Tag Archives: Tommy James

Power Pop Tributes V

Power Pop Criminals have done it again.

Every so often, my friend Angelo and the crew at PPC put in some yeoman work to gather together a collection of artists covering other artists and wrap it up for us with a nice bow. On this, their fifth collection of Tribute or Not Tributes, they’ve assembled forty-nine tracks of cover tunes that range from nice surprises to holy shit moments, and there’s no doubt that this will spin multiple times in your player.

Want some familiar names? Ronnie Spector, Butch Walker, The Rubinoos, Cheap Trick, The Goo Goo Dolls, Joan Jett and The Wildhearts are just some of the bands taking a whack at their peers and influences.

Great bands that never got the cred they deserve? Check out The Beat Angels, Pugwash, Velvet Crush, The Merrymakers, Material Issue and Gigolo Aunts.

Names only your powerpop friends know? Discover and enjoy Marty Rudnick, Jaimie Vernon, Chris Richards, Cloud Eleven and The Slingsby Hornets.

These and many others take on tracks from the classic B’s (Beatles, Beach Boys, Badfinger) as well as Tommy James, David Bowie, The Troggs, Joe Jackson, Marshall Crenshaw, Blondie, The Who…ahhh, just click on the damn link and get started, willya? There’s even a bonus 50th track on the site for those of you with Monk-like neuroses.

Like the man says, it’s just raw rock’n’roll with la la las

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Rockin’ Recollections

I can’t really listen to the radio anymore.

Stations today pretty much suck. Much like chain store record department employees, most on-air people are out of their depth. They don’t have a good grasp of what they’re trying to sell or present. They aren’t lifers. They don’t live and breathe the music. Perhaps that has a lot to do with the fact that they’re not choosing what to play (or in the case of the chain store clerk, they are not there by choice but promoted from the small appliances department).

Oldies radio recycles the same few hits by the same few bands and never play the chestnuts. Hell, most of these stations are farmed in from a few central syndicates anyway, so the concept of a revisiting a regional classic is pretty much gone. Some consultant somewhere is choosing titles from a list of what their contractual rights enable them to play without paying additional royalties. It’s dull, lifeless, repetitive.

Oh, I know there are exceptions. There are a couple of guys in my town who have an occasional 3-4 hour slot that can be very entertaining, but the airtime doesn’t line up with my schedule. And maybe satellite radio would cure me of this low opinion; one listen to someone like Little Steven and you see what a world of difference it makes when the creator of the show is deeply invested in every song and detail. Like a great mixtape, each song brings a nod and a smile; it’s great when you’re on that wavelength.

But I don’t need radio anymore. It hasn’t been able to teach me anything in years…decades, perhaps. But I have a lifetime of music to draw upon, and a continuing pipeline of great music that real artists continue to make regardless of apathy, challenges and obstacles. Bless you, fellow zealots.

S0 this week I present you with ten rockin’ recollections, ten songs that I thought of while daydreaming this morning. There’s no logical sequence, it isn’t a mix, and although the thrust of it hovers in the 70s, it wasn’t by design. Just ten great songs that you’ll probably never hear on the radio, but they put a smile on my face and I hope they put a smile on yours.

Enjoy the weekend!

Graham Parker: “Temporary Beauty“. Nice live version from a guy who has been making one brilliant album after another for thirty-five years; he doesn’t get anywhere near the credit he deserves.

Santana: “Soul Sacrifice“. Michael Shrieve is mindblowing on drums; Santana wowed everybody at WoodstockShrieve, at twenty, looked like Sid Vicious!

The Cruzados: “Bed Of Lies“. Vastly underrated band who had a couple of excellent records in the 80s; even Dylan is a fan. This and “Motorcycle Girl” were my faves.

John Hiatt and Matthew Sweet): “Girlfriend“. From Vh-1 Duets. You know, back when music stations actually programmed music content? They also covered “I Wanna Be Sedated” that night!

? and the Mysterians: “Do Something To Me“. Garage gods! This song wasn’t a hit for them although Tommy James had success with it. They still sound great today.

Edgar Winter Group: “Queen of My DreamsDan Hartman goes all Led Zeppelin on us. He was the soul of this group and an incredible talent.

Montrose: “Bad Motor Scooter“. Still smokes 36 years later. Sammy had poodle hair, Ronnie Montrose left Edgar Winter after “Frankenstein”.

J. Geils Band: “Lookin’ For a Love“. Best. Party. Band. Ever. Saw a clip of them from a recent reunion and Peter Wolf can still work that stage like a scarecrow jacked up on coke.

Van Duren: “Grow Yourself Up“. Underknown pop giant who was part of the Memphis scene circa Big Star and came up to Connecticut to record at Big Sound Records. New album in 2010.

Johnny Winter: “Jumping Jack Flash“. With Floyd Radford and Randy Jo Hobbs, although they’re just hanging on for dear life. Johnny owns this song!

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Mon(e)y, Mon(e)y: Tommy James’ Hit (Man)

Papa's got a brand new bag, man

Tommy James and the Shondells were one of the most consistent hit making groups of the 60’s, with iconic songs like “Hanky Panky”, “Mony Mony”, “Crimson and Clover” and “I Think We’re Alone Now” peppering the charts in rapid succession. One would think that the story of their rise to success in that turbulent decade would be a fascinating recollection; a gratuitous name-dropping inside look at the greatest era of pop music and the whirlwind machinery that keeps the whole thing afloat.

Instead, Me, The Mob and The Music is a quick, anecdotal biography that more often skips across those topics like a stone on a pond rather than giving the deep dive that the title implies. And like many celebrity biographies, the beginning stages of a career get a bit more focus than necessary, since the reader is fully aware that the gamble is going to pay off for the struggling beginner.

The story behind The Shondells is interesting enough, showing how pure luck can catapult an artist from obscurity to a chance at fame. In James’ case, a hastily pirated version of a bar band song failed more than once before exploding in Pittsburgh, providing a launching pad that would see the band and song break region by region until success was attained. Ironically, to satisfy those thousands of radio listeners in Pittsburgh, the record was widely pirated and James never saw a dime of the profits. It would be the first taste in a long career of financial infidelity

Read my full review in Blurt Online.

(Not quite Russian) Roulette

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More Gum

(Last week I got quite a few emails after the reprint of the 1910 Fruitgum Company essay, so here’s another from the same book where they originally ran. If you have any interest in that era of pop music I highly recommend you grab a copy of Bubblegum is the Naked Truth – a great read on the subject.)

Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich reportedly wrote the song in twenty minutes as a filler track that became the b-side of a failed single. The Spinners, then trolling the bus tour circuit, had it in their repertoire to help get a few people out on the dance floor. Tommy James, nee Jackson, grew up near the Michigan/ Indiana border and would often check out the Chicago and Detroit bands that came through the area. And when James needed another song to cut with his band the Shondells for a local DJ named Jack Douglas, he remembered the dumb riff that caught his ear.

Having only heard the song once, James didn’t even know the words, so he made some up and mumbled the others. It was just a riff after all. Douglas released the song on his Snap Records label, and after the usual brief local buzz, the record faded away.

That was until Mad Mike Metro, a Pittsburgh DJ, found the record in a bargain bin and started playing it repeatedly on his show, until it eventually soared all the way to number one in the area. By the time he was able to track James down, some local entrepreneur had already bootlegged it and sold thousands of copies. To capitalize on the success of the single, James quickly tried to reassemble the original band, who had all graduated from school and started to go their separate ways. In one of the classic bad career moves of rock ‘n’ roll, they all declined.

James then hooked up with a local Pittsburgh band called the Raconteurs, and after he and Douglas were able to license the original to Roulette Records what happened in Pittsburgh happened everywhere. “Hanky Panky” was a smash hit in 1966, hitting the top of the charts and selling over a million copies…

Read the rest of this essay at Bubblegum University

Buy Bubblegum is the Naked Truth.

Listen to some Tommy James on MySpace

The Tommy James official website

Me, The Mob, and The Music – his new book.

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Rock’n’Roll Hall of Shame (Again)

The Mistake By The Lake

The Mistake By The Lake

I don’t know why I even bother getting agitated anymore. 

I don’t take it seriously, and it’s been a long time since I have gone out of my way to look for the list of nominees, let alone actually root for someone to make it in. It’s a sham, a political clusterfuck of a process, and certainly bears no resemblance to a recognition of the truly worthy. But the other day an email hit my mailbox listing some of the nominees, and well…here we go again.

Some of the finalists this year include The Stooges (again), and KISS (finally), two bands that have obviously made an impact on rock’n’roll, albeit in very different ways. Even The Hollies surfaced after being eligible for over two decades.

But Donna Summer? Disco-thumping, heavy-breathing Donna Summer? Are you kidding me? Sure, she sold a lot of records in the 70s, but so did Cheap Trick and Deep Purple. She might get in before them? They haven’t even hit the finalists list yet! Hall and Oates were way bigger than Donna Summer could ever dream of, with a long string of hit singles that dominated the charts, but I don’t see their name.

And L.L.Cool J? Why- because he stars in a new CSI spin-off show? I like the guy, but not only does his music have nothing to do with rock, there are tons of deserving artists with longer careers who sold more records – what’s the criteria here? And how are rap artists more rock than progressive rock veterans like Yes and King Crimson? Where are The Moody Blues and  Procol Harum?

And before you start tossing the race card at me, I’m not rushing to send Laura Nyro in there, either. At least she has been an influence on a number of rock artists, but until the day Carole King walks through that door, don’t talk to me about great female songwriter/performers. (I wouldn’t have voted Bonnie Raitt in that quickly – yes, she’s had a lengthy and brilliant career, but she’s far from a household name. John Hiatt is a far better songwriter and he’s not in; and if you want to talk underappreciated musical geniuses, where’s Rory Gallagher’s name on that wall?)

And I’m still appalled that bands like R.E.M. – worthy eventually – are in while earlier artists aren’t.  No J. Geils Band, Humble Pie or Johnny and Edgar Winter? All those record sales and The Guess Who, The Turtles and Tommy James are waiting? No Small Faces? Where the hell is Lou Reed?

Some of the elections are artists who also have success as producers, but Todd Rundgren and Rick Derringer have done both – where are their names on the ballot? And if the anything-but-rock Madonna is in because of cultural impact and huge record sales, why not The Monkees?

No idea who the final five will be, but since it’s the 25th Anniversary you can be sure that fanfare will trump honest voting (just ask The Dave Clark Five about that one) because they gotta sell those dinner tickets. Predictability? You’ll see a female artist or female fronted band, a disco or rap artist, a blast-from-the-early-days, a hugely famous artist/band, and one crapshoot. That’s how they roll in Cleveland…well, actually New York, where Jann Wenner and his cronies run the floating crap game. They need to uproot the damned thing and move it to Detroit where it belongs.

The absurdity can be summed up in five words: Alice Cooper isn’t in it.

Here’s a list of the current inductees. For a list of the truly worthy artists and a real Hall of Fame, do what I do – look at your record collection.

If not, enjoy your Eminem and Beyonce inductions. Maybe you can hang on until 2034 when Chickenfoot is eligible.

Without some of this kind of DNA, you ain't rock'n'roll

Without some of this kind of DNA, you ain't rock'n'roll

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Car Tunes

A few years ago, I wrote two pieces for John Borack’s great powerpop book Shake Some Action. One piece made it in, the other didn’t. Hey, shit happens! I happened to come across it tonight, and since I probably wouldn’t change anything on the list, what the heck? It’s almost Daylight Savings Time, which is almost summer, which is almost drive-around-with-the-windows-down, right? Scroll below the vintage radio and enjoy.

John is reportedly working on a new book – keep your eyes peeled.

(No, I don’t think that’s the title…)

Dirty, filthy rock'n'roll!

Dirty, filthy rock'n'roll!

What is it about rock’n’roll and car radios, anyway?

Maybe it’s the sheer exuberance of driving down the highway on a sunny day, or maybe it’s that the original car radios were just louder, brassier versions of that transistor you sneaked under your pillow at night (post-Boomers, ask your parents about that…). But few things in life can pick you up out of the gutter and give you a sense of immortality than the perfect song coming through the speakers at the perfect time. You smile. You’re bulletproof. Life is good!

Of course, there are many great rock classics that can get you pumped up. The cowbell that opens “Honky Tonk Women” does it to me every time, and I can’t keep the car on the road if “You Shook Me All Night Long” is playing. I’ve butchered the lyrics to “Louie Louie” and missed the high notes in “Bohemian Rhapsody” with the best of them. But for pure unadulterated joy, nothing beats power pop.

Why? First and foremost, the killer hook. It’s immediate, visceral, timeless, and using any air instruments at your disposal, you can play along. The harmonies…usually a little more exacting than their hard rock brothers and sisters, it’s either a seamless harmony vocal or a mind-bending blend of aural delight. And, of course…a chorus to die for. Two or three minutes of airtight, hummable, singable, danceable bliss that makes you forget your inhibitions – and your troubles – as you dwell on the possibility that “this might be the best song I have ever heard…”

So without further ado…and with apologies to about thirty songs that might just be number eleven with a bullet…here are the ten best power pop songs I have ever heard emitting from a car radio. Countdown!

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 10. “Tonight” (The Raspberries)

To many, the quintessential pop band, and for me it’s their finest moment. Eric Carmen’s vocal is electric; he sounds like he’s trying to burst through your speakers and get right in your face. And what teenager couldn’t identify with the subject matter?

 To read the full list, please click HERE.

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