The Meaning Behind the Song Lyrics: “Crimson and Clover” by Tommy James and The Shondells

By 1969, the psychedelic-pop group Tommy James and The Shondells already had a number of hits in their growing catalog, including their 1966 The Raindrops’ cover, “Hanky Panky,” and other Top 10 smashes like “I Think We’re Alone Now” released in 1967, hitting No. 1 20 years later with Tiffany’s cover, and the 1968 release “Mony Mony”—the live version by Billy Idol also topping the charts in 1987.

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The band hit it big again, topping the charts with the title track of their sixth album—“Crimson and Clover.” Originally released in December of 1968, the song reached No. 1 by 1969 and sold five million copies, making it Tommy James and The Shondells’ best-selling song.

Lyrically Speaking

The mix of “Crimson” and “Clover” explores a love that could develop into some beautiful and moving the motions to keep someone. Lyrically, the story plays out more directly:

Ah, now I don’t hardly know her
But I think I could love her
Crimson and

Ah, when she comes walking over
Now I’ve been waitin’ to show her
Crimson and clover
Over and over

Yeah, my, my such a sweet thing
I wanna do everything
What a beautiful feeling
Crimson and clover
Over and over

Literally Speaking

The song title was fairly straightforward. “Crimson” is associated with the color red, a hue also associated with love, while “Clover” is a specific species of flower. Love is blossoming.

Written by Tommy James and The Shondells’ then-drummer Peter Lucia Jr., both writers had different origins for the meaning of the title. Lucia Jr. said “Crimson” was based on his Morristown, New Jersey hometown high school football team, The Crimson, while crimson, which is associated with the color red, was James’ favorite color, and the combination with “Clover” popped into his head.

“They were just two of my favorite words that came together,” said James. “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. … Mike Vale (Shondells bassist) and I actually wrote another song called ‘Crimson and Clover,’ and it just wasn’t quite there. I ended up writing ‘Crimson and Clover’ with my drummer, Pete Lucia, who has since passed away.”

Lucia Jr. passed away at the age of 39 in 1987 after suffering a heart attack on a golf course in Van Nuys, California. “Pete was the best friend I had during the past 21 years,” said James. “His death was a total shock, and I don’t think I’ve ever hurt so bad or so deep in my entire life.”

The Making of the Song

For some time, it was said that Bo Gentry had ghostwritten the song, which was debunked by former Shondells keyboardist and backing vocalist Kenny Laguna. Gentry had co-written some previous Shondells tracks, including “Mony Mony,” but stopped working with their record company, Roulette, over a payment disagreement. 

Joan Jett, whose longtime producer and manager is Laguna, would later cover “Crimson and Clover,” and release the song on her second album I Love Rock ’n Roll in 1981; the song reached No. 7 on the Hot 100 chart for Jett. In 2009, Prince recorded his own cover of the song on his triple album Lotusflow3r.

Five Hours

In studio, “Crimson and Clover” was recorded in about five and a half hours with James singing and playing multiple instruments, Vale on bass, and Lucia Jr. on drums. “We wrote the song, we produced the record, we did all the things we had to do,” said James of the band’s artistic freedom during the making of Crimson and Clover. “We designed the album cover, we got to the point where we almost took the creative process right on into the retail store.” 

He added, “One of the things that was great about Roulette is that they allowed us the freedom to do these things. There was never any hand around our throat. … We had all the budgets, what we needed, we could take our time, whatever we could become… and we had the public’s attention long enough to morph into the second phase of our career.”

Top 40 to Rock

Edited down to two and a half minutes to get AM radio play, the song helped transition the band from the pop genre into rock. “Crimson and Clover’ was so very important to us because it allowed us to make that move from AM Top 40 to album rock,” said James. “I don’t think there’s any other song that we’ve ever worked on, any other record that we made that would have done that for us quite that way.”

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