After having a huge 1969, Tommy James left the Shondells at the end of the year to start his solo career and do more production projects. He wrote a song with his new songwriter, Bob King, called Tighter, Tighter. He knew it was a killer tune and decided to record it for his first solo LP. But he just couldn’t get the song to sound like what he heard in his head. Tommy remembered this band from Brooklyn called Alive & Kicking that he’d seen play a few times. He even thought about asking them to record the original version of Crystal Blue Persuasion, but kept it for himself and the Shondells – smart man. Maybe, he thought, this band could do something with Tighter, Tighter..
Alive & Kicking was fronted by Pepe Cardona & Sandy Toder, so Tommy decided to rewrite the song as a duet, a give & take between girl & boy. He had the band record vocals over his initial recording, add some keyboards & guitar and for the final ingredient, some horns. If you thought that was Herb Alpert on the trumpet lick, you’d be wrong but it’s not your fault. Herb was hot, so it didn’t hurt to trick listeners with that Tijuana-sounding hook.
The song hit the Top 10, reaching #7 in August of 1970. And it had that groove that bridged pop from the 60s to the 70s, that drum beat – boom-boom-bap, bap-bap-boom-bap, bap, boom-boom…. – that evoked visions of go-go dancers, jerking their bodies flailing their day-glo arms with a serene look on their face . That Tommy James…he’s far out…
Roulette Records, the label that Tommy recorded on from the start with the Shondells into the mid-70s and who he had Alive & Kicking sign with as well, is known as a money laundering operation as well as a front for the Mob, or so says Tommy. He figures they withheld tens of millions of dollars from him over his career. Once the label was sold & split and owned by Rhino Records in the late 80s, he finally started seeing royalty checks. He also admits that the Roulette family gave him a lot of creative control. So, hey, that’s one for us..yeah Mob!
Fun fact: the original keyboardist for Alive & Kicking was Bruce Sudano, future Brooklyn Dreams member and duet partner of Donna Summer (on Heaven Knows and life).
Listen to this in your headphones, so you can dig the stereo vocals. Is it my imagination or is the organ a little out of tune?