Tommy James and the Shondells

Tommy James and the Shondells had a number of hits in the late 60's and is a group with a somewhat interesting history.

Tommy James was born Thomas Jackson in Dayton, Ohio in 1947 and moved to Niles, Michigan when he was 11 years old. At age 12, he formed a band and it was called the Shondells. The group was simply a hobby in high school. They heard a version of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich's song Hanky Panky as it was performed by the Raindrops, and covered it on the local Snap label in 1963. The song was soon forgotten, and eventually the group broke up.

In the mid-60's a Pittsburgh DJ picked up the record and began to play it. It became popular in the Pittsburgh area and people there wanted to know who the Shondells were. Hanky Panky had been released as by the Shondells and was re-released on Red Fox in 1965, also as by the Shondells. Demand increased, the song was licensed to Roulette and caught on nationally, and by late Summer of 1966 it had topped the national charts, this time as by Tommy James and the Shondells. Tommy moved to Pittsburgh and formed another band called Tommy James and the Shondells. This group included members of a group that had been known in Pittsburgh as the Raconteurs and included Ronnie Rosman on keyboards, Mike Vale, Joseph Kessler, Vince Pietropaoli and George Magura. The last three were soon replaced by Eddie Gray on guitar and Peter Lucia on drums.

The group needed a follow-up and selected a song called Say I Am [What I Am]. Although not as successful as Hanky Panky, it reached number 21 on the charts later in the same year.

Roulette knew that it had a hot commodity on its hands and assigned songwriters Richie Cordell and Bo Gentry the task of writing songs for Tommy James and the Shondells. The combination resulted in some great finger-snapping tunes which were regarded in the late 60's as bubblegun music, some good rock songs, and even one that was in tune with the psychedelia that was prevalent in pop music at the time. From 1967 to 1969, the group turned out hit after hit on the Roulette label, including six that made it to the top ten: I Think We're Alone Now, Mirage, Mony Mony, Crimson and Clover (the group's second and final number one hit in the USA), Sweet Cherry Wine, and Crystal Blue Persuasion.

Mony Mony is a classic song of the 60's. It was co-written by Tommy James, Bo Gentry, Richie Cordell, and Bobby Bloom, who had a top ten record of his own with Montego Bay. The hook in the song is said to have been inspired by Tommy's view of a Mutual of New York sign on the New York City skyline. Mony Mony was the only song by the group to reach the top twenty in the United Kingdom; it was #1 there, and #3 in the USA.

Tommy James had some minor health problems in 1970. He and the Shondells went their separate ways. The group renamed itself Hog Heaven, but met with little success.

From 1970 to 1981 Tommy James worked as a solo act and put 13 songs in the top 100, the most successful of which was Draggin' The Line in 1971. British singer Gary Glitter had a similar style to that of Tommy's, and the latter covered some of the former's records.

As the years went on other performers would cover some of the great records that had been recorded by Tommy James and the Shondells. Joan Jett had a top ten song with Crimson and Clover in 1982, and in November of 1987 Tiffany and Billy Idol had back-to-back number one hits with I Think We're Alone Now and Mony Mony, respectively.

Tommy James and the Shondells were among the most popular recording artists of the late 60's.

Most Recent Update: April 20, 2000

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