Sound Advice: Finding ‘Hanky Panky’ single is a Snap

By Tim Neely

Question: It was a Snap. As fate would have it, after recently reading the [Goldmine] Tommy James article, I visited my local indoor flea market to check out any new stock at my favorite record supplier. To my surprise, I found a fair but playable copy of “Hanky Panky” on the Snap label, #102-A, by The Shondells. I gladly paid the $10 price we agreed on. My question is, how many copies were pressed of the original? I was surprised to find a copy in any condition in North Carolina.

— Mike Van Zile, Winston-Salem, NC

Answer: Don’t be too surprised you found one. They’re easier to find than you might think, because almost all the copies on the market aren’t true originals.

“Hanky Panky” was first released in 1964 on Snap, which was run by a Niles, Mich., DJ with the on-air name Jack Douglas (his full name was Jack Douglas Deafenbaugh, or “J.D. Deafenbaugh” as he is credited on the label).

The Shondells recorded four songs in February 1964 at the studio of WNIL, a radio station that still broadcasts in Niles, a city just across the border from South Bend, Ind. Three of the songs were “Penny Wishing Well,” “Pretty Little Red Bird” and “Thunderbolt,” all Shondells originals, the latter of which was written by the Shondells’ then-guitarist, Larry Coverdale. “Hanky Panky” was an afterthought, a song the group had heard a local band play at a gig, and they recorded it on a lark as filler. James sang from memory, and where he had forgotten or didn’t know the words, he made them up.

The first two songs, “Penny Wishing Well” and “Pretty Little Red Bird,” were issued as the first single on the Snap label.  The other two, “Thunderbolt” and “Hanky Panky,” then followed on Snap 102. As both of these were local releases, they were likely custom-pressed in quantities of fewer than 1,000.

Somehow, a copy of the original Snap 102 ended up in a used-record bin in Pittsburgh, and the right person found it: Bob Mack, a DJ who began to play the vocal throwaway B-side “Hanky Panky” on the radio and at record hops. A hit, and a musical career, was born.

But there was a big problem: People wanted to not only hear the song, but own it, and when “Hanky Panky” became a hit in Pittsburgh, new copies of the single were unavailable anywhere, as the Snap label had gone out of business.

An old saying tells us, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” So, with no other easy option, some enterprising Pittsburghers did the next best thing: Using a dub of the original 45 owned by Mack, and speeding it up about 2 percent to make it more “exciting” (and to make it under three minutes long, still an important consideration in 1966), they pressed their own “Hanky Panky.” Copies came out on two different labels: Red Fox and — important for the question — Snap. At least 80,000 copies of these gray-market singles were pressed.

Therefore, almost all the copies on the Snap label were from that strange period in 1966 when James had a hit in Pittsburgh but no legitimate label to sell it. And despite a restraining order filed once Roulette got the rights to the song, “new” Snap-label copies occasionally could be found in record stores well into the early 1970s. Most likely, your copy is one of these Pittsburgh Snap records.

How does one tell a true Snap from the 1966 copies? Two things on the label set it apart. First, the title of the song is listed as “Hanky-Panky,” with a hyphen between the words. Second, the composer of “Hanky-Panky” is listed as “Tommy Jackson,” which is Tommy James’ real name, instead of its true composers, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich. That error could be how someone in Pittsburgh was able to find him, because after all, the group was labeled simply as “The Shondells.”

Snap may not have known in 1964 that “Hanky Panky” was a cover of a B-side by the studio girl group The Raindrops, a Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich creation. The A-side, “That Boy John,” was issued as the follow-up to the Top 20 hit “The Kind Of Boy You Can’t Forget”; it entered the Billboard Hot 100 Nov. 30, 1963, spent eight weeks on the chart and peaked at #61. Evidently, the Pittsburgh pirates knew the song’s source and corrected the composer credit on their 45s.

The $10 you paid for your copy seems about right for a 1966 edition. The “original” original likely would go for well into three figures, now that it can be easily identified.

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