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Music Review: Tommy James and The Shondells – 40 Years: The Complete Singles Collection (1966-2006)

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Tommy James and The Shondells are best remembered as a singles band. That may be a correct analysis in many ways, but it can be added that they were a tremendously talented and successful singles band. The unique psychedelic number one hit, “Crimson & Clover,” the stripped down yet memorable “I Think We’re Alone Now,” and the rocking “Mony Mony” showed different sides of their musical style and creative vision.

Fame almost passed by Tommy James and the Shondells. They recorded the song “Hanky Panky” in 1964 for the small Snap Label. It disappeared quickly and sat around for two years until a Pittsburgh disc jockey began playing it to a very positive reaction from his listeners. It became a local hit and was picked up by the Roulette label. The original group had long since parted ways and so Tommy James hired a local group to take their place. “Hanky Panky” became the number one song in the country and the rest, as they say, is history.

40 Years: The Complete Singles Collection (1966-2006) is a two-disc, 48 song set that gathers together every group and solo single release by Tommy James and The Shondells. As such, it is a wonderful ride through some of the best radio fare of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, plus some excellent obscure late career solo efforts by Tommy James.

Except for the last track on the album, the tracks are presented chronologically. The sound is clear and many of the songs have been issued in their original mono format for the fist time on CD. The accompanying booklet gives a good history of the group. The last track, “Long Ponytail,” was recorded by Tommy James' first group, Tom and The Tornadoes. This song, from 1962, was added as a bonus. One other historical fact is that the group turned down an invitation to play at Woodstock to Tommy James’ everlasting regret.

Disc one contains all of the group’s best known tracks. It begins with the original and slower version of “Hanky Panky.” Hits such as “Say I Am,” “Mirage,” “I Think We’re Alone Now,” “Mony Mony,” “Sweet Cherry Wine,” “Crimson & Clover,” and “Crystal Blue Persuasion” quickly follow. I have always felt that the song “Gotta Get Back To You,” issued near the end of the group’s career, was a musical change of direction that would have allowed them to remain relevant had they stayed together.

Tommy James would go on to enjoy a long solo career. “Church Street Soul Revival,” “I’m Comin’ Home” and “Draggin’ The Line” were solo hits for James and would make an impact on the national charts.

The second disc contains twenty tracks that bring Tommy James’ career down to the present. It contains his only single release for the MCA Label, “Glory Glory,”  a gospel version of his classic hit “Sweet Cherry Wine,” his holiday release, “I Love Christmas,” and the beautiful ballad “Love Words.”

Tommy James and the original Shondells returned to the studio recently to record new material for an album.

40 Years: The Complete Singles Collection (1966-2006) provides the essential retrospective for a too many times unjustly forgotten group. The music contained on these two discs is a pleasant listen and makes a fine addition to any music collection.

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About David Bowling

  • Glen Boyd

    A lot of those latter-day hits like “I’m Comin’ Home” were a product of Tommy James’ Christian period in the seventies, after his group lost favor during the onslaught of psychedelic music in the late sixties (Crimson & Clover notwithstanding). It actually helped him find a new audience after many of his former fans deserted him to grow long hair and silly mustaches and begin experimenting with drugs. Their loss if you ask me.

    I think when Billy Idol started covering his songs in the eighties, as well as Joan Jett, is really when Tommy James was finally able to shed the “bubblegum” label he was burdened with for awhile though. Those early songs are widely regarded as party classics today. Nice review though Mr. Discographer…


  • dennis teel

    to glen boyd:tommy james had long hair in his christian period as you put it.but you obviously have a problem with long hair.. and silly mustaches??what are you ,70 years old??actually even old people now days don’t have a problem with long hair or’re a bit odd dude