On July 22, 2011, I had the pleasure of seeing two major pop/rock acts from the 1960s — The Young Rascals (now known as Felix Cavaliere and the Rascals) and Tommy James and The (new) Shondells — at the Chautauqua Institution, that venerable adult education center that began as a camp for Sunday school teachers in 1874!
Felix started the night with a lively set of the Rascals hits, such as Groovin’, I’ve Been Lonely Too Long, People Got to Be Free – and the big hit – Good Lovin’. He engaged the audience in some spirited singalongs and managed to hit all the notes at the age on 66. I was wondering if the E Street Band’s Steven Van Zandt might make a surprise appearance. After all, he’s the man who helped induct the Rascals into the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame with a hilarious speech that caught the attention of producer David Chase and landed him a role on HBO’s The Sopranos. Well, no Steven, but a great set nonetheless.
Next came the headliner, 64-year-old Tommy James, sporting a most unusual hairdo: a combination mullet AND comb-over! He hit the stage to the heavy bass of Draggin’ the Line and proceeded to belt out all of his major hits with an abundance of energy. He sounded great and the musicians played their axes at loud volume. We had perfect seats – four rows from the stage. In the middle of Mony Mony – my all-time favorite dance song — Tommy came down from the stage to mingle with crowd and shake hands, but I couldn‘t manage to get out of my row without climbing all over the hefty seniors with cotton in their ears and pillows under their butts.
I think this was my favorite concert of the year. Sure, it didn’t have the grandeur of Sir Elton John’s concert, the nostalgia of the Monkees show, or the hipness of Elvis Costello’s gig, but it was a true feelgood experience. And so what if the words are repetitive and don’t make sense? What is crystal blue persuasion, anyway? Why did he have to show her that crimson and clover – over and over? And what the heck does MONY mean? (it’s actually a reference to the Mutual of New York sign, just like in Midnight Cowboy!).
The Michigan-reared Tommy James got his start when a Pittsburgh promoter picked up a record called Hanky Panky (penned by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich!) in a bargain big and started playing it in local dance clubs. Soon, a bootlegger pressed copies and sold it in the area, and it became a huge hit on Pittsburgh radio stations in 1966. In fact, the Shondell lineup of the 1960s was made up of musicians from Pittsburgh.
Sure, it’s not world-changing rock. But these are the songs from my teenybopper years that cause me to crank up the volume every time I hear them.
Here’s Tommy and the boys grooving to Mony Mony in the 60s. I love Tommy’s Nehru jacket!
© Dana Spiardi, July 24, 2011