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Meaning Of “Crimson And Clover” By Tommy James & The Shondells

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Crimson And Clover was the biggest hit released by Tommy James And The Shondells, spending 16 weeks on the US charts and unofficially selling over five million copies. Big-name artists like Joan Jett, Cher, and Prince have covered it since its release in 1968, but it was supposed to serve as a change in sound for Tommy James And The Shondells at the time of release.

It wasn’t the mix that James wanted to send out, and the song plays out as a direct love story. In this article, let’s delve into the deeper meaning of this track.

So What’s “Crimson and Clover” About?

There are always two ways to look at a song. First, the literal meaning or story that you can gather from the lyrics, and second, the meaning or message of the track that’s shrouded by metaphors. The literal story of Crimson And Clover is what we’ll look at first. 

The simplest explanation of the song is that it describes meeting a very pretty and mysterious woman that you just know you could fall in love with if given half a chance. You don’t know her but just seeing her seems to tell you everything you need to know to be sure she’s someone you could grow a relationship with. 

He spots a woman he doesn’t know but finds her intoxicating. The track plays out a bit like a daydream, yearning for her to come over to him so he has an excuse to strike up a conversation and show her everything he’s been thinking. 

Meaning Behind “Crimson and Clover”

Tommy James and the Shondells - Crimson & Clover

So what exactly was so special about the two words “crimson” and “clover” one might ask? Well, the two were chosen by James simply because red was his favorite color and clover was his favorite type of flower. It sounds very simple, but the two words sound pretty good when played off of each other. 

There is a slight controversy over the title though. Crimson And Clover was the first track James was forced to write without his previous songwriter. He sat down with drummer Peter Lucia and came up with the song, and everyone loved it. So, while the flower and color may be James’ favorites and he claimed it came to him in a dream, Lucia also has a claim to the title.

According to Lucia, he’s the one to come up with the title while watching a football game between the Morristown Crimson and the Hopatcong High School teams. We aren’t positive who’s telling the truth, but it isn’t really that important in the grand scheme of the song.

Crimson is a bright, warm color. It’s the type of red often associated with love and romanticism. The kind of warm feeling you get when you see someone who gives you butterflies. Clover is a type of flower with a sweet smell, one that you could liken to the sweet-smelling perfume of the mysterious woman in the song. The singer is nearly drunk off of her scent the way you would be sitting in a field of clover. 

There are two possible interpretations to come from the track outside of the literal meaning. It’s of course a love song on the surface, but lines like “Crimson and clover, Over and over” and “Now I’ve been waiting to show her, Crimson and clover” seem to point to a sexual meaning. It’s obvious that the track deals with a “good feeling,” and many can point to portions of the song and say it means that he wants to make love to this woman and not just establish a romantic relationship. 

Crimson And Clover also falls in the 1960s psychedelic style of music that very much included references to drug use. It’s possible that the “good feeling” in the song was describing drug use instead, with the mysterious woman serving as more of a metaphor. 

If there is a hidden meaning, it probably falls in between the two in truth. Several lines like “My my, such a sweet thing (Da-da, da-da, da-da), I wanna do everything (Da-da, da-da, da-da)” which can also be heard as “My mind’s such a sweet thing” could have a double meaning that refers to both sexual acts and drug use. 

I will also say that it’s possible James and Lucia didn’t mean to hide either of those things in the song. It could totally just be a narrative the two came up with about the potential of a loving relationship.

In the end, I’d say it never had a purposeful innuendo. There aren’t any quotes from the two that said there was—that I can find—and they only spent a total of five hours writing the song in the first place. The title was made before the track was, with the narrative being built around the phrase Crimson And Clover.

The Release of “Crimson and Clover”

I alluded to the amount of time placed on the song and that the version that shipped wasn’t meant to be the final, but that warrants some explanation. To sum it up briefly, James had a songwriter that wrote most of his band’s hit tracks up until after Mony Mony was recorded. James wanted to go in a new direction and left the writers, having to release his own material to produce albums. 

It took about five hours in 1968 to write, record, and produce Crimson And Clover. Lucia, James, and Mike Vale did all the work alone on this track. The rough mix of the song was given to the record label for evaluation, and they liked it. He then took it to a Chicago radio station to get a public opinion, but the station secretly recorded the track to use as an exclusive and aired it later that day without permission.

Because of how well-received the song was when released early, the studio never let James produce a final cut, and the rough cut of the track would be the one publicly available from the band—plus an extension to hit radio length standards.

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