David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 357: Tommy Tutone (Cheap Date)

June 7, 2024

One of my guiltiest pleasures of all time is Tommy Tutone, the album, not particularly the band. We all know how the band became massive with "867-5309/Jenny" off their second album, Tommy Tutone 2, but besides that hit, Tommy Tutone 2 was about as interesting as its title. No, Tommy Tutone was a much more interesting album, and I don't say that in the usual "you-needed-to-know-them-before-they-got-big" snobbery.

The truth of the matter is that I would never claim Tommy Tutone as a great album, mostly a good album with a lot of good songs, even if the emotional level of some of the lyrics were cringe-worthy. Even by 1980, I like to think musicians were learning to stay away from such trite songs like "Girl In The Back Seat": "there's a girl in the back seat/going down slowly/looking for the promised land/doing the roly poly." Or, that they could come up with a better image for "Dancing Girl": "she was born with rock 'n roll shoes/watching her, I wish I had me some too." Still, these lyrics were steeped in catchy new wave-sounding melodies.

The stand out song from Tommy Tutone, and you could argue the stand out song for the band, is "Cheap Date," which sprouts from the song list like a wildflower in a carefully cultivated garden. It sounds like a demo left completely alone as it should be, musicians playing the same song but no production done to try and blend the instruments into what would be standard pop music. Mickey Shine crushes the drums, from the opening to the fills, Terry Nails, well, nails the bass, and Jim Keller slashes a perfect nasty guitar riff. Musically, it delivers a narrative worthy of the best emerging songwriting of the new wave era, something Elvis Costello or Graham Parker worthy.

In the end, on "Cheap Date" Tommy Heath (Mr. Tutone) may have conjured up his best Joe Jackson, because that's where the quirkiness of these lyrics take me, a kind of "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" narrative that shouldn't work, but does:

Hey, June, it's me/

I just called you up/

Baby, how 'bout a date/

I'll take you to the roller rink/

I'll even buy your skates/

'Cause you know now/

(It won't cost you a cent)/

'Cause I'm a cheap date.

For two verses and choruses, we seem destined to a rather boring plea to get a girl to agree to a date, but it is in the bridge that, much like Jackson on "Is She Really Going Out With Him," the narrative gets interesting:

I heard that your daddy died/

That's why I thought to call/

I wanted to say I'm sorry/

Six stories is a long way to fall.

Uh, Tommy, you aren't trying to take advantage of a girl's sorrow to get a date, are you? 'Cause that would be pretty creepy. It's not helped, you know, by delivering the vocal as if from a phone booth (probably outside her window), your haunting voice coming out of just one speaker. A restraining order might be in your future, Tommy.

Then, the band rips back into the main melody, but you aren't going to let up, are you?

Hey, June, he's gone now/

Six months in the grave/

Let that memory go/

Let it go.

Then Tommy offers himself again as this cheap date: "we could set off a false alarm/and listen to the sirens go." Wow! I would think he has to beat the chicks off with a stick. Are we so surprised that soon Tommy will be pulling the numbers of girls off a wall?

Thus, you can understand why "Cheap Date," and the entire Tommy Tutone album is a guilty pleasure. One doesn't exactly want to praise these kinds of unfortunate lyrics. Yet, as I wind down this series, it's time for me to 'fess up to some of these staples from my music-filled life. I am a child of rock and roll, and as the band says on a different tune from Tommy Tutone, "I won't take the blame."

Tommy Tutone. "Cheap Date." Tommy Tutone. Columbia, 1980. Link here.

Day 356: These Immortal Souls "You Can't Unring A Bell"

Day 358: Francis Dunnery "I Believe I Can Change My World"

See complete list here.