26 March 2012
240 pages, Scribner 2010
Everyone knows the hits -- "Mony Mony" "I Think We're Alone Now", "Crimson and Clover", "Crystal Blue Persuasion".
They are nuggets of Rock and Pop history.
However, few know the unlikely story of how these hits came to be.
"Tommy James" had been performing locally, in Michigan, in Rock bands since the age of 12.
Prompted to record a few songs by a local DJ in 1964, Tommy chose an obscurity titled "Hanky Panky", which became a minor local hit that came and went.
Then, in 1966, the record was re-discovered by a Pittsburgh DJ who started playing it on heavy rotation, prompting a tremendous response.
Soon, every record mogul in New York was pursuing Tommy and the band.
And then an even odder thing happened: every offer but one disappeared, and James found himself in the office of "Morris Levy" at "Roulette Records", where he was handed a pen and ominously promised "one helluva ride".
"Morris Levy", the legendary "godfather" of the music business, needed a hit and "Hanky Panky" would be his.
The song went to #1; James went on to do much more; and Levy continued to reign.
"Me, the Mob, and the Music" book tells the intimate story of the complex and sometimes terrifying relationship between the bright-eyed, sweet-faced blonde musician from the heartland and the big, bombastic, brutal bully from the Bronx, who hustled, cheated, and swindled his way to the top of the music industry.
It is also the story of this swaggering, wildly creative era of Rock'n'roll when the hits kept coming and payola and the strong arm tactics of the mob were the norm, and what it was like, for better or worse, to be in the middle of it.