This is the 54th post in a weekly series. Read about it here and see the list of previous songs here. A new post about a different song is posted each Monday. You can listen to the songs in a Spotify playlist.

Tommy James and the Shondells’ 1966 debut album “Hanky Panky” reached Number 46 on the Billboard 200 on the strength of two successful singles: the title track, which hit Number One on the Billboard Hot 100, and “Say I Am (What I Am),” which peaked at Number 21.

The follow-up the next year, “It’s Only Love,” was critically panned as having too much sugar and bubblegum.

Songwriter Ritchie Cordell had cowritten the title track on “It’s Only Love.” He wrote most of the songs that appeared on Tommy James and the Shondells’ next album, “I Think We’re Alone Now,” including the title song. The album has been praised as redemption for “It’s Only Love,” in part because, as one reviewer said, Cordell was in “total control.”

Released in early 1967, the single for “I Think We’re Alone Now” spent 17 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at Number 4.

The song solidified Cordell’s partnership with James. Cordell had another hit with Tommy James and the Shondells the following year when they teamed up for “Mony Mony.”

The song also solidified James’ bubblegum reputation. As poppy as “It’s Only Love” might have been, “I think we’re alone now was even poppier. The song was embraced by younger audiences because, in a way, it was about them. The song followed two young people – probably teenagers, though the song doesn’t specify – running away from their parents so they can be alone together:

“Children behave”
That’s what they say when we’re together
“And watch how you play”
They don’t understand
And so we’re running just as fast as we can
Holdin’ onto one another’s hand
Tryin’ 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
Look at the way
We gotta hide what we’re doin’
‘Cause what would they say
If they ever knew
And so we’re running just as fast as we can
Holdin’ onto one another’s hand
Tryin’ 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

One can assume what those teens would be doing, though the specifics are left up to the imagination, and the implications can vary from version to version.

Power pop band The Rubinoos developed a cult following, in part because it recorded the theme song for the 1984 movie “Revenge of the Nerds.” But despite its strong following, The Rubinoos only had one single that ever charted: “I Think We’re Alone Now,” which reached Number 45 in 1977. The cover built on the energy of the original Shondells version, but played up the guitars and drums (as is to be expected from a power pop band).

American new wave artist Lene Lovich got a record deal with Stiff Records after radio host Charlie Gillett played Lovich’s version of “I Think We’re Alone Now” for a label representative. The song was released as a single with the song “Lucky Number.” Both songs appeared on her 1978 debut album, “Stateless.” Though faithful to the original, Lovich’s “I Think We’re Alone Now” was defined by its post-punk flourishes.

Australian indie band Ratcat included a cover of “I Think We’re Alone Now” on its self-titled debut album in 1987. It a drum-heavy take on the original, with crunchy guitars.

But it was the other cover of “I Think We’re Alone Now” in 1987 that became a hit and the song’s new standard-bearer. Under the stage name Tiffany, teenage singer Tiffany Darwish recorded a keyboard-heavy cover of “I Think We’re Alone Now” for her debut album.

Initially, Tiffany didn’t want to cover the song, as she wanted to play more rock and country. But her producer persisted. As she told The A.V. Club in 2012:

I was doing demos at a studio in Burbank, California, and the producer came down and he took me in a totally different direction. I mean, we started in that direction, and the next thing I know, he’s bringing in this track for “I Think We’re Alone Now.” He played me the original song [by] Tommy James And The Shondells, and I was really kind of taken aback. Obviously, it didn’t sound modern to me at the time. I had never heard the song before, which is so funny, because now I think it’s really cool and funky when I hear it on the radio… I was like, “Really?” and he was like, “No, no, no, the track will be different.” Then he brought in this dance track, and I was a little heartbroken, because for some reason, I was like, “Look, I like this music, but I’m not sure I want to be a dance artist.” He was like, “Just trust me. Just record the song.” I was just very humble and very thankful to be living my dream, to be in a studio; every day I went there, I was like, “Woo hoo!” So of course I did it.

I took the song home that afternoon and played it for my friends—they always came over at the end of the day, and they’d want to know what was going on. There were only a few friends that knew I was recording or that I even sang. They loved the song. Right away, they were, like, dancing to it and jumping around and “Oh, this is a cool song!” And I was like, “Okay, well I want to be cool!”

She turned it into hit, but only after her label almost dropped her. She had had trouble connecting with her fans, in part because she was just a teenager; she was too young to hang out in the clubs where she was performing. Someone from MCA suggested she tour shopping malls, as that’s where here potential fan base — i.e. underage kids — would be able to attend her shows. The strategy paid off, and Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now” reached Number One in the US, the UK, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, and Canada while also charting in a dozen other countries.

Incidentally, the song that knocked Tiffany’s version of “I Think We’re Alone Now” out of the Number One spot was Billy Idol’s version of “Mony Mony.”

The following year, Weird Al Yankovic recorded a parody of “I Think We’re Alone Now” for his fifth studio album, “Even Worse.” Titled “I Think I’m Clone Now,” the song was about, well, being a clone:

Look at the way
We go out walking close together
I guess you could say
I’m really beside myself
I still remember how it began (gan-gan-gan)
They produced a carbon copy man (man-man-man)
Born in a science lab late one night
Without a mother or a father, just a test tube and a womb with a view
I think I’m a clone now (a clone now)
There’s always two of me just a-hangin’ around
I think I’m a clone now (a clone now)
‘Cause every chromosome is a hand-me-down

If for nothing else, it gets points for that “womb with a view” wordplay.

In 1989, punk band Snuff covered for its debut album, “Snuff Said.” Coming in at under two minutes, Snuff’s “I Think We’re Alone” sounded the way you’d expect a punk version of the song to sound, with pounding drums over fast, distorted guitars. The only surprise, though, was that the vocals weren’t more screamy.

That same year, Screeching Weasel recorded its own punk version. At half the length and twice the speed of Snuff’s version, Screeching Weasel’s “I Think We’re Alone Now” was lo-fi blitz that was barely intelligible, but fun nonetheless.

In 2002, independent Dutch label Sally Forth Records released “Hits of the 80’s,” a compilation that featured several European bands covering familiar songs. Dutch indie band Glory Box slowed “I Think We’re Alone Now” to a grungy shoegaze tempo, imbuing the song with noisy drums and messy, distorted guitars.

In 2006, UK pop group Girls Aloud featured “I Think We’re Alone Now” on “The Sound of Girls Aloud: The Greatest Hits.” (The group’s cover of “Hanging on the Telephone” appeared on a limited edition bonus disc of that collection.) Almost 20 years had passed since Tiffany released her version, which was about the same amount of time that separated her version from Tommy James and the Shondells’ original “I Think We’re Alone Now.” But as polished and danceable as Tiffany’s 1987 version might have sounded compared to the original, it sounded basic compared to the clubby (and over-produced) version by Girls Aloud.

Power pop band The Click Five, which had covered Thompson Twins’ “Lies” for the “Sky High” soundtrack in 2005, covered “I Think We’re Alone Now” for its 2006 album, “Greetings From Imrie House.” The Click Five’s version could almost have been a punk pop cover, but the vocals were not whiny enough nor were the guitars crunchy enough, making it power pop instead of emo. But it was pretty close.

Canadian band The Birthday Massacre has been described as a new wave revival band with a dark, gothic undertone. That description seems to capture its 2008 EP “Looking Glass,” which included a shimmery, synth-heavy version of “I Think We’re Alone Now.” Lead singer Chibi has said that the band’s contradictory aesthetic — simultaneously welcoming and distant — was intentional. She said even the band’s name was a function of that duality. “It kind of works well for the music that we’re making,” she told OC Weekly. “Sort of contrasty, you know? Birthday, and massacre. Light, and dark. Cute, and evil.”

Bluegrass band Barnstar! covered “I Think We’re Alone Now” for its 2011 album, “C’mon!” The album also had covers of Neil Young’s “Cowgirl in the Sand” and the Louvin Brothers’ “Cash on the Barrelhead.”

The group Hidden Citizens has created a special niche for itself covering songs in the style suitable for the trailers for epic action movies. The formula is consistent: the song starts out slow and quiet, building up to a crashing climax. The epic trailer version of “I Think We’re Alone Now,” from the 2016 album “Awakenings,” changes the tone of the song such that the title takes on new meaning, particularly the “word” alone, as it sounds like what you’d hear in a movie about the apocalypse.

Despite the popularity of the Lene Lovich and Girls Aloud versions, no other cover of “I Think We’re Alone Now” has had the chart success that Tiffany’s version had. And except Tommy James and the Shondells, there’s probably no artist as closely connected to the song as Tiffany. Arguably, it’s more fundamentally part of her identity than his; he went on to have successes with “Mony Mony,” “Crimson and Clover,” and “Crystal Blue Persuasion.” But Tiffany hasn’t been able to completely distance themselves from her bubblegum pop reputation.

For her part, Tiffany seems grateful for that connection. In an interview with New Jersey Stage, she said:

People are surprised that I still do ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’… I think that I owe it to my fans, especially the ones who have stood by me to play that; don’t you think? I’m proud that they’ve stood by me for all of these years. I never understand the bands that perform but do only their new or most recent music. Fans expect to hear the material that they loved, which made you successful in the first place; so I try and do many of my most popular songs.

I’ve been critical of Tiffany in past posts, particularly when reviewing “Running Up That Hill.” I said her cover of the Kate Bush classic was too faithful to the original, didn’t add anything, and was thus unnecessary.

But Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now” was a worthwhile cover. Its use of modern synthesizers helped it stand out from the original ’60s version, but beyond that, Tiffany imbued it with a sweet earnestness. As infectious and exuberant as the version by Tommy James and the Shondells was, Tiffany and her producers found a way to make a pop classic even poppier. Cordell’s song had endured for 50 years because it was a good song, but Tiffany’s version deserves some credit in explaining the song’s longevity. There’s no way to know, but I am not sure we’d have all these versions of “I Think We’re Alone Now” if not for Tiffany’s cover nearly 30 years ago.

We certainly wouldn’t have gotten that Weird Al song, that’s for sure.

You can listen to these songs and previously discussed cover songs in a Spotify playlist.
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