Tommy James & the Shondells never went to Woodstock, not because they weren’t invited, but because they were having such a grand time in sunny Hawaii, saying “Who wants to go play on some farm in New York?” And if that weren’t enough, these hippie wannabes spent 1968 touring with Vice President Hubert Humphrey during his presidential run, where it turns out Mr. Humphrey was so grateful that he penned the liner notes for this album.
As to the title song “Crimson & Clover,” at the time it was suggested that the title expressed an anti Viet Nam war sentiment, with the colour crimson representing the blood being spilled by America’s young men and women over the green clover. The actual truth of the matter is elusive as well, with Tommy James suggesting that he woke up one morning thinking of his favorite color ‘crimson’ and his favorite flower ‘clover,’ though most people never did buy into that explanation, so another was created by songwriter and bass player Peter Lucia, who said that it was actually he who came up with the title while watching his hometown (Morrison, NJ) high school football team play a game.
Tommy James always scored well with the singles, though by 1968, listeners were demanding quality coherent albums filled with music that was interconnected and bespoke of the times. To that end, Crimson & Clover was half-heartedly constructed, along with some numbers being sloppily recorded and produced. Of course this was to be the Tommy James psychedelic album, the album that would win back all the fans he lost by not showing up at Woodstock, but truth be told, James just didn’t have the vision or the chops to lay down a truly emancipated album … though the record did contain another brilliant single “Crystal Blue Persuasion,” and the very baroque Moody Blueish “Kathleen McArthur” (who’s not an actual person). All of the other numbers have their moments, but are rather weak on the whole, though when it comes to what was intended to be the psychedelic masterpiece, “I’m A Tangerine,” only managed to fracture listeners, causing far too many to fall off their beds laughing, and was recorded very harshly, almost teeth grindingly so. The song seems to revolve around a bowl of fruit that’s talking among themselves, and I sincerely doubt, even with supporting lines such as “My head is spinning … “ that this track floated around an actual lysergic experience. It’s simply silly verbal visual nonsense to make the guy seem more hip than his hippie garb possibly could.
Of course ‘inconsistent’ is perhaps the best descriptor, where without a doubt, James and his mates should have stuck to their relentlessly good singles, rather than this bombastic folly of sound and vision. Rather than setting your sights here, you’d be far better to grab hold of the Tommy James & the Shondells Anthology, as it will include all of the best numbers from this album along with his other amazingly good AM radio singles from those magic years.