As I’ve said in previous entries, in the the spring of 1980, I was all about Tommy James and the Shondells, and all about the ’60s.
Clearly, that path had already been made by my earlier fascination for The Beatles, by establishing a Moody Blues night (Tuesdays, though sadly not in the afternoon). My coursework in a program called Non-violent Conflict and Change (today it would be called dispute resolution) included a history of the then pretty recent 1960s and a minicourse on communes, and my political science minor included a course on political revolution. In the background of all this was our increasing conflict with the Soviet Union over Afghanistan, and the looming draft registration, and the incredible disbelief that we could just be waltzing right back into a Vietnam-like situation, having learned nothing. (This was before the completely empty phrase “support the troops” was invented to shame anyone who opposes our constant wars, when the best way to actually support the troops would be to stop sending them into pointless wars that have absolutely nothing to do with our security.) So yeah, there was a ’60s vibe going on.
This album, Cellophane Symphony, is what happened when Tommy James got that ’60s vibe. It’s both more and less psychedelic than “Crimson & Clover,” and came out later in the same year, 1969. It opens with a very long, trippy instrumental track, “Cellophane Symphony,” featuring the Moog synthesizer. It includes some very straightforward rock like “Makin’ Good Time,” and beautiful songs like “Evergreen” and “The Love of a Woman.” But it also features flat-out comedy in “Papa Rolled His Own,” “I Know Who I Am,” and “On Behalf of the Entire Staff and Management.” One novelty on a rock album was fairly standard; three was just brazen. There’s also a lot of interstitial studio nonsense included. But for the most part, they also work as songs (“On Behalf…” is essentially a skit), so the novelty isn’t too intrusive, and that anything was possible was basically the ’60s ideal, so it makes perfect sense.
I’ve always had a soft spot for this album, not only because it takes me back to the Seneca Apartments and that incredible feeling of being 19 (I was 19!). It’s still great music, like all the Tommy James records.