I attended my first Rock and Roll concert when I was in 9th grade (probably fall of 1970) at Morrison Theatre. Two of the groups were Motherlode and the 1910 Fruitgum Company. Over the course of the next several decades I have attended numerous shows with an eclectic mix of talent, from The Who and the Stones, to Art Garfunkle, Pink and Bob Marley’s Wailers. One of my favorite artists from when I first became interested in music was Tommy James and the Shondells. I have now had the pleasure of seeing him twice, and have even gotten to visit with him. He is an incredibly gifted singer as well as just a nice guy.
This appreciation of his music exposes me as a fan of, yes, Bubblegum! He is given credit in many circles with the formation of this genre of pop rock with his hit, “I Think Were Alone Now” in 1967.
But Tommy would also be in the forefront of psychedelic rock with his hit “Crimson and Clover” which was a number one record and is a staple on any oldies station. Yesterday, I heard a great story about that song and my favorite radio station growing up, WLS in Chicago. Kid Leo on Sirius Radio told the story of what we all recognize as the classic version of “Crimson and Clover” being really a rough mix that was going to be polished up before release to the public. Tommy was visiting Chicago and had a meeting with the program director at WLS where he played this unreleased version of the song to get an opinion. Unbeknownst to Tommy, the song was being recorded, and when he was several blocks from the radio station, he got to hear “…the world premiere of Tommy James and the Shondells next song, “Crimson and Clover”, right here on 89 WLS.”
This premature premiere resulted in the record company quickly releasing the rough mix without the polish, which history shows was not such a bad mix at all. It sold over 5 million copies worldwide and has been covered by numerous other artists.
I always try to finish my blog with some philosophical point. The takeaway lesson here is that sometimes we want things to be so perfect that we lose sight of how good something already is. This doesn’t mean don’t complete a task properly, but also don’t waste time finishing something that is already finished. Life is too short, and very few things are perfect, so strive for perfection, but be ready to accept a job well done when it is in fact well done. As for “Crimson and Clover” thanks Tommy. That song was very well done!
If you are interested in Tommy James, he wrote an autobiography in 2010 titled, Me, The Mob and the Music, which follows his career from a teenager, to making it big, to becoming who he is today. The title refers to his time in the spotlight where he was under the influence of the Genovese crime family and its money laundering racket known as Roulette Records and mob boss, Morris Levy. Tommy estimates that they stole over 40 million dollars in royalty payments. I suggest it heartily if you are a fan of rock and roll and the stories about how certain songs became what they were.