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Hanky Panky

by

Tommy James & the Shondells



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

This is the song that set in motion the strange events that led to the rise of Tommy James & the Shondells, and their journey recording for a record company controlled by the Mafia, the full and fascinating story of which is told in our interview with Tommy James.

The song was written by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, which is the team responsible for the hits "Be My Baby" and "Leader of the Pack." Barry and Greenwich recorded it themselves as The Raindrops, and released it as the B-side of their 1963 single "That Boy John." Shortly after the release of the Raindrops' version, 13-year-old Tommy Jackson, who would later become Tommy James, slipped into a club in South Bend, Indiana and listened to a local band, the Spinners (not the hitmakers of the '70s) play the song. After hearing "Hanky Panky" drive the crowd wild, Tommy wanted to record it for his second single - he had released one locally the previous year. He and his group, The Shondells, recorded the song at a radio station in his hometown of Niles, Michigan.

The song was released on the tiny Snap label, the first issue of the record label owned by a DJ friend of Tommy. It sold well in the midwest, then faded into obscurity. A year and a half later - in 1965 - Tommy Jackson graduated from high school and the Shondells went their separate ways.

In late 1965, a Pittsburgh DJ started playing the two-year-old single and touted it as an "exclusive." Another Pittsburgh DJ played HIS copy of "Hanky Panky" at various dance parties and the resulting demand caused a "Hanky Panky" war as bootleggers sold an estimated 80,000 illegal copies of the record. DJ "Mad Mike" Metro called Tommy to inform him of the single's popularity and asked if the Shondells could perform it in Pittsburgh. One minor problem: by then, Jackson was a solo act. When he arrived in Pittsburgh, he asked a local band, the Raconteurs, if they would like to be the new Shondells. They accepted the offer and he adopted the new stage name of Tommy James.

Record companies took notice and lined up to sign the band. Atlantic, Columbia, Epic and Kama Sutra all courted them along with a smaller label called Roulette. But, as Tommy told us, things didn't go as expected: "One by one all the record companies started calling up and saying, 'Look, we gotta pass.' I said, 'What? What are you talking about?' 'Sorry, we take back our offer. We can't…' There was about six of them in a row. And so we didn't know what in the world was going on. And finally Jerry Wexler over at Atlantic leveled with us and said, Look, Morris Levy and Roulette called up all the other record companies and said, 'This is my freakin' record.' (laughs) And scared 'em all away – even the big corporate labels. And so that should have been the dead giveaway right there. So we were apparently gonna be on Roulette Records." The band did sign with Roulette and did a great job promoting the record, which hit #1 in the summer of 1966. Tommy James was 19 years old and a year out of high school.
When Tommy recorded this, he couldn't remember all the lyrics from the original Raindrops version, so he made up some on the spot.
Regarding his sudden fame, James said: "One night I was playing for 20 drunks in a bar in Michigan, and the next night I'm playing for 10,000 screaming fans in Pittsburgh. It was literally overnight. It was very unexpected, one of those winning-the-lottery type stories."
Tommy James & the Shondells initially formed in 1959 as Tom and the Tornadoes, with the then 12-year-old Tommy Jackson as lead singer. In 1963, he renamed the band The Shondells, after one of his idols, guitarist Troy Shondell. At first, they played straightforward Rock and Roll (as their first hit proves), but soon became involved in the budding Bubblegum music movement. From 1968, the group members tried themselves as songwriters, penning the Psychedelic classic "Crimson And Clover." The group carried on with constant success until early 1970, when James became exhausted from the strenuous touring and decided to drop out. His 4 bandmates carried on for a short while under the name of Hog Heaven but disbanded soon afterwards. Tommy James launched a solo career in 1971 which yielded the hit "Draggin' the Line" before leaving the music business. (thanks, Kain - Charleston, SC)
Tommy James & the Shondells
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Comments (27):

Back in '66 I bought the single when it first hit #1. It was indeed a fun song & pure rock & roll. It was on the charts when I was a sophomore in college. Rock & roll was changing that year, due to a lot of influences. So much was going on in the U.S., as well as the music world. But it's this song that brings back good memories or good friends that loved to dance to stuff like this. Rock on.
- Rotunda, Tulsa, OK
Hello! I am so glad to read all these comments regarding George Magura of TJ and the Shondells fame. I admired him alot; seemed very talented and intelligent. I still have my Hanky Panky album, and on the back it reads that he "plays anything you can name." My grandparents all lived in and around Uniontown, PA, and I'd read that George was from Greenburg, PA. I remember one summer I tried to look him up when on one of our many family trips to that region. Never had success finding him. It seemed that so soon he wasn't with the band any more. I like the song "Cleo's Mood" on that album, and I imagine that was George on the Rickenbacher and/or clavicle on that song. I found it touching to know he played and sang "Ave Maria" for his father as a Christmas gift. To all his family over in Pozdiŝovce, Slovakia, and here in the US, God bless you. I am so sorry to know that George has gone from us - thank you for all the great music, Juraj! (I'd love to hear more of his stories too.) There is now the vocal recording group Perpetuum Jazzile from Slovenia, nice to listen to. Rest in Peace, Juraj!!
- Carol, Joliet, IL
Who played that rave-up guitar solo? God that was cool
- Michael, Illinois, IL
One of my mother's sisters just told me about this website. George (Juraj) was my father. It is so cool to see a video from that time and people's comments after all these years! I remember being at the studio with him and met some people from a bunch of different bands he was in--Dave and Don for sure--but I was pretty little. I might not have been born if not for this song, right? Is there any way to send messages through this website? I would love to hear a few more stories...
- Angel, Pittsburgh, PA
Pure crap. Barry & Greenwich explain it away as just a "B side" that they had to dash off in 5 minutes. Monotonous, nauseating delivery. Good for dancing, they say. Maybe; like disco. And Dave Marsh picks it as #911 of his top 1001 songs. Go figure.
- Matthew, Toronto, ON
@Teresa from Belgium:

I have really come to enjoy those Greenwichh?Berry songs. Including the ones which they worked on with Phil Spector. In fact, I recognized you because your the one who writes about being a Spector fan. And I didn't mean he was a bad producer when I wrote about the version of Beatles songs he produced vs. their non-spector produced counterparts. I know it may have come across that way.
- Stefanie, Rock Hill, SC
To the Maguras: Imagine my surprise to find my surname associated with Tommy James and the Shondells! My grandfather was named Juraj Magura (born 1883 in what is now called Pozdiŝovce, Slovakia); he was from the clan whose nickname is "Vojačok," which means "Little Soldier." The songs "Hanky Panky" and "Crimson and Clover" are certainly part of the soundtrack of my life, so I am pleased to learn that a Magura had been involved in the making of this music. Stephanie from SC, Marianne in KY and Juraj in Bratislava, do you know which clan of Maguras you are descended from? I visited my grandfather's nephew this year (2011) in Pozdiŝovce, and he (also named Juraj) confirmed that our branch of the Maguras had been earthenware potters back many generations. So art is in the lineage, and so was singing...as they worked at the potter's wheel. For awhile, my Granddad lived in Etna, PA.
- Beth, Hartford, CT
When I was a girl growing up in the 70s, my friends and I sang this song in this way "yo mama did the hanky panky, that's how she got that little baby.." LOL
- Sabrina, Corvallis, OR
It's been a long time since I've been on here, so those of you who knew George, I'm just now getting back to replying:

@Juraj: My dad still keeps up with anna and that side of the family, and while I know she's back in the US, I'm not sure how she's doing except that it seems that she hasn't been doing well recently. I saw that it said you're from Bratislava. I wonder how many other people would be familiar with that. My parents, both Maguras, visited there in the early 1980's.

@Marrianne: I think I've met you at family functions, but the Magura family is so big, that it is a little hard to keep everyone straight.

@Don and Dave: Did you two know each other? It was interesting to here from you two about what George did before and after the Shondells.

@All of you:
I've heard how talented and nice George was. My aunt Barbara, who is my dad's sister, met him and said he was very nice. It's nice to see you all. I wasn't sure I'd get any comments.
- Stefanie, Rock Hill, SC
Interesting to see comments on George Magura. I worked at a studio and production company in Pittsburgh in the early 70's and George (Juraj)was our arranger. The last I heard of him was that he was working for John Williams (Star Wars) as an assistant in LA.
Juraj was wonderfully talented fellow. One night at the end of a session, he had me record him playing piano and singing "Ave Maria". While I was making a dub of it for him, I asked what it was for. He said " I'm sending it to my father for a Christmas present. It will make him cry"
- Don, Pittsburgh, PA
Amazing! I went to high school (Elkhart, Indiana) with the piano player in that local "Spinners" band--Tommy Estok. He had dropped out by the time Tommy Jackson/James would have heard them, and I never heard from him again.
- Dave, Cullman, AL
I played with George Magura in two bands in the early 1970s in Pittsburgh -- Three Rivers Blues Band and Pyewacket. George was multi-instrumetalist -- guitar, bass, keyboards, reeds and probably others, as he taught music in the public schools while in those bands. He also produced records and commercials. George told me that he played bass on "I Think We're Alone Now" just before he was fired from the group. There's at least one video of George playing Rickenbacker guitar behind Tommy on Youtube, but I don't know what instrument he played primarily in the Shondells. A couple of the other Shondells played in bands around Pittsburgh at the same time George & I were in Pyewacket, but I've forgotten the names. George passed some time ago, but he was an intelligent, funny, talented guy.
- Dave, Pittsburgh, PA
On August 26 2009 Ellie Greenwich died of an heart attack. As a Phil Spector's fan I know all those beautiful songs Spector has written with Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry. RIP Ellie and thank you for your talent.
- Teresa, Mechelen, Belgium
Love that old vibrato arm on the guitar----catchy little hook.
- Reed, New Ulm, MN
I played with George Magura (or Juraj) in Pittburgh with a few bands. The "groove-U" - and also in "Q" (he was a sideman), and played clavinet on our album dancin man. I joined the group called the sonics, with Mike Vale and Eddie for a very short time, who later became the racconteurs, and they were picked up to be the shondells at the sunset lounge in the irwin area outside pittsburgh. George played sax, piano, and a little guitar in the bands we played together in. He was also a songwriter & arranger. A delightful character was George! I remember some of his stories about his short time with the shondells.
- Bill, pittsburgh, PA
There's another song called "Hanky Panky" by Chicago
- juan, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Stefanie, George was my mother's cousin. His mother Anna lived for some months with us (her sister's family) in Slovakia in early 1990's. I had no chance to meet him or listen to his music much. Yet, Hanky Panky is great song and it's fine to read about George's family here. Juraj
- Juraj, Bratislava, Europe
Stephanie, George Magura was my uncle. My mom is his sister and I find it fascinating that you were on here talking about him. He was incredibly talented and is very missed in our family. I too did not know him all that well. Nice to talk to you...Marianne
- Marianne, Lexington, KY
Tommy James didn't write this song; it's written by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich.
- Teresa, Mechelen, Belgium
"My baby does the hanky panky" are unforgettable lyrics but I think have a sexual connotation as well. Tommy James might have been suggesting something else while writing this song.
- Lorelei, San Diego, CA
After my last post, I talked to my dad, I foundout that George was in the group that Tommy James chose to perform "Hanky Panky" with him. George was one of the original founders, but he didn't stay in the group for its tenure.
- Stefanie, Rock Hill, SC
Any Tommy James song makes me thing of smoking weed, those were the days my friends, I thought they'd never end...........
- George, Richmond, VA
"My baby does the Hanky Panky ...", a song of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich that I like very much, it remembers me my schooltime. When I listened the first time Phil Spector's cd called
"Back to Mono" I realised how many songs are written by Spector/Barry/Greenwich. It surely was/is a supergood songwriting team.
- Teresa, Mechelen, Belgium
I'm not sure what instrument George Played when he was in the Shondells, but he was apparently a very tallented guy, who could play quite a few of them.
- Stefanie, Rock Hill, SC
You guys might not believe this but here goes. My dad's cousin George Magura was in this group. I found out when I was about eight years old, and I first heard Hanky Panky on a vinyl, and the copy of the album it was on was given to my dad by George. George had been dead for awhile, so I never got to know him, but I have the same last name as he did. my last name is Magura too.
- Stefanie, Rock Hill, SC
Somewhere, I have a copy of Neil Diamond doing it on the Bang label.
- Mike, New Point, VA
The song was FIRST recorded and released by the Summits (before the Raindrops) for the Hanover label. (Ellie Greenwich has confirmed this). It was soon afterwards issued on Rust Records, right about when the Raindrops "That Boy John" was becoming popular.
- Fred, Summit, NE
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