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Archive for the ‘Harpers Bizarre’ Category

Love So Fine: Nick DeCaro’s “Works” Features James Taylor, B.J. Thomas, Andy Williams, More

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Though the A&M stands for (Herb) Alpert and (Jerry) Moss, A&M Records has meant a great many things to a great many people since its founding in 1962.  Those who came of age in the 1980s may think of the famous logo adorning records by Sting, Janet Jackson or Bryan Adams.  In the 1970s, the label was home to The Carpenters, Cat Stevens and Joe Cocker.  In the 1960s, A&M was not only a label but a “sound.”  That sound was a certain, beguiling style of sophisticated adult soft-pop epitomized by founder Herb Alpert as well as Burt Bacharach, Sergio Mendes, Chris Montez and Roger Nichols. Though Alpert and Moss sold their label (at one point the largest and most successful independent record company in the world) to PolyGram in 1989 and it is now a unit of Universal Music Group, its classic artists and albums have never fallen out of favor.

Universal Music Japan has launched an A&M 50th Anniversary Collection as well as a series of releases under the Nick DeCaro Posthumous 20th Anniversary umbrella.  A prolific arranger, composer and producer, DeCaro (1938-1992) was a mainstay of the early A&M era.  Among the titles already released in the series are albums by The Sandpipers, Chris Montez, Tijuana Brass offshoot The Baja Marimba Band, and DeCaro himself.  (Many of these titles are making their CD debuts.)  One new compilation has emerged, though, that celebrates DeCaro as well as some legendary artists from the A&M roster and elsewhere.

Nick DeCaro: Works is a 23-track anthology of DeCaro’s output as a producer and arranger between 1967 and 1982, and if it proves anything, it’s just how eclectic and adaptable the man’s style was.  Though he largely toiled behind the scenes in America, DeCaro became a star in Japan thanks to his 1974 solo effort Italian Graffiti, so it’s only fair that Japan is celebrating him with this diversely curated new release.

Mel Carter’s 1965 “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me” on the Imperial label was Nick DeCaro’s first major hit as a producer and arranger, but it was the tip of the iceberg of his work at Imperial.  He produced records for studio groups like The Sunset Strings and a pre-Philadelphia O’Jays, and befriended young staff songwriter Randy Newman, who would later enlist him to write arrangements for his Good Old Boys album in 1974.  When he decamped for A&M, he became a primary architect of the label’s pop style, producing and/or arranging six albums for Claudine Longet, four for Chris Montez and six for the Sandpipers.  His work with Longet naturally brought him to the attention of her husband, Columbia Records artist Andy Williams, for whom DeCaro produced and arranged three LPs.  DeCaro also amazingly found time to arrange at Warner Bros. and Reprise, and he reunited with his old friend Newman writing charts for Harpers Bizarre’s renditions of Randy’s songs.

His own fitful solo career was less successful than his work for others, particularly when his 1969 solo debut Happy Heart went head-to-head with Andy Williams’ own version of its title song.  Williams had wanted his friend DeCaro to produce and arrange his recording, but DeCaro demurred, and Williams created a successful record of the song without DeCaro’s participation.  1974’s Italian Graffiti earned him cult status in Japan, but DeCaro continued to make his biggest hits for others.  Just a few of the names on the arranger’s client list reads like a “Who’s Who” of popular music: Gordon Lightfoot (If You Could Read My Mind, Sundown), James Taylor (Gorilla, In the Pocket), Little Feat (Time Loves a Hero), Neil Diamond (Beautiful Noise), Helen Reddy (I Don’t Know How to Love Him), Barbra Streisand (The Way We Were, Barbra Joan Streisand, Wet), Rickie Lee Jones (Rickie Lee Jones, Pirates),  Dolly Parton (Here You Come Again).  DeCaro was also in demand for his abilities on the accordion and concertina, adding the instrument to recordings by everyone from The Rolling Stones to renowned multi-instrumentalist Prince!  Before his passing in 1992, DeCaro returned to solo recording in Japan, toured the country twice and produced Japanese artists, as well.  But The Works focuses on some of his most renowned American work, with an emphasis on his productions during the golden years of A&M.

Hit the jump for the full run-down on Works, including the track listing with discography! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

April 10, 2012 at 10:07

Goin’ For High Coin: Harpers Bizarre’s “Anything Goes” Returns in Expanded Mono Edition

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In olden days, a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking!  Now heaven knows, anything goes…Good authors, too, who once knew better words now only use four-letter words writing prose!  Anything goes!

When Cole Porter wrote “Anything Goes” in 1934, could he have had any idea that his commentary would prove just as relevant more than thirty years later, and indeed, even today?  In 1967, three years after the esteemed songsmith’s passing, the members of Harpers Bizarre unleashed their second album onto the world, choosing Porter’s song for its title track.  In the year of the Summer of Love, producer Lenny Waronker’s “subversive choirboys”  made waves by reaching back, with the album cover trumpeting “ANYTHING GOES: Including ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo!”  That latter-named Mack Gordon/Harry Warren standard – Billboard‘s first-ever gold disc in Glenn Miller’s rendition – was recent compared to “Anything Goes,” having been written in 1941.  Well, now was then, and then is Now, with Now Sounds’ just-released Deluxe Expanded Mono Edition of Anything Goes (CRNOW 31)!

For their sophomore effort, the members of Harpers Bizarre looked to reprise the success of their first album but with some crucial differences.  For starters, two original band compositions were included, both from Dick Scoppettone and Ted Templeman: “Hey, You in the Crowd” and “Virginia City.”  Van Dyke Parks, whose “Come to the Sunshine” both opened and set the tone for Harpers’ debut LP Feelin’ Groovy, instead closed Anything Goes with “High Coin.”  One of Parks’ most-covered and most adaptable songs, it’s also been performed by singers as diverse as Bobby Vee and Jackie DeShannon.  In reissue producer Steve Stanley’s new liner notes, Lenny Waronker recalls Parks actually singing on the track, too: “Van Dyke and Ted really did the vocals because I think Dick was off in the service.  I love that song, and it’s how I was introduced to Van Dyke.”  Waronker couldn’t believe that Parks was a member of the younger generation when he composed the song: “It sounds like it comes from another time!”  Harpers Bizarre’s otherworldly vocals lend a memorable new dimension to the song.

That look at nostalgia through the somewhat ironic eyes of youth served Harpers Bizarre well.  In addition to the title track (piano by Van Dyke Parks and arrangement by Harry Nilsson’s close collaborator Perry Botkin Jr.!), Cole Porter’s songbook was also tapped for “Two Little Babes in the Wood,” not one of the urbane composer’s most famous songs.  The 1924 tune was written by Porter for The Greenwich Village Follies of 1924 and has likely received its widest airing to date on Anything Goes!  Porter himself is even heard on the album via a vintage recording, warbling his own “Anything Goes” on the introductory track’s mock radio broadcast and on a later reprise!  More recent, but still belonging to another generation, was Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen’s “Pocketful of Miracles,” written for Frank Capra’s 1961 film of the same name.  Frank Sinatra was slated to star in the film when he clashed with the studio over the script; Glenn Ford took over, but Sinatra still popularized his pallies’ jaunty, Academy Award-nominated song.  Even Edith Piaf was paid homage via a cover of her 1959 chanson “Milord.”

Hit the jump for more Harpers, including the complete track listing, discography and order link! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

February 17, 2012 at 10:22

Come to the Sunshine: Now Sounds Expands, Remasters Harpers Bizarre’s “Feelin’ Groovy”

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Leon Russell might have been reluctant to return to his pop music roots when producer Lenny Waronker invited him to sit in the arranger’s chair for Harpers Bizarre’s 1967 debut album.  But in retrospect, a Master of Time and Space must have been involved in any LP that listed among its credits Randy Newman, Van Dyke Parks, Paul Simon, Richard Rodgers and Sergei Prokofiev!  The California quintet’s Feelin’ Groovy long-player is still one of the boldest, most imaginative and most fun debut albums of all time, and it’s getting the red carpet treatment from the fine folks at Now Sounds!  The Deluxe Expanded Mono Edition of Feelin’ Groovy expands the original 10-band album to a packed 26 tracks.  And what a groovy complement of bonuses they are: instrumentals, single mixes, and seven tracks from the band’s earlier incarnation, The Tikis!

At the time The Tikis (a.k.a. Dick Yount, Eddie James, John Petersen, Dick Scoppettone and Ted Templeman) found themselves on the roster of Warner Bros. Records, the young turks running the water tower were making Burbank the place to be.  Under the direction of Mo Ostin, Joe Smith and Lenny Waronker, Warner Bros. was establishing a hip, young identity.  The label that had begun in 1958 with Tab Hunter and Jack “Just the facts, ma’am” Webb on the roster was now expanding its ranks to include The Tokens (It’s a Happening World!), The Everly Brothers, The Association, The Beau Brummels and The Grateful Dead.  Like The Tikis, The Beau Brummels came to Warner via the label’s acquisition of the Bay Area-based Autumn Records, and Tikis member John Petersen was himself an ex-Brummel.  And the embryonic Dead had actually shared stages in the past with The Tikis.   In this fertile, creative atmosphere, producer Waronker keenly matched artist to song when he offered the soon-to-be Harpers Bizarre a completely original reworking of Paul Simon’s “The 59th Street Bridge Song.”  Wordsmith and arranger Van Dyke Parks recalls being the one who renamed the band for a counterculture audience that wouldn’t accept the square-sounding Tikis!  Harpers Bizarre was then born.

In Simon and Garfunkel’s original version, the song is casual (almost tossed-off), low-key and completely charming.  In the arrangement crafted by Waronker and master orchestrator Leon Russell, “The 59th Street Bridge Song” became an ambitious pocket symphony, complete with choir and baroque instrumental interlude.  Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that this big reworking retained the innocent, carefree spirit of the original.  In reissue producer Steve Stanley’s compelling liner notes, Waronker recounts Russell winning him over with his intricate charts for instruments unusual to the typical AM single. Unsurprisingly, the musicians of the Los Angeles Wrecking Crew were deployed in full force, including Russell himself on piano, Glen Campbell on guitar, Hal Blaine on drums, and other names that should be familiar to those reading this, like Joe Osborn, Carol Kaye and Lyle Ritz (bass) and Mike Deasy, Al Casey and Tommy Tedesco (guitar).  “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” b/w “Lost My Live Today” (a Tikis track that is, of course, included here) made it all the way to the Top 15 on the pop charts.

Though it gives the album its title, the song is just the tip of the iceberg here.  Hit the jump for much more, including the complete track listing with discography! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 6, 2011 at 10:54