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James, Tommy - 1990 Hi Fi

ARTIST: James, Tommy
LABEL: Aegis Records
YEAR: 1990


LINEUP: Tommy James - lead and backing vocals, guitars * Julio Fernandez, Joel Kipnis, John Golden, Steve Stabile - guitars * Chuck Kentis, Rich Tancredi, Joel Kipnis, Rich Hilton, Dan Serafini, Ray Van Straten - synthesizers and programming * Paul Bernhardt - drums * Lujuan Carter, Paul Bernhardt - backing vocals

TRACK LISTING: 01 Go * 02 Burnin' For You * 03 Annie Come Knockin' * 04 Ordinary Girl * 05 You Take My Breath Away * 06 What Kind Of Love Do You Want * 07 Heartbeat In The Night * 08 Love You Too Much * 09 Backtrack


There was even a time in the late 60's where Tommy James and The Shondells sold more single records (45's) than any artist in the world, including The Beatles! Tommy James has sold, to date, over 100 million records and has been awarded 23 gold singles and 9 gold and platinum albums. As the 1980's unfolded, Tommy's music went through a renaissance. Besides being a staple on classic rock and oldies stations, his songs began popping up in films and cover recordings by other artists. Most notably Tiffany and Billy Idol who had back-to-back number one records with 'I Think We're Alone Now' and 'Mony Mony'. Even Joan Jett charted with her version of 'Crimson And Clover'. Instead of reliving his past glories or putting out another contractual obligation odds and sods platter, Tommy became inspired by pop/rock of the day. Along comes Record Exec and longtime friend Ron Alexenberg who approached Tommy to do an album for Aegis Records (an indie with worldwide distribution) and 'HI-FI' became Tommy's first in 10 years! Released in the summer of 1990, 'HI-FI' surely didn't add to Tommy's sales legacy, but included some undeniable well crafted AOR.

The Songs
Tommy must've been listening to John Parr, Richard Marx, Greg Guidry, David Roberts or Go West instead of the artists who took covers of his classics to the top of the charts a few years prior. This is pure Westcoast/Hi-Tech AOR at it's finest. The opener 'Go' is a lush, synthesized ditty which is offset nicely by hard driving guitars. The mid-tempo 'Burning For You' clocks in at almost 7 minutes and is very close to John Parr era 'Running The Endless Mile'. Keys dominate 'Annie Come Knocking' with it's infectious hook and lyrics reminiscent of his teenager in love days with The Shondells. Vintage Tommy with a modernized approach indeed. Things slow down for 'Ordinary Girl', an endearing ballad up there with anything off Richard Marx's first two releases. 'You Take My Breath Away' is breathtaking Westcoast ala David Roberts. Definitely one of the album's highlights. Fluttering keys open up 'What Kind Of Love', another highlight written by Don Ciccone of The Critters fame. This could of found it's way easily onto 'Chicago 19' with it's unbelievable hook and melody. Unfortunately the next two tracks meander a bit but things end on a high note with 'Backtrack'. Another AOR masterwork with light stabbing keys, again reminiscent of the direction Cheap Trick and Chicago had taken in the late 80's. Longtime collaborator and former Shondell Glenn Wyka wrote five of the nine tracks here. While Tommy might have benefited by a Dianne Warren or outside songwriter, his incredible sensibilities for well crafted pop songs are evident throughout. With the additional westcoast/hi-tech influences, this is a definite winner!

In Summary
While David Cassidy's self titled release (which came out the same year) isn't a far off comparison, this only lacks the musicianship/songwriting team behind that powerhouse. Who knows whether Cassidy's team or another major label perhaps - might have made of this pop record. One thing is for sure, the name Tommy James wasn't rolling off the tongue of the average MTV viewer at the time whose idea of 'Hanky Panky' was the new Madonna or Warrant coming on the bube tube. Sadly James never went down this inspired AOR/Westcoast road again except touching briefly with some soundtrack material in the early 90's. His supposed 2006 comeback 'Hold The Fire' was unfortunately more of an AC marred affair. With a reunion in the works with The Shondells, it's even more unlikely to hear 'AOR Tommy' again. Hard to come by for a number of years, this inspired work can be found on the CD Baby website as well as his own hub in cyberspace.

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#1 | gdazegod on April 28 2008 11:25:39
Listened to the soundbytes over at CDBaby. This is pretty good. Thanks for the heads up Jeff! clap
#2 | jefflynnefan on April 30 2008 03:59:01
I've always liked Tommy James, 'Crystal Blue Persuasion' still sounds great after all these years. And would definitely make my top ten song list from the sixties along with 'Live For Today' by the Grass Roots and 'Tell Her No' by the Zombies. Haven't heard this cd but if I see it I'll get it as it sounds like its worth a listen.
#3 | Eric on April 30 2008 17:24:27
Agree Chris- 'Crystal Blue Persuasion' still sounds as wonderful as it did back in the day. I knew Tommy James was into AOR when he expressed interest in working with Faith Nation in the late 90's. He was given some demoes via a mutual friend and wanted to work with/ produce the band, but for some reason it never got beyond 'talks'...
#4 | JuniorNB on December 12 2008 19:11:56
Great review Jeff. I've been listening to Tommy's 1980 LP, 'Three Times In Love'. If you have access to that one, a review would be great. It's real good.

I think I'll hunt down this one based on the positive review here.
#5 | jeffrey343 on December 12 2008 20:01:35
I listened to the samples on CDBaby, and I see that you can get this from sellers on Amazon for a penny plus SandH. Looks like a good $3 gamble. I absolutely love those first two Richard Marx albums, and this sounds very similar.
#6 | Eric on May 04 2011 12:21:15
This has just been reissued on CD as a 2/1 with his 1980 album 'Three Times In Love'.

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