Matchless inventiveness; a near-perfect blending of sound
Phil Rogers | Ann Arbor, Michigan | 09/25/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is one amazing band as far as their ability to reinvent themselves on every release of a single - kind of the way the Doors did on every song of their 'Strange Days' album, though of course in a very different way.They started out with the lanky, strongly original proto-garage tune "Hanky Panky" - at about the same time the Young Rascals launched their smoky, similarly styled "I Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore". [Gritty, intensely moving and sonically astounding as it was, the (Young) Rascals' song crashed and burned on the charts, though not in the minds of forward-looking listeners. But they tamed their sound a bit on "Good Lovin'", went straight to the top, and stayed there for several years.]The Shondells' (as they were announced by DJs at the beginning of their equally long run) had a second hit with "Say I Am" - which didn't grab me during its short tenure on the charts (I later realized my mistake). This one is amazingly inventive in terms of melody and vocal delivery; and with those jazzy riffs/rhythms that accompany the lyrics, the song moves through its paces relentlessly, confidently buoyant throughout."I Think We're Alone now" was the obvious follow-up to the Turtles' "Happy Together". [This is especially true since the Turtles' own next effort "She'd Rather Be With Me", was such inferior product - a very bad-sounding song possessing none of the gorgeous guitar playing of their short-lived folk-rock phase - early in their career the Turtles were among the best in the world.] "I Think We're Alone Now" tugged at the heartstrings and told a very familiar story in a novel musical fashion - its pop-rock sonic pallet was colorfully descriptive - its arrangement was rich but uncrowded. In "Mirage", their follow-up in a similar vein, Tommy's vocal (during verses, not choruses/bridges) added a twinge of the jazzy R &B influences the band was [secretly?] absorbing, eventually exploding full force into their music ("Crystal Blue Persuasion")."Gettin' Together" I suppose was one of their rare mistakes; in bowing to the likes of Tommy Roe, Gary Lewis and other proto-bubblegum artists, they temporarily displaced themselves from the main thrust of their ongoing musical experiment/evolution. Sentimentality can be a creative force, but these two songs are obvious instances of poor songwriting and stylistic meltdown."Mony Mony" I hated this song, convinced at the time the group was going in a really bad direction, but later changed my mind, and give it almost a 4 out of 5. Even today people get really happy dancing to this one."Crimson and Clover" was called 'psychedelic' by one reviewer. Ouch! Sure it was squarely in the midst of that era, and fit in very well, but the average groovy hippie freak (myself included, at the time) didn't pay it much mind. On the other hand, slow dancing in high school and beyond was never greater than when this was playing. Still solidly rock, but with a lot of soul - it was maybe a forecast of Bob Seger on the far horizon - who knows? But this richly energetic outburst owed more to the Kingsmen than to Jefferson Airplane - a severely/serenely updated version of the Kingsmen nonetheless, like when they did their occasional ballad-like song. "Sweet Cherry Wine" The way this begins in the middle of a phrase is formula-shattering (Motown was famous for launching into songs in this fashion, ditto Paul Revere and the Raiders). Gorgeous overall sound, gorgeous singing executed with extreme aplomb - even with such minimal melodic movement! Tommy sings his way into and all around the melodic contour - great lead singers know how to gently release and channel their overtones - he lets loose in a stunning manner here.[Still decidedly "rock", but with some kind of almost unexpressed R &B flavor moving/flowing underneath/inside it.]With the song "Crystal Blue Persuasion" Tommy James and the Shondells completed their temporary transition into the royal echelon of blue-eyed soul, taking their place amongst earlier-arrived luminaries such as the Righteous Brothers, the Rascals, and dare we say it - the Fifth Dimension. We hear horns - and a gloriously reedy, buttery combo organ for the first time - the musical arrangement is full to the brim, and tasty to the core. The songwriting is emotionally appealing, inventive to a fault - this song is both musically and poetically priceless!Pop songs, appealing as so many seem to be, are rarely so powerful, memorable, enlivening, and even "healing" - as is this collection of gems."
Essential? Yes! Comprehensive? No!
Steve Vrana | Aurora, NE | 08/08/2002
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This is a concise, if not thorough, collection. All the big hits are here. In fact, only three of the Shondells Top 40 hits ("It's Only Love," "I Like the Way" and "Do Something To Me") are missing. In addition you get James' lone solo Top 10 hit "Draggin' the Line." [Footnote: James was still only 24 when "Draggin the Line" was a hit--he was only 16 when he first recorded his biggest single "Hanky Panky"!] Like other Essentials releases, Rhino has simply taken an earlier compilation (in this case 1990's 27-track Anthology) and repackaged the material. This is only an improvement if you want nothing but the big radio hits--and they're all here, but at 35 minutes my only complaint is that the lesser hits weren't also included."
Why not include the full
H. Gutierrez | 06/06/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"As with most other Rhino comps, this one also includes the edited version of "Crimson & Clover." If the full version were included, this would be a 5-star review, because all the other tracks I would consider "essential" are there. And the remastered sound is great--truly an improvement over previous releases."