This song is about a guy who gets Jenny's number off the bathroom wall. He can't work up the courage to call her, but thinks he can have her if he ever does. Songwriter Alex Call
came up with it while sitting under a plum tree. He told us: "Despite all the mythology to the contrary, I actually just came up with the 'Jenny,' and the telephone number and the music and all that just sitting in my backyard. There was no Jenny. I don't know where the number came from, I was just trying to write a 4-chord rock song and it just kind of came out. This was back in 1981 when I wrote it, and I had at the time a little squirrel-powered 4-track in this industrial yard in California, and I went up there and made a tape of it. I had the guitar lick, I had the name and number, but I didn't know what the song was about. This buddy of mine, Jim Keller, who's the co-writer, was the lead guitar player in Tommy Tutone. He stopped by that afternoon and he said, 'Al, it's a girl's number on a bathroom wall,' and we had a good laugh. I said, 'That's exactly right, that's exactly what it is.' I had the thing recorded. I had the name and number, and they were in the same spots, 'Jenny... 867-5309.' I had all that going, but I had a blind spot in the creative process, I didn't realize it would be a girl's number on a bathroom wall. When Jim showed up, we wrote the verses in 15 or 20 minutes, they were just obvious. It was just a fun thing, we never thought it would get cut. In fact, even after Tommy Tutone made the record and '867-5309' got on the air, it really didn't have a lot of promotion to begin with, but it was one of those songs that got a lot of requests and stayed on the charts. It was on the charts for 40 weeks."
Tommy Tutone is the name of the band, not the lead singer. The group, led by Tommy Heath and Jim Keller, originally called itself Tommy and the Two-Tones. They had a minor hit 2 years earlier with "Angel Say No," which went to #38 in the US.
When a phone number is needed for a movie or TV show, they usually use a fake one starting with 555, which doesn't exist in the real world. The group didn't want to use a fake number for this because it wouldn't sound right. It made the song a lot more intriguing, but made life very difficult for people who had that number. Many of them had to change it because they were flooded with prank calls, usually kids asking for "Jenny."
The next time a real phone number was broadcast so prominently was the 2003 movie Bruce Almighty, which starred Jim Carrey as a regular guy who took the powers of God. When God wanted to contact Carrey, he would page him, and the number that displayed was a real phone number. For the DVD, it was changed to a generic 555 number.
For years, Tommy Tutone has used a story that there was a Jenny and she ran a recording studio. They have also said it was inspired by a real girl who band member Tommy Heath met in a nightclub and 867-5309 was the phone number of her parents. None of this is true, but it got them a lot more media attention, since it made a better story.
This song had a profound effect on anyone who happened to have that phone number, as well as many girls named Jenny. Says Call: "I think a high school in Peduca or Louisville, or somewhere in Kentucky had the number, and they got 50,000 calls in a week - 'Is Jenny there?' A guy came up to me at one of my gigs - his family is from Florida and they had the number. They loved it, and as they've all grown up - it's a big extended family, they all have on their cell phones 5309, no matter what the prefix is, so all you need to know is what cousin Bob's prefix is. A lot of women have told me they use the name and number as a brush off, which I think is really great. A guy wakes up with a hangover, he's been obnoxious to some girl in a bar last night, he opens up a folded piece of paper and it's 'Jenny - 867-5309.' A lot of people who had it were really pissed off about it. I've met a few Jennys who've said, "Oh, you're the guy who ruined my high school years." Most Jennys are happy to have the song."
Before he wrote this, Call was lead singer in a San Francisco band called Clover. Huey Lewis was the harmonica player, and John McFee, who later joined The Doobie Brothers, was the guitar player. They released 4 albums, the last 2 produced Mutt Lange, who went on to produce Shania Twain, AC/DC, Foreigner and Def Leppard. Nick Lowe was one of their mentors, and brought Clover to England, where they played on Elvis Costello's first album, My Aim Is True. The band broke up in 1978.
Alex Call continues to write songs and perform in the Nashville area. Other songs he's written include "Little Too Late
" for Pat Benatar and "Perfect World
" for Huey Lewis & the News. He later recorded an album under his own name and released a single, "Just Another Saturday Night," complete with an MTV music video. The single flopped in part because the subject matter - drive-by shootings - was a bit dark for the tastes of some radio programers.
In 1999, Brown University put in a campus exchange of "867." The number 867-5309 went to 2 freshman girls, who got about 5 prank calls a day.
In 2004, after laws passed allowing people to keep their phone numbers when they changed carriers, a man in New York tried to sell the number 212-867-5309 on Ebay. He got a lot of media attention and bidding got up to $80,000 before Ebay canceled the auction, since phone numbers are not technically owned by their users. Many businesses were interested in the number because it is so recognizable and easy to remember.
From Alex Call's tell-all biography
: "I was looking to f--kin' rock out. I wanted to find something direct, something like the Stones or the Kinks. There was an old Stones song called "Empty Heart" that had a cool four-chord progression. "You Really Got Me
" by the Kinks was another old fave, a timeless rocker akin to the archetypal rock-n-roll instrumentals that I dug when I was a kid. I wasn't looking to copy those songs, but I wanted something that had that primordial rock vibe."
Tommy Tutone originally told Alex that they'd only cut the song if he signed over all of his publishing royalties for the song to them. Alex refused.
This famous phone number has been referenced in several video game Easter eggs, including Duke Nukem, Everquest, and Deus Ex.
Alex Call released a live version on his 2004 CD Incredibly Thick Songs With Complicated Chord Progressions, Vague Lyrics, And Melodies Only I Can Sing.
Everclear covered this song at some of their shows. When they performed it, lead singer Art Alexakis would pick out girls from the audience and ask them to come up on stage and dance. (thanks, Jen - Cleveland, OH)
8675309 is a prime number. The chances of choosing a random 7-digit (telephone) number and finding that it is prime is about 13 out of 200 (about 6.5%).
The Goo Goo Dolls often performed a cover of this at their concerts. Everclear also covered the song at some of their shows. When they performed it, lead singer Art Alexakis would pick out girls from the audience and ask them to come up on stage and dance. Cover versions have been recorded by Linkin Park
, Motley Crue
, and Green Day
. Country star Keith Urban
has also played this song at his live shows.
Long before he was a governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger used the song on his Workout with Arnold video.
Many women have used the fictional Jenny's telephone digits to brush off unwanted male attention. More than one guy has gotten a girl's digits, only to discover they are 867-5309.
During the the men's restroom scene in the 1982 "Coach Returns to Action" episode of Cheers, graffiti can be seen on the wall near the door. It says "For a good time call Diane Chambers" and offers the 867-5309 Tommy Tutone phone number.