That jangly, arpegiated guitar intro, those four familiar chords in the versus, that phone number … it’s instantly recognizeable as one of the best pop/rock singles of the 1980s — Tommy Tutone’s “867-5309/Jenny.”
Led by vocalist/guitarist Tommy Heath and lead guitarist/vocalist Jim Keller, Tommy Tutone started out as a twangy bar band in San Francisco in the late ’70s. They rocked with a very traditional five-piece configuration: two guitarists, one bassist, one keyboardist, and one drummer (think Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers). Heath and Keller sang over a cool mix — a bit on the rootsy side of late-’70s power-pop, nestled between the country and folk-rock flavored Americana of Springsteen and John Cougar, the semi-New Wave pop stylings of Donnie Iris and Rick Springfield, and the melodic, hook-driven guitar-pop of Cheap Trick, The Knack, and The Romantics.
In the early-’80s, the band fine-tuned a more stylized power-pop sound (and donned a few skinny neckties). They demonstrated that modernized New Wave/pop style on their first single, 1980’s “Angel Say No.” The 1981 release of the even catchier follow-up single “867-5309/Jenny” (from the album Tommy Tutone 2) — coincided, quite conveniently, with the advent of MTV. The video for “867-5309/Jenny” featured Heath and Keller battling over a blonde beauty in a tavern, It was as goofy as any other contemporary pop-rock clip on MTV at the time, but the hooks in the song’s intro and chorus were undeniably infectious. The tune became the band’s biggest hit. In 1982, it hit number four and went gold.
VH1 recently featured “867-5309/Jenny” in its 100 Greatest Songs of the ’80s series. It’s an established classic.
Unfortunately, Tommy Tutone never could quite reach that level of success again. They broke up after the release of their third album, 1983’s National Emotion. In 1994, Heath returned, for the release Nervous Love.
In recent years, the band regrouped in Nashville under the Tommy Tutone name with Heath up front with backing from bassist/singer Jimmy James, lead guitarist Greg Georgeson, and drummer Andy Gauthier. A tidy compilation of Tutone’s strongest tunes titled The Singles came out on Spectra Records last fall.