When I first listened to this song – the preliminary listen after writing my last post – I jotted down three words that immediately came to mind. Exuberant. Throbbing. Soulful. Welcome then, to an exuberantly throbbing, soulful record.
Mony Mony, by Tommy James & The Shondells (their 1st and only #1)
2 weeks, from 31st July – 14th August / 1 week, from 21st – 28th August 1968 (3 weeks total)
It’s another number one with that 1968 sound – that fusion of Beat pop, Motown and soul that’s cropped up a few times now, in records by Love Affair, The Union Gap, The Foundations and now The Shondells. An American sound, to my ears, even though two out of the four bands just listed were British.
This one starts off with a chugging riff, like a car struggling to start or a tribe banging drums in the jungle. There are handclaps, and some nonsense lyrics: Here she comes now sayin’ Mony Mony, Well shoot ‘em down turn around come on Mony… It’s a record that can’t wait to get to the chorus: You, Make, Me, Feel, So, Good…! and the accompanying call-and-response Yeah! Yeah! Yeahs!
Just who, or what, is ‘Mony Mony’? I imagine the song as a slightly more raucous update on ‘Oh, Pretty Woman’, in which Roy Orbison saw a hottie walking down the street. Apparently, though, Tommy James was inspired to write it by a billboard in Manhattan that read M.O.N.Y, and was advertising a bank (the Mutual of New York.) So, not quite as sexy an origin story…
But they took the acronym and ran with it, and with lines like You gotta toss and turn and feel alright, yeah… it’s safe to assume that they weren’t thinking about the bank’s mortgage services. I love the funky little piano breakdown, before it rises into the final chorus and fade out, with what sounds like a Gospel choir joining in with the yeahs. It sounds like an amazing party right there in the recording studio.
I really enjoyed this song – a chorus that I knew from ‘Best of the 60s’ compilations, but which it’s been great to get to know in detail. It’s nearly three minutes long – a perfectly average runtime for a pop song – but it feels far too short. It’s a record that you can’t help tapping your feet to, a disc that is simply in love with being alive. Amazingly, it was Tommy James & The Shondells only Top 30 hit in the UK. They had two #1s in their native US (they were formed in Michigan) neither of which were ‘Mony Mony’, but for some reason never seemed to catch on over the pond.
Tommy James and co. will, though, enjoy one more #1 by proxy, when Tiffany’s cover of their 1967 hit ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’, reaches the top in 1988. In the US, her version of ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ replaced at #1 Billy Idol’s live-version of… you guessed it… ‘Mony Mony’. How’s that for symmetry…
Listen to every #1 so far here: