Song: “Hanky Panky” by Tommy James and the Shondells
Reached #1: July 16, 1966 (their first, 1 week)
Even Tommy James said this was one of those “so bad it’s good” songs – they ran with the original recording because he was afraid if they did it again, they’d lose the fun behind it.
The song originally came from the Brill Building team of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich – and didn’t quite have the massive repetition of the lyrics when they did the song as the Raindrops. They didn’t think much of it, actually, as it was designed as a throw-away B-side.
James has admitted that what he sang was what he remembered of the song, and clearly that wasn’t very much.
The story of how the song hit the top of the charts is kind of typical for the ‘60s. James and his friends recorded the song in Michigan in 1964 – they were your basic teenage garage band (James was just 17). It got some local airplay, a little notoriety, then the guys graduated high school and moved on.
By early 1966, James’ second band, the Koachmen, had also pretty much broken up when he got a call from Pittsburgh. A local DJ there had found “Hanky Panky” and it had become a massive hit in Western Pennsylvania. They wanted James and the Shondells to come do some dates – which posed a problem as the Koachmen didn’t want to make the trip and the original Shondells had found other things to do (marriages, military, or college).
That didn’t stop James – he went to Pittsburgh and started hitting the local club scene to find a band. He ran across a group called the Raconteurs… and asked them if they wanted to become his new Shondells. They said yes, allowing the “Tommy James and the Shondells” dates to go on. The new Shondells were picked up by Roulette Records, who promptly pushed the original Shondells single to #1, while the new Shondells toured to support it.
Not even death could stop James – yes, really. James collapsed after a concert in 1970 and was pronounced dead from a drug overdose (he got better). While James recovered, the second Shondells broke up, leaving James as a solo artist (and leading to his one solo hit, “Draggin’ the Line”).
He got back together with the surviving members of the second Shondells in 2009 for a never-released documentary and soundtrack. They still do the nostalgia circuit.
Of course, today James is as well-known as the source for all those ‘80s covers – “Crimson and Clover” (Joan Jett & The Blackhearts), “Mony Mony” (Billy Idol), and “I Think We’re Alone Now” (Tiffany).
Tomorrow, a Houston quartet… trio… solo… um… yeah.
Other songs that reached #1 on July 16:
1977 – “Da Doo Ron Ron” by Shaun Cassidy (his first, 1 week)
2011 – “Party Rock Anthem” by LMFAO feat. Lauren Bennett & Goonrock (their first, 6 weeks)