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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."
The Canadian superstar talks about his sudden rise to fame, and tells the stories behind his hits "Sunglasses At Night," "Boy In The Box" and "Never Surrender."
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La La Brooks of The Crystals
The lead singer on "Da Doo Ron Ron" and "Then He Kissed Me," La La explains how and why Phil Spector replaced The Crystals with Darlene Love on "He's A Rebel."