Original released on LP Roulette R25336
(US, July 1966)
The debut album by Tommy James & the Shondells features a garage rock classic, "Hanky Panky," the suggestive Jeff Barry/Ellie Greenwich title which launched the career of the charismatic and talented lead singer. Produced by Bob Mack, the "Pittsburgh teenage nightclub operator" as the liner notes refer to him, this initial project is a vintage collection of recordings and is more effective than the follow-up, "It's Only Love". Fact is, everything about this first effort displays a more authentic approach than what producer Henry Glover took when he made the band's sound more bubblegummy the second time around. "Don't Throw Our Love Away" is the Shondells writing and performing a decent tune, while "Say What I Am," the Bob Mack/Tommy James original, is right on the money and actually charted higher than Ritchie Cordell's "It's Only Love," which became their third hit and title track to their follow-up LP. An instrumental version of "Cleo's Mood" is unnecessary while the Shondells beat out James & Bobby Purify by covering "Shake a Tail Feather" before that duo got it to the Top 25. Many of the songs have that McCoys guitar riff tension from their hits "Hang on Sloopy" and "Fever." It's certainly there on "Say I Am" as well as "Cleo's Mood" and the rave-up "Lots of Pretty Girls" written by Paul Luka, the man behind Peppermint Rainbow and "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye."
James was immediately in the trenches of rock and the "Hanky Panky" album is a brilliant start to his storied career. Longtime Shondells bassist Mike Vale sings Deon Jackson's "Love Makes the World Go Round" and Curtis Mayfield's "I'm So Proud," displaying a tasteful understanding of pop's R&B foundation. They smartly covered Mayfield's "It's Alright" on the follow-up LP. James is great on James Brown's "I'll Go Crazy" but even better covering the Young Rascals' hit from January of 1966, "Good Lovin'." Note all the R&B this band recorded, a blending by chance, perhaps, of garage rock with blue-eyed soul. The drum sounds may leave a lot to be desired, but they somehow got the guitars and keys to tape with that precious '60s sound that should make for attention in collectors circles. While ? & the Mysterians and the Barbarians deserved more hits, their albums came valuable because of the near obscurity. "Hanky Panky" by James was the start of 19 chart hits (including his songs for other artists), and holds its own as a classic album from that era. The early George Magura/Mike Vale composition, "The Lover," sung by keyboardist Ron Rosman, gave James' sidemen their own moment in the sun and is more evidence that they were heading in a Rolling Stones-style direction. The bubblegum tag may not have been appropriate because this first effort is up there with another band who hit with a suggestive song in both sound and style, that being the Kingsmen after "Louie Louie" earned its well-deserved infamy. The big difference here is that the man who gave voice to the popular song actually stayed around to notch quite a few more. (Joe Viglione in AllMusic)