Song Of The Week: “Incense And Peppermints” by Strawberry Alarm Clock

Welcome to the 60’s that are inside the head of everyone who wasn’t actually there.

It’s not the surf music, or Motown, or swingin’ pop that leaps to the minds of the Baby Boom offspring, the disco babies and arcade kids and those who followed in the wake — it’s the tripped out, smoke-filled, swirly-wirly, multi-colored majesty of psychedelia. That’s where it’s at, man. And Strawberry Alarm Clock helped put it there.

Formed in Los Angeles, CA in the mid-60s, the group with one of the most distinctive names in rock began as the much less surreal Thee Sixpence. They released a few singles under this name with little success, and there was no indication that things were about to change when they went into the studio in early 1967 to record the B-side to their next single, the not necessarily commercially titled A-side, “The Birdman Of Alkatrash.”

All the group had at this point was an untitled instrumental track, co-written by keyboardist Mark Weitz and guitarist Ed King. Once recorded, their producer took it upon himself, without the band’s knowledge, to send a tape of the song to a young Los Angeles songwriter named John Carter who had recently scored a very minor hippie-oriented hit called “That Acapulco Gold.” Carter listened to the trippy backing track and wrote some suitably trippy lyrics with his roommate.

Back in the studio, Thee Sixpence initially expressed displeasure with the situation, either because they didn’t like an outsider writing the lyrics or because they didn’t like the actual lyrics. As a young and hitless band, they had little choice but to soldier on. Everyone in the group had a go at singing lead, but nobody sounded quite right, so 16-year old Greg Munford, a friend who they drafted in to provide backing vocals, stepped up to give it a try. He nailed it, and since it was just a B-side after all, who cared if he wasn’t actually a member of the group.

Released as a single in the spring of 1967 on the tiny All American label, DJs in California immediately dismissed the A-side in favor of the much catchier flip side, “Incense And Peppermints.” Around this time, Thee Sixpence discovered, much to their dismay, a number of other bands existed with variants of their name. So they took the Strawberry from “Strawberry Fields Forever” by The Beatles, and paired it with an object in their rehearsal space, an Alarm Clock. Simple. And when UNI Records picked up the single for national distribution, it was Strawberry Alarm Clock on the label, and Strawberry Alarm Clock with the #1 song in the US in November of 1967.

So don your kaftans and light the patchouli. Things are about to get totally groovy.

Epilogue:  Guitarist Ed King joined Lynyrd Skynyrd a few years later, playing bass and guitar on their first three albums, and co-writing “Sweet Home Alabama” — that’s Ed playing the classic opening riff.

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