Tommy James and the Shondells – Anthology (1989): Forgotten series

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Although there is no shortage of Tommy James and the Shondells retrospectives available, Anthology tends to be the best of the bounty. Between the years 1966 and 1969, the East Coast band amassed a total of 14 top 40 hit singles, obviously making them one of the most successful groups of the era.

Sequenced by release date, Anthology (Rhino Records) commences to the raunchy rigmarole of “Hanky Panky,” ensued by the similarly formulated beer-stained frat-rocking rowdiness of “Say I Am (What I Am)” before delving deep into the lively and exuberant pop stuff the band was mainly known for.

Flooded with skyscraper harmonies and hooks sharper than the mind of a brain surgeon, “I Think We’re Alone Now,” “Do Something To Me,” “Mirage” and “One Two Three And I Fell” step into the spotlight as bubblegum bonanzas, while the equally juicy-fruit fragrance of “It’s Only Love” features a burst of real cool horn arrangements.

Cute and catchy pop songs, coupled with a rather clean cut image, led Tommy James and the Shondells to be pegged a teenybopper act. In order to rid themselves of the label, the band brazenly dipped their toes in psychedelic waters with amazingly accomplished results.

Garnished with the space-age hiss of a synthesizer, noggin-spinning patterns and trippy trimmings, “Crimson And Clover” skillfully assimilates freak rock with radio-friendly pop sensibilities, where the mesmerizing magnetism of “Crystal Blue Persuasion” further shivers and quivers with technicolor tactics. Imagine the Monkees, the Strawberry Alarm Clock and the Lemon Pipers embarking on a magical mystery tour with refreshments served by Pink Floyd, and that basically articulates the stunning vision of the band’s affair with progressive rock.

Fueled by a showcase of loud handclapping, gyrating breaks and a shouting chorus, “Mony Mony” is a first-rate dance floor shaker, and then there’s cuts like the goose-pimply “Sugar On Sunday,” the gospel influenced “Ball Of Fire” and the soulful “She” that sit as additional praiseworthy pieces heard on the disc.

1970 marked the sad end of the Shondells. Tommy James instantly launched a solo career, and in 1971 he seized the airwaves with “Draggin’ The Line,” which sways and swaggers to a seductive groove that’s impossible to ignore, and is included on Anthology as well.

A highly competent singer, Tommy James is just as convincing when belting out a rocker as he is putting a velvety croon to a ballad. His voice is expressive and exciting, and the material he recorded with the Shondells proved to be a flawless fit. Crammed with ridiculously snappy tunes, many which have become pop rock standards, Anthology is a satisfying and rewarding listen from corner to corner.

Here’s a batch of songs that sound as vital today as they did back then.

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