Archive for the ‘ Sunshine ’ Category

The Merchants of Dream “Strange Night Voyage”

Described in the CD liner notes as “a psychedelic concept album based around JM Barrie’s famous tale Peter Pan”, but in reality equal parts toytown-psych confection, twisted sunshine-pop song suite and wannabe stage musical, this curiosity from 1969 fails to convince as any one of these whilst exuding a homespun and totally unique charm that works if you don’t take it too seriously. Certainly I’ve found nothing else like it, apart perhaps from Mark Wirtz’s unfinished and unreleased Teenage Opera from three years previously which shares its guileless naivité. The blurb goes on to say that Strange Night Voyage “cleverly created a parallel between the original notion of Peter Pan as the boy who wouldn’t grow up and the contemporary rebellion against adult morals and mores and straight society that characterised Generation Gap America in the late sixties”. Well, maybe. But there’s no real attempt here to emulate the subversion of the Fish or the Fugs, the principal thrust of the lyrics being simply the perceived benefits of reverting to/remaining in a childlike state. Of course, for some hippies that also had, like, psychedelic connotations at the time, man . . .

Conceived by fellow St John’s graduates songwriter Jack Murphy and record producer Vinny Testa purely as a fun project, the songs were demoed to Testa’s friend George “Shadow” Morton, creator of the Shangri-Las’ hit catalogue. Morton saw potential in the project and scored a deal with Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss of A&M to record it and release it as an album. A core group of musicians was drafted to lay down the tracks, becoming the Merchants Of Dream, though not in reality a performing outfit. Murphy’s songwriting emphasised the vocal harmonies of MOR sunshine-pop and the sophisticated arrangements of show tunes, whilst Morton utilised his proven talents for leftfield orchestration and sound effects. The result came across like the Association on acid meeting the cast of Hair with elements of Sergeant Pepper thrown in for good measure. Whether this mixture proved unpalatable, or maybe the strange cover art was too much, or perhaps due to the lack of an obvious single, the label failed to promote the early ’69 release and it sank like a lead balloon until resuscitated for CD by Tune In forty-two years later.

Kicking off with an exhortation to “listen . . . grow young” and a brief soliloquy in an unconvincing Peter Pan voice, the album offers not one but two brief overtures, one per original album side, which recall Pete Townshend’s similar use on Tommy as they recap musical themes from the following songs. “The Strange Night Voyage Of Peter Pan” with its rolling power-pop rhythm and pulsating bass is the first of a series of disparate character portraits on the original topside dedicated respectively to Peter, Wendy, Hook and the Crocodile plus “Dorothy The Fairy Queen” and “Lovelife’s Purple Circus” (neither of these Barrie characters). “Circus” is a genuinely psychedelic montage item and probably the strongest track on the album, all disorienting tempo changes, disembodied organs, calliopes and circus sounds. On the flip the tracks take more abstract themes – the swirling waltz of “Come Back Into Your Childhood With Me”, “Sing Me Life” and the jokey toddler-rebellion of “When You’re Pushin’ Six”. The final “(We Are) Dream Vendors”, a fine takeoff of generic 1967 Britsike, closes with a crazy coda as the dream state evaporates and the Pan voice returns to intone “now I lay me down to sleep” and a series of “blesses” for Uncle Jack (Murphy), Uncle Vinny (Testa), Uncle Shadow (Morton), Uncle Herbie (Alpert), Uncle Jerry (Moss) and Uncle Everyone Else who had anything to do with the production and release.

After Strange Night Voyage nothing further was heard of from the Merchants Of Dream apart from Murphy who, perhaps unsurprisingly, moved on to a prolific career in stage musicals, finally coming full circle with his Broadway production Wonderland: A New Alice which debuted in 2011.

mp3: Lovelife’s Purple Circus
mp3: (We Are) Dream Vendors

:) Original | 1969 | A&M | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2011 | Cherry Red | buy ]

The Cryan’ Shames “A Scratch in the Sky”

Every now and then something unexpected hits you in a way that leaves a deep and  lasting impression. For me, one of those occasions came with Chicago garage band The Cryan’ Shames’ recording of the old Drifters hit “Up On the Roof,” off their incomprehensibly under-appreciated psychedelic classic A Scratch In the Sky. Granted, “Up On the Roof” itself has been overplayed to the point of nausea since it first made the scene back in 1963, but the Shames take the old Tin Pan Alley standard and turn it into a soaring, tightly woven piece of teenage magic that does not waste a second out of its three minutes and twenty four seconds. It’s the sound of youthful rebellion and romantic angst woven into a thing of panoramic beauty.

As a matter of fact, I reckon that the record that this song is buried in is itself well-defined by the above platitudes. A Scratch In the Sky is one of those rare records laid down at the height of the sixties which manage to pull in the best qualities of the band’s many influences and turn back out something wholly unto its own. The cosmic harmonies of the Beach Boys, the jangling spirit of The Byrds, the rollicking pop of The Beatles; these are all commonly borrowed sounds, but rarely ones so expertly disassembled and recast as we hear on this record. Though this collection of songs remains well-polished through studio-craft and the musicians’ own abilities, it retains a freshness and noncommercial edge that makes it both an accessible and adventurous listen.

The second track, “Sailing Ship,” is a good example of what I mean by all this. There are all sorts of influences detectable here, but nothing absolute. I never fail to be impressed by the thundering drums, jagged guitar chords and droning bagpipes here, all of which make the song sound strangely ahead of its time, or at least out of its own time. In true Sgt. Pepper fashion, the band clearly strove to make each song stand out as a distinct work of art, rather than sounding like something they had simply worked up on the road. The arrangements are ornate and layered with lysergic sounds and tape tricks, and besides the previously mentioned bagpipes the band manages to bring in accordion, harpsichord, tamboura, french horn, and…french lyrics (on “In the Cafe,” of course). If there’s any song reminiscent of the band’s work on their previous record, Sugar and Spice it’s the hard grooving “Mr. Unreliable,” which retains a lot of the garage band attitude and sweet harmonic edge that painted earlier jewels like “Ben Franklin’s Almanac”.

I’m rather blown away to find that the 2002 Sundazed reissue of this record has already dipped back out of print, leaving it perhaps the hardest of the Shames discs to track down. Should the following tracks catch you like they caught me, however, you shouldn’t have to fork over too much for a vinyl copy. It seems strange that so many new reissues end up becoming more obscure and desirable than vintage releases of the same recordings, but I suppose that’s the way it goes.

mp3: The Sailing Ship
mp3: I Was Lonely When

:) Original | 1967 | Columbia | ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2002 | Sundazed | amazon ]

The Stone Poneys (s/t)

The Stone Poneys should be much more than a footnote. Forever eclipsed by Linda Ronstadt’s latter-day success, the band has found itself set down in history as little more than an early backing group for the singer – hardly a fair assessment, especially considering the strength of the material recorded by the band, of which Ronstadt was only one contributor. In fact, Poneys Ken Edwards and Bob Kimmel were remarkable singers in their own right and actually penned all of the group’s original material.

The Poneys’ self-titled debut is perhaps their strongest statement as a band. Produced by the great west-coast folk-rock producer Nick Venet (Fred Neil, Hedge & Donna, et al.), the album typifies the slow and hazy L.A. sound that would become the man’s signature. Venet would also serve to connect the recent Tucson immigrants with several other players on the local folk scene, most notably Tim Buckley, whose songs they would soon go on to record, and the band Hearts & Flowers, who Linda would sing with on their 1968 record Now Is the Time.

Legendary multi-instrumentalist Cyrus Faryar’s bouzouki opens the album and kicks off one of its most memorable songs, Edwards and Kimmel’s “Sweet Summer Blue & Gold.” Starring the Poneys’ beautiful vocal blend set to a swirling, eastern folk-rock melody, this one could have easily become an underground hit. The singing also helps to immediately put into focus what the Poneys would later go on to lose: first when Linda began to take on the lion’s share of the lead vocals, and at the end, when she essentially became the sole Poney.

All this is not to say that Ronstadt doesn’t reveal her incredible talents on The Stone Poneys. Her soulful rendition of Fred Neil’s “Just A Little Bit of Rain” is a stunner, and she really tears the roof off “Orion,” a cut which foreshadows her rock and roll future while also driving home her companions songwriting abilities. On the second side of the record, Edwards and Ronstadt take a duet on the blue, drifting “The Train and the River,” before borrowing the Rising Sons’ arrangement of Tom Campbell and Linda Albertano’s classic “2:10 Train” to bonnie effect.

Raven Records has reissued The Stone Poneys alongside the band’s second album, Evergreen, which contains their famous recording of Mike Nesmith’s “Different Drum,” as well as a few key tracks from the final, Linda-centric Poneys record. I’d say this is definitely a collection to look into, especially if you aren’t yet willing to hunt down all three records on vinyl.

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“Sweet Summer Blue & Gold”

:D Reissue | 2008 | Raven | buy here ]
:) Original | 1967 | Capitol | search ebay ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Afterglow “Afterglow”

Afterglow

Not too many bands were coming out of Oregon in the late 60s, and it’s not the first locale that comes to mind when you hear the sun drenched songs on Afterglow’s only record.

Originally called “The Madallions,” Tony Tucemseh, Ron George, Roger Swanson, Gene Resler, and Larry Alexander became Afterglow to record their self titled debut in 1966. Under the direction of producer Leo Lukia, a very interesting album was cut at Golden State Recorders that autumn.

Released in early ’67 on MTA records, Afterglow made hardly a dent and the group disbanded soon after. The tragedy of this is apparent when hearing such a delightful record full of pop hooks and potential.

It may have been their relatively remote location that helped quicken the bands demise, but it also added to the unique songwriting on Afterglow. If you hate the sound of the Farfisa organ, you should probably pass on this record altogether. It makes a prominent appearance on every cut, and though the production is slightly derivative the writing is extremely progressive and original for such an obscure debut. Definitely a must for fans of The Zombies, The Left Banke, and Joe Meek’s mid period freakbeat phase.

“Chasing Rainbows” is by far the best track here with it’s odd melody and rhythmic changes melding into a dizzying hook. A dark autumnal vibe undercuts the sunny arrangements, with tracks like “Mend This Heart of Mine”  and “Dream Away”.

“Love” could almost pass for a Meek production with its buzzy organs and slightly off kilter vocal sound. ”It’s a Wonder” should be a staple of modern classic rock radio with its catchy hook and Zombies by-way-of the Byrds harmonies, which really drives home what a shame it is this album wasn’t heard more.

There’s an excellent reissue on Sundazed that includes some decent bonus tracks (mostly alternate versions/backing tracks). It’s available on both CD and Vinyl.

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“It’s a Wonder”

:D Reissue | Sundazed | buy here ]
:) Reissue | Sundazed | buy here ]

Harumi “Harumi”

There are many albums by  unknown artists that deserve to be dug up and reexamined (or perhaps examined for the first time). Then there are the very few that reach up and grab you by the ears, making you wonder why they were ever forgotten in the first place.  Harumi falls into the second category.

Somehow an unknown from Japan (with feminine name) managed to locate one of the most renowned producers of the day to record his self titled debut record for Verve in 1968. Tom Wilson, the impresario behind both Dylan and Nico’s best loved albums heard something special in Harumi’s psyched out English-penned originals and we are still reaping the benefits of that union today.

Comparisons don’t give this music its due. Easy references like mid period Byrds or Jefferson Airplane might be obvious because of the relatively familiar aesthetic (for the time period) , but there is much to this record that greatly sets it apart from the more successful contemporary acts.

The main draw here is Harumi’s exceptional original songs and the way his drugged out voice navigates them. “First Impressions” begins with a Zombie-esque guitar and organ lick before catapulting into full pop mode with strings and brass. Harumi sounds haunting here, especially when he glides back in after the baroque instrumental break in the middle. This track drips with an endless summer vibe that spills over on the rest of the record.

Organ and jazzy vibraphone (along with assorted Japanese instruments) are present on nearly every track, filling out an already tight rhythm section. Little subtleties, like the phase effect on Harumi’s vocals on “Sugar in Your Tea”, or the Eastern sounding guitar on “We Love” crawl to the fore on repeat listens. The latter song is one of the best here- it grooves steadily through the haze and features some lyrical highlights like “Would you like to say hello to everyone that you have ever known?” and “You are me and I am you- there is no comparison for two”.

From start to finish (including the 2 extended cuts that make up the second half of this double album), Harumi is a remarkable listen that sets a very persistent vibe.

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“First Impressions”

:) Original  | 1968 | Verve Forecase | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | Don’t Buy Fallout ]

Tages “Contrast”

I first heard of the Swedish band Tages through this very site, from a great post on their memorable 1967 album Studio.  Tages actually released two albums that year, and I find the earlier release Contrast to be an interesting foil to Studio (which it preceded by seven months). Both albums are filled with their signature brew of incredibly creative psychedelic rock, but I find myself more attracted to the songs on “Contrast” (with all but four being originals).

What sets Tages apart from many other ‘foreign’ psych bands of the era is their high production standards, which could be credited at least partly to producer Anders Henriksson. The arrangements and unique sounds of Tages’ records elevate them above mere copy-cat status and have helped make both their 1967 albums an interesting listen to this day.

The track “You’re Too Incomprehensible” alone is enough to convert any skeptic to a Tages devotee. Multiple movements, lush yet avant-garde strings, and a myriad of sound effects all bubble around a really lovely tune- progressive psychedelia at it’s finest. “Fuzzy Patterns” would be fairly straight forward, if not for the orchestral freakout placed right in the middle. “Prisoner 763″ is an incredibly dark tune- played on a harpsichord heavily treated with delay. The line “I am condemned” hits hard, with the melody owing  much to to the Swedish folk the group was reared on.

Some tracks fall slightly short of the mark, like “Sister’s Got a Boyfriend” and “Why Do You Hide It?”, the latter of which carries the creepy lyric “I think you are the prettiest child a woman ever has born”. Both of these songs contain great production; their shortcomings are simply that they are strange songs (which may in fact be due to their troubles with English).

Opener “I’m Going Out” is an upbeat jaunt in the vein of The Zombies “This Will Be Our Year”, except with the ironic lyrics “I want to cry; I want to die”. It’s this slightly off kilter tendency that has kept “Contrast” fresh; the nuances reveal themselves on repeat listens.

Contrast stands on it’s own as an interesting record, and it was met with deserved success in Tages’ homeland.  It’s yet to be released in it’s entirety on CD, but many of the songs can be found on various “Greatest Hits” collections as well as their retrospective “1964-1968″ disc.

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“You’re Too Incomprehensible”

:) Original | 1967 | Parlophone | search ebay ]
:D Anthology |  2010 | EMI | buy here ]

The Klan “Join Us”

In America “The Klan” might have some negative connotations, but to a group of kids in Brussels in 1963 it sounded like the perfect band name (good enough to have chosen it over their original name “Los Ombres“). They soon began adding a disclaimer to their name, written as “The Klan (Belgium Band),” to prevent any further confusion.

Regardless of the cheeky title, The Klan were a wonderful baroque pop outfit with one exceptional full length LP to their credit. The songs on 1966′s Join Us are incredibly musical and far more considered than the typical pop fair of the time.

Like most bands of the era, this record touches on all facets of the Beatles but mainly cops the folk rock shamble of Help! and Revolver, with heavy Harrison style vocals. The lush string/brass arrangements and studio effects occasionally take the record into mild psych territory, like on the gorgeous “And I Love It So” and “Already Mine” with it’s vaguely eastern refrain. There’s also a light flair for Spector-esque grandiosity here, with some songs aproaching the Brill Building style.

It’s difficult to pick favorites from such a solid album, but some standouts include opener “Fify the Fly” which outshines its goofy subject matter with a pretty melody and a bouncy harpsichord line, and “One of My Dreams” which could easily have been a mid-period Harrison song.

With all the Beatles references aside, The Klan wrote some fantastic material and although they did not achieve much notoriety outside of their home country, these songs definitely deserve to be heard apart from their mid-60s context to truly appreciate the unique perspective on this record.

“Join Us” has yet to be reissued on CD, but LPs do turn up on eBay frequently (especially the 1967 Brazilian pressing).

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“Fify The Fly”

:) Original | 1966 | Palette | search ]

The Holy Mackerel “The Holy Mackerel”

Paul Williams first pop group was the LA based Holy Mackerel.  While he would go on to greater success writing classic pop hits for Three Dog Night and the Carpenters, the music he recorded with the Holy Mackerel is more adventurous and psychedelic.  The group’s only album was released by Warner Brothers in 1968.  While it wasn’t a commercial success, the LP features some great material.

The best tunes on The Holy Mackerel are on par with great Millennium and Sagittarus tracks.  Sure, there’s two or three weak tracks throughout the album but much of The Holy Mackerel is given over to quality stuff.  “Scorpio Red”, “Wildflowers”, “The Secret of Pleasure”, “10,000 Men” and “1984″ are excellent dreamy soft psych tracks.  “1984″ is probably the album’s magical highlight although “Wildflowers” features interesting distorted vocals and plenty of swirling sitar.  Many of the songs on the LP are psychedelic folk-rock but there’s a few country-rockers (“Somewhere in Arizona” and “The Golden Ghost of Love”), pure folk (“The Lady is Waiting”), and bouncy Nilsson-like pop (“Bitter Honey”) dispersed throughout ; these cuts are vintage late 60s LA pop.  There’s a lot of ideas at work here but the group manages to pull it off, making The Holy Mackerel an artistic success.  Highly recommended to those who appreciate intelligent sunshine pop/soft psych sounds.

Now Sounds reissued The Holy Mackerel in 2010 with plenty of extras.  Also worth checking out is Paul Williams 1970 collaboration with Roger Nichols titled We’ve Only Just Begun.

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“Bitter Honey”

:) Original Vinyl | 1968 | Reprise | search ebay ]
:D CD Reissue | 2005 | Collector’s Choice | buy here ]

Book A Trip: The Psych Pop Sounds Of Capitol Records

Shortly after the sonic experimentalism of Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper’s, the rules for creating the perfect pop single changed. A catchy refrain wasn’t enough– producers and musicians were now expected to use studio technology to dress up pop hooks with trippy effects, unconventional instrumentation, and multilayered harmonies. Book A Trip: The Psych Pop Sounds Of Capitol Records collects twenty-six singles that attempted to capture some of that studio magic.

As is to be expected, there’s a distinct Beatles/Beach Boys influence throughout the tracks. Although a few betray perhaps a bit too much influence (such as The Tuneful Trolley’s magical mystery tour through the Fabs’ 1967 recorded output in “Written Charter”), the majority of the acts comped here took the newfound sense of musical adventure as a starting point and charted their own path. I can’t think of a better example than the anything-goes production of Tim Wilde’s “Popcorn Double Feature,” which not only brazenly mixes dit, dit, dits and bah, bah, bahs, but throws in an electric sitar breakdown followed by an exuberant trombone solo. And did I mention the random bubble sounds?

There’s a wide range of psych pop styles represented among the twenty-six tracks, including attempts by decidedly non-groovy Capitol acts such as The Four Preps and The Lettermen to update their sound. Yet even the more conventional numbers contain surprises in their arrangements and are worth a listen, especially Leon Russell’s Pet Sounds influenced orchestration on the Preps’ “Hitchhiker.” On the whole, Book A Trip is loaded with fine examples of psych pop and sunshine pop, with many tracks containing elements of both genres– you won’t find any bad trips here.

A personal favorite is the faux-British psychedelia of The Act Of Creation’s “Yesterday Noontime,” its insistent percussive riff competing with undulating peals of guitar and lysergic backing vocals. Other high points include the handclaps and soaring harmonies of Fargo’s “Robins, Robins,” the pumping harpsichord of Stained Glass’s “Lady In Lace,” and the quirky vaudeville of the Sidewalk Skipper Band’s “(Would You Believe) It’s Raining Flowers In My House.”

Moorpark Intersection’s sole Capitol single (co-produced by David Axelrod) is another highlight. “I Think I’ll Just Go And Find Me A Flower,” ambles along on a sunny acoustic riff, nodding to the country-psych direction the band would later follow as Morning, while the flip, “Yesterday Holds On,” is a much heavier slice of orchestral psych pop.

With Book A Trip, Now Sounds has put together a first-rate compilation, featuring pristine sound and detailed track-by-track information– the CD graphics even replicate the classic Capitol “swirl” 45 label. Whether you’re new to the genre or a sixties pop aficionado, there’s much to recommend here.

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“Yesterday Noontime”

:D CD | 2010 | Now Sounds | buy here ]

The Bee Gees “Bee Gees 1st”

Long before they were known as the kings of Disco, the Bee Gees were master craftsmen of some of the greatest pop-rock the late ‘60s and early ‘70s had to offer. First rumored to be The Beatles under an alias (“Bee Gees” = “Beatles Group,” get it?), the Bee Gees exploded in the North American market in the late summer of 1967 with this album (their first US Top 10 album), and three Top 20 singles:  ”New York Mining Disaster 1941,” “To Love Somebody” (originally meant to be recorded for the late great Otis Redding), and “Holiday.”  The Brothers Gibb were well on their way to international superstardom.

On first listen, Bee Gees 1st plays like a wonderful, lost baroque-pop album, which isn’t far from the truth. The opening track, “Turn Of The Century,” with its lush orchestration and classic vocals from the Brothers Gibb, will immediately have the listener waiting for more. The hits, as previously mentioned, are here of course, but the remaining tracks are what give this album its enduring appeal; the record embodies the sweet sounds of the summer of ’67.  The psych-pop weirdness of “Red Chair, Fade Away” to the Pepper-esque “Every Christian Lion-Hearted Man Will Show You” reveal the Bee Gees at their most versatile and most talented. 1st is full of tunes that will make you smile, whether out of pure joy or bittersweet introspection.

1967 was one hell of a year for popular music.  Think of all the amazing and influential albums that were released that year – Sgt. Pepper’s, Surrealistic Pillow, The Doors S/T, Disraeli Gears; the list goes on and on. I like to hold this first Bee Gees album in the same category of greatness as all of the other classic smashes of ’67.

The Bee Gees are still a beloved music group. To me, there is nothing quite like their output from the late ‘60s. These songs, along with their other early albums (Horizontal, Idea, Odessa), have truly stood the test of time, and it’s easy to see why.  If you want to hear classic, endearing, and beautiful 1960s pop, pick up this album.

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“Turn Of The Century”

:D CD Reissue | 2007 | Rhino/Wea | buy here ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1967 | Atco | search ebay ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]