Tommy James and the Shondells was a 1960s American rock and roll group. 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."
Two years later, a Pittsburgh radio station unearthed the forgotten single and touted it as an "exclusive." Listener response encouraged the station to play it regularly. Another Pittsburgh disc jockey played his copy of the single at various dance parties, and demand soared. Bootleggers responded by printing up 80,000 black market copies of the recording, which were sold in Pennsylvania stores.
James first learned of all this activity after getting a telephone call in December 1965 from Pittsburgh disc jockey "Mad Mike" Metro, to come and perform the song. James contacted his fellow Shondells, but they had moved past their musical ambitions and did not want to travel to Pittsburgh.
In 1966, James went by himself and made promotional appearances at the Pittsburgh radio station, in nightclubs and on local television. "I had no group, and I had to put one together really fast," recalled James. "I was in a Pittsburgh club one night, and I walked up to a group that was playing that I thought was pretty good, and asked them if they wanted to be the Shondells. They said yes, and off we went."
With Vale, Rosman, Kessler, Pietropaoli, and Magura as his new Shondells, James now had a touring group to promote the single. James went to New York, and sold the master of "Hanky Panky" to Roulette Records. With national promotion behind it, the single became a national number one hit in June, 1966. Before long, Kessler, Pietropaoli, and Magura were replaced by Gray and Lucia.
At first, Tommy James and his Shondells played straightforward shambolic rock and roll, but soon became involved in the budding bubblegum music movement. Songwriter Ritchie Cordell gave them the #4 hit "I Think We're Alone Now." They also had a #10 hit with "Mirage" in 1967.
From 1968, the group members tried themselves as songwriters, with James and Lucia penning the psychedelic classic "Crimson and Clover". The song was also completely recorded and mixed by Bruce Staple, with James taking over vocal duties and playing all instruments, and featured the then unusual use of electronic gadgetry such as vocoders and phasers. Further hits included "Crystal Blue Persuasion", "Sweet Cherry Wine", and "Mony Mony" (1968), written by James (together with Vale) and allegedly inspired by the sign for Mutual Of New York that hung outside his apartment window. They also produced "Sugar on Sunday", later covered by The Clique.
In 1968, the group toured with Vice President Hubert Humphrey during his presidential campaign. Humphrey graciously expressed his appreciation by writing the liner notes for the Crimson and Clover album.
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.
In a 1970 side project, James wrote and produced the #7 hit single "Tighter, Tighter" for the group Alive N Kickin'. James launched a solo career in 1971, which yielded two notable hits over a 10-year span; "Draggin' the Line" (1971) and "Three Times In Love" (1980).
During the 1980s, the group's songbook resulted in hits for several other artists, including Joan Jett & The Blackhearts' version of "Crimson And Clover" (1982), Tiffany's "I Think We're Alone Now," and Billy Idol's "Mony Mony" (both 1987). Idol's version of "Mony Mony" replaced Tiffany's "I Think We're Alone Now" at the #1 position on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart toward the end of 1987.