Tommy James & the Shondells

Tommy James and the Shondells
Tommy James & the Shondells
Origin: Niles, Michigan, U.S.
Genres: Rock, pop, psychedelic rock, rock & roll
Label: Roulette

Tommy James and the Shondells formed in Niles, Michigan, in 1964. They had two number 1 singles in the U.S.: "Hanky Panky" in July 1966 and "Crimson and Clover" in February 1969. Twelve more of the band's tunes were Top 40 hits, including five in the Hot 100's Top Ten: "I Think We're Alone Now," "Mirage," "Mony Mony," "Sweet Cherry Wine," and "Crystal Blue Persuasion."

I Think We're Alone Now (1967)
"I put on a nasally, almost juvenile-sounding lead vocal, 
and without realizing it, we invented "bubblegum" music."
Tommy James for the GuardianJuly 19, 2019
"I Think We're Alone Now" was a US hit for Tommy James and the Shondells. It reached number 4 on the Hot 100 chart on April  22, 1967, one week before James' 20th birthday. The writing credits went to Ritchie Cordell, who co-wrote 1968's "Mony Mony." 

I Think We're Alone Now" Tommy James and the Shondells single cover

According to Tommy James, Cordell and his regular songwriting partner, Bo Gentry, wrote the song together. Because Gentry was under contract to Kama Sutra Records, the head of Roulette Records, Morris Levy, named Cordell as sole writer but split the royalties with Gentry.

Originally written as a slow ballad, James, Cordell, and Gentry recorded a quick demo of the song at a faster tempo. Their record company brought in studio musicians to tape the updated version. Tommy James explained: "Ritchie and Bo originally wrote the song as a mid-tempo ballad. I said no way and started speeding it up. I put on a nasally, almost juvenile-sounding lead vocal, and without realizing it, we invented "bubblegum" music."

I Think We're Alone Now (1987)
Having a No 1 hit at 15 was a wild ride. 
I met Michael Jackson. 
Tiffany for the Guardian: July 19, 2019
Tiffany Darwisch released this song in the summer of 1987, twenty years after James had a hit with it. She was 16 years old when the album went to number 1 in January 1988, making her the youngest female singer to top the US albums chart and the firstborn in the 70s to top that list. 

Tiffany started recording with producer George Tobin when she was 13 years old. Tobin owned a studio in Los Angeles. He also handled the business side of her affairs. When Tobin chose "I Think We're Alone Now" for her to cover, Tiffany wasn't impressed. 

"I didn’t know the song, and it didn’t sound so modern. When I came back the next day, they’d remade it as a dance track. I didn’t want to record it, but I took the song home and my girlfriends were dancing around the room. My producer said: 'Trust me on this.'"

Tiffany debut album cover

When her producer failed to get a record company deal, he went to the MCA "special projects" division and pitched the idea of a mall tour. Starting in a New Jersey mall, Tiffany sang for free to whoever would listen. The young girls who made up the mall crowd were a perfect fit for the singer, who found a way to reach this audience long before Twitter. Tiffany told Billboard magazine in a 2011 interview: 

"When I heard that my hit song had gone #1, I was washing dishes. I was doing my chores because I was a teenager, of course. My manager called me and said 'Congratulations, you have the number one single in the country.' I said, 'You know what? I have to get off the phone because I have to finish my chores otherwise I'm going to be busted and I won't be able to do anything.' And, he's like, 'You don't get it'... but I had to finish those chores."

Mony, Mony (1968)
"Originally, we did the track without a song. 
And the idea was to create a party rock record."
Tommy James in a Songfacts interview
"Mony Mony" by Tommy James and the Shondells reached number 1 on the UK Singles Chart and number 3 in the U.S.  Two versions were put together to form the song. The 'I love you Mony, Mo Mo Mony...
part was Bobby Bloom. The rest of it was written by James with producers Bo Gentry and Ritchie Cordell. The song's title was inspired by the "M.O.N.Y." sign atop the Mutual of New York Building in New York City. In a 1995 interview in Hitch magazine, James said:

"Mony Mony" by Tommy James and the Shondells album ocver

"I had the track done before I had a title. I wanted something catchy like 'Sloopy' or 'Bony Maroney,' but everything sounded so stupid. So Ritchie Cordell and I were writing it in New York City, and we were about to throw in the towel when I went out onto the terrace, looked up, and saw the Mutual of New York building with the initials lighted up. I said, 'That's gotta be it! Ritchie, come here, you've gotta see this!'

"Mony Mony" was the only song by the group to reach the top 20 in the United Kingdom. It landed at number 1 in the UK and number 3 on the US Hot 100 list. A music video featuring the band performing the song amidst psychedelic backgrounds was shot and received airplay on MTV a decade and a half later.

Mony, Mony (1988)
"Hey, hey, what, get laid, get f--ked"
Audience chant during a musical break
Billy Idol released a cover version of "Mony Mony" in 1981 on his Don't Stop EP. The studio rendition went to number 7 on the Billboard Dance chart. 

Billy Idol Don't Stop EP

A live recording of the song became a hit for Idol in 1987 while promoting his then-forthcoming compilation album Vital Idol. It was released as a single and went to number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, knocking Tiffany's cover of "I Think We're Alone Now" from the top spot and finishing one spot behind her at number 19 on the 1987 year-end Billboard chart.

Idol's version started a custom. When the song played at a dance club or in concert, people yelled a variation of the phrase "Hey, say what… get laid get f**ked!" Consequently, the song was banned from high-school dances across North America. The chant became so popular Idol recorded the lyrics in the "Idol/Stevens Mix" on the 2018 remix album Vital Idol: Revitalized.

Crimson & Clover (1969)
"George Harrison wrote a bunch of songs for us. 
We were very flattered, but they all sounded like 'Mony Mony.' 
We were gonna go with 'Crimson And Clover' and change our style. 
So we never did these songs." 
Tommy James
Tommy James constructed the song "Crimson & Clover" from his favorite color and his favorite flower. In a Songfacts interview, he said: 

"They were just two of my favorite words that came together. Actually, it was one morning as I was getting up out of bed, and it just came to me, those two words. And it sounded so poetic. I had no idea what it meant, or if it meant anything. They were just two of my favorite words."

Tommy James & the Shondells
Tommy James & the Shondells

It was rumored The Beatles wrote a song for Tommy James & the Shondells and they turned it down. James explains: 

"What happened was 'Mony Mony' became the biggest-selling single in Britain up to that point. And it was actually bigger in England than it was here. Apple Records originally started out as a publishing company and a production company before it was a record company. And their idea was that they were going to write songs for other acts and publish them, and in some cases produce them. 

Tommy James & the Shondells Crimson & Clover single cover

So George Harrison was working with a group called Grapefruit, and George and these fellas wrote a bunch of these songs for us that they sent over to my manager, Lenny Stogel. We were very flattered, but they all sounded like 'Mony Mony.' And we had by that time made the decision that we were gonna go with 'Crimson And Clover,' and really change our style. So we never did these songs. 

Some of them were really good. There was a whole tape full of them. And we were very flattered and very honored. One of my great regrets is that I never got a chance to thank George for doing that, and I should have, I should have made a bigger fuss. But because we had changed our style with 'Crimson and Clover,' we never went back to the 'Mony Mony' style of party rock.""

Crimson & Clover (1982)

Joan Jett (circa 1977 in Los Angeles, CA)
Joan Jett (circa 1977 in Los Angeles, CA)

Kenny Laguna, who played keyboards and sang backup as a member of The Shondells, is a songwriter and producer who worked with Joan Jett from the beginning of her music career. She recorded "Crimson & Clover" in 1982 as the follow-up to "I Love Rock And Roll."  Her version hit Number 7 in the US.


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