Song Title: Crystal Blue Persuasion
Sung by: Tommy James & The Shondells
Recorded: 1969, Roulette (Hollywood, California)
Length: 3:45 (single), 4:02 (album)
Label: Roulette (R-7050)
Writer(s): Eddie Gray, Tommy James, Mike Vale
Producer: Tommy James, Ritchie Cordell
As I wrote in the introduction to this series, it all relates to song and those “… school-sanctioned social events, especially for those in junior and senior high school, … the dances they threw“. Finding a way for male teens to get passed the notorious ness brothers (awkwardness and self-consciousness) in junior high represented a big step. That was especially true for anyone who somehow found the nerve to ask someone to join them in a dance out in the middle of the gym floor. With the opposite sex, and all to the beat of popular song, no less. You can’t minimize the leap this represented.
There’s almost a rite of passage with it all. Dancing in those circumstances seemed to go along with school yard confrontations of the day among young males. Potentially getting punched out on the blacktop, though more painful, the latter somehow was considerably less humiliating, if you were bad at the former. Having a female in the calculation made all the difference between hormonal male teens. Still, performing pulsating steps with a partner was ‘safer’ when there was a measurable space between you and her. Less intimidating than say the inverse, the slow dance. Let’s be honest here. Every guy I knew, by that certain age, wanted the chance to hold a girl in their arms.
The supposedly sedate version of this social sequence seemed a perfect excuse for such things. Except, this kind of dance opened you up to even more potential embarrassment by either stepping on the girl’s feet, your lack of hygiene, or… biology. Of course, the payoff was obvious to any adolescent. Moreover, teachers chaperoning these collective events were only too aware of what could happen when teens got up close and personal with each other when slow-tempo tunes emanated from those gymnasium speakers. I’m sure I don’t have to spell it out. More than once during any of the school dances I ever attended, some pair out on the floor had to be separated by said educators.
If you want to know what keeps this father of a young daughter up at night, it’s this.
I could have picked any number of slow hits of the period to fit this entry. It’ll be clear why this 1969 Tommy James & The Shondell’s track was selected soon enough. The gradual tempo in Crystal Blue Persuasion made for a nice slow dance number. And it didn’t seem threatening to school staff, at first. Its lyrics seemed to follow the psychedelic pop wave of the time, this one keying off the noticeable organ and guitar chords backing Tommy’s vocals. As the lead singer/songwriter would later espouse to the song’s origins:
“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.”
Still, every kid (and some parents) of the time came to believe, solely, Crystal Blue Persuasion was a drug song. Crystal meth, specifically. What can I say? It was the still the 60s.
And so, we come to the reasons the tune lands here. I could say it’d fit right in for my colleague Jeff’s marvelous 95 Songs of Summer series, which is quickly coming to a close. But, the main one connects to last Sunday night. The landmark Breaking Bad series hit the midway point of its final season. Officially, Gliding Over All was the last episode of 2012. Devoted fans, like my wife and I, will have to wait till next July (criminy!) to see how it all ends for a certain high school chemistry teacher turned meth cook/drug kingpin.
As this show does with regularity, its brilliant writers, directors, cast and producer (Vince Gilligan) find a way to make it mean so much more. And they topped it off with a sequence of what the story’s arc has all come down to — and set it to the tune of this Tommy James’ groove from another day. If you’ve heard this song, by the time the episode was over, like those of us who slow danced to it as teenagers, you’d never, ever, look at it the same way again.