Monday, March 28, 2011

Concrete Blonde: Crystal Blue Persuasion

I intended to have Concrete Blonde’s cover of Tommy James and the Shondell’s “Crystal Blue Persuasion” last Monday; however, both Sunday and Monday were very busy days and I didn’t even get a post up for that day. Concrete Blonde’s version was recorded in 1993 for a compilation that supported the “In Defense of Animals Foundation.”

The band fronted by bassist Johnette Napolitano (her last name just rolls of the tongue) took its name from a pejorative term for 80s hair bands who used so much hairspray that their hair was like concrete. Napolitano’s voice is almost indistinguishable from Tommy James’ voice in places. It’s not an exact copy, but it is close.

Tommy James & the Shondells’ Original

I always loved this song – it’s probably in my top 10 favorites from 1969. When Eddie Gray, Tommy James, Mike Vale wrote the song, the band had just converted to Christianity and were studying various passages out of the Bible. In an interview a number of years ago, James thought that it was Revelation 19 that inspired him and Vale to write the lyrics. I think it is more likely that he was inspired by Revelation 21 and 22. Those two chapters fit with the theme of the song much better.

Others in the Shondells’ organization suggest that imagery from Ezekiel and Isaiah were used for the lyrical content in addition to passages from Revelation. You’ll be hard pressed to find an exact correlation with any specific biblical passage; however, I've always thought the song had a spiritual connection because of the following lyric at the key change:

Maybe tomorrow,
When he looks down
On every green field,
And every town
All of his children,
And every nation
They'll be peace and good, brotherhood–
Crystal blue persuasion.

I always thought the organ on this song sounded like a Young Rascals tune. The production on this recording is fantastic, but it took a great deal of work to create this master piece as Tommy James explained in a 2009 interview with Song Facts:

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 ended up with about four instruments on it. 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.

The horns were later added to the single mix of “Crystal Blue Persuasion.”

No comments:

Post a Comment