The song describes a man seeking help to find love, so he talks to a Gypsy who determines, by means of palmistry, that he needs "love potion number 9". The potion, an aphrodisiac, causes him to fall in love with everything he sees, kissing whatever is in front of him, eventually kissing a policeman on the street-corner, who breaks his bottle of love potion.
In one recorded version of the ending of the song, The Clovers used the alternative lyrics:
"I had so much fun that I'm going back again,
I wonder what'll happen with Love Potion Number Ten?"
That version was used for the sound track to the film "American Graffitti" (1973)
The "kissing a cop" lyric led to the song being banned by some radio stations. The lyrics also have the narrator describe himself as being "a flop with chicks since 1956"; later recordings of the song have often changed the year to suit the year of recording or the age of the performer. A notable exception is the Australian alternative rock band Tlot Tlot's recording, which leaves the year in the song as 1956. It also uses the alternative Love Potion No. 10 lyrics.
As a pop-culture reference, it is found in the animated film, Shrek 2. The bottle of love potion that the Fairy Godmother gives to the King of Far Far Away has IX (the number nine in Roman numerals) on the side of it.
The Sims game series features a "Love Potion 8.5", that is probably a reference to both this song and the movie.
One episode of LazyTown used this song for when the "Evil Dude" makes a love potion for Stephanie so that she'll fall in love with him.
The 8th edition rules of the live action role playing game NERO features a "Love Potion #9" that can be created with the game skill Alchemy.
In a season 1 episode of Fraggle Rock The Trash Heap gives Wembley a bottle of Love Potion #9, which causes everyone who smells it to fall in love with him.
The Cyndi Lauper song "I'll Kiss You" mentions love potion number 8 being a failure, but number 9 succeeds. The song also makes other references to "Love Potion #9", including the gypsy and the street corner.