Harpers Bizarre (formed 1963, disbanded 1970) are another one of those specifically American bands that hit it reasonably big there but never had a big overseas presence …think Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Paul Revere and the Raiders, The Happenings, Jay and the Americans etc etc.
They do crop up in op shops occasionally and usually, not surprisingly, it is their hit album.
And that, in this case, is this album.
Wikipedia: “Harpers Bizarre was formed out of the Tikis, a band from Santa Cruz, California, that had some local successes with Beatlesque songs in the mid 1960s. The Tikis had been signed to Tom Donahue's Autumn Records from 1965 to 1966 and had released two singles on that label. In 1967, record producer Lenny Waronker got hold of the Simon & Garfunkel song "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)," determined to make it into a hit single. The Tikis recorded it using an arrangement created by Leon Russell, featuring extended harmonies reminiscent of the work of Brian Wilson or even the Swingle Singers. The song was released under a new band name, "Harpers Bizarre" (a play on the magazine Harper's Bizarre), so as not to alienate the Tikis' fanbase. The Harpers Bizarre version of the song reached No. 13 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart in April 1967,far exceeding any success that the Tikis thus far had. The track reached No. 34 in the UK Singles Chart … The success of the single prompted Harpers Bizarre to record their debut album … Most of Harpers Bizarre's recordings are cheerful and airy, both in subject matter and musical accompaniment, often with string and woodwind arrangements. Their music is most closely associated with the sunshine pop and baroque pop genres”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harpers_Bizarre
The allmusic entry is perhaps more to the point, “One of the bands that came to Warner Bros. in their buyout of Autumn Records were the Tikis. They had only recorded a handful of singles, and in terms of musical direction and group identity, they definitely had potential. Enter producer Lenny Waronker and session musician/arranger/songwriter/general musical architect Van Dyke Parks. The two of them brought then-drummer Ted Templeman up to the front as co-lead vocalist, along with Dick Scoppettone, and created a soft-rock identity for the group, renaming them Harpers Bizarre”.
Perhaps, tellingly, they had most of their success in the Adult Contemporary (aka "Easy Listening") chart which gives an indication of their audience. They had five singles in the Top 40 of that chart including a #1 (“Chattanooga Choo Choo")
The band (or some of them) could write songs when pushed but they mainly relied on songs written by others:
- recent songs released by others though, usually, album tracks they thought had potential. A wise move: get a catchy album track from an established act and release it as a single;
- songs by upcoming songwriters (especially those with a hit making track record), or;
- (familiar) songs from the tin pan alley / trad pop era contemporised to their musical world view.
And, this seems to be the case across all their albums.
The bottom line was sales but they did do this in accordance with their world view musical style.
They started off as AM Pop (much like The Association, The Sunshine Company, The Sandpipers) and then incorporated more eclectic sounds into the mix including baroque pop, sunshine pop and 1920s and 1930s era tin pan alley pop which enjoyed only a brief vogue, roughly from late 1966 to 1968, probably on the back of the mammoth success of the film “Bonnie & Clyde”(which in itself was a A-Grade culmination of a series of B-Grade gangster films of the proceeding ten years as well as the success of prohibition era TV shows like “The Untouchables”).
This album is a mix of AM pop and a vocal group playing jazzy pop music with dribs and drabs of the aforementioned sunshine pop and baroque pop.
Any album that lists amongst its writers Randy Newman, Van Dyke Parks, Paul Simon, Leon Russell, Rodgers and Hammerstein and Sergei Prokofiev an is played by Glen Campbell, Hal Blaine, Joe Osborn, Carol Kaye and Lyle Ritz, Mike Deasy, Al Casey, Leon Russell and Tommy Tedesco (ie: the Los Angeles Wrecking Crew) deserves a listening.
Harpers had a sound which experimented with heavy vocal layering, like an AM non-rock Beach Boys. But, what is most enjoyable is the committed world view. The recordings are light, cheerful and airy, in subject matter, arrangement and musical accompaniment, and this, perhaps, cloying to some people, gay to others.
Perhaps it was perfect 1967 music as it captures some of the optimism of the time. There were dark clouds on the horizon but Harpers either studiously avoid them or don’t see them. Today, it is perfect sub-tropical coffee shop music and that is not pejorative as many acts aren’t even that.
Such single minded, well-crafted pop is to be admired.
Tracks (best in italics)
- Come to the Sunshine – (Van Dyke Parks) – Light, so light it almost floats. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Come_to_the_Sunshine
- Happy Talk – (Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II) – from the Broadway musical and film “South Pacific”. This is often covered. So so. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Happy_Talk_(song)
- Come Love – (Alan Bergman, Marilyn Keith, Larry Markes) – perhaps recorded first by Harpers Bizarre though written by established husband and wife team Alan and Marilyn with assistance from Larry Markes
- Raspberry Rug – (Leon Russell, Donna Washburn) – recorded (and released as a single) by Joey Cooper in 1967 I think Harpers did it first.
- The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy) – (Paul Simon) – Unlike the gentle beautiful folk pop of Simon and Garfunkel's original this features a harmonic choral a cappella section and a woodwind quartet with a flute, oboe, clarinet and a bassoon. The original song was on Simon and Garfunkel's “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme” album (#4 US 1966) and the B-side to the hit single “At the Zoo" (#16 US 1967) but Harpers saw the siungle potential in it. And they were right. This reached #13 on the Billboard Hot 100. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_59th_Street_Bridge_Song_(Feelin%27_Groovy)
- The Debutante's Ball – (Randy Newman) – first done by Harpers (Randy plays piano on it). A waltz pop song with some sharp lyrics (though you have to listen hard) …
What a wonderful sight, it just seems to be right
That there's something to do for the rich people too
So light up the hall, there's dancing for all
At the debutante's ball
- Happy Land – (Randy Newman) – first done by Harpers but covered by the Alan Price Set and Liza Minelli in 1968. It sounds like a throw back to Disney animated musicals which probably would have made Randy Newman happy.
- Peter and the Wolf – (Ron Elliott, Sergei Prokofiev, Robert Durand) – Russian composer Prokofiev re-written with lyrics added by Beau Brummels guitarist Ron Elliott with frequent collaborator Bob Durand. Like The Tikis (the pre Harpers Bizarre), The Beau Brummels came to Warner via the label’s acquisition of the San Francisco based Autumn Records, and Tikis member John Petersen was himself an ex-Brummel.
- I Can Hear the Darkness – (Leon Russell, Donna Washburn) – first done by Harpers. Thematically quite "of its time" but very catchy.
- Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear – (Randy Newman) – The song was popularized in the UK by the Alan Price Set under the title "Simon Smith and His Amazing Dancing Bear", where it reached #4 in 1967 but Harpers Bizarre did it earlier though not first. Tommy Boyce released it in 1966. The song has been often covered (most memorably by Harry nilsson on his 1969 album "Harry"). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_Smith_and_the_Amazing_Dancing_Bear
Coffee shop music, as long as you are sitting on the sidewalk in the mid-morning sun. Not too bad … I'm keeping it.
1967 The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy) #13 Pop
1967 The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy) #4 AC (Adult Contemporary)
1967"Come To The Sunshine #37
The album doesnt seem to have charted which is a little odd given the success of the singles. 1967 was a competitive year for all generations of music lovers.
1967 The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy) #34
Come to the Sunshine
The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)
The Debutante's Ball
Peter and the Wolf
I Can Hear the Darkness
Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear
- Vocalist Ted Templeman became a Warner Brothers producer and exec http://www.allmusic.com/artist/ted-templeman-mn0000029458/biography
- Drummer John Petersen had been with the Beau Brummels before Harpers Bizarre https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Petersen_(musician)
- “Wordsmith and arranger Van Dyke Parks recalls being the one who renamed the band for a counterculture audience that wouldn’t accept the square-sounding Tikis! Harpers Bizarre was then born”. https://theseconddisc.com/2011/12/come-to-the-sunshine-now-sounds-expands-remasters-harpers-bizarres-feelin-groovy/