Music Reviews: The Complete Tommy James & The Shondells as well as Lloyd Cole Live

Tommy James has hit a whopping 17 Top 40 hits, including two No. 1 hits, and has sold more than 100 million records. And his music has been covered by everyone from Bruce Springsteen and Dolly Parton to Lene Lovich, Tiffany, Billy Idol and Joan Jett. However, you won’t find an entry for James and the Shondells, the group with whom he recorded most of his hits, in books like The Rolling Stone Album Guide. This is undoubtedly because they are often dismissed as suppliers of so-called chewing gum music.

Granted, their opening speech – a 1966 garage rock hit called “Hanky ​​Panky” – is about as sophisticated as the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie”, for example. It consists mostly of a persistent beat and the line, “My baby makes the handkerchief Tanky,” repeated over two dozen times. Yes, there are two verses in the number too, but the first goes like this: “I saw her walking down the line / You know, I saw her for the first time / A pretty little girl standing all by herself / Hey baby Baby can I take you home / I never saw her, never really saw her. As for the rest of the texts, to quote Herman’s hermit: “Second verse, the same as the first.”

But that first hit, which incidentally was written by the famous Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich team, was a coincidence and hardly representative of what James could do. He recorded it when he was 13 and then it disappeared because there was no national distributor. Five years later, a radio station in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania called him out of the blue and told him the record was selling a storm.

James recalled me in a 1974 interview: “Somebody picked up the original recording … and forged copies. 80,000 records were forged and unloaded in 10 days. “James convinced the Roulette label to buy the master CD and sign a contract with him.

In the years that followed, he and the Shondells have proven that they have more to offer than “Hanky ​​Panky”. Yes, they delivered their share of sugary confectionery. But they also served good addicting pop rock. They experimented with musical styles from psychedelia to country and produced a significant amount of remarkable material.

For the first time, all the work from their successful years was collected in one place for the massive new celebration: The Complete Roulette Recordings 1966–1973. This clamshell boxed package with six CDs contains all the tracks from 11 group and solo albums by James as well as singles and songs without LP that have so far only appeared in best-of collections. A 36-page booklet adds data on all of the songs, archive photos and a history of the group.

Celebration’s first CD begins with the band’s debut album, Hanky ​​Panky. In addition to the title track, this record features a second hit, “Say I Am (What I Am)” written by James Cowrote, as well as surprisingly good covers of songs that range from James Brown’s “I’m Go Crazy” to electrifying Saxophone) and Curtis Mayfield’s “I’m So Proud” for the “Good Lovin” of the Rascals and Deon Jackson’s “Love Makes the World Go ‘Round”.

The CD also contains the instrumental “Thunderbolt”, the B-side of the single “Hanky ​​Panky”, which is reminiscent of the Ventures, as well as six contemporary outtakes and It’s Only Love, the band’s second album, whose title cut was catchy but less important Hit. Like the debut, this LP dedicates the lion’s share of its program to cover versions of various genres – from Lee Dorsey’s “Ya Ya” to Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”.

The group’s third and fourth albums – I Think We Are Alone Now and Gettin ‘Together, both on CD 2 of the new anthology – contain fewer covers and a lot of excellent material written specifically for the band. This is where they really come into their own.

The guitar chords and percussion that begins the previous album’s title cut – written like many of James’ Smashes by the Bo Gentry and Ritchie Cordell team – make it sound like a hit even before the vocals even kick in. It’s a classic tale of teenage lust, and it’s not the only catchy tune here: the CD also features “Gettin ‘Together” and “I Like the Way”, not to mention the irresistible and skillfully produced pop hit “Mirage” , a romantic fantasy that is lyrical, recalls the great “Just My Imagination of Temptations”. (By the way, both “Mirage” and “I Think We Are Alone Now” use the unmistakable electronic keyboard instrument “Ondioline”, which Al Kooper used in the Blues Project and “Blood, Sweat & Tears” and which is closely related to the Clavioline, which appears in songs like Del Shannon’s “Runaway”.)

The hits continue on CD 3 of the anthology, which includes the group’s fifth and sixth albums, Mony Mony and Crimson and Clover. The title cut of the former is a bit of a throwback to the simplicity of “Hanky ​​Panky”, but the latter LP’s namesake is something completely different. Yes, it’s an obvious attempt at jumping on the psychedelic train, but it’s a gem nonetheless – especially in the nearly six-minute album version featured here. The single Edit is here too, as are other super catchy hits like “Sugar on Sunday” and “Crystal Blue Persuasion”.

Discs four, five, and six go a bit downhill, which doesn’t mean they’re completely devoid of strong material: the fourth CD features “Sweet Cherry Wine” and “Ball of Fire”, two well-deserved hits that didn’t appear on either of the Original albums, and the fifth CD features James ‘biggest solo hit “Draggin’ the Line”. But the material – mostly from James and an old friend of his name, Bob King at this point – isn’t as compelling as the earlier work, nor are the performances – and there are more than a few real guys here.

Occasional listeners will likely be satisfied with Rhino’s 1989 Anthology, a 27-track set that includes all of the hits (but not the long version of “Crimson and Clover”). But if you want to dig deeper this new package is the place. As mentioned above, it’s bumpy and at times completely memorable, but it also contains a lot of buried treasure that fans of the hits might be happy to discover.

Also remarkable

Lloyd Cole, Live in the Union Chapel and (with the Leopards) live in the Brooklyn Bowl. Neither of these releases are brand new – Union Chapel came out in the US last year and Brooklyn Bowl is from 2019 – but both are new to me and both deserve attention.

Lloyd Cole has been making great music since 1984 when he and his then group The Commotions made their debut with the single “Perfect Skin” and the folk / rock album Rattlesnakes, one of the best records of the 80s. Since then, he’s been a prolific supplier of punchy, educated vignettes and hook-laden acoustic rock that creates space somewhere between the early Velvet Underground and Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde.

Newcomers would be well advised to start with rattlesnakes and work their way forward, but if you’ve already done that, a good next step could be this pair of London concert recordings. Both are two-CD sets, although the Brooklyn Bowl could have fit on a single CD.

On the 29-track Live at Union Chapel, Cole performs solo and focuses heavily on his work with the Commotions from the 1980s. It features six of the best rattlesnake numbers (“Are you ready to be heartbroken?”, “Charlotte Street”, “Forest Fire”, “Perfect Skin”, “2CV” and the title cut) as well as other standout features such as “Brand.” New Friend, “Cut Me Down,” “Lost Weekend” and “Perfect Blue” by Easy Pieces; and “Jennifer She Said”, “My Bag” and “Hey Rusty” from Mainstream. Again, there are later solo efforts like “Don’t Look Back”, “Downtown”, “No Blue Skies” and “Undressed”.

The 20-track Brooklyn Bowl with a first-class full band (including Cole’s son William on two tracks) is arguably even better. Cole taps the Commotions debut again, here with versions of “Are you ready to be heartbroken?” “Charlotte Street”, “Forest Fire”, “Perfect Skin”, “Rattlesnakes” and “2CV”. He also provides a few numbers from his later career, including deep cuts (“Everyone complains”) and a well-executed Dylan cover (“I don’t believe you (she pretends we never met)”).