Crimson and Clover

"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.

"Crimson and Clover"
Crimson and Clover.jpg
Italian single sleeve
Single by Tommy James and the Shondells
from the album Crimson & Clover
  • "Some Kind of Love"
  • "I'm Taken"
ReleasedNovember 1968 (1968-11)
GenrePsychedelic pop,[1] psychedelia[2]
  • 5:25 (album)
  • 3:23 (single)
Producer(s)Tommy James
Tommy James and the Shondells singles chronology
"Do Something to Me"
"Crimson and Clover"
"Sweet Cherry Wine"
Audio sample
"Crimson and Clover"

"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 four other countries. The single has sold 5 million copies, making it Tommy James and the Shondells' best-selling song. (Note: the RIAA did not award a gold record so the 5 million sales number is not officially acknowledged.)[3] It has been covered by many artists including Joan Jett and Prince.

In 2006, Pitchfork Media named it the 57th best song of the 1960s.[4]

Composition and recordingEdit

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".

Single releaseEdit

Tommy James and the Shondells on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1969, one day before their single reached number one.

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 Chicago radio station WLS, where he had previously had a positive experience, to get their reaction. After an interview discussing the single, he was persuaded to play his copy of the rough mix off-air for WLS. Unbeknownst to James, the station recorded the song which they aired with little delay – in November 1968 – as a "world exclusive".

Morris Levy had 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 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.[5][6]

"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,[7] 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.

Chart historyEdit


Album versionEdit

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.[26][27] The album, also titled Crimson and Clover, was released in January 1969 and reached a peak of #8 on the Billboard 200.[28]

CD and single re-releasesEdit

The version of "Crimson and Clover" on the 1991 Crimson and Clover/Cellophane Symphony CD is 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-72) was also pressed with the longer album version although the label still shows the original single version playing time of 3:23.

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts cover versionEdit

"Crimson and Clover"
Single by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
from the album I Love Rock 'n Roll
B-side"Oh Woe is Me"
ReleasedApril 1982
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts singles chronology
"I Love Rock 'n' Roll"
"Crimson and Clover"
"Do You Wanna Touch Me"

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts covered "Crimson and Clover" on their debut LP in 1981. In 1982, they reached #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 with their rendition (in a slightly enhanced AOR/single mix), their second-highest charting hit in the U.S.[29] They also reached #4 in Canada and #6 in Australia, in addition to charting in parts of Europe. It also features the non-album song "Oh Woe Is Me", featured on certain editions of her album I Love Rock 'n Roll.

Chart historyEdit


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  4. ^ "The 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s: Part Four: #60–21", Pitchfork Media, August 17, 2006
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  15. ^ "SA Charts 1965–March 1989". Retrieved 5 September 2018.
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  20. ^ "RPM Top Singles of 1969". Library and Archives Canada. RPM. Retrieved 24 December 2017.
  21. ^ "Top 20 Hit Singles of 1969". Retrieved 2 September 2018.
  22. ^ "Swiss Year-End Charts 1969 -".
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  25. ^ "Billboard Hot 100 60th Anniversary Interactive Chart". Billboard. Retrieved 10 December 2018.
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  27. ^ Me, the Mob, and the Music: One Helluva Ride with Tommy James and the Shondells
  28. ^ Tommy James and the Shondells, Mony Mony Retrieved February 7, 2015
  29. ^ Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, "Crimson and Clover" Chart Position Retrieved February 7, 2015
  30. ^ Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955–1990 - ISBN 0-89820-089-X
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  35. ^ "Cash Box Year-End Charts: Top 100 Pop Singles, December 25, 1982". Archived from the original on July 11, 2018. Retrieved December 22, 2018.