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.
2 thoughts on “Strawberry Alarm Clock Perform “Incense and Peppermints””
Another wonderful choice, Rob. You are full of surprises, I must say! I was 12 years old when this song hit the CKLG Top 40 and it was the spaciest song on AM radio — even more so than Crimson and Clover by Tommy James and Shandells or Time Has Come Today by the Chambers Brothers.
The mere act of listening to Incense and Peppermints brought acid induced hallucinations to the 12-year-old imagination. I was afraid and entranced by it. Now, as you’ve pointed out, it merely sounds like a good blast from the past, but it is still indeed irresistible despite its popularity as a signpost for the psychedelic 60s.
Good background on the band, too, especially the fact that the vocals were done by a 16-year-old. Great sleuthing!
It’s a great track alright, David. I think the thing I like about it is that it’s kind of spooky sounding as well as being celebratory. Also, I like the outro – the sha-la-la Association-sounding vocals. I love how unexpected that is.
I was amazed to find out that Mumford was only 16. But, other members of the band who came on after this was recorded was about the same age. They were kind of a muso boy band in some ways. And one guy joined Lynyrd Skynyrd! Weird.
Thanks for comments!