Tommy Tutone – Tommy Tutone 2 (1981): On Second Thought

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Not a solo act, but a full-fledged band, Tommy Tutone formed in 1978 and hailed from Northern California. Although personnel changes were to become a common practice, lead singer Tommy Heath and guitarist Jim Keller remained permanent members throughout the years.

It didn’t take long for Tommy Tutone to pique interest beyond their neighborhood, and a contract with Columbia Records was soon secured. The band’s first single, “Angel Say No” gripped the Top 40 in the spring of 1980 and appeared on their self-titled debut album.

But “867-5309/Jenny” was the song responsible for introducing Tommy Tutone to a wider audience. Reaching No. 4 on the national charts in early 1982, the snappy little ditty also garnered a bout of negative publicity. Pranksters everywhere dialed 867-5309, asking to speak with Jenny, which obviously drove the owner of the number — who was the daughter of the Chief Of Police in Buffalo, New York — mad with rage. A lawsuit was threatened, but dropped, and the song stayed on the airwaves.

Gravel-throated vocals, tinged with a punk-infested bite, narrates “867-5309/Jenny,” while choppy keyboards, plucky guitars, and feisty hooks further inhabit the landscape. John Cowsill of the famed 1960s family pop band, the Cowsills, lends harmony and percussion to the catchy production. There’s no argument “867-5309/Jenny” is the strongest track on Tommy Tutone 2 (Columbia Records), but that’s not suggesting the rest of the material lacks merit.

True, nothing radical is happening amid the grooves, as the songs tend to mine similar turf. Yet, these cuts, especially “Steal Away,” “Baby It’s Alright,” “Which Man Are You,” and “Shadow On The Road Ahead” demonstrate Tommy Tutone’s flair for taking their influences, most notably Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen, and Elvis Costello, and adding their own bits and bobs to the sessions. By blending kinetic new wave values with a gutsy bar band sound, Tommy Tutone 2 rates as an earnest illustration of its era.

Tommy Tutone released their third album, National Emotion in 1983, then broke up shortly thereafter. The band reunited in the late ’90s and has continued to record on an on-and-off basis. But no matter what, Tommy Tutone will eternally be associated with “867-5309/Jenny,” and that is certainly an impressive achievement, considering what a great song it is.

Beverly Paterson

Beverly Paterson

Beverly Paterson was born the day Ben E. King hit No. 4 with "Stand By Me" -- which is actually one of her favorite songs, especially John Lennon's version. She's contributed to Lance Monthly and Amplifier, and served as Rock Beat International's associate editor. Paterson has also published Inside Out, and Twist & Shake. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Beverly Paterson
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