Listen to this track, a classic slice of psychedelic pop from the oddly named (but not for the time) pop group Strawberry Alarm Clock. It’s their smash 1967 hit “Incense and Peppermints” and taken from the appropriately-named Incense and Peppermints album.
This song is not just a pop hit – it’s a sort of aural shorthand for an entire era, used in countless movie soundtracks to serve like a billboard that says ‘this film is set in the 1960s’. And even looking closer, you get a pretty good cross-section of the styles and textures of the time – Farfisa organ, fuzz guitar, and interlocking harmonies that draw from the Beach Boys and the Association. And in terms of style, this is psychedelia is intermingled with sunshine pop in such a way that makes it hard to resist.
Yet, the single originally began as being set to be a B-side, the lyrics written outside of the band by a publisher. It was even sung by someone outside of the band – 16 year old Gary Munford. After all, it wasn’t meant to be a flagship song for the band or anything – it was just a B-side!
Who knew that it would capture the imagination of a generation, and beyond? You can even hear it in the music of decades well afterward; Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” uses the same chord progression as this tune, albeit at a different tempo. The ‘Alarm Clock had a hit on its hands (no pun intended)!
After the initial success of the single, and after some line-up changes, an album was hastily put together by the end of the year. The band toured with Jimi Hendrix, the Who, Buffalo Springfield, and other top flight acts of the day, fashioning a sound that melds sunshine pop with trickier psychedelia akin to The Creation, although slowly jettisoning any efforts to appeal to the charts.
This was a move forward for the band, but like many acts that break out early with a smash hit, they were also weighted down by that hit. By the early 70s, they were no more. But, they had made their mark with this, one of the most infectious hits in pop music history.