Tommy James insures a hit

We’re back with another entry in the proposed book, The Top 1,000 Hits of the 1960s. The order is based on a mathematical breakdown of the Billboard Hot 100 singles charts from the first week of 1960 to the last week of 1969, with additions from the last weeks of 1959 and the first weeks of 1970s to make sure no song that peaked in the 1960s missed the countdown because it was on the charts immediately before or after the decade.

Today, we have one of Tommy James’ most popular hits, a #3 smash from 1968. Its title was inspired by a lighted insurance company sign, of all things.

# 278
Mony Mony / Tommy James & the Shondells /
Roulette R-7008
(Total points: 1,429 / Chart debut: 4/6/1968 / Chart peak: 3 / Weeks on chart: 17)

Inspiration can strike from almost anywhere. Such was the case with “Mony Mony,” the second of five Tommy James & the Shondells hits in our countdown.

James and his producers at the time, Bo Gentry and Ritchie Cordell, had most of the song written and recorded, but they still didn’t have a title. Every idea they came up with for a title either had been used or didn’t work. As their dilemma continued, James and Cordell were in the former’s apartment at 888 Eighth Avenue in New York City one evening. Taking a break, they went onto the terrace of the apartment – and the first thing they saw was the illuminated sign of the nearby Mutual of New York building, MONY for short. Thus inspired, the song gained its unique, memorable title.

Once they had the lyric, James and the band finished the recording. Adding to the party atmosphere, they invited anyone they could find – secretaries, people on the street, the writers and producers – to join with the echoed “yeah” and the repeated title.

Its hit status wasn’t immediately evident; when Billboard reviewed the single in its March 23, 1968 edition, it gave equal attention to what it thought was the A-side, “One Two Three and I Fell.” But radio disagreed. “Mony Mony” started slowly, with a debut of #95; it took more than two months to finally make the top 10, eventually reaching its #3 peak in the June 15 issue, behind only “Mrs. Robinson” by Simon & Garfunkel and “This Guy’s in Love with You” by Herb Alpert. It was the Shondells’ highest charting hit since “Hanky Panky” almost two years earlier.

More impressively, “Mony Mony” crossed the Atlantic and became an even bigger hit in England, where it hit #1 for three weeks in July and August. It was their only significant hit single there, and it was no doubt heard by an aspiring singer named William Broad, who – using the name Billy Idol – would record it in both 1981 and 1987, taking it to #1 in the Hot 100 the second time.

Collector’s notes: At least four different pressings of the Roulette 45 exist. All of them have the alternating orange and yellow segments that give the label the look of a roulette wheel. Most copies have the word “ROULETTE” above a gray circle. A few copies have the 1964-67 vintage Roulette label without the gray circle. Still others add the letters “NR” to the type at around 4 o’clock; these are later pressings meant for oldies and discount racks at record stores.

Fast fact: Four different writers shared credit on “Mony Mony” because it was a combination of two fragments. James, Cordell and Gentry wrote the main portion; the bridge, with the repeated “Ooh, I love you Mony” lyric, was written by Bobby Bloom, who in 1970 would have a hit song of his own, “Montego Bay.”

By the way, the below was a promotional film, what we’d now call a video, that James and the Shondells made in 1968.


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