Let’s turn the clock in the Wayback Machine for November 1987. We can land just about anywhere in the United States, as the radio was being dominated by the singles from Michael Jackson’s Bad, whose title song had just finished a two-week streak at the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 Singles Chart. 1987 was a stellar year for music as U2, Prince, John Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen, who, along with Michael Jackson, all released landmark albums. We also got to hear the first rumblings from a little underground band from Hollywood called Guns N’ Roses. Still, something far more interesting was happening on the Hot 100 Chart. You see, “Bad” was replaced during the week of November 7, 1987, by the debut single by a young teenage girl who went by the name of Tiffany. The song was a cover of the great bubblegum standard originally written by Tommy James and recorded by Tommy James & the Shondells entitled “I Think We’re Alone Now.”
You see, Tiffany took that beautiful slice of punkish bubblegum pop to number one, while the original only got to number four twenty years earlier in 1967. The song stayed in the top position the following week as well, for a grand total of a two-week streak at number one. Which means, that a new song pushed Tiffany off the top of the heap, and that artist was none other than punk/new wave/faux metal god Billy Idol with his live remake of the classic 1968 hit, “Mony Mony,” already considered to be a bar standard in its original form. But, now the song had ingrained itself into the dance standard it currently is today, when Billy Idol turned this number three hit by none other than Tommy James & the Shondells. That’s right! Tommy James had written TWO consecutive number one songs, and both of them were remakes of his own hit songs that had each stalled BEFORE reaching number one. We literally made rock history during those three weeks in November 1987.
Now, a handful of songwriters have written consecutive number one songs before. Barry Gibb holds the record for having written or co-written four consecutive number one songs in 1978 for his group the Bee Gees (twice!), his youngest brother Andy and siren Yvonne Elliman. Of course, John Lennon and Paul McCartney pulled off the feat a couple of times during their Beatlemania days, while Motown’s hit-making trio of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland did it for The Supremes and The Four Tops. However, in each case, these were new songs, while we are talking about two remakes of songs from the same artist that was written by that original art. And, it was Tommy James & the Shondells of all people!
A quick look at James’ career shows he and his back-up band, The Shondells, had two number hit songs, the punkish “Hanky Panky” in 1966, and the original psychedelic pop standard “Crimson and Clover” in 1969. All told, the band had six other Top 10 songs, as well as another seven songs that stalled somewhere in the Top 40. And, all of those songs had been released during a period of time that ran from 1966 to 1971, with the years 1968 and 1969 being Tommy James & the Shondells’ finest years.
So, what made this band so influential to Generation X? First, the older members of this generation were mere kindergartners when the band commercially peaked, yet they were all over those “Oldies” radio stations that played the hits of the Sixties. So, when the punk and new wave artists were looking for inspiration, they mined the garage rock field, as immortalized on the 1972 compilation Nuggets and bubblegum hits from those infamous K-Tel albums that were pushed on TV ads. From there, Tommy James quickly became one of the “go-to” artists, along with The Monkees and Paul Revere & the Raiders for songs to learn.
The first Tommy James cover song I really remember being played much was The Rubinoos’ 1979 remake of “I Think We’re Alone Now,” which has since become a Power Pop standard. Then, in 1981, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts covered “Crimson and Clover,” which became the band’s second Top 10 hit, following “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.” And, after that fateful November, Jett went back to the James well in order to record a new version of “Hanky Panky” for her Fetish album. Most significantly, Prince, who rarely releases cover versions of other artists’ songs, put his version of “Crimson and Clover” on his 2009 double album Lotflow3r/mPLSound. I should note that Prince’s version of “Crimson and Clover” is the greatest versions of the song. It’s simply a shame that pop radio would not touch it a decade ago. I highly recommend all of the aforementioned cover versions, but Prince’s does standard out among them all, of course.
Anyway, I would love to present My 20 Favorite Tommy James & the Shondells Songs. I feel this has been long overdue. Enjoy!
- “Crimson and Clover” (1968)
- “Crystal Blue Persuasion” (1969)
- “Mony Mony” (1968)
- “Draggin’ the Line” (1971)
- “I Think We’re Alone Now” (1967)
- “(I’m) Taken” (1968)
- “(Baby, Baby) I Can’t Take It No More” (1967)
- “Mirage” (1967)
- “Say I Am (What I Am)” (1966)
- “Do Something to Me” (1968)
- “Love’s Closing in on Me” (1967)
- “Hanky Panky” (1966)
- “Tighter, Tighter” (1976)
- “Somebody Cares” (1968)
- “She” (1969)
- “Getting’ Together” (1967)
- “Ball of Fire” (1969)
- “Sweet Cherry Wine” (1969)
- “Loved One” (1969)
- “Sugar on Sunday” (1969)
The songs in the second half are the lesser known songs by this highly underrated pop/rock band. But, I feel it is long overdue to bring some love to Tommy James & the Shondells. Hopefully, I will get to see them and another favorite from my preschool days, Paul Revere & the Raiders.
Have a great weekend all!