This is a two-disc set filled with (just like the title says) 40 Years of singles. That’s not 40 Years of hits, mind, but 40 Years of singles. Singles? Aren’t they those funny little seven-inch slabs of vinyl, the ones with the big holes in the middle? That’s right. And Tommy James & the Shondells have been making those things for four decades!
Born Thomas Gregory Jackson in Dayton, Ohio, in 1947, little Tommy began playing the guitar when he was only 9 years old. He formed the first Shondells at 13! They’d been playing around Dayton for a while when they recorded a Jeff Barry-Ellie Greenwich song called “Hanky Panky.” Nobody played it for over two years, but in 1965 it became a hit. It’s the first song on disc one. It received national release in 1966 on Roulette Records, and sold a million copies as it zoomed to No. 1 on the charts. Tommy put together a new Shondells. In the next four years they had more than a dozen Top 40 hits. “Mony, Mony,” “Mirage,” “I Think We’re Alone Now,” “Crimson & Clover,” and “Crystal Blue Persuasion.” They expanded their sound, adding a long psychedelic section to the middle of “Crimson & Clover” (this part is missing from the single version included here, much to my chagrin). That group broke up in 1970. Tommy began producing other artists, and developed (and kicked) a drug habit.
These songs and a bunch more are included on this Collectors’ Choice release, many in their original mono release. They sound great in the car. I drove over to the pizzeria with my son, and we cranked up the first disc. He’s 26 and is into Celtic punk. Wait, I’m sure I saw him dancin’ in the seat next to me! The first disc is packed with familiar tunes, all the original hits, and while I wish the extended version of “Crimson & Clover” was here, the single version is the one they were playing on the radio when it first came out. The production is perfect for car stereos. Man, they could mix records back in the ’60s and ’70s!
Disc two is a bit more problematic. The songs aren’t as familiar, they don’t resonate because I simply don’t have memories that go along with them. Even so, Tommy James was a talented guy. You can’t maintain a career in the cut-throat music business without appealing to people. And I have to say, these are two very listenable discs. It rocks, the guitar work and rhythm sections are memorable, as are the riffs! And the Shondells (whichever band members are along for the ride) harmonize well. Everything that pop music requires! Song titles on disc two? “Celebration,” “Boo, Boo, Dontcha Be Blue,” “Say Please,” “I Love Christmas,” and a 2005 remake of “Sweet Cherry Wine” with The Kootz. Sorry, I don’t recall them. But it sure is fun to listen to ’em!
The insert booklet is small, but contains some dandy historical notes. For instance, did you know that Tommy was putting together a party rock record back in 1968? “The night before the final session, the song still needed a two-syllable girl’s name for the title. Standing on his apartment balcony, he gazed at the Manhattan skyline for the millionth time and saw the answer: the Mutual of New York Insurance Company sign flashing its famous logo MONY. And the rest, as they say, is history.” Now that’s inspiration!
Anyway, you may know these songs better in versions by other artists. Joan Jett’s “Crimson & Clover,” Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now,” or Billy Idol’s ode to insurance, “Mony, Mony!” But here is a chance to get to know them as they were intended. By the original artist. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you 40 Years of Tommy James & the Shondells!
(Collectors’ Choice/Rhino, 2008)