Tommy James and the Shondells' ubiquitous presence on pop radio from the mid '60s to the early '70s (the band had no less than 16 hit singles in that time) ensured their hooky, ear-friendly tunes an integral and enduring place in the era's soundtrack. Rhino's THE VERY BEST OF collects those singles on a disc that plays like one long, continuous hit parade.
James' success was attributable partly to his ability to stay abreast of the changing musical and cultural climate. His earlier hits, like the bare bones garage rock of "Hanky Panky," are infectious, riff-centered party anthems. Cuts like "Mirage," "I Think We're Alone Now," and the driving "Mony, Mony" (the longevity of the latter two has been reaffirmed with popular remakes by Tiffany and Billy Idol, respectively) prove James especially adept at merging rock elements with irresistible melodic hooks. In the late '60s, the band's direction became influenced by psychedelia; "Sweet Cherry Wine" and "Crystal Blue Persuasion" sport slower tempos, more spacious arrangements and lyrics about peace and brotherhood. But it's the simple, three-chord pop masterpiece of "Crimson and Clover" that may be the jewel in James' crown.