Far out man! It didn’t get much groovier than this back in the summer of love (or fall)! The Strawberry Alarm Clock hit #1 in the U.S. on this day in 1967 with their psychedelic rock classic “Incense and Peppermints.” In so doing, it knocked the year’s top-seller, “To Sir With Love” by Lulu off the top after a lengthy stay.
To the surprise of many the shagadelic band was actually out of the L.A. area rather than a part of the British Invasion, although they have said that they went out of their way to sound British on this record. They had formed the year before when the spacey Thee Sixpence took on several of the members of another area band, Waterfyrd Traene. They’d put out four indie singles under the former name but started their new band name with a bang, man! They signed to Uni Records (which later merged with Decca to become MCA Records) and put out the song which captures the psychedelic vibe of the era as well as any as their debut single. Shortly thereafter, it became the title track to their first album, which also included such far out songs as “Rainy Day Mushroom Pillow” and “Tomorrow,” the follow-up which became their only other (but minor) top 40 hit.
For a hit by a band called Strawberry Alarm Clock, the gold single had two odd features. One was that when you look at the record, neither of the writers credited were in the band, even though it’s not a cover. And two, the singer wasn’t in the band. Doesn’t that blow your mind!
The song is credited to John Carter and Tim Gilbert. Now, no one disputes that Carter, a producer with Uni (although not of this record) penned the far out lyrics. No one seems all that certain who Gilbert is, or what he contributed to the hit. However, Mark Weitz, the band’s spokesman it would seem, and the keyboard player who made their sound one of the quintessential ones of the decade, claims (with much agreement from former band members) that he composed it, with a little help from guitarist Ed King. “The music was written by myself in early ’67 at my home in Van Nuys,” he says, “with some help on the bridge from Ed King. It was midday and no drugs were involved,” surprisingly enough. “The lyrics, that was the brainchild of John Carter… there are many stories to how he came about those” the keyboardist suggests. However, Uni Records gave all the writing credit to Carter and the mystery Gilbert.
Meanwhile, while bassist George Bunnell sung a lot of the band’s material, for their sensational smash, it was 16 year-old Greg Munford taking the mic. Munford was a local teen in another, more or less unknown band who just liked hanging around the studio apparently and had the knack for singing this one song!
If one couldn’t tell from the look of the album cover, allmusic suggest “their image practically defined both the musical as well as peripheral aspects of the pseudo-psychedelic counter-culture” and that’s helped the song live on in the media as a virtual abbreviation for the druggy-’60s. It’s been used in Austin Powers‘ movies , as well as The Simpsons (where Homer hears it when trying medicinal marijuana) and any number of other ’60s throwbacks.
Two final notes on Strawberry Alarm Clock. One, if the name Ed King sounds familiar, you might be a southern rock fan. He went on to join Lynyrd skynyrd in the ’70s. And we said Mark Weitz is the band’s “spokesman. ” Yep, present tense, because the band is still going. According to their website, they “continue to add powerful new elements to the classic songbook.” If you’re in L.A. next month, you can see for yourself – they’re booked to play the Whisky A Go-go on Dec.16.