Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"Incense and Peppermints" (1967)

28. Strawberry Alarm Clock, "Incense and Peppermints" (Oct. 14, 1967, #1)

In latter years I have often suspected this—long since a staple of the hoariest oldies format on the radio—as a bit of a corporate psychedelic-rock project, maybe because it did so well at the time and has endured so persistently. But disregarding the company that eventually came to pivot on it to make it a hit, I see that its actual origins more or less mark it as the real thing, emerging from the Los Angeles welter of the time, and complete with stories of backstabbing intrigue and various untoward disavowals (in fact, one of the people who dreamed it up in the first place and was subsequently denied credit, Ed King, later went on to Lynyrd Skynyrd; more here). In any event I have always appreciated it and in many ways it seems to me now among the quintessential representations of the form, right down to the very silly wake-up call of the band name (changed from Thee Sixpence ostensibly to avoid confusion with another band) and the song title that willy-nilly juxtaposes seemingly discordant sensual input (compare "Crimson and Clover," "Purple Haze," or "Hot Smoke and Sassafras"). And that's just the accouterments of the thing. The sound of it is at once cartoonish pop music with broad streaks of vaguely disorienting menace, led by thick washes from the organ and a wheedling, gruff, chameleon electric guitar, undergirded by walls of backing vocals in various dark harmonies. And what are they going on about? "Beatniks and politics, nothing is new / A yardstick for lunatics, one point of view" and "Who cares what games we choose? / Little to win, but nothing to lose." Who knows? Some kind of trip, evidently. But it sounds so good, and you remember it forever.

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