Originally formed as Tommy and the Tu-tones, but later settling on the shortened Tommy Tutone name, in the US, these guys are probably hailed as one of the great one hit wonders, their anthemic ‘8675309/Jenny’ remaining a popular chorus driven radio favourite.
In the UK, however, it’s likely the name Tommy Tutone will fail to even ignite a faint spark of memory. Power pop connoisseurs among you will probably be familiar with the aforementioned song, (as featured on their sophomore release, ‘Tutone 2’) and maybe even the first couple of albums.
This self-titled debut (originally issued in 1980) on the whole seems to have aged quite well. Unlike some of the bigger power pop bands, like Flamin’ Groovies and Pezband, TT didn’t opt so much for the retro sound and 60s harmonies, appearing at the time to be more in line with their new-wave contemporaries, so that might be why it feels such a surprise to hear something which still has spark.
The lead track and single, ‘Angel Say No’ marries early Cars style rhythm guitar work with a nod to Phil Spector in the drum depot, a catchy enough chorus replete with typical power pop harmonies. At the time it was only a minor hit in the US. You can only wonder why, as it sounds pretty good these days (equal to, or if not better, than a lot of the stuff on the Rhino power pop comps, reviewed elsewhere on this site). Was it a lack of marketing that meant this slipped through the cracks, or was it a saturated market? After all, on the surface, Tutone offer very little that many other bands of a similar ilk were pumping out at the turn of the decade. ‘Cheap Date’ on the other hand, is far less obvious. The time signatures aren’t quite where they seem to be, the finger-clicks and other overdubs add nothing and leaves everything to the chorus, which features vocals which seem a little out. The cod-reggae leanings were very popular with post-punk and new wave bands at this time, but clearly they’re not something which feels natural here.
‘Girl In The Backseat’ is pretty solid. While not living up to the promise of ‘Angel Say No’, still offers a quirkiness reminding me somehow of mid 70s Rick Derringer. While not quite first rate power pop, it has some pleasing guitar work and an unashamed over-egging in the backing vocal department, which proves, while they never had enough courage to go full-on pomp in an Earth Quake style, they were never quite as post-punk as bands like The Real Kids. ‘The Blame’ is a winner. Following on from the slightly poppier feel of ‘Angel Say No’, it’s Tommy Tutone at their best. Here, the balance between catchy song writing, simple musicianship and final arrangement is near perfect.‘Rachel’ is solid also – in the old teen tradition, songs about girls seem to score highly! A similar mix of vocals to the other good stuff here, it’s something these guys should have concentrated on and the handclap overdubs just set things off nicely. ‘Dancing Girl’ is similarly as solid. The guitar sound in the closing part reminds me of Andy Summers on The Police debut, ‘Outlandos D’Amour’ a little.
‘Fat Chance’ dates the album a little, as they attempt the slightly more retro sounding power pop, but the 80s keys and production values make this feel a little fake. Whatever the Flamin’ Groovies special ingredient for making albums sound really 60s was, it’s missing here. Not that they’re musically that similar, but I’m reminded of doo-wop homage ‘In Your Letter’ by REO Speedwagon; it’s probably their ‘well meaning and fun’ ideal which just puts me off.
There’s nothing here as memorable in the long term as ‘8675309/Jenny’ but mostly it’s a solid listen. It’s currently available on CD with ‘Tutone 2’ as a 2-on-1 CD. It might be time to check them out.