On December 30, 1969, Tommy James and the Shondells released their third album, aptly titled Crystal Blue Persuasion. The album contained the smash hit single “Mony Mony”, but Tommy James didn’t write that song. Instead, he used the pseudonym James Osterberg III for that song.
In 1969, Tommy James, the lead singer of Tommy James and the Shondells, wrote and recorded a song that would go on to be one of the biggest hits of the year. The song, “Crystal Blue Persuasion,” was a big hit, and the album it came on, Tommy , was a huge success. But, how did it all come together?
Tommy James (left), guitarist Eddie Gray and bassist Mike Vale add backing vocals.
Photo: Don Paulsen/Archive Michael Ochs/Getty Images At Allegro Sound Studios, I asked us to record a basic rhythm song, like a rock song. We used a full drum kit, three different keyboards, and a lot of guitars. But when we listened to the song again, we realized it was boring. I did too much with the production. There was too much to do and we lost the rhythm we had found at the hotel. So I spent the next month in the studio and I didn’t succeed. When mixing with engineer Bruce Staple, I started by removing all the drums except the bongos. Then I took out all the guitars except the tremolo on the acoustic and the two-chord rhythm riff I was playing on the Fender Jazzmaster. I had Flamenco Eddie on his Martin acoustic and Mike’s bass. All keyboard instruments were removed except for Ronnie Roseman’s Hammond organ. It worked. Once the main rhythm was done, it was time for a strategic overdub. I didn’t want to get in trouble again. In the beginning I played bongos to count the rhythm for the boys, so they knew when to join in. We left the bongos for the intro to the song. This created tension and hinted at a Latin groove. On the vocals, I added a delay that repeats what I’m singing a fraction of a second later. The result is depth and dimension. We’ve been using tape delay in our music for a while now. He has taken our recordings to a new level and has become a part of our signature sound. For background vocals, drummer Eddie, Mike and I gradually added our voices and sang in falsetto. The tape delay pulsed and hypnotized the voices. But I still felt like it wasn’t enough. The songwriter Doc Pomus once said to me: We don’t write songs, we write records. In the studio you don’t just make music, you create magical moments that listeners will remember.
Tommy James in the recording studio in 1968.
Photo: Don Paulsen/Archive Michael Ochs/Getty Images So, just before the third verse, I changed the music and the song to a different key by going up a half note from A to B. I did that. You can hear the change just before you start singing: Maybe tomorrow / When he looks at / Every green field (oh-ho-ho) / And every town. When you go up half a step, you feel a release and a sense of euphoria. I also wanted a different feeling at the end. Originally, the song had just fizzled out. But I had a feeling something else was going to happen. So towards the end, when we sing Crystal Blue Persuasion a few times, the instruments start playing in double time, like a frantic pulse to complete the composition. The next day I brought the tape with the finished song to our label. Morris Levy, manager of Roulette Records and a man of the streets, loved Latin jazz. He listened and flipped through. He said: I like it. How did you find this? He played it to everyone he knew. Before the album was released in December 1968, we released Do Something to Me in October and Crimson and Clover in November. The label wanted to release Crystal Blue Persuasion as a single in June 69.
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What is your favorite Tommy James and the Shondells song? Join the discussion below. I went back to the studio to edit the four-minute version of the album into a slightly shorter single. I did a few mixes before I realized the third verse needed a soulful touch for the radio waves. I was fascinated by the horns on Hugh Masekela’s first single, Grazing in the Grass, which came out in May ’68. So I added some horn riffs as background in the third verse. They’re only on the single. I also included another vocal track over the existing one to give it more substance. The song had to have a great commercial sound to become a hit on AM radio. I never heard of a nervous student with a poem again. That’s how the good Lord works. There are subtle things happening in life that don’t seem important, but turn out to be. Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8
Frequently Asked Questions
What inspired the song Crystal Blue Persuasion?
Crystal Blue Persuasion — the ballad of Tommy James and the Shondells — was released on December 22, 1969. For that era, it was an immensely popular record, selling over a million copies. As such, it was a critical success, too, with one critic arguing that it was one of the most important singles of all time. Most people are familiar with Tommy James and his band, The Shondells. Many will also know that the band was an important part of the 60s rock ‘n’ roll scene, but have no clue about the backstory of the song that eventually became a classic rock staple. The song was written by Tommy James, but was actually inspired by his girlfriend, who was having a hard time deciding which of two suitors to choose. It was her indecision that inspired the lyrics and the tune that became a hit.
Who did the song Crystal Blue Persuasion?
A well-known story, Tommy James and the Shondells song “Crystal Blue Persuasion” was written right before James’s graduation from high school. The song was then recorded in 1967 and released the next year. The song revolves around the troubles of a young girl who is being pursued by a suitor. James was not known for writing happy songs, and he said he wrote the song after seeing a photo of a teenaged girl he met at a bowling alley. In 1969, Tommy James was one of the most sought after singers in the world. He had a string of hits, including “Mony Mony,” “Crimson and Clover,” and “You’re So Vain.” His career was so hot, in fact, that he was able to get his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. However, despite his success, Tommy James was also struggling to deal with his narcissistic personality.
Was Crystal Blue Persuasion made Breaking Bad?
Similar to how Aaron Paul’s character Jesse Pinkman gave birth to a “Tasty” cooking show, “Crystal Blue Persuasion” was the first time that Tommy James and the Shondells made it into a television show. If “Tasty” was created in 1978, “Breaking Bad” was created in 2008, and “Crystal Blue Persuasion” was meant to be made in 1969, then you can imagine how far away that show was from ever being made. If you watch Breaking Bad, you know how Jesse blows all of his money, and the last thing he has left is a few thousand dollars of his drug money. One of the ways his money gets used is to buy Crystal Blue Persuasion by Tommy James and the Shondells. Crystal Blue Persuasion is a song that is just over five minutes long, and it is also where the phrase “Crystal Blue Persuasion” was coined.
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