The One-Hit Wonder File: “Tighter, Tighter”

Tommy James is one of the most successful performers, songwriters, and producers to emerge from the classic pop-rock era of the 1960s and 1970s. James is best known for the string of hits he was instrumental in creating as part of Tommy James and The Shondells, including “Hanky Panky,” “Mony Mony,” “I Think We’re Alone Now,” “Crystal Blue Persuasion,” and “Crimson & Clover.” His songs have been covered by a wide variety of artists, including Billy Idol, Joan Jett, Tiffany, The Clique, John Wesley Harding, and Concrete Blonde.

One of his most successful compositions (which James co-wrote with Bob King) is “Tighter, Tighter.” This soulful, summery-pop concoction became a Top Ten hit when it was released as a single by the Brooklyn-based band Alive ‘N Kickin’ in June of 1970.

James first attempted to record “Tighter, Tighter” on his own, but after working on the song in the studio, James decided he wasn’t happy with the outcome. Alive ’N Kickin’ was then making a name for themselves on the live circuit in the New York area. James had seen the band perform and was impressed with their sound. The group’s lineup included lead singers Pepe Cardona and Sandy Toder, keyboard player Bruce Sudano, bassist Woody Wilson, guitarist Johnny Parisio, and drummer Ron Pell.

Sudano and Wilson worked with James on the Tommy James and The Shondells’ track “Ball of Fire,” which was issued as a single in 1969. James initially thought about giving Alive’N Kickin’ “Crystal Blue Persuasion” to record but decided to keep that song for himself.

James then offered “Tighter, Tighter” to the band. He reworked the song, arranging it as a duet so that Cardona and Toder could trade off on the leads, and contributed background vocals to the track. Produced by James and Bob King, the song’s summery vibe, groovy horns, and memorable guitar solo propelled it to number 7 on the charts in 1970. Alive ’N Kickin’ performed the tune on popular TV shows such as The Mike Douglas Show and American Bandstand and opened for artists like Chicago, Seals and Crofts, Frank Zappa, and Rare Earth. “Tighter, Tighter” was also featured on the group’s self-titled debut album. Unfortunately, the band’s subsequent releases didn’t reach the chart heights of their signature hit, and they broke up in 1971.

Pepe Cardona re-formed Alive ’N Kickin’ in 1976, along with several of the group’s original members, and they continued to perform live well into the 2000s, despite several lineup changes. Cardona passed away in 2020. Bruce Sudano went on to co-found the band Brooklyn Dreams, who were featured on Donna Summer’s 1978 hit “Heaven Knows.” Sudano later married Summer and continued to collaborate with her on musical projects until her death in 2012.

“Tighter, Tighter” is a perfect example of both Alive ’N Kickin’s cool grooves, and Tommy James’ top-notch songwriting and producing skills. James released his own version of the song in 1976, on his album In Touch, and it’s worth a listen, but it’s the original that takes you right back to that first time that you heard it.

-John Visconti

Photo: Alive ‘N Kickin (fair use image from single cover)

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John Visconti is a lifelong music and movies aficionado with wide-ranging tastes, from The British Invasion and Motown, to the blues, a dash of jazz, on through to power pop, funk, retro soul, folk, bubblegum and metal. He digs film noir, screwball comedies, classic B movies, and Toho’s original Godzilla series. In the late 1980s, John was a writer and editor for the KISS fanzine Fire. A friend once called him “the human incarnation of an entertainment encyclopedia.” After long stints in the worlds of publishing and IT, he’s currently working in healthcare. You can check out his blog, John V's Eclectic Avenue at http://jveclectic.blogspot.com.

2 comments on “The One-Hit Wonder File: “Tighter, Tighter”

  1. Such a great song. Sounds like a Tommy James song.

  2. Chuck Throckmorton

    Woman you touched -a my soul now

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