Wednesday, 27 April 2016

"Original Album Series" by TOMMY JAMES & THE SHONDELLS (2014 Rhino/Warners 5CD Mini Box Set) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...Crimson And Clover..." 

My first real introduction to the mighty 60ts Pop & Rock magic of Tommy James & The Shondells was via Bruce Springsteen vinyl bootlegs in the late 70ts (he will be pleased). I can remember his 1978 encores used to include the incendiary "Mony Mony" to staggering effect – and bluntly his "She's The One" on 1975's "Born To Run" bore an uncanny resemblance to James' signature blaster sound.

I wanted more - but their albums are not common outside of Anthologies and compilations. And that's where this dinky 2014 value-for-money 5CD mini box set reissue comes in. Excluding 2 LPs from 1967 ("It Only Love" and "Getting' Together") – you get their five other albums of the period (1966 to 1969) all in one neat little package. The music moves from Monkees-type pop in 1966 through to the acidic mayhem of 1969 where they come on like a laddish Kinks with killer tunes and a twinkle in their eye. Time to shake a tail feather y'all...

Originally UK and Europe released 20 January 2014 – "Original Album Series" by TOMMY JAMES & THE SHONDELLS on Rhino/Warner Brothers 2564636195 (Barcode 825646361953) is a 5CD Mini Box Set with 5" singular card sleeve repro’s and plays out as follows:

Disc 1 (30:35 minutes):
1. Hanky Panky
2. I'll Go Crazy
3. I'm So Proud
4. The Lover
5. Love Makes The World Go Round
6. Good Lovin'
7. Say I Am [Side 2]
8. Cleo's Mood
9. Don't Throw Our Love Away
10. Shake A Tail Feather
11. Soul Searchin' Baby
12. Lots Of Pretty Girls
Tracks 1 to 12 are their debut album "Hanky Panky" – released July 1966 in the USA on Roulette R 25336 (Mono) and Roulette SR 25336 (Stereo) – no UK release. The Stereo mix is used.

Disc 2 (29:24 minutes):
1. I Think We're Alone Now
2. Trust Each Other In Love
3. What I'd Give To See Your Face Again
4. Baby Let Me Down
5. Let's Be Lovers
6. Run, Run, Baby, Run
7. Mirage [Side 2]
8. I Like The Way
9. California Sun
10. (Baby, Baby) I Can't Take It
11. Gone, Gone, Gone
12. Shout
Tracks 1 to 12 are their third album "I Think We’re Alone Now" – released April 1967 in the USA on Roulette R 25353 (Mono) and Roulette SR 25353 (Stereo) – no UK release. The Stereo mix is used.

Disc 3 (27:51 minutes):
1. Mony Mony
2. Do Unto Me
3. (I'm) Taken
4. Nightime (I'm A Lover)
5. Run Away With Me
6. Somebody Cares [Side 2]
7. Get Out Now
8. I Can't Go Back To Denver
9. Some Kind Of Love
10. Gingerbread Man
11. One Two Three And I Fell
Tracks 1 to 12 are their fifth album "Mony Mony" – released July 1968 in the USA on Roulette SR 42012 (Stereo-only) and in the UK on Roulette RRLP 1 (Mono) and Roulette SRLP 1 (Stereo). The Stereo mix is used.

Disc 4 (32:31 minutes):
1. Crimson & Clover
2. Kathleen McArthur
3. I Am A Tangerine
4. Do Something For Me
5. Crystal Blue Persuasion [Side 2]
6. Sugar On Sunday
7. Breakaway
8. Smokey Roads
9. I'm Alive
10. Crimson & Clover (Reprise)
Tracks 1 to 10 are their sixth album "Crimson & Clover" – released January 1969 in the USA on Roulette SR 42023 (Stereo-only) and in the UK on Roulette RRLP 2 (Mono) and Roulette SRLP 2 (Stereo). The Stereo mix is used.

Disc 5 (42:24 minutes):
1. Cellophane Symphony
2. Makin' Good Time
3. Evergreen
4. Sweet Cherry Wine
5. Papa Rolled His Own
6. Changes [Side 2]
7. Loved One
8. I Know Who I Am
9. The Love Of A Woman
10. On Behalf Of The Entire Staff & Management
Tracks 1 to 10 are their seventh album "Cellophane Symphony" – released October 1969 in the USA on Roulette SR 42030 (Stereo-only) and in the UK on Roulette RRLP 3 (Mono) and Roulette SRLP 3 (Stereo). The Stereo mix is used.

As with all of these mini box sets there's no booklet but you do get 5 x 5" singular mini album sleeves (no gatefolds anyway) with the original front and rear cover of the American LPs on Roulette Records. The writing is tiny of course but how cool is it to see that original artwork after all these decades. The writer-credits are on the CD labels as are full track lists (no timings) with all 5 CD labels having generic colours that don’t reflect the original LP colours.

SOUND: There's no mention of Remasters but its Rhino/Warner Brothers and to my ears the Audio is wickedly good. I've got the 2009 Revola CD for "Crimson & Clover" and "Cellophane Symphony" and I'd have to say that the Audio on their release is the real deal – much better than what's on offer here. But as I say – what is on offer is excellent and at roughly two quid per album – a bit of a deal. Glitches - there was a mastering error on the "One Two Three And I Fell" track on the "Mony Mony" CD album – mistakes were admitted and Rhino have replaced it (my copy is fine).

The "Hanky Panky" album peaked at No. 46 on the US LP charts and produced two big singles – "Say I Am (What I Am)" b/w "Lots Of Pretty Girls" which hit No. 21 in August 1966 on Roulette R-4695 – and the title track "Hanky Panky" that went all the way to No. 1 in June 1966 on Roulette R-4686. Coming across like a more aggressive version of Roy Orbison and penned by the dynamic songwriting duo of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich - "Hanky Panky" is a total 60ts dancing winner. The boys then show their Soul smarts by covering James Brown's "I'll Go Crazy" as well an almost vocal group take on The Impressions classic "I'm So Proud" (penned by Curtis Mayfield). "The Lover" is the first of three originals on the LP – this one penned by their Tenor Sax man George Magura and Bassist Mike Vale. The other two originals are band numbers - "Don't Throw Our Love Away" and "Soul Searchin' Baby". Soul gent Deon Jackson wouldn't cringe at their cover of his sublime "Love Makes The World Go Round" - while The Rascals might sue for identikit on "Good Lovin'". As I recall the funky Soul-Stroll of "Cleo's Mood" (penned by Junior Walker) would also turn up as an instrumental B-side to Isaac Hayes monster "Shaft" in 1971 on Stax Records. The Shondells Saxophone take on it is the kind of wicked 60ts groover you might hear in a bar and rush to the counter to find who it is. Other happy tunes include the infectious "Shake A Tail Feather" – a frat-party winner originally done by The Five Du-Tones in 1963 and picked up on again in 1967 by James & Bobby Purify.

"I Think We're Alone Now" hit No. 74 in April 1967 – it’s title track represented here in its Mono 7” single variant for some reason (weedy sound). "I Think We're Alone Now" is probably better known as a Tiffany song when the teen sensation covered it 20 years later in 1987. Producer and songwriter Phil Cordell took over the reins for the "I Think We're Alone Now" LP - proffering all the songs except their cover of The Isley Brothers classic "Shout". Winning tunes include "Baby Let Me Down" (a lovely vibe) while "California Sun" is probably the most famous groove on here a regular spin for DJs wanting to lively-up their airwaves. Another emotion-puller on here is "(Baby, Baby) I Can't Take It No More" – a fantastic piece of Sixties pop that will lift the most jaded of hearts.

Considering what a smash "Mony Mony" was as a song – it's surprising to see that the LP barely scraped No.193 in July 1968. But that doesn’t mean its weak. It opens with hand-clapping and you can literally see all those shimmy-shaker girls giving it some go-go – driving all the boys wild in their lame boots and mini-skirts (yeah baby). Taking it down several notches the pretty ballad-melody in "(I'm) Taken" is another hidden album nugget. Phil Spector fans will love the Wall Of Sound production given to "Run Away With Me" complete with speaker-to-speaker panning of the vocals. Other faves include the exit-that-bad-relationship-real-quick "Get Out Now" and the harpsichord pop of "Some Kind Of Love".

Fans will also know that the LP variant of the "Crimson & Clover" track is known as the 'long version' because it runs to 5:26 minutes (5:33 on this CD - the single was an edit at three and half minutes). Luckily Rhino have used the 'long version' complete with the engineer saying " a thing...whatever..." at the beginning and that fantastic psych-out extended guitar passage. Released at the beginning of January 1969 – the album "Crimson & Clover" showed maturity in the writing and gave a nod to the druggy culture of the times. The wonderful trippy "I Am A Tangerine" is an obvious homage "I Am The Walrus" by The Beatles. "Don't worry about's all in the mix..." we’re advised at the beginning of "Sugar On Sunday" by the Producer - a song where we go heavy on the harpsichord and treated vocals – the band sounding not unlike a stoned Bee Gees. But my fave is the garage guitar of "Breakaway" – a fantastic little groover buried on Side 2.

Part concept LP – part drug-addled – "Cellophane Symphony" continued the exploration of its predecessor. It opens on what could be The James Gang or Iron Butterfly or even Zappa. The 9:36 minute guitars of "Cellophane Symphony" signal a Tommy James & The Shondells that has moved away from three-minute power pop so much as to be almost unrecognisable. The music continues on the shorter and more recognisably Tommy James "Made Good Time" - where they already sound like Canned Heat on the road (great organ solo). The ballad "Evergreen" has great Production values and feels bigger and better than its 2:07 minute playing time would suggest. The witty homemade cigarettes song "Papa Rolled His Own" has a circus-carousel vocal that's fun but a tiny bit dated. Better is the Side 2 opener "Changes" – the sort of funk-rock religious song that wouldn't have gone amiss in "Hair" (I used to have some myself in 1969). My other poison here is the deceptively deep "I Know Who I Am" which feels like Warner Brothers Dion or even one of Link Wray's Polydor Records '3-Way Shack' recordings – all languid and knowing. While "The Love Of A Woman" may indeed be their very best song – hidden away on an album that's been lost in the mists of time.

A fantastic ride then through those amazingly creative years – and the best way to rediscover some criminally forgotten 60ts joy...

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