During the 30-year anniversary of the recording of the hit 1980s pop song “867-5309/Jenny,” it’s incredible to note how influential the seven-digit telephone number has become.
The tune was recorded by the band Tommy Tutone in 1981. Lead singer Tommy Heath claimed in an interview with The Rocket that he dialed the number in a prank call, and as a result, the woman who answered asked him to give her number to their lead guitarist, Jim Keller.
Instead, Keller turned her number into a hit song.
The chord progression was written by musician Alex Call, supposedly under a plum tree in his backyard. Keller had approached Call and helped contribute to the finished product, which peaked at number 4 on the Billboard charts in 1982 and remained there for 27 weeks.
Some fads never end
The popularity of the song sparked a prank call phenomenon, in which many fans of the song would call the number in their local area code and ask for Jenny. This consequently led to lawsuits from people who claimed they were being harassed.
“It’s hysterical. It’s absolutely insane.” – Eric Casaburi, CEO of Retro Fitness
As a result of the relelentless prank calling, the number was disconnected in the majority of area codes. However, in those area codes where the number still thrives, the prank calling continues to rage on after 30 years.
And that’s what happened a few years ago in the 201 area code, where the exchange is used in the Weehawken/Union City/North Bergen area.
The hit song as a cash cow
In 2004, Weehawken resident Spencer Potter picked up the number for free after finding out that it was miraculously available in the 201 area code. Potter runs a DJ business and figured it would be a great way to reach new customers.
Unfortunately, Potter was unable to handle the overwhelming volume of incoming calls.
When Potter decided to sell the number on eBay in February 2009, the story appeared in newspapers across the country including the New York Times.
Bids reached over $1 million, but due to Potter’s inability to confirm the identity of his bidders, he decided to sell the number privately.
Potter did not return several phone calls to his DJ business in Westchester County, N.Y. last week.
The new owner of the number was Retro Fitness, a franchise retro-themed gym with over 75 locations, mostly based along the East Coast. The closest location is in Secaucus.
Last week, CEO Eric Casaburi explained to The Reporter his rationale for capitalizing on the song’s seemingly everlasting relevance.
“The reason we purchased the number,” said Casaburi, who would not disclose the price, “is [that] we thought it would be the perfect tie-in for the Retro Fitness theme.”
Casaburi added, “Part of the theme with Retro is the ’80s. A lot of our core members have a tie back to that generation. I thought it was fitting to have that phone number.”
According to Casaburi, the number still receives a great deal of activity, which first goes to voicemail.
“We do generate quite a few calls a week on it,” said Casaburi.
But he added that most of the entertaining calls come on weekends.
“It’s hysterical,” he said. “It’s absolutely insane. They sing the song, they slur the words, and I guess they all love Jenny.”
Casaburi also stated that he felt the number was “definitely” worth the purchase from a promotional standpoint, adding that the gym pays homage to the song by often playing it in each of their locations.
As for the architects of the hit song, they remain surprised about its longevity.
“I never thought it would be keeping me alive 20 years later,” Alex Call posted on his website. Call not only continues his life’s work as a musician, but also has a book coming out titled, “867-5309/Jenny: The Song That Saved Me.” His national Book Concert Tour begins Aug. 13 in St. Louis.
“There are still a lot of uses of the song,” said Call in an e-mail. “[Now] More than ever. It’s amazing, really, after all these years.”
Jim Keller, like Call, currently has a career as a solo musician. He tours with the “Jim Keller Band.”
Tommy Tutone still tours to this day. And although it has gone through a series of member changes, frontman Tommy Heath remains the lead singer. Heath also works as a software engineer to “pay the bills,” according to the Tommy Tutone website.
Stephen LaMarca may be reached at email@example.com.