Saturday, August 27, 2011

Tommy James (Part Three)

While Tommy James had a hand in writing many of his own hit records, it certainly didn't start out that way.

Tommy James and the Shondells' first hit was a remake of an old Raindrops' B-Side, "Hanky Panky".  (The tune was written by Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, two of the most prolific writers of the '60's ... yet THIS tune was considered nothing more than a "throw-away" and wound up on the flipside of their "That Boy John" single back in 1964.

James, who worked in a record store at the time back in Niles, Michigan, was somewhat familiar with the tune but added it to his own band's stage act after he saw it performed by some other rockers performing at a local club.  The Shondells cut a quickie version (with an instrumental on the other side) for the local based Snap Records ... and then watched the record disappear. 
It wasn't until some disc jockey in Pittsburgh started playing the record ... TWO YEARS LATER ... that the song started to catch on and build an audience.  By then, the original Shondells had already split up ... so Tommy took off for the east coast, where he put together a brand new group of Shondells and started to make appearances in support of the record.  It worked ... the song went straight to #1 and today is considered a '60's Rock Classic.

For a quick follow-up, the band looked no further than Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs ... they reworked THEIR tune "What I Am" into "Say I Am" ... and then watched that record climb up the charts to #15.  (Here in Chicago, where Tommy James was HUGE, "Say I Am" went all the way to #2!!!)

The hit list went on.  In quick succession, James hit the charts with "It's Only Love" (#27, 1966); "I Think We're Alone Now" (#3, 1967 ... and #1 here in Chi-Town); "Mirage" (#10, 1967 ... and another #1 Hit in Chicago); "I Like The Way" (#25, 1967); "Gettin' Together" (#14, 1967); "Out Of The Blue" (#37, 1967); "Get Out Now" (#38, 1968); "Mony Mony" (#3, 1968, and yet another Chicagoland #1 Record); "Somebody Cares" (#38, 1968); "Do Something To Me" (#24, 1968); "Crimson and Clover" (Tommy's biggest hit, and a #1 Smash EVERYWHERE in 1969); "Sweet Cherry Wine" (#7, 1969 ... how on earth has THIS record fallen off the radio?!?!?); "Crystal Blue Persuasion" (#2, 1969 ... and another Chicagoland #1 Record); "Ball Of Fire" (#11, 1969); "She" (#19, 1970); "Gotta Get Back To You" (#28, 1970) and "Come To Me" (#36, 1970).  Talk about your "Hit Lists" ... EVERY single one of these records became a Top 40 National Hit for Tommy James and the Shondells.

And the list doesn't stop there.  As a solo artist, James would return to The Top 40 four more times:  "Draggin' The Line" (#2, 1971, and another Chicagoland #1 Record); "I'm Comin' Home" (#23, 1971); "Nothing To Hide" (#25, 1971 and, believe it or not, a #2 Hit here in Chicago!) and "Three Times In Love" (a #19 "comeback hit" of sorts in 1980).

Tommy is STILL writing and recording GREAT music today that sounds as good as ever ... unfortunately, far too many of these tunes wind up being undiscovered classics due to radio's tunnel-vision approach to their play lists.  James puts on one heck of a concert, too ... so be sure to check out his website for all the latest information regarding new releases and concert appearances:

By the way, Tommy James and the Shondells' recording of "Crimson And Clover" ranked as your 9th All-Time Favorite Psychedelic Hit when we did our Forgotten Hits Poll a few years back.  You can view ALL of the results right here:  Click here: Forgotten Hits - Top 20 Favorite Psychedelic Songs