Curt Boettcher, ‘60s wunderkind producer and arranger, has gotten some attention at Office Naps before. The creative force who infused songs like the Association’s “Cherish” and Eternity’s Children’s “Mrs. Bluebird” with echt-Aquarian sensibilities, Boettcher played no small role in the southern Californian psychedelic sunshine sound, making, at his best, some transcendent pop along the way.
This week we look at three more examples of the ’67-’68-era sunshine pop phenomenon, gathered together not because they’re obscure or rare – and they’re neither – but because they so strongly reflect the Curt Boettcher aesthetic.
It’s not as if the musicians, arrangers, producers and engineers behind these particular selections were analyzing Boettcher’s handiwork with any particular fervor. There would have been awareness, though, of Boettcher – or Boettcher’s successful productions – everywhere within the pop industry at the time; these selections are exemplary rather than merely derivative.
This was music forged and realized in the studios – a front line of skilled musicians, singers, songwriters and creative types supported by a cadre of session talent and commercially-minded, if forward-thinking, arrangers, producers and engineers with a bank of technologically advanced equipment at their disposal.
That so much of the same studio talent would have been involved in so many of the era’s psychedelic pop productions ascribes some sense of uniformity across the board, perhaps again misrepresenting the extent of Boettcher’s direct influence. But Boettcher’s work was so much on the cutting edge of pop for a year or two that, just to make a certain type of radio-friendly, harmony-and-sunshine-soaked music was, inevitably, to be synonymous with the Curt Boettcher sound.
1. The Collection, Both Sides Now (The Hot Biscuit Company P-1455)
There are several different music industry forces at work here.
“Both Sides Now” is an early Joni Mitchell composition. Though at this point essentially unrecorded, Mitchell’s reputation was already widespread due to high-profile versions of her songs and some terrific word-of-mouth publicity. This blissful version of “Both Sides Now” would have been recorded and released sometime in early 1968, shortly after Judy Collins’s popular version. (Mitchell herself wouldn’t release a version of the song until her 1969 album Clouds.)
Ensconced in the ‘60s New York City music industry, the team of Charles Koppelman and Don Rubin added, in 1967, record label operation to their various pop publishing, management and production concerns. Their Hot Biscuit Disc Company Records (as well as the We Make Rock and Roll Records label – see below) would be a brief-lived quasi-independent subsidiary distributed by Capitol Records. A relatively small number of rock, pop, R&B and soul recordings were released by these labels over the next year or two, none very successful, though many notable New York City-based songwriters and session musicians were enlisted, including – and remember this name – Eddie Simon.
His claim to fame as an early promoter of the Woodstock Festival notwithstanding, Artie Kornfeld, given the producer credit here, was in his mid-twenties and already working at Capitol Records under the honorific “Vice President of Rock Music” at the time of this selection’s release. His portfolio of various production and songwriting co-credits notably included work for Jan & Dean (“Deadman’s Curve”), Crispian St. Peters (“Pied Piper”) and the Cowsills (“The Rain, The Park, and Other Things”), along with various pop titles for groups like the Shirelles and Tokens.
Finally, there is Jimmy Wisner, who, as arranger, probably had the most direct involvement in the sound of this recording. Wisner got his start as a Philadelphia-based jazz pianist, but, following his fluke 1961 instrumental hit “Asia Minor” (recorded under the alias “Kokomo”), found greater commercial success as a composer, producer, arranger, songwriter and label operator. Among his countless credits, Wisner had a hand in big hits by Tommy James & the Shondells (“I Think We’re Alone Now”), Len Barry (“1-2-3″), Miriam Makeba (“Pata Pata”), Alive ‘n Kicking (“Tighter and Tighter”), Jay and the Techniques (“Keep the Ball Rolling”), Spanky and Our Gang (“Lazy Day”) and, with Kornfeld, the Cowsills (“The Rain, The Park, and Other Things”). Later a house producer and A&R executive at Columbia Records, Wisner tended towards a big, sophisticated, pop-oriented sensibility. Though you wouldn’t guess that here.
This 45 is an interesting study. It is characterized by many Boettcher trademarks – fanciful imagery, lighter-than-air, almost androgynous vocals, chiming, echo-y production and an unnervingly child-like quality.
It was also the comparatively rare sunshine pop 45 that was not produced in southern California.
Finally, nowhere am I able to detect even the faintest pretense of a real group. The record’s convergence of established and emerging industry players leaves hardly any room for such. It goes without saying that wholly studio-bound projects have long been a staple of popular music, but only rarely – after psychedelic pop’s late ’60s zenith -would they ever be so consistently artistically successful again.
2. The Parade, This Old Melody (A&M 841)
A trio at their core, the Los Angeles-based Parade was composed of aspiring singer-songwriters and actors Murray MacLeod and Allen “Smokey” Roberds along with the young Los Angeles arranger, producer and composer Jerry Riopelle.
MacLeod – known, at least amongst fans of California sunshine pop, for his concurrent role in Roger Nichols & the Small Circle of Friends – and Roberds were already working together as a commercial songwriting team when they met Jerry Riopelle. Riopelle, previously a session musician and Screen Gems staff songwriter, was working at the time in the unenviable position as a producer for Phil Spector.
The Parade were very much a real group in the sense of working and forging music together as a unit. If they get a perhaps too much credit for defining sunshine pop – like the Sunshine Company, Yellow Balloon or Love Generation, they would have comprised part of the second wave of such Los Angeles groups after the Association or the Mamas and the Papas –the core trio was nonetheless comprised of genuinely good songwriters and musicians. (Separately and together they helped pen songs for the Clique, the Electric Prunes, Davy Jones, Gary Lewis & the Playboys, the American Breed, the Forum and Al Martino, among others.)
Dreamy, slightly folky, with layers and layers of harmony and hooks, “This Old Melody” would be the first, darkest and best of the group’s six different 45s. (It would also feature a songwriting assist from group friend and contributor Stu Margolin.) All originals, the Parade’s sides were released in quick succession in 1967 and ’68. Backed by Los Angeles session elite, they tended towards the soft and sophisticated end of the ‘60s pop spectrum. This 45’s a-side, the cheerier “Sunshine Girl,” was more representative of the Parade’s discography, and was a good seller, too, making it to number twenty on the national pop charts in 1967.
The Parade dissolved in 1968, its three members going on to interesting, sometimes intersecting, careers, music-related and otherwise. Incidentally, in 1970, Roberds would be the first (as Freddie Allen) to record Paul Williams and Roger Nichols’s “We’ve Only Just Begun,” for White Whale Records, a song that, in the Carpenters’ hands, would become a mega-hit a few months later.
3. The Guild Light Gauge, Cloudy (We Make Rock ‘n Roll Records P-1600)
The Guild Light Gauge involved many of the same parties involved with the Collection 45 above – Artie Kornfeld, the Koppelman-Rubin team and the label itself – the awkwardly-named “We Make Rock ‘n Roll Records” – sister to the Hot Biscuit Disc Company.
But the Guild Light Gauge, led by one Eddie Simon, was closer to a real, working entity.
Eddie Simon is Paul Simon’s younger brother. Their relationship obviously factored into the choice of “Cloudy,” one of several mid-‘60s gems originally co-written by Paul and Australian songwriter Bruce Woodley.
The Guild Light Gauge’s version of “Cloudy” was released in May of 1968. Featuring Simon’s delicate guitar – he was the superior player of the brothers, by all accounts – and some otherworldly mixed harmonies, it’s a similar but slightly trippier arrangement than the original version of “Cloudy” that appeared on Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, Simon & Garfunkel’s third album from 1966.
Eddie Simon would only step from behind-the-scenes a few other times in his career. At this point, there’d already been an early ‘60s teen pop 45 – the surf-inspired “Beach Boy.” Later, in 1969, as one half of the duo Crib and Ben, he’d record the gorgeous Simon & Garfunkel-styled “Emily” with Paul Gelber for Decca Records. (Incidentally, Simon and Gelber would be listed as executive producers on Canadian singer Terry Black’s strange 1969 psychedelic album, An Eye For an Ear.)
There are other scattered songwriting and session co-credits to Eddie Simon’s name, especially during the ‘60s, as well as appearances over the years backing his brother, but Eddie Simon is perhaps chiefly known as one of the founders of, and teachers at, Manhattan’s Guitar Study Center, which closed its doors only a few years ago.