1960 – 1970 (10 years)
Niles, Berrien County, Michigan, United States
Tommy James and the Shondells is an American pop and Rock n Roll group that was most active in the 60s. They had two number one singles in the U.S. — "Hanky Panky" (1966) and "Crimson and Clover" (1968) — but also released five other top ten hits, including "I Think We're Alone Now", "Mony Mony," and "Crystal Blue Persuasion". Their iconic hits are often played by 'oldies' and 'classic rock' stations. The band (from Niles, Michigan, USA) initially formed in 1959 as "Tom and the Tornadoes", with the then only 12-year-old singer-songwriter Tommy James as the frontman.
In 1963, he renamed the rest of the band "The Shondells", after one of James's idols, guitarist Troy Shondell. Later in 1963, they recorded the Jeff Barry/Ellie Greenwich-penned song "Hanky Panky" (originally by The Raindrops), which failed to chart. The Shondells disbanded thereafter, until James reformed them early 1966 with Gray, Vale, Rosman and Lucia. Their first single was a re-recording of "Hanky Panky", which surprisingly became a national number one hit in June 1966. At first, Tommy James and his Shondells played straightforward rock and roll (as their first hit proves) but soon became involved in the budding bubblegum pop musical movement. One of their main songwriters these days was Ritchie Cordell who gave them the hits "I Think We're Alone Now" (later a hit for dance pop idol Tiffany and power pop rockers The Rubinoos as well) and "Mirage" in 1967. The former hit, labeled by one critic as the "bubblegum apotheosis", has had major airplay for decades and decades.
From 1968, the group members additional tried themselves as songwriters, with James and Lucia penning the psychedelic pop/rock classic "Crimson and Clover". The song was also completely recorded and mixed by the two of them, with James taking over vocal duties and playing all instruments, and it featured the then remarkable use of electronic gadgetry such as vocoders and phasers. Further hits included "Crystal Blue Persuasion", "Sweet Cherry Wine", and "Mony Mony" (1968). That last song was written by James (together with Vale) with allegedly inspired by the sign for prominent bank Mutual Of New York that hung outside his office window, the track receiving major airplay for quite a while and spawning off a successful Billy Idol version in the 80s.
The band took in major inspiration from contemporary bubblegum music and spirited pop rock as well as psychedelia, James finding himself intrigued by his growing spirituality and eventually dabbling in Christian rock music as well. The group carried on with constant success until early 1970, when James became exhausted from the strenuous touring and decided to drop out. His four bandmates carried on for a short while under the name of Hog Heaven but disbanded soon afterwards.
James launched a solo career in 1971. He created one major hit in "Draggin' the Line" (and "Three Times In Love," a #1 Adult Contemporary single in 1980), taking things at a smoother pace in his older days. He's undertaken well-received live tours for decades as well.
In October 2007, Tommy James and the original Shondells reunited in a New Jersey studio to record once again. The entire band has performed off and on for a while since then. For more information, see:
Note that their name appears as "Tommy James and the Shondells" on their 1966 debut album 'Hanky Panky' and elsewhere, with the use of an ampersand coming in later. They're officially classified as 'Pop-Rock' with respect to the Roulette Records label R/SR-25336.
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