Wednesday, December 15, 2010

"Crystal Blue Persuasion" (1969)

19. Tommy James & the Shondells, "Crystal Blue Persuasion" (June 28, 1969, #2)

If not the king or at least crown prince of '60s bubblegum pop, Tommy James with his ever-lovin' Shondells certainly qualified at a bare minimum for a sinecure among the landed gentry. They roamed the landscape of the day, handily working in various soul and/or psychedelic modes with far greater facility than any of the usual suspects (Lemon Pipers, Ohio Express, 1910 Fruitgum Company, songwriters/performers Boyce & Hart) and they produced a number of enduring classics that don't even sound that often like versions of one another. Their most celebrated turn, by evident consensus, may well be the candy-striped psychedelic "Crimson and Clover" (and do make that the long version, please), but there's a couple more I like better: one I've already mentioned, and this, which takes its cue from the late-'60s exhaustion represented equally by the Youngbloods' "Get Together," a lot of the Rascals' releases once they had (tellingly) dropped the "Young" from their name, and much of Simon & Garfunkel. "Crystal Blue Persuasion" is arguably enough just about as corny as it could be, with its bongos and wheedling acoustic guitar and simpering vocals and the hippy-dippy words, variously attributed to Biblical prophecy, methamphetamine addiction, and sincere desire for peace on earth. Probably not even Tommy James could satisfactorily account for what it's about, but that doesn't matter anyway. Once the organ enters, and the various swoops and passages of the melody take hold, churning and spiraling to ever greater heights, like taking switchbacks on a mountain path, it's a soothing trip to a blissful place, a pure balm and solace, and just what the doctor ordered. Not many chart hits I know can claim such effect, nor stand up so well to playing repeatedly.

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