Crimson And Clover - Tommy James and The Shondells

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"Crimson And Clover" - Tommy James and The Shondells (1968)

 Written by Tommy James and his drummer Peter Lucia Jr., “Crimson and Clover” was intended as a change in direction of Tommy James And The Shondells’ sound and composition. The 1968 track hit the top spot on the charts and went on to sell 5 million copies.

Following the release earlier that year of "Mony Mony" which was the band’s first single to reach the top 20 in the UK, “Crimson and Clover” hit number one there and peaked at number three in the US.  The two songs couldn’t be any different as “Mony Mony” was all party rock- and “Crimson and Clover” was late 60s psychedelia- but in the form of great pop songs.

The Dayton, Ohio wanted to change direction of the group's sound, and began producing his own material. At the time, James said this was out of "necessity and ambition", wanting to move from singles into albums.  They had only hit it big with the very funky “Hanky Panky”  in 1966. “Crimson and Clover" began a two-year streak of incredible songs:  “ I Think We're Alone Now",  “Mirage”, "Sweet Cherry Wine",  "Crystal Blue Persuasion" and "Draggin' the Line".

While the ending of “Crimson and Clover" is  'heavily processed vocals'-- the shaky vibrato of "Criiimmssonn anndd Clllooovaahhh, oover and oover"--is what we all walk away with.  That opening word: "Aahhhhh..."  gets the whole thing going. It is a sigh of satisfaction and contentment. Talk about a great intro! It is doubtful whether The Beatles couldn’t have done it any better.

The title, "Crimson and Clover" was decided before a song had been written for it. The combination of unknown meaning came to James which comprised his favorite color – crimson – and his favorite flower – clover.

He remembers:

"They were just two of my favorite words that came together. Actually, it was one morning as I was getting up out of bed, and it just came to me, those two words. And it sounded so poetic. I had no idea what it meant, or if it meant anything.”

This track was extremely important to the band because it allowed them to make the move from AM Top 40 to album rock.

Late 1968, early 1969 was a key point in development of rock music as it was at that point where singles became much less important and replaced by the album. Many of the softer and easy-listening bands from the decade were now replaced by the likes of Led Zepplin. It was the dividing line where many acts never had a hit record again. Tommy James was smart enough to see where the band had to go to remain relevant, and that meant albums not singles.

These two years when the band was most successful was a time in the recording industry when it went from 4 to 24-tracks. Not all bands did well with the new technological opportunities.  Tommy James and the Shondells was an exception.
Their songs were all very short- which means no filler. Same with Beatles- which is why they have remained so fresh all these years and never get dated. Overall, Tommy James sounded “groovy” in the same way Donavan did. All of his songs had interesting-laid guitar tracks that does what the guitar should do in a rock song in 1968-1970: not play loud- but lead the other players on the stage- not overwhelm them. Each of their songs had a great rhythmic feel to them, coupled with an extremely catchy melody that does exactly what a pop song should do: make you feel good. This is the element that makes Beatle songs such a pleasure to listen to.

While Tommy James and The Shondells was marketed to young female teenagers as “bubble gum pop” as the years passed the group established itself in the classic rock rotation on FM radio. Not as “bubble gum rock” but as defining songs of the 1960s. The punk and new wave genres were very much influenced by his overall sound and feel when performing the song.  

As a producer, Tommy James had a huge hit. When the group split up he wrote and produced the 1970 one-hit wonder  "Tighter, Tighter" for Alive 'N Kickin'.

Along with Donavan, he remains one of the most unrecognized musical artists of the 1960s. Like Donavan, his influence had a huge impacted on future artists and genres in popular music.


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