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 Review archive:  # a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Harpers Bizarre - Come To The Sunshine-The Complete Warner Brothers [El/ Cherry Red - 2021]

Come To The Sunshine is a four-disc CD set collecting together most of the output of Californian based sunshine pop/ male harmony group Harpers Bizarre. The only thing missing here is the band fifth and final album As Time Goes By, which appeared some seven years after the band had split. If you enjoy bright, buoyant, sometimes playful & psychedelic-tinged  60’s pop with a grand & often showy feel- you’ll be happy as a pig in you know what with this collection.

The release appears on El, which is Cherry Red's more easy listening/ retro muzak focused sub-label. The four CD’s, each come in a mini reproduction of the original vinyl album artwork, coming presented in a darker sky blue card slip. Also featured is a twenty-four-page inlay booklet, this takes in a short write-up about the band's career, original album liner notes, full track listings, oh and a few groovy pictures of the five-piece.

Harpers Bizarre were formed from Tikis, a band from Santa Cruz, California, who in the mid-’60s had some local successes with their Beatle like sound. The Tikis were initially singed to Autumn Records between 1965 to 1966, releasing two singles on that label. Then in 1967, record producer Lenny Waronker approached the band with the idea of doing a cover Simon & Garfunkel’s  "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)".  They recorded it using an arrangement created by Leon Russell- this featured extended harmonies very reminiscent of the work of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys. The song was released under a new brand name, Harpers Bizarre, so as not to alienate the bands' original fan base – the new name was a play on US women’s fashion magazine Harper's Bazaar. The Harpers Bizarre version of the song reached No. 13 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart in April 1967, as well as reaching No. 34 on the UK Singles Chart - far exceeding anything the Tikis had done thus far. So it was decided the newly named band would record a debut album

The newly named band consisted of Ted Templeman -vocals, drums, guitar. Dick Scoppettone -vocals, guitar, bass, Eddie James -guitar, Dick Yount - bass, vocals, and John Petersen- drums, percussion, vocals. James would leave after the release of the group's second album and be replaced by Tom Sowell. And under the guidance of producer Lenny Waronker and Templeman, who emerged had as the leader of the group, the group would go onto record three quirky, playful and at points fairly inventive albums worth of 60’s pop- all of which were released on Warner Bros.

So first up on disc one we have the 1967 album Feelin' Groovy- this took in ten tracks, with this CD adding in two bonus single. As with all the bands albums the tracks where a mix of covers, and tracks written for the band by up and coming writers. We kick-off with the very fitting opener “Come To The Sunshine”- this is a jaunting 'n' swinging shot of Baroque & Broadway tipped pop, which was penned by songwriter & arranger Van Dyke Parks, who had also been involved in the writing of the Beach Boys Smile album. As we move on we come onto slight eastern tinged & string and wind tipped dippy-ness of “Raspberry Rug”. Before we drop into the song that launched the band "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)",  with its merry jaunting blend of horn, strings, and the band's rising-to-layered harmonies. In the albums second half we go from the Randy Newman penned joyful swooning and lush romp of “Happyland”, onto trippy-if-slightly down turned pop ballading of "I Can Hear The Darkness". All told a brief if largely pleasing debut.

Next up on disc two, we have Anything Goes, this was also from 1967, with the original album featuring fourteen tracks- with this disc been topped off with two additional singles. And it saw the band sonically layering up their sound with more orchestration, flowing and soaring harmonies, and quirky sound effects. We go from peddling piano layers & string swooned grandness of  Cole Porters "Anything Goes". Onto sassy and playful jaunting-ness of “Pocketful of Miracles”, through to climbing piano & orchestration glistening balldering of the Randy Newman penned “Snow”. With the latter half of the record going from the pant swing fiddle and string jig of “Louisiana Man”, onto twanging blues guitar pop-meets layered/ building harmonies of “You Need A Change”.

Disc three takes in 1968’s The Secret Life Of Harpers Bizarre, and this nineteen track album found the band at their most playfully grand, quirky, and varied. Though oddly it’s seen by some critics as their worse album, which I don’t understand at tall- as to my ears, it’s their wacky & varied masterpiece. Once again we get two extra singles on the CD, which for this album flow does rather thrown things out somewhat. The album kicks off with the swooning & rising showiness of “Look At The Rainbow”, moving onto clip-clop percussion & buzzing ‘n’ twangy guitar tones “When I Was A Cowboy” which also features wonderfully tacky gunshot samples.  We have the lush backing harmonies and orchestration tipped wonder of “Sentimental Journey”,  or darting sassiness of “Building A Stairway To Paradise” with its blend strumming ‘n’ bounding guitars and showy orchestration. Really where ever you drop down on this album you'll find either playfulness or hummable tunes, with the whole thing coming off like a selection of sonic postcards, as the band gentle darts & shifts between easy listening & light pop genres.

Finally, we have 1969’s Harpers Bizarre 4- this was an original twelve track album, with once more two bonus tracks. And this album was rather a departure from previous albums as it had a lot more guitar-focused sound, with a certain Mr Ry Cooder adding in some mean slide guitar elements. The band still has their vocal layers/ harmonizing, but they are played down for a more mellow pop slightly country-rock vibe- which often rather brought to mind a more polished version of the  Grateful Dead’s more harmony layered riched work. We kick off with the strutting & blues-tinged stomp of “Soft Sound Music”, moving onto snazzy horn & singing fiddle jive of “Hard To Handle”. Latter moving onto wicky- wacky jingling guitar-meets-rising synth jaunt of “I Love You, Alice B Toklas”, onto the decidedly Spanish guitar simmered come rising orchestration take on “Cotton Candy Sandman”.

If you enjoy bright, often playful, and largely orchestrated pop you need to be picking up Come To The Sunshine. And thanks to the folks at El/ Cherry Red for making the bands (well nearly) full body of work available again, as a reissue of these album was long. long overdue!.

Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5

Roger Batty
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