A Dayton, Ohio native, Tommy James began performing with his group, the Shondells, at school dances, auditoriums, and other area venues at the age of twelve. The outfit would occasionally cut records for small companies, including a song called "Hanky Panky" for the Snap label in 1960. More than five years later, a KDKA, Pittsburgh, disc jockey played the record on his program; it quickly became the most requested single in that radio market. Roulette Records acquired the rights to "Hanky Panky" (Roulette 4686), and it reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in July 1966.

James would go on to record thirty charting singles (many co-written by him and friend, Bob King)—both with the Shondells and as a solo artist—though early 1973. His Top Ten releases included "I Think We’re Alone Now" (Roulette 4720; 1967), "Mirage" (Roulette 4736; 1967), "Mony Mony" (Roulette 7008; 1968), "Crimson and Clover" (Roulette 7028; 1968-1969), "Sweet Cherry Wine" (Roulette 7039; 1969), "Crystal Blue Persuasion" (Roulette 7050; 1969), and "Draggin’ the Line" (Roulette 7103; 1971). His combination of romantic innocence, catchy melodies, and hook-laden refrains provided the model for the late 1960s Bubblegum genre.

The unrelenting succession of one-night stands and drug abuse led to a breakdown in 1970. After his recovery, changing public tastes made the hits harder to come by. During a brief career revival in 1980, it was estimated that he had sold over thirty million records. The 1980s also brought success for his classic songs as covered by other artists, most notably "Crimson and Clover" (number 7, Joan Jett, Boardwalk 144; 1982), "I Think We’re Alone Now" (number 1, Tiffany, MCA 33147; 1987), and "Mony Mony" (number 1, Billy Idol, Chrysalis 43181; 1987). [Stambler. 1989]

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