“I Think We’re Alone Now” — Tiffany / Tommy James and The Shondells

You couldn’t escape Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now” in the late 1980s, even if you wanted to. Tiffany took her most famous song to Number One in charts around the world while she was just a kid, and she got there the hard way.

“I Think We’re Alone Now” was released to the studious indifference of most people, including Tiffany’s own record company. But her manager and producer, George Tobin, who came up with the ingenious plan of getting Tiffany to build her audience by singing for free in shopping malls.

In the pre-Facebook, pre-Instagram, pre-YouTube days, this was a really smart move. If you wanted to find a target audience among groups of teenage girls hanging out together after school or on weekends, shopping malls were a great place to go looking.

Tiffany criss-crossed the country promoting “I Think We’re Alone Now” anywhere she could. And I really admire her for that.

I always like grafters, and respect the effort they put in while the rest of the world is sat on their rear ends, criticising. To keep that schedule up, Tiffany had to be a real grafter, so I take my hat off to her.

I’m sure it got easier as the crowds grew larger and her reception more enthusiastic, but if you’ve ever performed to three utterly disinterested people all by yourself, you’ll know that most people quickly come up with lots of reasons to quit and try something different.

But Tiffany didn’t. She kept on going until she made “I Think We’re Alone Now” into a Number One hit around the world, even though she was only 16 at the time.

Say what you like about the song…and it’s true that anything which was possible to play on a synthesiser had been done on a synthesiser for “I Think We’re Alone Now” in a style that could only have been considered acceptable in the 1980s…if you have a Number One hit while you’re only 16 having built your audience one person at a time by singing in shopping malls around the country, you’re a star in my book.

It wasn’t until some years later that I found out “I Think We’re Alone Now” was a cover.

In my defence, the original wasn’t a hit in the UK. I wasn’t old enough to be listening to pop music radio in 1967 anyway, but because it hadn’t been a hit here, the song wasn’t even played on “oldies radio” when I was older. As far as I was concerned “I Think We’re Alone Now” was a Tiffany original.

Except it wasn’t…

Tommy James and The Shondells had the original US hit (here if you’d like a listen…https://youtu.be/IkMFLUXTEwM ). They weren’t a massive band, even back in 1967, but I was familiar with another song of theirs, which became a big hit around the world, “Mony, Mony”.

So Tommy James and The Shondells weren’t a completely unknown quantity to me…I just never knew they performed the original of “I Think We’re Alone Now”.

The song was written by Ritchie Cordell, who also wrote “Mony, Mony” for Tommy James and The Shondells and would later co-produce Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll”…

“Children, behave”
That’s what they say when we’re together
And watch how you play
They don’t understand

Yes, Ritchie Cordell’s song is all about young love. The sort of innocent young love where you and your teenage boyfriend or girlfriend hold hands for the first time, perhaps stealing a quick kiss before one of you goes back to their parents’ house before curfew time.

Lots of things were simpler back in 1967, when Tommy James and The Shondell’s version of “I Think We’re Alone Now” first hit the radio airwaves.

Back then a quick kiss outside a girlfriend’s front door was the height of excitement. Nowadays they’d probably be Snapchatting one another half the night.

It’s hard for teenagers now. In the “always-on” social media world, I’m not sure they get the sense of sadness when they say goodbye for the night that people of my generation did.

Of course, it’s not great to be sad, but it meant your heart soared when you saw that special first love in person at school the next day as you hadn’t been with them for maybe 10 or 12 hours since the evening before.

If I’d seen someone on Snapchat just 10 minutes ago before I left the house to go to school, I’m just not sure I’d feel as excited about seeing someone in person again for the first time that day as I would have done after several hours apart and no means of contacting them until just before the school bell rang the next morning.

And so we’re running just as fast as we can
Holding on to one another’s hands
Trying to get away into the night
And then you put your arms around me
And we tumble to the ground and then you say

I think we’re alone now
There doesn’t seem to be anyone around
I think we’re alone now
The beating of our hearts is the only sound

We all remember our first loves…and although I wasn’t familiar with “I Think We’re Alone Now” at the time, it’s probably fair to say this was exactly the sort of feeling I imagined that teenage first love would be like.

I never got to find out because, although there was a girl I really liked, her feelings towards me were not reciprocated. We were good friends right through my teenage years, but never anything more.

But I still remember seeing her again for the first time every morning after what seemed like a long absence…even though it was only the 12 hours or so overnight since we’d got off the school bus at the same stop the evening before and said our polite and chaste “goodbyes” for the night.

Maybe it was those memories that attracted me to Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now” when it first came out. She certainly brought a bouncy, upbeat, excitable teenager feel to the song which reminded me of those times with my first love who never was.

Despite that, those times, and Tiffany’s version of “I Think We’re Alone Now” are happy memories for me. And I defy you to watch the video of Tiffany on her mall tour and not feel a sense of admiration for someone who took a 20-year old song to the top of the charts around the world through sheer hard graft and pulling off the not-inconsiderable trick of getting groups of disinterested teenagers to believe in her as a performer.

For all Tiffany’s version of the song is firmly time-stamped and hall-marked with the spirit of the 1980s, and it sounds a bit quaint and dated to modern ears, I’ve always liked her performance and admired her grit.

I hope this song brings back happy memories for you too…here’s Tiffany with “I Think We’re Alone Now”…

The video is below, but if you prefer you can listen to the track on Spotify herehttps://open.spotify.com/track/4uvjOKsp7mSjrDhWdkLPBY

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Without words, it’s just a nice tune. Add words — now you’ve got a song. And songs can change your world. I write about some that changed mine.

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