Guilty Pleasure: Tommy James And The Shondells – The Best Of

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    Two words: “Mony Mony.”

    Well, that’s sort of two words. Or maybe just one. Or maybe none at all. I’m really not sure. But, anyways, Tommy James and the Shondells found a way to hit the absolute apex of keeping it simple.

    Maybe it was just being raised on radio legend Dick Biondi slurring through the band’s name as the sublimely sugary chords of “Hanky Panky” jangled out over the airwaves. Or maybe it’s just that “Crimson and Clover” is an utter masterpiece. The deep-sea reverb, the then-innovative phaser, and the mind-numbingly repetitive chorus are timeless. Joan Jett’s version may be even better, but its still that ultimately simple chorus that keeps the song a hit.

    Riding a new wave of psychedelic pop (and probably a few psychotropic drugs) onto the radio in the early 60’s, Tommy James spawned 14 Top 40 singles over three years. They were stuck trying to follow in the huge pop footsteps of the Beatles, alongside The Lovin’ Spoonful, The Turtles and Paul Revere and the Raiders. I couldn’t say a bad word about any of them, but there’s something special about the Shondells.


    The Best of Tommy James and the Shondells collects all the big ones. “Mirage” uses synth-orchestra flourishes that would make the composer of the Loveboat theme blush. “I Think We’re Alone Now” has a bassline like a rapid heartbeat that follows so well with the fist-pumping teenage love story. “Sweet Cherry Wine” sounds like it’s title implies: an embarrassingly saccharine ballad. Take one listen to “Crystal Blue Persuasion” and you’ll step back into Woodstock, full of good vibrations, head-bobbing tambourine and optimistic lyrics about a new day comin’.

    This collection misses a few of the gems that Rhino’s Anthology catches years later (notably the ultimate free love anthem “Do Something To Me” and the super-considerate “(I’m) Taken”, a warning to would-be wooers). Unlike Rhino’s attempt, on the other hand, this one has no filler.

    After a phase of trying to cover up my past attachment to oldies radio, I’m completely willing to embrace Tommy James. Note to Mr. James: this is more of an offer than a threat.


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