Formed in California back in 1978 the band Tommy Tutone released their self-titled debut album two years later in 1980 but their success really came with the song “867-5309/Jenny” from their second album “Tommy Tutone 2” released in 1981. It became their most famous song by far, which makes the band often be called a “one hit wonder” since it peaked at number 4 on the United States Billboard Hot 100 and they never were able to reproduce that success with their other releases.
Curiously, the song was written by a songwriter called Alex Call with the help of Jim Keller, guitarist of Tommy Tutone. But after 40 years of existence that song continues to be played around the world and make people curious about what is the origin of that specific phone number 867-5309.
The origin of the number “867-5309” from the famous Tommy Tutone song
There are many myths around the origin of that number and some say that Jenny really existed and the number was on a wall but none of that is true. It was something invented by the person in charge for the public relations of the record company who told the band to tell a story like that. It was the songwriter Alex Call who came up with most of the song, including the number. He was sitting in his backyard one day trying to write a song when that number came up.
He recalled that in an interview with Tennessean (Transcribed by Rock and Roll Garage) in 2016. “Unfortunately the real story is quite boring, it’s just a songwriter thing. You know, I was sitting on this bench under a tree in my backyard in California. I started playing 10 in the morning trying to write a song. I just came up with this number, I don’t know where it came from, it came out of the blue.”
“The legends of this song are made, the urban myths. That morning I wrote the riff, the number, the name. I recorded the track (In a little simple studio he had in his backyard) and I kind of ran out of steam at 3 in the afternoon. But I had the track down and Jim Keller, the guitar player for Tommy Tutone, showed up. I said ‘I don’t know what this is about’. He goes ‘It’s a girl’s number on a bathroom wall’ and I’m like: ‘haha that’s funny. That would be a (good one) by Eddie Money (joking)’.”
Alex Call continued:
“But you know, we finished the song and in the next day I tried to write a real song. But eventually got on their record and it wasn’t supposed to be a single. In those days the DJs played tracks from records and it took off. It was on the charts for a year and it just stayed there over the years.”
In the same interview he recalled that at the time the number was from a highschool and they received “like 50.000 calls in a week. (People saying) ‘Is Jenny there?'”
Tommy Tutone’s Jim Keller recalled how he helped Alex Call to finish the song
Tommy Tutone guitarist and singer Jim Keller recalled in an interview with Bringin’ It Backwards in 2021 (Transcribed by Rock and Roll Garage) that Alex Call really had almost the entire song done when he showed up at his house. It was when he brought the song to the band’s rehearsal that they realized they had something really special. So they decided make the lyrics more radio friendly.
“Alex Call and I wrote ‘867…’ which really is Alex. He had the thing practically done and he and I were writing a bunch of songs together. I came in one day and he had this thing. I went ‘Oh my God’, what’s that?’ We played around with it and we finished it together, wrote the lyrics. We kinda wrote it as a joke, they were kind of joke lyrics. But then I brought the song into the rehearsal with the band as soon as I started playing it with the rhythm section it was like ‘Oh man! I guess we gotta take this seriously’. So we soften the tone of the lyrics because they were not acceptable for anything for that point. It became very obvious that there was something about that chord progression that was really fun.”
Jim Keller continued:
“I heard it as soon as I got together with Alex that day, I went ‘Wow, what is that?’. But that doesn’t mean anything. It means ‘Ok, you dig it that day’. But then when I brought that into the rehearsal with the band, man we started playing that. It was like ‘Holy shit, this is really fun,'” Jim Keller said.
During that same interview he recalled that the band was convinced by the record company to say the number was written on a wall and that Jenny really existed. “The reality is that Alex came up with that number”.
At the time of recording the band was formed by Tommy Heath (Vocals and guitar), Jim Keller (Guitar), Jon Lyons (Bass) and Victor Carberry (Drums). Besides Keller, the album was produced by Chuck Plotkin and Geoff Workman.