22
Aug 06

TOMMY JAMES AND THE SHONDELLS – “Mony Mony”

FT + Popular27 comments • 5,968 views

#254, 3rd August 1968

There’s more screamin’ and hollerin’ on “Mony Mony” than on any Number 1 of the last several years, to the point where Tommy James sounds really quite ill – separate “you…make me..feel…so..good…so good…” from its rave-up backing at it could be a man spluttering his last. The ingredients here are nearly all garage rock ones – organ, shouting, chanting, big crude beats, bigger cruder hooks, massive energy, the danger of collapse – but there’s none of the threat or frustration I associate with garage bands*. “Mony Mony” is sweaty, ramshackle, party music – for all the raw throats and volume it never sounds menacing, quite the reverse: it’s eager for you to sing and stomp along. And why not?

*Of course my knowledge of garage rock is a) barely large enough to identify it as a ‘sound’ and b) entirely curated: my impressions of it are based on what its later compilers and champions – the Nuggets people especially – wanted to convey. Lads hanging out together are usually goofy as well as moody or aggressive or cool, and I’m sure there was a lot of goof in garage rock too, as well as all the buzzsaw underground energy.

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Comments

  1. 1
    Brian on 22 Aug 2006 #

    It may sound like Garage to you now , but the essence of this sound comes from the Kingsmen ( Louie, Louie ), and probably more in tune with the times and almost a direct rip-off of Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels ( ” Devil With A Blue Dress & Jenny Take A Ride”) who were kicking ass in The USA – mid sixties and are still around.

    If the Shondells “for all the raw throats and volume… never sounds menacing” , Mitch was and this motor city muscle was also captured by the MC5.

    I was at a company do last year and was astonished when this number came on. Little did I know about the rude, crude and hilarious counter melody that everbody chants out after Tommy offers the first line of the song. Do you all know what I’m talking about or is this just an Canadian thing ?

  2. 2
    blount on 22 Aug 2006 #

    no it definitely exists in the states as well though i think i’ve only heard in combination with the idol version (the corn and crassness of the counterchant seems more in line with idol though i’m not sure where/when it originates)(i’ve always found the chant actually has the effect of lessening the intensity, like it’s interrupting a torpedo). definite garage roots here, the more rnb/soul frat rock end (cf. swinging medallions, human beinz maybe), as much the kingsmen i’m thinking the isleys are a forefather here, obv ‘shout’ and from there you’re one step to gospel (‘mony mony’: isleys’ ‘shout’ :: ‘hanky panky’ : maurice williams’ ‘stay’?). one thing i esp like about ‘mony mony’ (and i’d definitely rate this above ‘lady madonna’; 7>5) is that great great beat – the glitter schaffel is almost ‘mony mony’ beat screwed, i’m tempted to see if eddy namechecks it in the glitter chapter – and the caterwaul it’s able to place on top of it – ‘mary mary’ + ‘stepping stone’ and it might best both of those.

  3. 3
    Tom on 22 Aug 2006 #

    Brian – you see in the depths of my ignorance I always thought the Kingsmen were proto-garage, if not actual garage but a bit early.

    It does have a great beat. I like “Lady Madonna” more though, something about its niggliness really seems to speak to me.

  4. 4
    Pete on 23 Aug 2006 #

    So what’s the counter-chant then?

    Seems urgent and key for an appreciation.

  5. 5
    blount on 23 Aug 2006 #

    it’s been awhile but i think it’s ‘hey motherfucker! get laid! get fucked!’, i suspect very much this has to be discussed on that ilm thread about audience singalong addendums to songs.

  6. 6
    Doctor Mod on 23 Aug 2006 #

    I’m sure that much of the song’s appeal lies in the simple fact that it means nothing (literally!) and thus there is nothing to think about.

    If it is “about” anything, it’s about sound. Tommy James explains the title as the result of him trying to think up something to insert into the song and seeing a billboard for Mutual of New York (MONY), an investment/insurance group whose acronym surely was meant to evoke MONeY.

    It would, of course, be tempting to read some message regarding capitalism into all of this, but I’m sure that all it means in the end is that Tommy James (or someone) made a lot of MONeY, MONeY on this one.

  7. 7
    Brian on 23 Aug 2006 #

    I think that this track is way to early to even think of linking it to Garage. Frat yes. Heck, we haven’t touched punk yet and as far as I know garage is after punk in actual time.

    Canadian version is ” Hey motherfucker , get drunk, get laid”…..but i am sure there are variaitons on the theme all leading to the same ineviatable situation.

  8. 8
    Pete Baran on 23 Aug 2006 #

    The Billy Idol version was contemporaneous with Moni Love being around I think, so I always assume Mony in the title was a name (though I don’t doubt the Mutual story which has passe dinto legend).

    Garage here though is the US psych scene which was rumbling from 64 onwards – think The Primitives, The Pretty Things etc.

  9. 9
    Mark M on 23 Aug 2006 #

    Typically, having threated to clarify things Pete, you’ve confused them further (The Pretty Things were British, surely?) But yes, as I’ve always understood it, garage starts with the distorted r’n’b/r’n’r of The Kingsmen and The Sonics and mutates via time, British influence and drugs until you get The Seeds and the Chocolate Watchband – anything on Nuggets.

  10. 10
    Mark M on 23 Aug 2006 #

    threatened, obv

  11. 11
    pˆnk s lord sükråt cunctør on 23 Aug 2006 #

    didn’t we once isolate at least FOUR distinct types of “garage” on ILM?

  12. 12
    Mark M on 23 Aug 2006 #

    Only four?

  13. 13
    Brian on 23 Aug 2006 #

    Somebody’s got to catch me up – when I hear “Garage” , I think Kurt Cobain or kids in Seattle thrashing away at some temporal angst.

    Some of it’s just bad, amatuer r’n’r. I’ve got a daughter that thrashes to that effect – I should know – but she’s “emo”.

  14. 14
    Pete Baran on 23 Aug 2006 #

    The Pretty Things are the most represented band on all the Nuggets / Pebbles comps! But its that UK/US feedback loop which makes it all work – everyone trying to sound like everyone else and failing to spectacular degrees.

  15. 15
    blount on 23 Aug 2006 #

    pretty things decidedly freakbeat, not garage

  16. 16
    Brian on 23 Aug 2006 #

    blount- i like that distinction better.

    The Pretty Things got lostin Glasgow once & my father-in-law gave them directions – back to England !

  17. 17
    koganbot on 24 Aug 2006 #

    Remember that “garage” was not a perceived genre in the ’60s, which doesn’t necessarily mean it wasn’t one, but it does mean that no one was going “‘Wild Thing,’ oh yes, that’s garage rock,” and “‘With a Girl Like You,’ that’s not garage rock enough for me,” or anything. But I’d say of the bands that later got called garage rock, way way way more of ’em were trying to sound like the Yardbirds and the Stones than like “Louie Louie.” In fact, I’m not sure that anything other than “Wild Thing” was particularly trying to sound like “Louie Louie,” and I don’t think music would have been much different if none of those Pacific Northwest groups had existed – and as far as most of the country was concerned they didn’t; after “Louie Louie” none scored national hits until Paul Revere & the Raiders a few years afterwards. But that said, the Kingsmen, Sonics, and Wailers did represent something, a white rattle-clatter romp through r&b/early soul (some surf in there, too) that isn’t worrying about playing like pros or waiting for the Brit Invasion to come along and give ’em permission but is just ready to shove it in your ear. And I think Brian and Blount are basically on the money here, in that “Mony Mony” sounds more like the soul side than the psych-punk side of garage, Mitch Ryder being a touchstone and the Beatles doing their Isley imitation (more than the Isleys themselves) and the Young Rascals and the Music Explosion (“A Little Bit of Soul”) and the Human Beinz (“Nobody But Me”) and the Buckinghams (“Kind of a Drag”) and the Outsiders (“Time Won’t Let Me”).

    The soul side and the psych punk side of “garage” could bleed into each other of course, and did in a lot of those songs (and if you flip over “A Little Bit of Soul” you actually get a much better garage rock song called “I See the Light” which starts off with Jerry Garcia-imitation guitar – which was not common yet – before slicing its way into basic pained girl-hate). Interesting thing about Tommy James is that as far as I know he basically aspired to be a music biz pro rather than a freak, so if he’s taking on psych punk at all (“Crimson and Clover”?) it’s at a music bizzer’s let’s-snap-our-fingers-and-get-hip-with-the-kids distance. His breakthrough single had been a low-rent cover of a Brill-building nonhit, and I’ll bet (though I don’t know this) he’d have been more comfortable with the Chip Taylors (guy who wrote “Wild Thing” and “Angel of the Morning” and whose niece recently had a baby) and Neil Diamonds (“Cherry Cherry” being his garage rock classic) than with most of the garage brats. And Tom’s write about the complete lack of menace in his voice. And nonetheless his stuff does partake of that in-your-ear bash-it-out-and-trash-it subversiveness that takes you (in spirit if not in fact) out of the supposed straight-and-narrow (and therefore at age 14 I did find the song kind of scary), and then it can subvert in the other direction a couple of years later when Marsh-Bangs-Kaye et al. are inventing terms like “punk rock” and “garage rock” for this stuff and championing it as a trash-it-out party bash antidote to psychedelic freak counterculture respectability. And this is a bash that keeps on bashing: one of John Leland’s greatest moments was when he explained in his Spin column that he’d once told his mother that one thing he liked about music was noise, and then added that by “noise” he meant Tommy James, not the Stooges. And of course in its time “Mony Mony” was derided by hipsters as “bubblegum.”

    (You underrate it, by the way; it’s at least an 8; and “Crimson and Clover” is a 9.)

  18. 18
    koganbot on 24 Aug 2006 #

    And Tom’s write about the complete lack of menace in his voice.

    And he’s right, too.

    I think when the Idol version hit in the U.S. there was a week when it and Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now” were one-two in the Billboard Top 100 (though I don’t remember in what order).

  19. 19
    Brian on 25 Aug 2006 #

    You’ll note that never said that I liked “Mony, Mony”. And , as koganbot says I guess I was one of those hipsters that thought this was a bit bubblegum and also the lack of menace was more, to me, a lack of conviction compared say to Mitch Ryder.

    Tommy’s preference for the bizz side of music/hit making goes along way to explain why the whole performance it too structured ( yell “yeah ” on the offbeat on bars 4 & 8 ! ) for my taste. It may be garage in it’s infancy but it’s certainly a 2 car garage , attached to nice semi.- ( detached ) in a better part of town.

    That’s it for this song for me as it’s become a very annoying ear-worm.

  20. 20
    Marcello Carlin on 30 Aug 2006 #

    It’s the bubblegum flipside to Brotzmann’s Machine Gun.

  21. 21
    wichita lineman on 21 Aug 2008 #

    “In fact, I’m not sure that anything other than “Wild Thing” was particularly trying to sound like “Louie Louie,” and I don’t think music would have been much different if none of those Pacific Northwest groups had existed”

    Well, I’d agree that the Stones and Yardbirds were THE greatest garage rock influences, but any garage band with an organ didn’t pick it up from Blighty, they picked it up from The Kingsmen.

    One undeniable 10 (if Popular was all Nuggets instead of Number Ones) is Teddy & His Patches’ Suzy Creamcheese, which kidnaps Louie Louie, throws it into a washing machine on spin cycle, then feeds it acid and covers it in stardust.

    Tommy James’s posh garage theory – hmmm, this baffles us in Britain because we’d think any kids who had a garage to practise in were probably pre-tty middle class. Over here, musicians held their guitars high and played fast cos it kept them warm and took their minds off rumbling stomachs.

    The Shondells’ Hanky Panky (a 9 in the US Popular parallel universe) is pure garage, menacing voice or no. Tommy was 15 or 16 when they recorded it. Beautiful amateurish stop/start noise with a very effective guitar break. Mony Mony is bubblegum soul, the band moved with the fashions just like everybody else, it’s only that the Shondells were more pop than rock. As for damning James a careerist – did he move into the biz after the group split? I don’t think he did.

  22. 22
    koganbot on 2 Apr 2010 #

    Well, I’d agree that the Stones and Yardbirds were THE greatest garage rock influences, but any garage band with an organ didn’t pick it up from Blighty, they picked it up from The Kingsmen.

    You’re right that they didn’t pick it up from Britain but they mostly picked it up from r&b/soul – which is where the Kingsmen and the Raiders got it too, but Mitch Ryder and ilk didn’t have to hear the Kingsmen to use organ. “Louie Louie” hitting might have helped the organ’s ubiquitousness, but it’d have been prominent anyway without the Kingsmen, though of course there’s no way to test this theory experimentally. On the other hand, Mitch Ryder was going to be a musician even if there’d been no British Invasion either, and the same goes for Tommy James, but I doubt this would have held true for most of the garagers.

    The “posh” garage theory in regard to the “Mony Mony” end of things seems wrong, in that someone with biz leanings is likely to start poorer than someone without them. But that person might aspire to career and stability rather than counterculture (and career and stability are hardly damning terms, and I’ve achieved neither myself). The divider here really is “hip” versus “straight,” in that the garagers were proto-hipsters though they pretty quickly got outflanked by the freaks, and by ’68 or so the Neil Diamonds and the Tommy Jameses were considered irretrievably unhip (which wouldn’t have been the case in ’66, when the rock/pop hip/non-hip signifiers were less certain*), except my guess is that Tommy James – unlike Neil – might have wanted to be hip; he just wasn’t. Not that I know Diamonds’ or James’ actual circumstances growing up.

    “Garage rock” was a retrospective term, coined sometime in the ’70s, I think by critic Greg Shaw but I’m not certain. And it wasn’t even the first retrospective term for the phenomenon – the first retrospective term for it was “punk rock,” coined ’70–’71, and that’s the term used by Lenny Kaye in the liner notes to the retrospective Nuggets anthology that he put out in 1972 (and which was mostly restricted to tracks from ’65 to ’68). But the point of the “garage” in the term “garage rock” wasn’t that kids’ parents could afford garages (maybe the kids were rehearsing in basements), but that the musicians were amateurs or at best semi-pros who couldn’t afford rehearsal space and were lucky to get to play a high-school dance, and that scrappy little record labels were willing to record them, and some were scoring national hits. This may not be altogether accurate, and I wouldn’t bet that the people who coined the term knew if it was accurate either. But that’s where the term came from and what it was meant to represent. I’d say that the real divide between the British Invasion groups and the Americans wasn’t economic class so much as cultural class: the Brits were products of urban bohemias, and even those who were from poor families (e.g., not the Rolling Stones) were nurtured in art school and were more likely have artists’ backbones and intentions. Whereas U.S. garage rock as an echo of the Brit bands were kids from local scenes, these kind of halfway bohemias that would emerge in high schools or smaller cities.

    But the Shondells had long-since split by the time “Hanky Panky” hit (two years after it was recorded); it was a cover song; later Tommy James & The Shondells tracks were written by professional songwriters (just as “Hanky Panky had been, but I’ll testify that the Shondells’ version felt very scrappy and of a piece with 1966, a brilliant surf-trash cover of a slight Brill Building B-side throwaway** that James gave snideness and fierce aggression to).

    *Of course they unraveled in a few years anyway.

    **Here’s the original by the Raindrops, with Ellie Greenwich doing her own vocals, and it shows its girl-group ancestry; is 1963, so when Greenwich and Barry were still working with Spector on the Ronettes and such, prior to their hooking up with Red Bird Records and writing for the Dixie Cups and the Shangri-Las.

  23. 23
    koganbot on 2 Apr 2010 #

    Whereas U.S. garage rock as an echo of the Brit bands were kids from local scenes, these kind of halfway bohemias that would emerge in high schools or smaller cities.

    Which doesn’t mean that some didn’t aspire to business respectability rather than counterculture respectability, or that biz people (some of whom no doubt aspired to being counterculture) couldn’t also produce the sound – the Monkees’ “Steppin’ Stone” being a prominent example.

  24. 24
    rosie on 2 Apr 2010 #

    wichita @ 21/koganbot @ 22

    The Animals?

  25. 25
    AndyPandy on 3 Apr 2010 #

    Wichita at 21: surely you’re being slightly ironic when you say any kids with garages would have been considered middle class as a lot/most post war council estates and tower blocks had lock ups – obviously not for every house but for quite a few and these were especially in the case of non-tower block council estates built by the time we’re talking about.
    And as for the “rumbling stomachs” – in postwar Britain did anyone except those from extremely dysfunctional families have empty stomachs because of poverty?
    And in any case the groups drew their members from the aspirational upper working-classes/lower middle classes and not from the underclass – obvious in the fact that the majority were in education post-16.Surely the Beatles were a case in point – only Ringo was of the class where poverty may have been an issue – and I’m not sure if it ever actually was even for him.After all we’re talking about one of the wealthiest country’s at a time when the lower classes were as well off as they’d ever been before or since.

  26. 26
    Cumbrian on 15 Aug 2012 #

    In preparation for the (perhaps imminent) 1968 Popular Poll, I thought I would look through some of these and have a listen, when I came across this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkMgs3lFwkQ

    Blimey, the Shondells look like they could well be The Rutles on this clip – maybe it’s just the graininess of the footage but (particularly the shot of the bassist by himself clapping) but the resemblance is pretty weird.

  27. 27
    lonepilgrim on 29 Jun 2016 #

    I can definitely hear echoes of ‘Twist and Shout’ in the call and response vocals and maybe bits of ‘Iko Iko’ in the rhythm. It’s the type of song they’d play when you were spinning around on the fairground waltzer.

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