Thursday, August 25, 2011

Tommy James - Part One

I recently picked up (for five bucks) Tommy James and the Shondells' essential hits.
I have not heard them in a long time and thought it would be a steal for that price.
Mony Mony, Crimson and Clover, Sweet Cherry Wine, Crystal Blue Persuasion ... all those hits. Do you have any idea what the words mony mony mean or the idea behind the title of that song?  If so, could you please let me and the rest of our readers in on it please.
Thanks again,
Actually, the story behind Tommy's "Mony Mony" is one of the best-documented tales in rock and roll.  
James had the song pretty much written but was looking for the right girl's name to include in the title.  He wanted something special that people would remember ... like "Sloopy" or "Bony Moronie" ... something that would stand out ... but he just couldn't come up with the right title for his new song. 
While staying in a hotel room in New York City, James couldn't sleep one night because of an annoying flashing light that kept coming through his window.  Getting up to investigate, he noticed that the light was coming from a giant neon sign on the Mutual Of New York Insurance Building.  Over and over and over again, it just kept flashing, spelling out the name one letter at a time:  M - O - N - Y, M - O - N - Y, M - O - N - Y ... Tommy turned his insomnia into a solid gold hit a few months later when "Mony Mony" raced up the charts to #3 in 1968.  (It hit #1 in several major markets, including here in Chicago where Tommy James enjoyed SEVEN #1 Records ... and six others that made The Top Ten.)  kk

Here's the story in Tommy's own words, from his MUST-READ autobiography, "Me, The Mob And The Music":
Early in 1968, I went into Century Sound Studios ... and started putting a track together.  I wanted to make a party rock song, a throwback almost to the great Gary 'U.S.' Bonds and Mitch Ryder records I loved so much.  this was the beginning of what would eventually become 'Mony Mony', although at the time, we had no name for the thing.  We did not even have much of a song.
It began life as a simple rhythm track.  We had more of an idea than we had a song, and that is where it began: a beat, a groove ... just three or four chords and we were going to write the song around the track.
After about three weeks, Allegro Studios finally reopened ... we took the track I had on tape from Century Sound and went to work in earnest.  We sort of did sound surgery on the thing, rewriting it technically.  The song was literally sliced, diced and glued back together.  We had it in a hundred pieces and then put it back together the way we wanted it.  In the reassembling, we created an actual melody with a verse and hook.
The night before we were supposed to finish the record, Ritchie (Cordell) and I went up to my apartment, popped two Desbutals each, and started writing the lyrics:
'Here she comes now sayin' ... blah-blah, blah-blah
Wake me, shake me ... blah-blah, blah-blah
Shoot 'em down, turn around ... blah-blah, blah-blah.
We had all the nonsensical one-liners you could ever want but we still could not come up with a damn title.  We knew we needed a two-syllable girl's name but every real name sounded stupid.  We had to make up a rock and roll name like Sloopy or Bony Maronie.  By about midnight, Ritchie and I were spent and we took a break.  We threw down our guitars and went out on the terrace.  We lit up our cigarettes, leaned on the railing and looked out at the Manhattan night sky.  All of a sudden, my eyes fell on a building across the street, a couple of blocks down.  It was The Mutual Of New York Insurance Company Building.  There was a neon sign on top of it with the logo on it:  MONY.  It had a dollar sign in the middle of the "O", and the time and weather underneath. And it kept flashing, MONY, MONY, MONY.  I slapped Ritchie on the arm and said, 'Look!'  We both started laughing.  I said, 'Is that God winking at you, or what?'  Ritchie just said, 'Unbelievable'.  There was our name.  And it was a good thing, too.  We were under so much pressure to come up with something, if I had been looking in the other direction we would have called the song The Taft Hotel.
-- Tommy James
Me, The Mob and The Music

"Mony Mony" became a hit all over again in 1987 when Billy Idol's live version topped the charts.  In fact, Tommy James enjoyed an interesting "comeback" in the '80's ... when "Mony Mony" by Billy Idol, "I Think We're Alone Now" by Tiffany and "Crimson And Clover" by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts ALL went back into The Top Ten.
His music is timeless ... yet this guy is NOT in The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  (Nobody ever said life was supposed to be fair ... but ignoring Tommy James is a flat out crime!)  kk 

If you don't already have a copy (shame on you!), you can pick up a copy of Tommy's book here: