SMART SOUNDS by Colin Bell reviewing Harpers Bizarre: Come To The Sunshine – The Complete Warner Brothers Recordings, 4CD Box Set

COME TO THE SUNSHINE : The Complete Warner Brothers Recordings (4CD)   Harpers Bizarre

This new box set from e’l Records brings together the original 4 albums recorded by Harpers Bizarre between 1967 & 1969, They are ‘Feelin’ Groovy’, ‘Anything Goes’, ‘The Secret Life Of Harpers Bizarre’ & ‘Harpers Bizarre 4′. The band were from California and grew out of an earlier outfit The Tiki’s. In 1967 Warners record executive & producer Lenny Waronker heard Paul Simon’s 59th Bridge Street Song (Feelin’ Groovy) and developed a passion to turn it into a hit single. The main 2 guys from The Tiki’s Ted Templeman & Dick Scoppettone together with major musicians from the famous LA session guys ‘The Wrecking Crew’ went into the studio & fulfilled that mission, emerging with the desired hit with ‘Feelin’ Groovy’. With a name change to Harpers Bizarre (a play on words of the famous fashion mag) they were on their way to major success with their blend of sunshine/baroque pop. I’ve written previously of my love of the genre of baroque pop. If you’re not acquainted with the term it’s basically a form of music that flourished for a brief 2 or 3 years between 1966 & 1969. It’s distinguished by its inclusion of orchestral instruments fused with conventional guitar/drum line-up’s. Added to lyrics that are usually, but not always, about the mystic & ethereal side of life. It can really be traced back to The Beatles & the release of ‘Rubber Soul’ & in particular the track ‘In My Life’ with its use of harpsichord as a main instrument (actually it was a studio engineered piano) but the harpsichord would become a staple & much favoured instrument of the bands that created the new genre, The other influence on Baroque was the multi-layered vocals & harmonies which the Beach Boys & their seminal ‘Pet Sound’s album were the major exponents of. This fusion created classics like the original ‘Walk Away Renee’ by The Left Banke. Harpers Bizarre were however probably the ultimate purveyors of this new genre. The debut album ‘Feelin Groovy’ was perfectly timed to cash in on the single and was a big seller rising to 13 on the Billboard Hot 100. Apart from its catchy title song it featured a wide range of the bright & unexpected from the show tune of Oscar Hammerstein’s ‘Happy Talk’ to a treatment of Prokofiev’s ‘Peter & The Wolf’ to the offbeat compositions of Randy Newman represented here by his ‘Simon Smith & His Amazing Dancing Bear’ (to be honest a track i’ve always loathed) by whoever performs it. More talent surrounds the album with tracks being produced by a young Van Dyke Parks. who had of course been working with Brian Wilson, so the harmonies link is clear. Plus a nascent Leon Russell also getting into his arranging/producing stride. The second album ‘Anything Goes’ again named after the second hit single of the same name build’s on and extends the foundations laid down by ‘Feelin Groovy’, it’s another kaleidoscope of sounds with songs by Cole Porter, original material by the band & another contribution with ‘Snow’ from Randy Newman. The album feels altogether more well thought out and it’s certainly ambitious in its orchestrations and arrangements & is more polished than its predecessor. By the time of the release of the 3rd album ‘The Secret Life Of Harpers Bizarre’ in 1968 the formula was well established. This time though it didn’t yield another big hit single. It managed a minor one with ‘The Battle Of New Orleans’, a song probably better known here in the UK through Lonnie Donegans hit version. This time around the ‘classic’ composers are represented by George & Ira Gershwin with ‘I’ll Build A Stairway To Paradise’, the band’s own compositions really come into their own with numbers like ‘Green Apple Tree’ & ‘Mad’ and there is a rather good sped up version of the Ivy Leagues classic ‘Funny How Love Can Be’. Future Carpenters hit songwriter Paul Williams also weighs in with ‘The Drifter’ a delightful light & airy piece. The 4th & final album in the box set ‘Harpers Bizarre 4’ released in 1969 is maybe the most diverse with treatments of soul classics like ‘Knock On Wood’ & ‘Hard To Handle’ to Lennon/McCartneys ‘Blackbird’ & all climaxing with John Denvers ‘Leaving On A Jet Plane’. It also contains the bands Ted Templemans best original material in my opinion. I did feel however that by the time i reached Disc 4 the stream of beautifully crafted compositions had reached a surfeit, a bit like having too much ice cream or candy floss in one go. I think it would be a better approach to leave a little time between listening to each album to derive the maximum enjoyment.  Overall though i thoroughly enjoyed getting re-acquainted with a favourite genre played & arranged by masters of the art. It would have been nice to have the collection housed in a sturdy clamshell box rather than a slipcase, but that’s a minor niggle, the accompanying booklet is well produced with a wealth of information. If you need to chill (and who doesn’t in these times) this is a splendid way to do it. Enjoy.

for more information go to https://www.cherryred.co.uk
Til next time…….stay safe…….Colin