Tommy James & the Shondells

Something Special! The Best of Tommy James & the Shondells

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It's hard to conceive that seven of these 12 titles were Top 40 hits because "Gettin' Together," "I Like the Way," "Say I Am (What I Am)," and even the Shondells title track to their second album "It's Only Love" are not as radio memorable as "Mirage," "I Think We're Alone Now," and "Hanky Panky" (rumor has it some may have been "jukebox hits," added to jukeboxes but not necessarily radio play lists). The nearly a cappella "Out of the Blue" is a strange opener and shows the group's vocal prowess, a serious rock band coming off like a bubblegum Beach Boys. One can't quip with producers Bo Gentry and Ritchie Cordell crafting a sound for this group; they worked on everything here except "Say I Am (What I Am)" and "Hanky Panky" off the first Bob Mack/Henry Glover-produced disc (Mack co-wrote the second hit, "Say I Am" with James -- or so it says on the original disc; it is credited to George & Barbara Tomsco on this compilation) and Henry Glover's two productions from the second album, Tommy James' original "Don't Let My Love Pass You By" and the Ritchie Cordell hit "It's Only Love." The Top 25 "I Like the Way" is a wonderful slice of '60s-style British pop and had this follow-up hit to "Mirage" given the band a Small Faces direction, it may have helped to avoid the bubblegum stigma songs like "Love's Closin' in on Me" helped them obtain. It sounds more like Tommy Roe than Tommy James, but, despite having been written by James, bassist Mike Vale, and producers Gentry & Cordell, it still rocks straight from the Paul Revere & the Raiders school of power pop. Power pop over bubblegum is the solution, and side two hits you with "I Think We're Alone Now," "Mirage," and "Hanky Panky," their majesty interrupted by the summery "Real Girl" and the two songs from the second album. Not bad material, but a greatest-hits disc is supposed to help the fans get all their faves right in a row. At least the flip side to "Mirage," Ritchie Cordell's "Run, Run, Baby Run," is on side one and doesn't throw the flow. Tommy James' original "Don't Let My Love Pass You By" is the chorus to Every Mother's Son's "Come on Down to My Boat" from 1967, and James' lawyers should have gone after that one if he had the earlier copyright, but then again, Cordell's "It's Only Love" is derivative as can be, merging the traditional "This Old Man" with songs you know you've heard. Sure, Something Special! The Best of Tommy James & the Shondells was a premature Roulette marketing ploy, but it also shows what these times were all about. The Tee Vee International 20 Greatest Hits is more definitive but not as precise as The Best of Tommy James & the Shondells, which lives up to the title. This album is a good historical artifact nonetheless, and what true music lover can avoid the three irresistible classics included here?

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