“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” 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.
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.
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-73) was also pressed with the longer album version although the label still shows the original single version playing time of 3:23.
“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).
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.
The song is credited as inspiring the film Cherries and Clover.
The Joan Jett cover of the song is mentioned in Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis.
The band Jimmy Eat World references this song in “A Praise Chorus” on their album Bleed American. Near the end of the song, they repeat the words “crimson and clover, over and over” several times.
The band Kings of Leon mention the song in “California Waiting” (from their debut album Youth and Young Manhood), in the line “Crimson and Clover pullin’ overtime”.
The band Ducktails references this song by name in “Surreal Exposure” on their album St. Catherine (album).
Elliott Smith sings “the radio was playing Crimson and Clover” in the song “Baby Britain” on his album XO.
The band American Hi-Fi mentions “crimson and clover” in the song “The Breakup Song” on their album The Art of Losing – “Its over, all over. Just like in Crimson and Clover”.
Metric mentions “crimson and clover” in the song Siamese Cities off the Static Anonymity EP.
Renee Renee mentions “crimson and clover” in his song “Driving”.
SF Spanish Fly covered the song, a reggae version in 1995 (No. 89 Billboard Hot 100). SF Spanish Fly is a duo group featuring John “Milo” Pro and Octaviano Silva from San Francisco, California.
Liz Phair sings, “crimson and clover – soon he’s taken over all my senses now” in the song “Johnny Feelgood”.
On Hawk Nelson’s album Letters to the President in the song First Time, “Crimson and Clover over and over” is mentioned.
Referenced in Automaton by The Pernice Brothers “Something came over me, crimson, not clover-leafed”
In the 1980s, the Clover Department Store used a version of the song in television and radio ads during the Christmas season with the changed lyrics: “Christmas at Clover…Over and Over.” This version was sung by a chorus of children.
Janelle Monáe uses similar tremolo vocals and musical style in a nod to Crimson & Clover on “Mushrooms & Roses” off her 2010 debut album, The ArchAndriod
In the game Fallout 3, Eulogy Jones has two bodyguards named “Crimson” and “Clover” as a reference to this song.
On Veronica Falls’s self-titled debut, “crimson and clover” is mentioned in the song “Come On Over”.
Tanya Stephens rocks the melody in her roots and riddim feminist anthem “Think it Over”.
Green Day mention Crimson and Clover in two songs from their 2012 album, ¡Dos!, in “Lady Cobra” (“Her black heart beats crimson and clover;”) and “Nightlife” (“I’ll be the devil on your shoulder saying ‘Hey boy, come over’ My black heart beats crimson and clover”).
Gregory Pepper and His Problems sings “Sing it over and over, crimson and clover” during the chorus of his song, “Note to Self”.
Johan sing “Write me a song of Crimson and Clover” in the title song of their album Pergola.
It was used as background music in the 1994 film Pontiac Moon.
It plays all through the “Renée” segment on the 2003 Jim Jarmusch film Coffee and Cigarettes.
It is used as background music to a makeout scene between John Cusack’s character ‘Rob’ and his high school girlfriend ‘Penny’ in the 2000 film High Fidelity.
It was used multiple times in the 2003 film Monster.
It is used as background music in an episode of Veronica Mars when Logan waits in his yacht for Veronica, who never shows up.
It is used as background music in an A&W commercial where a middle-aged couple go to an A&W restaurant to relive memories.
Also used as background music in Sports Night at the end of the “Sally” episode.
A small part is used in the 2000 film Frequency as the radio signal is traveling to the sun and back through time.
The beginning of the song is used in The L Word in the episode 1.08 ‘Listen Up’.
The song plays near the end of the Cold Case episode “Revolution”, the fourteenth episode of the series’ second season.
It plays during the prom dance scene in the 2008 film My Best Friend’s Girl.
It was used as background music for the season 2 finale episode of Quebec sitcom “Les Invincibles”.
It plays in the beginning of the 90210 episode “Clark Raving Mad”, the sixteenth episode of the series’ second season, during a makeout session between Liam and Naomi.
It is on the soundtrack of the 2009 film The Boat That Rocked.
It was one of the songs in Andrew Reynolds (skateboarder) part in “Baker 2g”.
The Joan Jett and the Blackhearts version was used in the 2006 romantic comedy Her Minor Thing.
The Joan Jett cover was also used at the end of the 2010 film The Runaways.
It was used in an episode of ABC’s The Wonder Years where Kevin settles for one girl but really wanted to take another girl to a school dance.
Aly Michalka hums and sings the song in the 2011 film The Roommate.
It plays in the background of a scene in the 2011 season finale of In Plain Sight.
It plays several times in the 2016 Australian television drama series “The Kettering Incident” .
It is used as background music in the Sons of Anarchy episode “To Be, Act 1” (Season 4, Episode 13) (2011).
The Joan Jett cover was used in an episode of NBC’s Go On (TV series) episode “Bench-Clearing Bawl” on September 25, 2012.
It was featured in the twelfth episode of Fox Broadcasting Company science fiction series Almost Human, titled “Beholder”.
It was featured in the 1970s-era New York crime film Blood Ties.
A brief segment plays in the 1993 film Indian Summer.
It was featured in the Bates Motel in the season 5 episode “Visiting Hours”, during a scene in which Emma’s mother is being cremated.