The King of Psychedelic Bubblegum
Tommy James: It's Good to be King
Few American singers were as popular in the late 1960s as Tommy James. Some of his big hits are remembered well today ("I Think We're Alone Now," "Crimson and Clover," "Hanky Panky," "Crystal Blue Persuasion," "Draggin' the Line," "Mony Mony") while others, just as good and just as popular at the time, have mysteriously fallen from favor, such as "Mirage," "Ball of Fire," and "Sweet Cherry Wine."
Every few months from 1966 through 1970, Tommy and his backing group, the Shondells, would release another single that became a huge hit, and even some of the less successful singles, like "Out of the Blue," "I Like the Way," and "It's Only Love," are catchy pop creations of the highest order, evergreen blends of harmonies, exotic percussion, ringing guitars, keyboards, and insistent rhythms. With only one or two exceptions, each hummable TJ hit sounded completely unlike the last.
His ability to blend experimentation with pop smarts leads me to consider him a sort of psychedelic bubblegum artist--the best one, in fact.
Since Tommy James and the Shondells were constantly on tour in the mid-to-late sixties, many of the band's records were done in New York with session musicians such as legendary guitarist Vinnie Bell. But by 1968, Tommy and the group--Mike Vale, Pete Lucia, Ronnie Rosman, and Eddie Gray--were elbowing producer/songwriters Bo Gentry and Ritchie Cordell out of the way and writing a lot of their own songs.
The track featured here, "Gingerbread Man," was recorded for the 1968 Mony Mony album, and in fact was one of the first tracks the band did behind Gentry and Cordell's backs.
Roulette Records loved "Gingerbread" and placed it on the flip side of the "Do Something to Me" single, giving the band the confidence it needed to move ahead and record two excellent 1969 albums, Crimson and Clover and Cellophane Symphony.
"Gingerbread Man" is one of my all-time favorite tracks from the band. A catchy song is set off by about 300,000 guitar overdubs, a great late-60s organ part playing sixth notes, all sorts of exotic percussion during the "bridge," and that insistent beat. When the tambourine comes in for the third verse, it's pop heaven, and I still can't tell where Tommy's voice ends during the fadeout and the fuzz guitar begins!
This is the mono mix, which I find much punchier than the stereo. This version was burned from a German issue of the 45 that Mark Caro so courteously brought back from a trip across the sea last year. Hope you all enjoy this dose of pop perfection.