Saturday, September 29, 2007

Peace and Good, Brotherhood

I know, you're sitting there watching college football, wondering where in the world Tommy James ever came up with a name like Mony for hs song "Mony, Mony." He'd written and recorded the music for the song before he could come up with any lyrics for it, and there he sat, looking out the window, when he saw an ad for MONY -- Mutual of New York. "If I'd been looking in the other direction," Tommy later said, it would have been called 'Hotel Taft.'"

Tommy James was a pretty fascinating guy. He cut his first hit, "Hanky Panky," in 1962 with a bunch of fellow high schoolers, all recorded on one mike in a radio studio, a lot like the Kingsmen's infamous "Louie Louie" session. It became a regional hit around James' hometown of Niles, Michigan, and somehow found its way to Pittsburgh by 1965, where it became enough of a hit that a local bootlegger printed up 80,000 copies on his own. By the summer of 1966, four years after it was first cut, "Hanky Panky," by then on its third label, became a bona fide Number One hit. Tommy James had to recruit an entirely new group of Shondells at that point. (He ended up hiring an existing band called -- say it isn't so! -- the Raconteurs.) Tommy was all of nineteen years old.

And for a while after that, he could do no wrong: "I Think We're Alone Now," "Crimson and Clover," "Crystal Blue Persuasion." After their 1970 album Travelin', the Shondells broke up, and Tommy James retired briefly to a farm in upstate New York -- at the age of 23! He came back for the solo hit "Draggin' the Line" in 1971, and that was pretty much it. In 1987, Tiffany's cover of "I Think We're Alone Now" went to Number One, where it was followed immediately by Billy Idol's cover of "Mony, Mony."

Tommy James and/or the Shondells are not in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, proving once again that that insitution would be better off it would give me more of a voice in the induction process.


Anonymous said...

It's a little odd that you ignore the albeit fleeting success of the Tom Poston hit "Hotel Taft, Hotel Taft."

T. Nawrocki said...

I was trying to figure out a way to include Hal Smith's spoken-word cover of "Sweet Cherry Wine," but I couldn't do it.