Tommy James and the Shondells – Cellophane Symphony (1969): Forgotten Series

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Although Tommy James and the Shondells boarded the psychedelic bus a bit late, there is little question the Michigan-born, East Coast-based band’s contributions to the genre were highly satisfying.

Prior to expanding their sonic horizons, Tommy James and the Shondells were already big stars on the AM frequency. The stomping frat-rocker “Hanky Panky,” along with perky pop pleasers such as “I Think We’re Alone Now” and “Mirage,” as well as the rambunctious Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels styled “Mony Mony,” were among some of the songs the band scorched the airwaves with.

Despite garnering great commercial rewards, Tommy James and the Shondells harbored a desire for more expressive modes of experimentation. The band further yearned to write their own material, rather than always relying on other composers to supply the goods.

Achieving their intended goal, Tommy James and the Shondells testified to be competent cosmic explorers. Pricked with trippy phasing, “Crimson And Clover” soared to the No. 1 spot on the charts in the final hours of 1968, while the dreamy “Crystal Blue Persuasion” reached No. 2 early in 1969. Both these tunes displayed an advanced sense of adventure fused with a built-in accessibility.

But the band’s most daring performance was the title track of their seventh studio album, Cellophane Symphony, which was released in the autumn of 1969.

An instrumental, checking in at nearly 10 minutes in length, Cellophane Symphony (Roulette Records) swarms with varied orchestration and sound effects. Projecting a space age feel grounded in a Pink Floyd vein, the epic endeavor also brings forth choice elements of exploitation studio bands of the day like Animated Egg and T. Swift and the Electric Bag.

Blanketed with layers of buzzing Moog synthesizers, Cellophane Symphony floats, flows and flutters with strangely shifting tempos and fragmented melodies. A droning bass, compounded by snaking slide guitar riffs and moody keyboard frills are additionally squeezed into the seemingly never-ending maze of mind-bending kicks and tricks.

Tommy James and the Shondells clearly put 100 percent into the making of Cellophone Symphony, resulting in a happy marriage of technology and inventive musicianship. Find a comfortable perch, slap on the headphones and prepare yourself for a full-blown freak out!

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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