Three selections this week from the obscure, hazy end of ‘60s psychedelic pop
From generational icons like the Mamas & the Papas and the Association to lesser-known groups like Sagittarius and the Sunshine Company, the psychedelic pop phenomenon of the ‘60s would feed itself primarily on the turned-on folkies and harmony groups of Southern California. Psychedelic pop was more than young, longhaired vocal groups with electric guitars, though. Psychedelic pop took those soaring voices and yearning lyrics, harnessing them to visionary recording engineers and the shiniest Los Angeles studio gadgetry. The Aquarian dream would unfold in cascading harmonies, chimes, fuzztone guitars and great caverns of glorious echo.
Psychedelic pop in time grew fat on its own Southern California abundance, coming to resemble something that sounded very much like Bread or Seals & Crofts. That would still be years down the road, though. It would remain fresh and dewy for a few more years in the late ‘60s, with albums like the Mamas and Papas’ If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears defining something genuinely new, something that every landlocked, college-bound teenager could gently groove to. You could hear it somewhere in the flute solo, I think, that dream of spiritual fulfillment and golden Pacific splendor for those who weren’t quite ready to drop out of society and join the revolution.
1. Emil Richards and the Factory, No Place I’d Rather Be (Uni)
Though ephemeral, the Factory were, unlike so many ‘60s Los Angeles projects, an independent and fully functioning group of Los Angeles musicians.
Led by Lowell George, later the lead singer, guitarist and songwriter for classic rock stalwarts Little Feat, the Factory also included Warren Klein (guitar), Martin Kibbee (bass), Dallas Taylor (drums) and Ritchie Hayward (drums), musicians who’d shortly move on to form hippie-rock outfit the Fraternity of Man.
It’s George we hear singing dreamily on 1967’s “No Place I’d Rather Be,” and that’s likely Klein heard on guitar. The Emil Richards ostensibly fronting the group, on the other hand, would release some psychedelic ethno-jazz efforts of his own, like Journey to Bliss (1968), but ultimately he’s best known as an extraordinarily competent session musician who’s played vibraphone and percussion on innumerable pop, jazz and rock music productions and soundtracks. Richards’s Indonesian percussion effects on this selection are hardly insubstantial, but his role in the Factory was ancillary at best. We’ll likely never know what dark upper-management motives would come to identify Richards as the Factory’s frontman on this 45 and, for that matter, whether other Factory members actually played on “No Place I’d Rather Be.”
But, whatever. The shimmering, resonating aesthetic of “No Place I’d Rather Be” works on all levels, effectively conveying that groovy 1967 pleasure of lying very, very still for very, very long hours at a time.
2. The Robbs, Castles in the Air (Atlantic)
The pride of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, the Robbs were, at their core, the brothers Donaldson – Dee, Joe and Bruce – all of whom shared vocal and instrumental duties as a popular live band in the Great Lakes region. The Robbs’ recorded legacy began in the early ‘60s with a few surf and teen pop 45s on Chicago record labels. With drummer Craig Krampf solidifying their line-up, the Robbs fashioned themselves into a modern harmony pop-rock unit with the advent of the British Invasion, their initial recording forays catching the attention of Dick Clark, who eventually offered them a gig as the house band on his Where the Action Is television variety show.
The Robbs’ first record after relocating to Los Angeles, 1966’s “Race With the Wind,” was a modest hit and exemplified their deft folk-rock arrangements and breezy harmony pop. Despite a subsequent string of jangly, radio-ready 45s along with an LP in 1967, despite major label distribution and national television exposure, the Robbs suffered from poor promotion, a somewhat lightweight reputation and what can only be regarded as an improbable stretch of bad luck.
One gets the sense that the Robbs were willing to try something a little different in 1968. And therewith would “Castles in the Air” be different from anything else they’d release. This wonderful elegy to escapism and self-delusion, with its chimes, African thumb piano and underwater vocal and guitar effects would be effectively different from anything anybody was releasing, moreover. The shift in tack was little avail, however, as “Castles in the Air” became yet another trophy for their mounting pile of commercial misses.
The Robbs soldiered on for a few more 45s. Renamed as Cherokee, they headed in a country-rock direction with their full-length album for ABC Records in 1970. It would as founders of the storied Hollywood recording studio, Cherokee Studios, opened in the mid-‘70s and still in operation today, for which the three Donaldson brothers would finally achieve enduring success.
3. The Voyage, One Day (Decca)
Hampered somewhat by awkward songwriting, longtime New York City pop producer John Linde nonetheless took the late ‘60s vogue for the Eastern exoticism and expertly combined it with the Baroque sensibilities of the Left Banke (of “Walk Away Renee” and “Pretty Ballerina” fame) for the Voyage’s “One Day.” The ensuing trippy drama would be one of many of Decca Records’ tentative gambles at 45 rpm psychedelia undertaken in the waning years of the ‘60s. Alas, it would be one of just as many that did nothing to reverse the label’s foundering fortunes.
A New York City production likely recorded in late 1967, little is otherwise known of the Voyage or Richard Klaskow, the songwriter of “One Day.”