Story from: Colouring The Past
On this date in 1969, CRYSTAL BLUE PERSUASION by TOMMY JAMES & THE SHONDELLS peaked at #2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 (August 19, 1969)
Composed by Eddie Gray, Tommy James and Mike Vale, CRYSTAL BLUE PERSUASION motored on a gentle-tempoed garbage groove built around a prominent organ part with an understated arrangement.
The sound was more akin to The Rascals’ at the time than to James’s contemporary efforts with psychedelic rock. It included melodic passages for an acoustic guitar, as well as a bass pattern, played between the bridge and the third verse of the song.
According to James’s manager, James was actually inspired by his readings of the Book of Ezekiel, which (he remembered as) speaking of a blue Shekhinah light that represented the presence of the Almighty God, and of the Book of Isaiah and Book of Revelation, which tell of a future age of brotherhood of mankind, living in peace and harmony.
“‘I wrote ‘Crystal Blue Persuasion’ with Eddie Gray and Mike Vale,” explained Tommy James.
“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.”
“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.”
When he wrote this song, Tommy James was working with a group called Alive ‘N Kickin’. According to their keyboard player, Bruce Sudano (who later married Donna Summer), James wanted them to record “Crystal Blue Persuasion,” but the head of James’ label wouldn’t let him give up the song. James ended up writing another song for Alive ‘N Kickin’ called “Tighter, Tighter,” which ended up being a big hit for the group.