Sunday, December 2, 2012

We're Closing In On The Top Ten ... Today ... #12 and #11

The countdown continues ...

Here's another group I wouldn't necessarily have classified as a "garage band" ... although I guess that technically they started that way. It's just that Tommy grew into SO many different musical directions that it's hard to "typecast" or classify him in any one specific genre.  

"Hanky Panky" dates back to their early bar band days ... and was recorded over two years earlier than the time most of us heard it for the first time in 1966. (In fact by then, the original Shondells had already broken up!) "Say I Am" (which Tommy found on the B-Side of a Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs single, then titled "What I Am") kept that groove going ... but by the following year (when Tommy was writing his own stuff), his music took on a much more sophisticated sound. "I Think We're Alone Now" and "Mirage" were both Top Ten Hits ... and in 1968 he recorded what can only be described as a "party anthem" called "Mony Mony". 

He kicked off 1969 with the psychedelic "Crimson And Clover" (another tune that made our All-Time Top 20 Favorite Psychedelic Songs list a few years ago) ... and then followed that with the almost gospel-tinged "Sweet Cherry Wine" and the beautiful "Crystal Blue Persuasion", two more Top Ten smashes. 

We've plugged Tommy's book "Me, The Mob And The Music" many times in Forgotten Hits ... and in it, he describes some of those earliest "garage band" days. 

Here, with Tommy's kind permission, are a couple of short excerpts:  

In September of 1959 I started seventh grade at Niles Junior High School. A few weeks into the semester I met a kid named Mike Booth, who played drums in the band. He said, "I hear you play guitar and sing. I have a full set of drums at home. What do you say we put together our own band for the variety show?" 

"Hell, yes," I said ... "What variety show?" 

"The big one they have every year in the auditorium." Mike knew these things because he was a year ahead of me in school. I did not realize it at the time, but this chance conversation would prove to be a major turning point in my life. 

I went to Mike's house after school and was thrilled to find he had everything we needed: a full set of Ludwig drums, a heated garage, and parents who pretended to be deaf. Over the next few days, we managed to enlist two more kids from our school band who played trumpet and sax, plus one of Mike's neighbors, who passed for a piano player. Even though the sound was raw and crude, playing with other musicians for the first time was a thrill. It felt powerful; it was like "being a record," especially when we were all playing in the same key. 

We practiced every day after school for a solid week and learned two songs: "Lonesome Town" by Ricky Nelson and "A Thousand Stars" by Kathy Young and the Innocents. We made a try at "Agnel Baby" as well, but two songs were about all this outfit could handle. We called ourselves the Echoes.  

After a disc jockey in Pittsburgh broke the "Hanky Panky" single, James relocated and started a brand new version of The Shondells, picking up an existing group he heard in a bar to become his new back-up band. Once Roulette Records got behind the record, it became a national #1 Hit. Soon Tommy James and the Shondells were doing one-night stands all over the country. James remembers ...  

Our first date was a local gig in Yonkers. We were slated to follow a little house band. They were just kids and I remember braggin, "We're going to blow these guys right off the stage." Red (Red Schwartz, one of the best record promo men in the business) looked at me and said, "Calm down, kid. Five minutes ago you WERE those guys."
(Talk about a hard-knocks reality check! lol) 

After "Hanky Panky" and "Say I Am", James continued to hit the charts. In 1967 alone, Tommy had SIX SINGLES make the pop charts ... "It's Only Love" (#26), "I Think We're Alone Now" (#3), "Mirage" (#7), "I Like The Way" (#20), "Gettin' Together" (#14) and "Out Of The Blue" (#31) insured that Tommy James and the Shondells were never off the radio ... and this pattern would continue for the next three years. 

In his book, Tommy credits their smash "I Think We're Alone Now" as starting the "bubblegum" craze, although he doesn't necessarily consider The Shondells to have ever been a bubblegum group ... but rather that they took that "sound" or the throbbing opening bassline and reused it and embellished it in any number of bubblegum hit smashes that followed over the next year or two.  

The success of the "I Think We're Alone Now" album and the hit singles that came from it really changed us. Tommy James and the Shondells were no longer the garage band with the fluky hit. We now had a new sound that was uniquely ours. The tight rhythms and the staccato eighth notes that we pioneered and used throughout the album became our signature sound.  

Tommy James and the Shondells earned 209 of your votes ... and are the first group to break the 200 Vote Barrier in this very special countdown.  (kk)

In the truest sense of the term, Tommy James & The Shondells would probably only qualify as a garage band before and during the time they recorded ‘Hanky Panky’. Formed long before the British Invasion hit, the Michigan group wouldn’t find large scale success until recording the Jeff Barry / Ellie Greenwich song. Their later hits — including ‘Mirage’, ‘Crimson And Clover’, ‘Crystal Blue Persuasion’, ‘Mony Mony,’ ‘Sweet Cherry Wine’ and ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ — were all excellent representations of good ol’ ‘60s rock and roll.
Mike Dugo /

Yet ANOTHER group I never expected to see on the final list ... and there were several mentions of this during the voting process. The Beau Brummels were (to me, anyway!) more of a folk-rock San Francisco quartet ... and I think a listen to their hits "Laugh Laugh", "Just A Little", "You Tell Me Why" and "Don't Talk To Strangers" bears this assessment out. 

However, 211 of you felt that The Beau Brummels belong on this list ... and here they sit, just outside The Top Ten.  (kk)

History has documented the Beau Brummels as among the first wave of San Francisco groups to make some chart noise and as among the first U.S. groups to counter the British Invasion. Although they recorded several albums and issued many singles, it’d be difficult to find any songs that can truly be classified as “garage rock”. ‘Laugh Laugh’, ‘Just A Little” and ‘Don’t Talk To Strangers’ all reached the Top 40, however, and without question their recorded legacy is as strong as many groups that achieved much longer lasting fame. But how many of those groups can also claim to having appeared on The Flintstones?!
Mike Dugo /  

That Flintstones mention is good enough for me!!! (And the nods to Shindig and Jimmy O'Neill are priceless! So enjoy The Beau Brummelstones!)  kk

Tomorrow we enter The Top Ten ... don't miss it!  (kk)