In the season premiere of High Maintenance, The Guy, our dealer protagonist, has decamped to upstate New York to tool around for a while. He smokes weed, paddleboards, smokes weed while paddleboarding, and, at one point, attends a memorial service for an old hippie named Berg. While there, the late man’s rag-tag group of friends break out into a spectacularly out-of-tune sing-along to “Crimson and Clover.” It’s touching without feeling saccharine, and hits a perfectly wistful note for the moment.
It also made me notice that the decades-old song is strangely getting a ton of play in 2019 TV and movies.
“Crimson and Clover” was first recorded in 1968 by Tommy James and the Shondells, though it’s been covered and sampled multiple times over the years, and a number of versions have been used as background music before. (Fun fact: When I first heard it, years ago, it was via an mp3 file that erroneously attributed it to Lou Reed. Although I did think it was kind of weird that a guy who loved singing about heroin so much had also recorded such a warm, straightforward pop song, I believed this was true until I did the slightest bit of cursory research.) But there’s been a recent wave of ubiquity in the past few months, which I started to pick up on after I first saw the High Maintenance scene.
Here it is in a trailer for Netflix’s Russian Doll, where Natasha Lyonne stars as a woman who must relive one night of her life over and over. Pretty on the nose, there.
And then there’s the trailer for Harmony Korine’s latest project, The Beach Bum, which stars Matthew McConaughey as an eccentric, layabout Florida poet named Moondog. (Moondog!) It now feels like the only song that could soundtrack Matthew McConaughey descending from a hot tub in a purple thong.
Finally, its initial few bars, which drip with longing, kick in right during a climatic scene in Netflix’s Sex Education, a show about Otis, the son of sex and relationship therapist who uses the knowledge he’s gotten from his mother to advise fellow teens. SPOILER ALERT. In it, Otis and his new love interest Ola kiss for the first time.
Meghan Currier, the music supervisor for High Maintenance, told me that they kicked around a number of potential songs for the sing-along scene before they landed on “Crimson and Clover.” “It can’t be a song that’s so obscure that it would be unrecognizable, yet it can’t be something that’s so overplayed that you just want to roll your eyes and turn the channel,” she explained of the decision-making process. “There’s something nostalgic and sentimental and sort of romantic about it, in addition to being celebratory and sort of cozy.
“I think that this song appeals to so many people because everyone recognizes it but it somehow feels personal even though it’s not about anything,” Currier added. “It’s just a beautiful song that could be used in great effect in multiple different ways.”
“For us in particular it was important to just sort of try and have a timeless feel with the show as a whole, you don’t know where it is, you don’t know when it’s supposed to be set,” Matt Biffa, the music supervisor for Sex Education said. “It was important for us sort of keep that kind of aesthetic and it fits into that beautifully. It’s just one of those songs that you know but you don’t hear all the time, so it’s good to hear it.”
While that may have been the case before, the tide may be turning. But “Crimson & Clover” really is good for everything — from teen horniness to memorial services, Groundhog Day scenarios to Matthew McConaughey in a thong. Now good luck getting it out of your head.