Crimson and clover meaning and origin story of the song

Tommy James and the Shondels is a popular rock band in the 1960s. They are famous for the hit songs “Mony, Mony” and “I Think We’re Alone Now.” But they also have another song that became a hit. It is uniquely titled “Crimson and Clover.” This song was written by James and the band’s drummer Peter Lucia Jr.

Like “Mony, Mony,” “Crimson and Clover” went on to become the band’s greatest hit. It stayed on the Billboard Hot 100 for 16 weeks following its release and it sold over 5 million copies. The song is so popular that it has been covered by numerous artists through the years such as Joan Jett and Prince.

Like many who are curious and inquisitive, you might wonder what is “Crimson and Clover?” How did James come up with such a title for the song?

Etymology and Meaning

There is nothing elaborate or special when the band came up with the title of the song. The word “crimson” is associated with the color red. “Clover” is a specie of flower. Figuratively (according to Urban Dictionary), the expression means losing someone you love and you are at that stage when you are going through the motions. This is what the lyrics of the song implies as mentioned in the first stanza of the song:

Now I don’t hardly know her

But I think I could love her

Crimson and clover

As to the choice of words, it just so happens that red is James’ favorite color and the clover his favorite flower and that it came to him spontaneously. When James was interviewed by Songfacts, he said:

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

The Making of the Song

Although Tommy James and Peter Lucia are considered the composers of the song, one theory being offered is that Bo Gentry was the song’s ghostwriter. But this was debunked by Kenny Laguna who was also a member of the Shondells. He said Gentry used to write all the band’s songs but at one point, he quit after complaining he was no longer paid by Roulette Records which releases the band’s songs. Morris Levy, the company owner then told James to get someone to help him write a song. This prompted James to go to Lucia and they were able to pull it off. James said:

“When we went into the studio to do it, we actually finished the record in about 5 ½ hours. And of course we had done everything; we wrote the song, we produced the record, we did all the things we had to do. We designed the album cover, we got to the point where we almost took the creative process right on into the retail store. It was amazing.”

The song ran for only 2 and a half minutes and in order for it to be played on the airwaves, James created an extended version by splicing the song and although it had some bad edits, it turned out well. He was grateful to Roulette Records for giving his band a free hand to do their thing without any interference or micromanaging and he was glad it was the right move given the song’s success. James said, “’Crimson and Clover’ allowed us to go on and have a phase two of our career selling albums. And no other record we ever did would have done that.”

Looking back after all these years, James still has fond memories on how the song helped catapult them into stardom:

“Crimson and Clover’ was so very important to us because it allowed us to make that move from AM Top 40 to album rock. 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.”

From a title that was coined from out of the blue, “Crimson and Clover” certainly made an impact.