Tommy James & The Shondells — Something Special!

It’s possible (nay: probable) that I bought all my Tommy James records in the same few months, during the spring semester of 1980, because I associate every one of these albums with an apartment that we only lived in for one semester.

For starters, I have to say this: the idea that there is a “spring” semester at Syracuse is a lie. Spring arrives about eight minutes before students leave campus for the summer, in May. No, that was the winter semester.

Something Special! front cover
Something Special! front cover from 1967, a year when you had to be trippy but also still had band uniforms.

That semester started with one of those “I can’t believe the university can do this to us” stories. At the end of our freshman year (spring 1979), instead of taking chances on where we might live the next year – SU had a crazy lottery system, our numbers weren’t good, and we were concerned about getting bounced into a bad dorm – we exercised what were called “squatter’s rights” and decided to just stay in the same room we had as freshmen 235 Day Hall. We had loved Day, there were plenty of sophomores in it when we lived there who had done the same thing, and the location was good. So, we squatted.

Fast forward to sophomore year: we were the only sophomores who had stayed on our floor, and I don’t think we ever made any friends in the dorm that year. I mean, we already had dozens of friends, and all these freshmen around us were doing their own first year experience, and somehow we just didn’t seem to click with any of the new kids. I remember all our neighbors from freshman year (nearly all of whom were sophomores); I can’t think of a single one from sophomore year. So, we figured we had miscalculated, and didn’t really enjoy living there anymore. At the Christmas break, we put in for an option to move somewhere else for what was likely to be our last semester in university housing.

While all this was happening, I developed a whopping case of pneumonia, and went home for Christmas very sick, having heard nothing about our request to move. I spent a few weeks recovering, and then in early January my parents drove me back to campus.

Oh: here’s how drop-offs worked with ’70s parents.They dropped you off. You were lucky if they came to a complete stop. There was no coming into the dorm or anything like that. There’s a chance we all had lunch together somewhere, and then they drove me up to Day Hall, I jumped out of the car, and off they drove. (I’m not even sure they both came on that trip.)

I walked up to our room, and that’s when I found out that our request to move had been approved. And, apparently, put into effect. We had never been called, received no notice in the mail, but when I got to our room, it wasn’t our room anymore. It was completely empty. Everything we owned had been moved into a room that was ostensibly the dorm library. We had nowhere to sleep. Well, we did, but it was in another building, where none of our stuff was, at the extreme other end of campus. I had a girlfriend with a bed; I’m not sure what Danny did that night. And, had we just known (or, had ’70s parents just come inside), I would have had a car that could have moved our stuff – but now, we were supposed to just figure it out.

Luckily, working for the college daily newspaper gave me illegal access to The Van. The Van was the vehicle that was used to make several runs a night to the printing plant out in Fayetteville, carrying the newspaper’s copy and photographs (a practical fax machine didn’t quite exist), as well as the proofreading and pasteup staff, each night. It was also used to deliver the papers in the mornings. And it was strictly for use on official newspaper business.

Except for the millions of times it wasn’t, and this was one of those times. I had the keys to the keys, and so the next day had to grab the van, load it up, and move all our possessions to Seneca Apartments, and get the van back before anyone noticed. But what other alternative was there in the age before electronic communication? Could I have just taken out an ad in the local Pennysaver or The Daily Orange looking to hire someone to move us, and waited a few days for the ad to run and the calls to come in . . . to where? We didn’t have a phone, because we didn’t have a room. How were we supposed to resolve this? Sorta steal a van, I guess. Not to worry, it wasn’t by any means the first time I had stolen the van. (I’m getting angrier and angrier at SU as I think of this – maybe angrier than I was then.)

Our new digs were at the northern extreme of campus, in what was called the Seneca Apartments. (At the time, Syracuse had numerous non-dorm housing options that were collectively called The Village, ranging from not bad at all to extreme firetrap. They all cost the same.) Seneca was a once-swanky apartment building; when it opened in 1928 it was a fashionable address from young married couples. I’m not clear when it became an SU dorm, but I know that it was a women’s residence by 1971 and possibly earlier.

We were put into a three-bedroom suite, with Danny and me sharing a large bedroom, gaining two new suite-mates who had smaller rooms, and all of us sharing a private bathroom. (I have a bit of a bone to pick with SU, as it doesn’t list Seneca among its lost buildings, though it is now nothing but a parking lot on the southwest corner of Harrison St. and University Ave.)

It was a cold wet winter semester, I remember that, but that apartment had old-school steam heat of the kind that forced you to keep the windows open to keep from boiling alive. And every time I play any of my Tommy James records, I’m taken back to that cold (and yet extremely hot, inside) semester, that cozy little apartment at the very edge of campus. That spring we played a lot of Ramones (“End of the Century”), a lot of Pat Benatar, an amount of Sweet (that must have been Danny’s, but I remember it from that semester vividly), and Tommy James and The Shondells.

Something Special back cover
Something Special back cover – I approve of the attempt at an outline font but it was penned somewhat unevenly.

So: this actual album. It’s the first volume of greatest hits, released in 1967. (I bought it during that winter of 1980, at Desertshore Records, to be certain.) There would be more big hits; on this, the best known would be “Hanky Panky” and “I Think We’re Alone Now,” but the lesser known songs are great little pop masterworks as well. I’m more likely to put one of the later Tommy James albums on, as they are less poppy and have a bit more depth, but this is still great music, and I don’t regret having to put it on for this project. I think I know all the songs, and I do, but hearing them again, they still sound fresh. This is quality ’60s pop, and like the best groups of the ’60s, there would be a nice little evolution with the coming records.

Something special Roulette label
Something Special Roulette label

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