254. Tommy James & the Shondells – Mony, Mony (1968)

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Mony, Mony was the first time in a good few years that SEX raised its head in pole position of the singles chart. Psychedelia might have been a time for free love, but lust (by and large) seemed somewhat neutered on 7-inches (snigger).

Rock band Tommy James & the Shondells had an interesting history up to this point. Tommy James, real name Tommy Jackson was born in Dayton, Ohio in April 1947. He had his first taste of stardom while very young – he was a child model at the age of four. Jackson formed his first group in the new family hometown of Niles, Michigan aged 12. Originally called The Echoes in 1959, then Tom and the Tornadoes, they released a single, Long Pony Tail, in 1962. They settled on The Shondells in 1964 by way of tribute to singer Troy Shondell.

That year, while still at high school, they recorded the Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich song Hanky Panky, but although it garnered a good local following, it failed to break out, and the Shondells split the following year.

While Jackson tried and failed in new groups, Hanky Panky was discovered in a bargain bin by a local DJ and he helped the song gain a new following. Bootlegs were soon pressed up and Hanky Panky was more popular than ever. Jackson travelled to New York in search of a record deal. Unfortunately, he found one with Roulette Records. The label was owned by Morris Levy. A hard-nosed criminal who swindled his acts out of royalties, Levy managed to scare any other interested label away from Jackson, even much bigger ones than his own. Levy inspired the character Hesh in The Sopranos.

Of course, The Shondells as they were had long since split, so Jackson searched for a new band, and found them in a house band called the Raconteurs in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. He changed his name professionally to Tommy James and soon the most famous line-up of The Shondells settled on guitarist Eddie Gray, bassist Mike Vale, Ron Rosman on keyboards and Pete Lucia on drums. With the backing of Levy, Hanky Panky became number 1 on the Billboard chart in 1966.

The next few singles didn’t perform spectacularly, but eventually they found their groove, a bubblegum pop and rock sound, with songwriters and producers Bo Gentry and Ritchie Cordell. They wrote, among others, I Think We’re Alone Now, a UK number 1 for Tiffany in 1988.

By 1968, Tommy James & the Shondells were working on a promising new song, which was more or less complete, but James was struggling for a title. He had considered Sloopy or Bony Maroney, but thought they sounded stupid. They tried in vain, until James went outside, looked up and saw the Mututal of New York building. Its initials were illuminated in red at the top, and James had his ‘eureka!’ moment.

Also credited to singer-songwriter Bobby Bloom, Mony, Mony was, as I said, the raunchiest UK number 1 for some time. Okay, we’re not talking Justify My Love levels of filth here, but we’re still a year off Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin topping the charts. It’s clear James is feeling like one horny bugger during the chorus. Unfortunately, as catchy as the ‘Mony Mony’ chant is, it’s a bit too bubblegum, and the backing vocals keep James in check. There’s an interesting tension there. I’ve always liked this tune, after first hearing punk rocker Billy Idol’s version as a child.

Mony, Mony didn’t reach number 1 in the US, but enjoyed a fortnight in the UK over the summer. It was then briefly toppled by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, but after only a week, Fire was usurped by Mony, Mony for a further week.

Tommy James & the Shondells were beginning to tire of the bubblegum element of their material, and decided on a mature, pyschedelic sound. It paid off, and Crimson and Clover (which was pretty much a Tommy James solo single in all but name) ended a great year for the group at number 1 in the US. One of their bestsellers in 1969 was the sublime Crystal Blue Persuasion, used to great effect in Breaking Bad many years later. They did make a big misstep that year though, laughing off an invitation to play at a festival called Woodstock.

James and the Shondells came to an abrupt halt in 1970 when an exhausted James came off stage and collapsed. He was initially pronounced dead due to drugs. Wisely, James took off for a quiet life in the country. The Shondells renamed themselves Hog Heaven but disbanded after two albums. James however remained in the business and along with a solo career he wrote and produced a US hit for Alive N Kickin in 1970.

60s nostalgia was everywhere in the 80s, and Tommy James & the Shondells did very well out of it. Idol’s Mony Mony was released in 1982, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts had a hit with Crimson and Clover, and then in 1987 Tiffany’s I Think We’re Alone Now and a live version of Mony Mony by Idol were back-to-back chart-toppers in the US.

Thanks to audiences at Idol gigs, Mony Mony became way filthier than the original version. In between every line in the verses, crowds began to chant either ‘Hey, say what… get laid get fucked!’ or ‘Hey, motherfucker… get laid get fucked!’. Then the chorus chant was changed to ‘Fucking horny!’. Dear me.

All this renewed interest in the band inevitably led to James and a new Shondells line-up joining the oldies circuit. Classic-era drummer Lucia died while playing golf in 1987, aged 39.

2010 saw the publication of James’s autobiography. Me, The Mob, and The Music. It detailed how he was left out of pocket by Roulette Records and how it was in fact cover for Levy’s money-laundering operation. He even had to leave New York at one point to avoid being the victim of a Mob hit. He still performs live with a version of The Shondells.

Written by: Tommy James, Bo Gentry, Ritchie Cordell & Bobby Bloom

Producers: Bo Gentry & Ritchie Cordell

Weeks at number 1: 3 (31 July-13 August, 21-27 August)

Births:

Scottish race driver Colin McRae – 5 August
Footballer Julian Dicks – 8 August
Cyclist Chris Boardman – 26 August 

Deaths:

Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent – 27 August 

Meanwhile…

31 July: The first ever episode of World War Two comedy series Dad’s Army was transmitted on BBC One. Written by Jimmy Perry and David Croft, it ran for the next nine years and has been repeated eternally ever since. It’ll probably be the last programme on TV when Donald Trump or Boris Johnson press the big red button.

11 August: British Rail’s last steam locomotives made the 314-mile return passenger journey from Liverpool to Carlisle. The trains were either sent to the scrapyard or kept for preservation.

175. Manfred Mann – Do Wah Diddy Diddy (1964)

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An unusual song by an unusual band. Manfred Mann was the keyboard player in Manfred Mann, but it wasn’t his name. Confused yet?

Mann’s real name was Manfred Lubowitz. Born in Johannesburg, South Africa on 21 October 1940, the aspiring jazz pianist moved to the UK in 1961 and took the name Manfred Manne in tribute to the jazz drummer Shelley Manne. He soon dropped the ‘e’.

In 1962 Mann met percussionist Mike Hugg at Butlin’s in Clacton, and they formed a house band that included Graham Bond. Mann and Hugg decided to form a new group known as The Mann-Hugg Blues Brothers, with the aim of combining jazz with the new R’n’B sound that was becoming popular. The line-up quickly grew, but they struggled to find a singer until they met Paul Jones.

Jones, originally Paul Pond, had previously performed duets as ‘PP Jones’ with Elmo Lewis. Lewis was in fact Brian Jones. At one point Jones and Keith Richards had asked Jones to be the singer in a new group but he turned them down.

By the end of 1962 the group was known as Manfred Mann & the Manfreds, and were a five-piece which also included Mike Vickers on guitar, saxophone and flute, and Dave Richmond on bass.

The quintet signed with EMI in March 1963 and were assigned to the His Master’s Voice label to work with producer John Burgess, who had produced Adam Faith’s two number 1s, What Do You Want? (1959) and Poor Me (1960).

Burgess thought they had potential but insisted they make their name snappier and despite Mann’s reluctance, they became Manfred Mann.

The group’s first few singles didn’t chart, but their profile received a huge boost when they were asked to come up with a new theme tune for the ITV music series Ready, Steady, Go! The result, 5-4-3-2-1, rocketed up the charts to number five. Richmond left the band shortly afterwards to be replaced by Jones’ friend Tom McGuinness.

A few singles later, the band opted to cover married couple Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich’s Do-Wah-Diddy, which had been released in 1963 by US vocal group The Exciters. Together with Phil Spector, they had helped define the girl group sound of the early 60s, and Do-Wah-Diddy was considered a sequel to Da Doo Ron Ron, which had been a huge success for the Crystals. Manfred Man opted to rename their version Do Wah Diddy Diddy, for some reason. It was an odd song choice for a jazz and R’n’B group, but one that paid off well.

Do Wah Diddy Diddy is a strange but memorable mix of bizarre lyrics, sung earnestly by Jones in his best bluesy voice, with an incredibly catchy tune that has stood it in good stead over the years. It suffers next to the recent batch of classic number 1s, but it’s better than some would say, mainly because the tune is one hell of an earworm. Never expect the British public to deny a good song just because the lyrics are gibberish. Comedian Peter Kay certainly has a point about those opening lines though:

‘There she was just a-walkin’ down the street, singin’ “Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do”
Snappin’ her fingers and shufflin’ her feet, singin’ “Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do”

Taken literally, that’s a very strange image, isn’t it? Yet it’s taken as read that the song is simply about a guy who’s turned on by a girl on the street. Critics point out that Jones’ vocal is out of place in what is essentially a fun track, but I’d argue such passion makes it clear what he’s really singing about. So all in all, no classic, but I can see why it’s stood the test of time.

The success of Do Wah Diddy Diddy meant Manfred Mann moved further away from their original sound for their single releases, covering other girl groups for their 45s and tucking the jazz and R’n’B away on their albums. Two more number 1s would appear over the next few years.

Written by: Jeff Barry & Ellie Greenwich

Producer: John Burgess

Weeks at number 1: 2 (13-26 August)

Meanwhile…

13 August: Peter Anthony Allen at Walton Prison, Liverpool and Gwynne Owen Evans at Strangeways Prison, Manchester were hanged for the murder of John Alan West on 7 April. They were the last executions to take place in the UK.

22 August: Football TV programme Match of the Day began broadcasting on BBC Two, making it the longest-running show of its kind in the world.