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Crystal Blue Persuasion by Tommy James & the Shondells

Album: Cellophane SymphonyReleased: 1969Charted:
2
  • In our interview with Tommy James, he explained: "'Crystal Blue' was interesting. First of all, I was becoming a Christian at that time, and we never thought a thing about it. We never thought that doing something semi-religious was any big deal. We didn't think of it as being politically incorrect or anything like that. We just did what felt right. I wrote 'Crystal Blue Persuasion' with Eddie Gray and Mike Vale. Eddie came up with the little guitar riff, and Mike and I did the lyrics. And it just felt very right as a sort of semi-religious poetic song, but it turned out to be one of the hardest records I've ever made.

    We went in and had a set of drums, we had guitars, we had keyboards, and by the end, we just realized we had totally overproduced the record. It just was not 'Crystal Blue Persuasion' anymore. It was a nice track, but wasn't right. So we had to produce the record, and then we had to un-produce the record. And one by one we just started pulling the instruments out, until we ended up with a conga drum, a bongo, a tambourine, a flamenco guitar, and a very light-sounding bass. We took out the drums completely. We took out all the keyboards except one, which was a Hammond. And basically ended up with about four instruments on it. And suddenly it became 'Crystal Blue Persuasion,' the song that we had written. It has kind of an effervescent sound about it, a lot of atmospherics that just weren't there when it had all those instruments on it. Suddenly when you emptied out the record it sounded like 'Crystal Blue' again. It had that light airy sound, which it needed to be right. And it took us about 6 weeks to do all that. It really was a very intricate un-production, pulling all the things out. Actually, it was tougher than putting them in because you didn't want to mess up the record, but you wanted to empty it out. So it came out and went #1 for us. It was the follow-up to 'Sweet Cherry Wine.' We were in Hawaii when it went #1, and I often think of Hawaii as I think of 'Crystal Blue Persuasion.'"
  • When we asked James if "Crystal Blue" is a reference to the Book of Revelation, he replied: "Yes, it is. It's out of the Bible. The imagery was right out of Chapter 19 of the Book of Revelation, about the lake of crystal, and just what John sees. The imagery was just right there. 'Crystal blue persuasion,' although those words aren't used together, it was what the image meant to me."
  • The lyrics, "It's a new vibration," are about James becoming Christian, but many listeners had their own interpretation. He explained: "Of course, everybody thinks if they don't understand what you're talking about it must be about drugs. But it wasn't. We were going through a real interesting time back then, and a very wonderful time. Everybody in the band, by the way, became Christian. And we're very proud of it. And 'Crystal Blue Persuasion' was sort of our way of saying that in a kind of pop record way."
  • This would have made a great performance at Woodstock, and the song was peaking on the charts at the time of the famous festival. Tommy James & the Shondells were invited to appear, but, as Tommy explains: "Like dopes we turned it down. I gotta tell you what – we were in Hawaii at the foot of Diamond Head. This was in August of '69, and we played a date in Hilo, and then we had two weeks off and then we were gonna play in Honolulu. They put us at these gorgeous mansions at the foot of Diamond Head, right on the ocean. And our biggest decision of the day was, Do I go in the ocean or in the swimming pool? We were sitting around drinking margaritas, and it was wonderful. And I get this call from JoAnn, my secretary, and she said, 'Artie Kornfeld was up,' Artie Kornfeld was one of the principals at Woodstock, and he was also a friend of mine. He produced the Cowsills and a whole bunch of other acts, and he was very successful producer. We had the same lawyer. And so she said, 'Artie was up and asked if you could play at this pig farm up in upstate New York.' I said, 'What?!?' 'Well, they say it's gonna be a lot of people there, and it's gonna be like a really important show.' And I said, 'Did I hear you right? Did you say would I leave paradise, fly 6,000 miles, and play a pig farm? Is that what you just asked me?' She said, 'Well, you could put it like that, but it's gonna be a big show. It's important.' I said, 'Well, I'll tell you what, if I'm not there, start without us, will you please?' And I hung up the phone. And they did. And by Thursday of that week we knew we messed up really bad. (laughing) But in the end I think I got probably more mileage out of that story."
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Comments: 35

On June 1st 1969, "Crystal Blue Persuasion" by Tommy James and the Shondells entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #89; and on July 20th* it peaked at #2 (for 3 weeks) and spent 15 weeks on the Top 100 (and for 9 of those 15 weeks it was on the Top 10)...
After spending 3 weeks at #2, it spent the next 2 weeks at #3...
The 3 weeks it was at #2, the #1 record for those weeks was "In The Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)" by Zager and Evans...
Between 1966 and 1970 the group had nineteen Top 100 records; seven made the Top 10 with two reaching #1, "Hanky Panky" (for 2 weeks in 1966) and "Crimson and Clover" (for 2 weeks in 1969)...
* The day Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.
Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
Tommy James did his best work with the Shondells. This song and "Sweet Cherry Wine" are reminders of what is good in this world and what we should do.Martin - Fresno, Ca
This song was used in the last season of Breaking Bad in the episode "Gliding All Over" (original air date: September 2, 2012). The tune plays while a montage of the making and distributing of crystal meth, as well as the reaping of its financial rewards, is shown. The color blue is used throughout, from the different clothing they wear, to their blue gloved hands while in the lab, to the sky blue horizon. (Love Breaking Bad). This song was popular when I was 11 yrs old. I always liked it and thought it was pretty, but it was years before I realized it had a deeper meaning with references to God and brotherhood. A great summer tune, very laid back and captures a beautiful vivid picture with the lyrics.Camille - Toronto, Oh
I'm an atheist, and I love the song anyway. To me, it symbolizes everything that's great about being alive: watching the sun come up on a new day--with all the possibilities that suggests. There are plenty of "green fields in every town to enjoy," whether God put them there or not. An uplifting, good-feel song, which brings back everything that was good about the 60's--and leaving the bad out.Matthew - Toronto, On
Wether or not Tommy James got his inspiration from a JW's book shouldn't be the issue. We teach from the bible what the song says. The bible teaches the earth will be restored and that's what the song is saying. It says up there during an interview he got it from Revelation 19. Read it and see what it says.Robert - West Covina, Ca
I believed this was a surfing tune since it got me closer to my god while out in the water or on the way there or wathcing the clouds or......Jeffrey - Rosemead, Ca
I strongly feel that the best year of rock and roll is 1969. This song is another reason why 69 is the top year of popular music!
When I hear the song on the radio, I am immediately transplanted back to that wonderful year of 69! What a "groovy" time in our history!
Mark - St. Paul, Mn
The book that the song is based on is called The Truth To Everlasting Life and it is a blue book. The book was written and published by Jehovahs Witnesses. Check it out and you will see!Mike - Pittsburgh, Pa
Wherever this song came from, I have listened to it since 1969 when I was a freshman in high school. To me it sounds like it came from the bible and that's alright by me.I like the lyrics and the music.Tommy James and the Shondells were and still are a great band to listen to. Ramon,Orlando,Fl.Ramon - Orlando, Fl
To me trying to figure out the meaning to crystal blue persuasion is like trying to figure out whether or not Prince,or Michael Jackson was,or is still a Jehovah's Witness.The fact of the matter is that we could go around in circles all day about this issue,and get nowhere.The only people that really know the truth about this issue is the people themselves, no one else.Until Tommy himself actually comes forward,or someone goes to his official website we may never know the truth.Not to mention unless you actually know Tommy personally,he may not really tell you the truth anyway,especially even if he studied with the Jehovah's Witnesses many people may not usually confess they did something like that to save themselves perhaps from any kind of publicity good,or bad being in the entertainment biz -Brian;Merced,caBrian - Merced, Ca
This photo

http://digitaljournalist.org/issue0309/images/life/earthrise.jpg

was shot at the end of 1968 from Apollo 7. When "Crystal Blue Persuasion" was released in 1969, I remember it being widely understood as an homage to the photo: the "crystal blue" earth seen with the sun rising upon it from a distance is a compelling "persuasion" to view all of mankind as coming from one loving creator. As 1968 was a turbulent and violent year, the new year of 1969 implied promises of peace and universal brotherhood, like the Age of Aquarius, whose feeling permeated the time. When I talked to co-writer Eddie Gray several years ago, I asked whether this was a poor memory on my part, or an urban legend. He said that while Tommy James' impulses may have derived from the Bible, Eddie's thoughts were of this remarkable photo.

Christians are imputing James' later forays into Christian rock onto the song, druggies want it to be about meth, and hippies are reclaiming it as an ecological anthem. Except for the drug reference, which listeners were hearing in many songs, these were not common interpretations in 1969.

So it would seem that, like many great works of art, "Crystal Blue Persuasion" had multiple influences. Nevertheless, as one who was a young adult in that vexing time, and as one who owned the 45, I remember listeners and DJ's thinking that the title of the song, and the lyrics, were definitely about the photo.
William - Ligonier, Pa
This is what all Christian rock should sound like. Like a really good drug song.Ekristheh - Halath, United States
This was their best song,without a doubt. My older sister bought the 45 single when it first came out. I was 9 years old at the time. I had just started to pay attention to music then. This song sums up the feel in the air during 1969. To me it does anyway. Just like alot of us out there. Every time that I hear it. It takes you back to the first time. A very good song. Classic and timeless.Wayne - Salem, Va
I understood Tommy James was at his cousins house outside pittsburgh, sitting by the blue swimming pool, with the sun shinning down, when he came up with the name "Crystal Blue Persuasion".Mike - Pittsburgh, Pa
EB in Richmond Hill, GA is on the right track, but may be off a little. I know of no religion that professes a paradise on earth... they claim everyone is going to heaven or elsewhere (not a scriptural teaching, mind you). So the "Truth" book seems to be a good candidate, because the Witnesses believe in Jesus' words that the meek will inherit the earth and that a great crowd will be here. Perhaps the author of the song browsed through the book as so many do when searching, and the things that touched his heart stuck with him. He graced us with a beautiful song that stands to this day.Phillip Ramirez - Southeast Us, Fl
I graduated with Ronnie Rosman's sister Anita (Clearfiled High). The pizza place was in Clearfield, and it was known by two names....Mary's and then now Mable's. I don't think the Rosman's own it now. Anita lived in Clearfield Pa.
Pat from Clearfiled pa
Pat - Clearfield, Pa
I read where Tommy's inspiration came from the first picture of earth taken from the moon.Earth being the crystal,the rest being hope for world peace.A song well before its time,should we look at our planet today.Though I am a very spiritual person,I fail to see the bible,or any book for that matter in this song.He being only a Higher SpiritKea - Ft.lauderdale,
Interesting song. It creates a picture in your mind of what 60's youth were like. It sounds kinda romantic to me for some reason.Amara - Victorville, Ca
To me,its obvious that Tommy and his boys are announcing their alliance with the Sixties Revolution:
"Look over yonder,what do you see?
The sun is a rising,most definitely
A new day is dawning,people are changing
Ain't it beautiful,Crystal Blue Persuasion."
To me,its his way of casting his lot in with the hippies and New Left.No more Hanky Panky for TJ.
Doug - Oakland, Ca
The Color of the book is blue hence the name of the title of the song.Chris - Jackson, Mi
I have also heard about the rumor that Tommy James studied the Bible and got his inspiration from the "Truth" book which was blue. I have read that book as well and many of the things mentioned in the book do fit in with this book. I have also done research on the "shekinah light" comment and from what I can tell there are no Bible references that I can find that he would have gotten inspiration from. Jews do use that term to refer to God's presence and is elsewhere used in place of the term Holy Spirit and to replace the personal name of God represented in the tetragrammaton by YHWH.Daniel - Salem, Or
This is very interesting. I just heard about a guy when he was worshipping God an orb of crystal blue dust burst over him. There is a video of it on Pat King's website.Hanna - Albany, Ny
So simple to see. . . CRYSTAL BLUE PERSUASION is WATER BAPTISM. The song is 100% Christian message long before the category CHRISTIAN MUSIC was invented (in 1983 ?) Tommy James has always been a Christian Artist, check his other songs and albums ! . . . The SON is a risin . . .People are changin . . .Gonna see the LIGHT (JESUS is the LIGHT of the world) . . .LOVE (GOD is LOVE)is the answer . . . just look to your soul . . .when HE looks down . . .all of HIS children, every nation.
Another similar song is "People Got To Be Free" by the Rascals, but the GREATEST MYSTERY IN ROCK AND ROLL HISTORY is AMERICAN PIE . . . check out the its meaning at www.IMISSAMERICANPIE.com
Eb - Richmond Hill, Ga
"Crystal Blue Persuasion" sounds like a drug...perhaps he was trying to get the tripped-out hippies interested in god lol. Based on the lyrics, though, I have difficulty believing that it was about meth. Besides, is meth blue? I wouldn't know.Paul - Cincinnati, Oh
A couple years ago Tommy James website had a question and answer section moderated by his Manager. One of the questions was regarding where he got the idea for his song Crystal Blue Persuasion and whether he got the idea from reading a blue book. His manager explained (I read it myself on his official website) that in the late sixties Tommy became a Born-Again Christian and that he did a lot of Bible reading. He was inspired by his reading of the book of Ezekiel where it speaks of the Blue Shekinah Light which represented the presence of the Almighty God and the Books of Isaiah and Revelation where it speaks of a bright future of a brotherhood of mankind living in peace and harmony. This is where he got his idea from. Not from a book, not from a church. This is the fact. The SongFact.Brian - Williams, Az
This song has magic " listen to your soul and open your mind" it has the potential to heal all the haterd that is around us today. It has has the movement of Brother Sun and Sister Moon. We are not suppose to be Christians, we are suppose to be "God" like. This song projects the new movement coming. "All of his children" no matter what faith,creed etc are the salvation of this crystal Blue world we live in. Embrace it and allow the sun to luminate your soul. You will see so clearly what we need to do to cause a revolution called the Crystal Blue Presuasion.Martin - Independence, Ky
Awesome fact Gary from albertville! I didn't know!Johnny - Los Angeles, Ca
Morcheeba did a cover of this as well.Joe - Baltimore, Md
(Regarding comments by "Ace" from WV): I would not know what Ken Laguna had to say on the matter, by there is nothing in the song lyrics that say anything to suggest an ode to meth, much less "clearly" so. The lyrics speak of Bible promises to be fulfilled, and this becomes more evident when you note "He" is capitalized within a sentence, hence, referring to God. I might suggest your comment only stems from from the fact that "crystal" is used within the song title.Craig - San Diego, Ca
Just another thought..The organ sound in most of the early Shondells' songs seems to me to be a kind of bridge from Church to Life...from what we hoped for back then, to what we actually experienced day to day...
That is why I still love to listen even after crossing that bridge..
Gary - Dubois, Pa
I grew up in Penfield,Pa. where the Rosman Family that Claren (aka Ronnie) Rosman came from and lived then (Sixties). I think I remember that the Rosman family came from Clearfield, Pa. before moving to Penfield. Claren's sister Carol was just a year ahead of me in school and I have fond memories of her. She was so pleasant to be around, smiling,funny and cute, never a downer!
Claren (Ronnie) visited our elderly neighbor Lou Munn once to perform an accordian solo show for her. She loved it..what a nice memory!
Local talk has it that the owner of the Pizza shop that now occupies the Resturant that the Rosmans used to run in the Sixties in Penfield,originally taught Claren to perform,..accordian I guess..that seemed to be the most popular local instrument then, as I can recall..
Gary - Dubois, Pa
I too have heard and after reading "TRUTH BOOK" agree that the similarties are remarkable. I also was told, though that James told a D.J. that he denied this. I disagree. Kerry-Denver, COKerry - Denver, Co
This was wrote for steam. But Tommy decided to keep it and wrote na na na kiss him goodbye for steam...........Gary - Albertville, Al
Eh, Goofy Song, but one of Tommy James' GREATEST! The horns come outta' nowhere on the song's coda and are a nice touch, after "Crystal Blue" starts off with just the acoustic guitar, organ and percussion.Dave - Oak Park, Mi
The Bible theory sounds like a good explination and a good cover, however, Ken Laguna (the keyboardist) clearly states in some of his interviews what really motivated Tommy James & The Shondells. Crystal Blue Persuasion is clearly about methamphetamine. Remember, just because meth labs are springing up all over the country, that doesn't mean that crank is anything new. It's been around a LONG time.Ace - Marion, Wv