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Turn On, Tune In, Turn Your Eyes Around: Strawberry Alarm Clock’s First Two Albums Return to CD

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Strawberry Alarm Clock - Tune-InAlthough the Summer of Love has long passed, the sound of The Strawberry Alarm Clock has never really left the American airwaves.  Thanks to oldies radio, “Incense and Peppermints” – which spent sixteen weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 including one week at pole position – remains in frequent rotation on terrestrial and satellite stations.  Though the California-based band released four albums and numerous singles on the UNI label between 1967 and 1970, the success of “Incense” was never matched or bettered.  Cherry Red’s all-psychedelic Tune-In label celebrates the group with the single-CD reissue of debut Incense and Peppermints and its 1968 follow-up Wake Up…It’s Tomorrow with three bonus tracks.

The Incense and Peppermints album (which reached No. 11 in the U.S.) masked all of the turmoil that went into its creation.  The personnel changes that would plague Strawberry Alarm Clock throughout its short lifespan began early when founding member Gene Gunnels departed the group at his girlfriend’s behest prior to the 45 release of “Incense.”  (Gunnels founded SAC with bassist Gary Lovetro, guitarist Steve Rabe and vocalist Mike Luciano as The Quaker Oats; guitarists Ed King and Lee Freeman expanded the group to a sextet.  They morphed into Thee Sixpence, and Luciano was eventually replaced by keyboardist Mark Weitz.  Then Steve Rabe followed Luciano out.  Got that?)

“Incense” was originally penned by Weitz and King, who laid down a backing track for their pop-psych nugget.  Producer Frank Slay then sent it to the songwriting team of John Carter and Tim Gilbert, who shaped it into the catchy yet sufficiently lysergic ode everybody knows.  But when the song was released by Thee Sixpence on co-producer Bill Holmes’ small All-American label, the names of Weitz and King were nowhere to be found on the label.  The producers assured the band that this simply was business as usual, though Weitz and King weren’t quite convinced.

As if those problems weren’t enough for the young band members to face, the song’s vocals were also “farmed out” to Greg Munford of The Shapes.  Munford was brought in by Slay and Holmes, as was second vocalist Randy Seal of the Waterfyrd Traene who soon replaced Gunnels in the band line-up.  The All-American 45 was released under the Thee Sixpence name; it was reissued on UNI (to whom Holmes sold All-American) as by the very au courant Strawberry Alarm Clock– and the name stuck.

By the time of the release of the Incense album, bassist George Bunnell and flautist Steve Bartek had joined the group although Bartek was too young (14!) to participate full-time; the duo was initially brought on from the Waterfyrd Traene as songwriters.  Despite the behind-the-scenes fracas, however, Incense and Peppermints boasted a number of strong, well-played songs with distinctive guitar, organ, vibes and flute sounds lending a psychedelic air.  The lengthy, trippy opener “The World’s on Fire” set the stage for gentler harmony-pop songs like the Association-esque “Birds in My Tree” as well as jazzy workouts like “Unwind with the Clock.”  Garage rock energy also permeates many of the colorfully titled cuts (sample titles: “Rainy Day Mushroom Pillow,” “Paxton’s Back Street Carnival”).  Bartek and Bunnell shared credit for five of the album’s cuts, with Bunnell also contributing to another two tracks.

Hit the jump for more, including the full track listing for both albums! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 2, 2013 at 13:36