Billy Idol's Biggest Hit Was a Cover of a '60s Classic

L-R: Tommy James in 2015, Billy Idol in 1987
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L-R: Tommy James in 2015, Billy Idol in 1987

Between 1966 and 1970, Tommy James and The Shondells managed to take a half-dozen songs into the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100, and the songs had enough staying power for three of them to find their way back into the Top 10 in the ‘80s when they were covered by other artists.

Of those three, two were actually co-written by James himself: “Mony Mony” and “Crimson and Clover.” The latter song was a No. 1 hit for James, which Joan Jett and The Blackhearts managed to take it to No. 7; “Mony Mony” ended up being an even bigger hit as a cover. But how did the song come together in the first place?

Co-written by James, Bobby Bloom, Ritchie Cordell, and Bo Gentry, “Mony Mony” has one of those titles where you might initially wonder, “Did they misspell / mispronounce ‘money’?” While it’s a reasonable suspicion, the actual explanation for the title is so ridiculous that you probably won’t even believe it, even though it’s true.

As James revealed in a 1995 interview with Hitch, he’d actually written the song before coming up with a title for it, and although he knew he wanted something catchy, he kept coming up empty...until he looked out of the window of his Manhattan apartment.

“Ritchie Cordell and I were writing it in New York City, and we were about to throw in the towel when I went out onto the terrace, looked up and saw the Mutual of New York building (which has its initials illuminated in red at its top),” said James. “I said, ‘That's gotta be it! Ritchie, come here, you've gotta see this!’ It's almost as if God Himself had said, ‘Here's the title.’ I've always thought that if I had looked the other way, it might have been called ‘Hotel Taft.’”

Good thing it wasn’t: the way things turned out, the song actually ended up being James’ only No. 1 hit in the U.K., and although it only hit No. 3 in America, of course, it was later recorded by Billy Idol, who took it to No. 1 in the U.S. in 1987.

READ MORE: More, More, More: Billy Idol's Biggest Hits

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