By Maureen Lee Lenker
May 22, 2019 at 01:30 PM EDT
Warner Bros.

Crimson and Clover, over and over…

But literally. Everywhere you turn, it seems the 1968 Tommy James and the Shondells song is there. Most recently, it played a major role in the big-screen YA romance The Sun Is Also a Star when Daniel Bae (Charles Melton) takes Natasha Kingsley (Yara Shahidi) to karaoke and seduces her by singing “Crimson and Clover.” It’s so effective that it sparks their first kiss.

The lyrics are a natural fit for the storytelling given the nature of its love story occurring in the whirlwind of a single day. “Now I don’t hardly know her, but I think I could love her,” the opening words of the song tell us — and it’s an apt summation of how Daniel feels about Natasha. That’s part of why music supervisor Warren Fischer chose the song.

“The lyrics are really dead-on, and it’s not overly lyrically driven — it has a long music section, so it works well editorially too,” he tells EW. “And it’s also not a super complicated song for an actor to do.” Because, yes, that’s really Charles Melton singing onscreen.

The karaoke sequence is a key part of the novel that inspired the film, but in the book, Daniel sing’s ABBA’s “Take a Chance On Me.” The reason behind the change is simple: sex. “[Director] Ry [Russo-Young] wanted this scene to be sexy, and ‘take a chance, take a chance, take a chance’ is not sexy,” says Fischer. “It’s this very abstract idea of what makes a song cool, sexy, and memorable. It lends itself to a very visual and seductive scene. Ry is a stylish director, so the music has to live up to that.”

Fischer also rejects the notion that teens today might not know a song from the 1960s, citing the track as timeless in teen music discovery alongside the likes of David Bowie and Jimi Hendrix. “Even though it’s a song that’s 50 years old, it’s still one of those classics that always gets bandied about,” he says. “I never had this concern it didn’t seem relevant to their experience.”

And it does seem to get bandied about a lot, considering that the last six months have seen the song used in major scenes in Netflix’s Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, Sex Education, and HBO’s High Maintenance, as well in the trailers for Russian Doll and The Beach Bum. It almost feels like music supervisors are purposely celebrating the 50th anniversary of the catchy song (it was released in late December 1968) — but they insist there was no such coordination.

The reasons for the song’s inclusion in each of these instances widely varies, a testament to its versatility. “It’s just a cool song that will never age because it’s sonically so interesting,” says Fischer. “The way it uses panning, how minimal the instrumentation is, and how hooky, simple, and enigmatic the chorus is. The chorus is completely obtuse — it doesn’t mean anything, which means it can kind of mean everything.”

Tommy James himself echoes this thought, telling EW in a statement, “The song is basically a simple lyric with a catchy title and visual – it can be whatever you want it to be.”

For Robin Urdang, the music supervisor on Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, the song was more about capturing the essence of the 1960s setting of the Ted Bundy biopic. It plays over the jukebox as Ted (Zac Efron) and Liz (Lily Collins) dance at their first meeting. “’Crimson and Clover’ is iconic for the era and a song that would have played a lot on the jukebox,” Urdang explains to EW. “It’s always been a song that I loved and has a romantic, feel-good melody.”

Urdang also reveals that the scene was initially significantly longer and featured three songs. She experimented with a lot of different tracks for the scene, including another Tommy James and the Shondells hit, “Crystal Blue Persuasion” as well as “I Like the Way You Move Me” by Brenton Wood and “Traces” by Classic IV.

Meghan Currier, the music supervisor on High Maintenance, chose the song for a different reason entirely — its psychedelic flavor and ease of instrumentation. The third season of the HBO series used it in episode 1 at a wake for a hippie named Berg, who also dabbled as a music teacher/jam session leader.

Currier says they wanted something both recognizable and easy for the actors to sing along to, which would feasibly be something a group could break out singing impromptu. “We did discuss a couple of other recognizable songs from the ’60s that did have that psychedelic flavor, but this one just felt right,” she notes. “For this use, it really is just a celebratory, psychedelic song that everyone knew, and it was easy for all the friends and students of this character to be able to join in.”

But she’s not surprised that the track is making the rounds at the moment, similarly citing how dynamic it is. “It can really flavor the scene in an interesting way,” she muses. “It’s just one of those super iconic songs that no one ever gets sick of. You can use the song to highlight something very romantic or something mysterious or something kind of goofy. It is a very versatile song when it comes to considering it from a music supervision standpoint, and that’s why so many people are like, ‘Oh, we should try this.’”

Which means we’ll probably be hearing it over and over for years to come.

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