“Mony Mony” is a simple, raucous, and lyrically vague song about a romance. It’s lived many lives and been performed by many artists, some of which have brought controversy and new interpretations to the music. Basically, the song is straightforwardly about the excitement of a passionate lover. The main purpose of the song is to build up the explosive chorus, which is a favorite for audiences to join in on.
Originally, the song was written by Tommy James and The Shondells in 1968. James had the majority of the song done before settling on “mony mony” as the hook. He got the title line from a nearby city sign that, when abbreviated, spelled “mony.” Once this was incorporated, the rest followed quickly. The Billy Idol version famously has its own additions to the lyrics (when performed live), which have caused controversy due to their obscenity.
In this article, we’ll take a look at these direct lyrics to discover their intended meaning. We’ll also examine the songwriting story and history of the track. Without further ado, let’s dive in!
The song starts by introducing us to the subject of the song – an unnamed woman. The narrator says, “here she comes now, say ‘Mony Mony,’” as she approaches. It’s unclear whether the woman is the one saying this or if the narrator is prompting the audience. In the Billy Idol version, it’s clearly the woman “singing Mony Mony.”
The narrator is happy with her because she gives him “love,” which makes him “feel alright.” This could be interpreted wholesomely or as a euphemism depending on the artist and audience in question. The same applies to the next line about “tossing and turning” at night. To some, it is nothing more than a reference to the nerves involved in romance, but other interpreters believe it has to do with sexual activity.
At this point, the song breaks into a very simplistic chorus. The narrator feels “so good” because of the woman and is accompanied by background vocalists chanting “mony mony.” According to Tommy James, “mony mony” is a nonsense term that was intended to be catchy, not lyrically significant.
The Billy Idol chorus is noticeably different because the background singers chant “like a pony” as well. This line is likely an innuendo, as Idol offers a distinctly sexual rendition of the song. In fact, his initial interest in covering the track came from a personal sexual encounter that involved it (according to his 2015 memoir).
Basically, any time you hear “feel like a pony” or “ride the pony” in the Idol version, it’s probably an attempt to add some animalistic undertones. Further evidence is the fact that at live Idol performances of the song, obscene chants in the audience, such as “get laid,” are commonplace. This off-color phenomenon led to the song being banned at high schools and other venues that wanted a family-friendly atmosphere.
Other than various empty phrases like “don’t stop cookin’” and “shotgun, get it done,” neither version’s lyrics offer much else that’s new. This is a chorus-oriented song that’s intended for good crowd work more than anything clever or poetic. Nonetheless, its energetic charm has made it a solid hit for many fans – and artists – around the world.
The songwriting credit for this song is given to Tommy James, Bo Gentry, Ritchie Cordell, and Bobby Bloom. It would seem that James was the principal lyricist since he is the only one who has offered an account of the lyrical inspiration.
According to James, the majority of the track was completed in advance. What he still needed, however, was a catchy word to stick in audiences’ heads. While at a loss, he happened to glance at a nearby sign for the Mutual of New York (M.O.N.Y.) building. This gave him the key he needed, and the rest came quickly after that.
Their version became a #1 hit in the UK, making plenty of money and notoriety for Tommy James and The Shondells. It wasn’t until 1981 that Billy Idol would famously take up the tune for his own rendition.
Idol’s fondness for the song was tied to a sexual experience wherein “Mony Mony” was playing in the background. This may explain why his version includes innuendos and is notoriously crass when performed live. As mentioned in the previous section, the obscenity associated with his version led to the track being banned at high-school dances and other family environments.
His version would become a Top 40 hit internationally and was a massive success for Idol. Still, he was far from the last artist to cover or perform it.
The next time you play this electrifying hit, let these facts from the annals of music history make it even more special!