I hear?

Hark, is that a cannon I hear?
I think I like it darling
Um, is that a cannon I hear?
Won’t you shoot that boom boom again
Hark, is that a cannon I hear?

“Hark, is that a Cannon I Hear” was written by Jackie DeShannon at the age of 17. She was born in Hazel, Kentucky, in 1944. DeShannon had been discovered by Eddie Cochran and began songwriting for other artists like Brenda Lee on “Dum Dum,” a #4 hit in the USA. Her song, “Come and Stay With Me,” was a hit for Marianne Faithful at #4 in the UK. DeShannon told Terry Gross on an NPR interview in 2010 that she co-wrote “Needles And Pins” with Sonny Bono and Jack Nitzsche. She explained that the song, as it was written needed more work when she got to the recording studio so she added and revised the lyrics. DeShannon said in her NPR interview, “I did contribute to that song, but I did not get writing credit at the time, and I didn’t pursue it.” DeShannon had a number one hit in Canada with “What the World Needs Now is Love” in 1965. Later, she wrote “Bette Davis Eyes” for Kim Carnes, a #1 hit in 1982.

“Hark, is that a Cannon I Hear” was not DeShannon’s most promising lyric. It is simply about a guy and a girl. Every time he holds her hand he wonders if he is hearing a cannon. It could be his heart beating, except the sound is so loud. And in about two minutes with a chorus repeating, that was all the song could explain. However, the image was one a lot of teenagers in Vancouver could relate to, based on listener requests to play “Hark, Is That A Cannon I Hear” on CFUN. Vee had a string of Top Ten hits in Vancouver and “Hark, is that a Cannon I Hear” was the seventh in a row. Between August 1961 and May 1963 Bobby Vee had a hit single on a Vancouver pop chart for 74 to 95 weeks.

That same year Vee appeared in two films, Swingin’ Along and Play It Cool. Play It Cool featured Vee co-starring with Billy Fury, Helen Shapiro and Danny Williams. The film was about a struggling pop singer and the rich heiress who is searching for a lover. He appeared on the Art Linkletter Show and there was also a TV documentary feature called The Idol: The Story of Bobby Vee. On April 30, 1962, Bobby Vee turned 19 years old. At the end of the year, Bobby Vee was again at the top of the charts in Vancouver with “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes.”

Bobby Vee died in October 2016. NPR did a special honoring his career in pop music on October 28, 2016. Playing a taped interview with Bobby Vee years back, Vee talked about how he ended up on stage at the Moorhead Armory on February 4, 1959. He recalls that the promoters of the show had decided to go ahead with the show. Dion and the Belmonts were going to perform and the Crickets. Vee recalls there was an announcement on the local radio station: “And they were asking for local talent. We called up the radio station. They said, come on down. And that was it. I mean, they didn’t ask us anything. They didn’t ask us, you know, what we played or anything. And we did – went down to the Moorhead Armory that night at, you know, 6:30 and waited. They said just wait in the wings. And we did.”

In his NPR interview, Vee also recalls Carole King and Gerry Goffin coming to the studio where he was going to record a song they wrote titled “How Many Tears.” He told NPR, “Carole and Gerry flew from New York to be at the session. And on a break, Carole said, let me play a couple of songs that we just wrote, and she sat down at the piano and played a song called “In My Baby’s Eyes,” which is a wonderful song I recorded later on. And the second song was “Take Good Care Of My Baby.”

After “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes” made the Top Ten in the winter of 1962-63, Bobby Vee released over a dozen more singles that largely floundered on the pop charts. It wasn’t until 1967 that he managed to make the Top Ten again with “Come Back When You Grow Up.” Nine more single releases between 1967 and 1971 failed to deliver another hit record.

Over the years Bobby Vee shared the concert stage with Little Richard, Brenda Lee and Jackie Wilson. He moved his family to Minneapolis in 1980. They had a solar panel house built, reflective of their environmentally friendly values. While his spouse, Karen, got a degree in clinical nursing, Bobby Vee kept on performing up to eighty concerts a year. Vee continued to perform in concert until 2011 when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He died on October 24, 2016, due to complications from the disease.

August 21, 2018
Ray McGinnis

References:
fargojump@my-deja.com, The Bob Dylan Who’s Who – Elston Gunnn, Expecting Rain.com, August 11, 1999
Songs Written by Carole King, Wikipedia.org
King, Carole. A Natural Woman: A Memoir. Grand Central Publishing, New York & Boston, 2012.
Michael Winner – Director, Play It Cool, Anglo-Amalgamated Films, 1962.
Play It Cool ~ Trailer, 1962
C-FUNTASTIC FIFTY December 22, 1962, Vancouver, BC
Terry Gross, Remembering Singer-Songwriter Bobby Vee, The Teen Idol Of The ’60s, NPR, Washington D.C., October 28, 2016
Jon Bream, Take Good Care of My Baby: Bobby Vee and his Wife Celebrate 50 Years, Star Tribune, Minneapolis, MN, April 13,  2014
’60s Pop Idol Bobby Vee, Singer of ‘Take Good Care of My Baby,’ Dead at 73, Chicago Tribune, October 24, 2016
Terry Gross, What The World Needs Now Is Jackie DeShannon, NPR, Washington D.C., June 14, 2010.

For more song reviews visit the Countdown.

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