|Format 7"||Recorded 1968|
|B-side "Some Kind of Love"
Released December 1968 (1968-12)
Genre Psychedelic pop psychedelic rock
Length 5:25 (album version) 3:23 (single version)
"Crimson and Clover" is a 1968 song by American rock band Tommy James and the Shondells. Written by the duo of Tommy James and drummer Peter Lucia Jr., it was intended as a change in direction of the group's sound and composition.
- Composition and recording
- Single release
- Album version
- CD and single re releases
- Covers and interpretations
- Chords and samples
- Mentions and tributes
- Background music
"Crimson and Clover" was released in late 1968 as a rough mix after a radio station leaked it. It spent 16 weeks on the U.S. charts, reaching number one in the United States (in February 1969) and other countries. The single has sold 5 million copies, making it Tommy James and the Shondells' best-selling song. It has been covered by many artists such as Joan Jett and Prince.
In 2006, Pitchfork Media named it the 57th best song of the 1960s.
Composition and recording
Following the release of "Mony Mony", Tommy James 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. He departed from the group's principal songwriters Bo Gentry and Ritchie Cordell, and was given complete artistic control by Roulette Records.
The title, "Crimson and Clover", was decided before a song had been written for it. The combination of unknown meaning came to James as he was waking up, comprising his favorite color – crimson – and his favorite flower – clover. (There is also a species of clover native to Europe called the crimson clover.) A song to fit the phrase was written by Tommy James and bassist Mike Vale, but was scrapped. His following collaboration with drummer Peter Lucia, Jr. was more successful (Lucia has said that he himself came up with the Crimson and Clover phrase while watching a high school football game between his hometown Morristown (NJ) Crimson and Hopatcong (green, or "clover")). During the song's production, Roulette Records wanted a new single, so the group agreed to release "Do Something to Me" to gain time to complete the song.
"Crimson and Clover" was recorded in late 1968 in about five hours and is one of the earliest songs recorded on 16-track equipment. Tommy James played most of the instruments, while Mike Vale played bass and Peter Lucia, Jr. played drums. The song contains a tremolo effect on the guitar, set so that it vibrated in time with the song's rhythm. Near the end of the recording, the band had an idea of utilizing the tremolo effect with vocals. To achieve this, the voice microphone was plugged into an Ampeg guitar amplifier with tremolo turned on, and the output from the amplifier was recorded while James sang "Crimson and clover, over and over".
Tommy James made a rough mix of "Crimson and Clover" to show to Roulette Records executive Morris Levy for evaluation. The band was still intending to improve on the mix with ambient sound and echo. A few days later, James stopped at WLS radio station in Chicago – who he had previously had positive experience with – to get their reaction. After an interview discussing the single, he was convinced to play the rough mix for WLS off-air. Unbeknown to James, the station recorded the song, and they shortly played it on-air in November 1968 as a "world exclusive".
Morris Levy initially pleaded with WLS not to play the record prematurely before its release, but listener response changed his mind. Roulette Records produced a specially pressed single and shipped it to listeners who called about the song. Eight hundred copies of the song were also sent to WLS for promotional purposes. Levy refused to let James produce the final mix he wanted, and the single was released using the rough mix, with "Some Kind of Love" as its B-Side.
"Crimson and Clover" entered the U.S. charts on December 14, where it stayed for 16 weeks on Billboard Hot 100 and 15 weeks on Cash Box Top 100. Following a performance of the song on The Ed Sullivan Show on January 26, it became number one on February 1, 1969, a position held for one week on Cash Box Top 100 and two weeks on both Billboard Hot 100 and Record World 100 Top Pops. Internationally, the song reached number one in Canada, Germany, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa and Switzerland. It also charted in Austria, Brazil, France, Holland, Italy, Israel, Malaysia, Mexico, Philippines and Puerto Rico. Despite this, the song did not chart in the United Kingdom. In mid-1969, Billboard reported that the single had sold 2.5 million copies in the United States. By 1971, Roulette Records claimed that sales stood at 5.5 million, the group's best-seller.
Based on suggestions from radio stations, Tommy James and The Shondells chose to create a longer version of "Crimson and Clover" for the album. The first two verses were copied without lead vocals and overdubbed with guitar solos by Shondells guitarist Ed Gray using steel guitars and fuzz guitars. During tape copying a slight speed error was inadvertently introduced. This resulted in a small drop in pitch during the new guitar solo sections, which went unfixed. The album, also titled Crimson and Clover, was released in January 1969 and reached a peak of #8 on the Billboard 200.
CD and single re-releases
The version of Crimson and Clover on the 1991 "Crimson and Clover/Cellophane Symphony" CD the same as the original album version; however, digital technology was used to fix the speed and pitch error mistake made in 1968. The CD booklet states that "Crimson and Clover" is now as it was "meant to be heard," and that Tommy James is "very satisfied" with the reissue of the recordings in CD format.
The reissue single of "Crimson And Clover" (Roulette Golden Goodies GG-73) was also pressed with the longer album version although the label still shows the original single version playing time of 3:23.
Covers and interpretations
"Crimson and Clover" has been covered by many artists, some of whom have charted with the song. Patrick Samson reached #1 in Italy with the 1969 cover "Soli si muore", while Joan Jett and the Blackhearts reached #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 with their 1982 rendition. Other artists who have covered or interpreted the song include Aguaturbia (1969), The Uniques (1969), Sielun Veljet (1991), Bobby Conn (1995), Spanish Fly (1995, #89 on Billboard Hot 100), Deadsy and Cher (1999), Dolly Parton on Those Were the Days (2005), Prince on Lotusflower (2009), Broken Bells (2010) and Teho Teardo and Blixa Bargeld (2014).
Chords and samples
In 2006, Jarvis Cocker sampled the "Crimson and Clover" chords for his song "Black Magic", and Dum Dum Girls' single "Lord Knows," from 2012, also uses this chord progression. There is some question as to the similarities between "Crimson and Clover" and "The Chanukah Song" by Adam Sandler, as the chord structure and melody of the latter song is identical to that in the former song's coda.