Billie Joe Armstrong’s version of “I Think We’re Alone Now” is clearly winning fans, as it surges on multiple Billboard charts.
Among those impressed? Tommy James and Tiffany.
James and his band the Shondells first made the song, written by Ritchie Cordell, a hit, having sent their recording to No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in April 1967.
Tiffany’s take soared to No. 1 for two weeks in November 1987.
Following in their chart footsteps is Armstrong’s cover, which the Green Day frontman recorded in his bedroom as a wry nod to the song’s title amid COVID-19–necessitated social distancing. His version, being promoted by Reprise/Warner Records, debuts at No. 10 on the Rock Digital Song Sales chart (dated May 2), rises to No. 11 on Hot Rock Songs and No. 15 on Adult Pop Songs and debuts at No. 28 on Adult Contemporary.
“I’m very honored that Billie Joe did this; I’ve been a fan of Green Day for a long time,” James told Billboard this week while self-isolating in northern New Jersey. (“My big thrill of the week is taking out the garbage,” he joked. More seriously, he mused, “You know what I hope our takeaway is from all of this? I hope we come away realizing how thankful we should be for all these simple things that we took for granted.”)
Echoed Tiffany, who’s currently in quarantine on the West Coast, “I love Billie Joe’s version. I think it’s a lot of fun, and definitely has an edge. It’s a song that people can relate to during this time, and it has always had its own life, so it’s nice to see it making people happy in a cheeky way.”
While praising the “big-crunch guitars” of Armstrong’s interpretation, James recalled that the first time he heard “I Think We’re Alone Now” it sounded very different than all three hit versions. When the eventual producers of his recording, Cordell and Bo Gentry, presented the song to him, in December 1966, “It was a mid-tempo ballad. Bo played it on the piano and sang it, and it was slow … but as soon as he got to the hook, you could hear that it was a smash. It was the perfect kind of hook.
“We went into the studio a couple days later with Bo singing,” James continued, “And we sped it up. I just kind of automatically did that, and it became the signature sound of the record. Then, I did the vocal the afternoon of Christmas Eve 1966. What a Christmas present that was.”
Similarly, Tiffany served up a more amped-up rendition than her synthesizer-driven original last year. “I was so thrilled when the video for my rock version hit 1 million YouTube views. Now, it has over 2 million. I’m very grateful and I never get tired of singing the song.”
“What’s amazing to me is how the song works lyrically, no matter the tempo,” said James, who released an acoustic version that hit the AC chart last summer. “It works as a ballad, it works as a teenage love song … and with a punk arrangement. Every musical generation has done ‘I Think We’re Alone Now.’ It’s fun watching all the different versions.”