Strawberry Alarm Clock was a psychedelic rock band from Los Angeles, known for their 1967 hit "Incense and Peppermints". They are often thought of as a "one-hit wonder", although they charted two Top 40 songs, and five Top 100 songs.
The group originally consisted of Ed King (lead guitar), Mark Weitz (keyboards), Lee Freeman (rhythm guitar), Gary Lovetro (bass), and Randy Seol (drums). On their first and most famous single, "Incense and Peppermints", none of the band wanted to sing songwriter John Carter's lyrics, so lead vocals were sung by Greg Munford, a 16-year-old friend of the band, although the regular vocalists sang backup. The song reached #1 on the Billboard pop singles chart in late 1967. Mark Weitz and Ed King were denied songwriting credit by the band's producer because they did not write the melody line or the lyrics, though the song was built on an instrumental by Weitz with a bridge by King originally intended as a B-side to "Birdman of Alkatrash," which ultimately became the B-side to "Incense and Peppermints." The original composition that became "Incense and Peppermints" was titled "The Happy Whistler."
After that success the band added George Bunnell (bass and rhythm guitar) before making their first LP in 1967, also titled Incense and Peppermints, which hit #11 on the album charts. Bunnell would also become their main songwriter. Some early Strawberry Alarm Clock songs were penned by George Bunnell and Steve Bartek (who would much later join Oingo Boingo, as well as orchestrate Danny Elfman's film scores). Bartek played flute on the first two albums, but could not join the band because of school.
During the band's short life, it saw many lineup changes. Gary Lovetro left the band before the second album, Wake Up... It's Tomorrow, (also 1967). He was briefly replaced by ex-Electric Prunes bassist Mark Tulin, but it didn't work out. The single "Tomorrow" from this album was a minor hit and their only other top 40 appearance, reaching #23 in early 1968. "Sit with the Guru" charted at #65 and "Barefoot in Baltimore" charted at #67, but both had lyrics that were written for them, the latter song being particularly annoying to the band, turning what they considered a challenging rock instrumental into an embarrassing pop song. Finally, "Good Morning Starshine" from Galt MacDermot's Hair, which was forced onto the band by the producers, charted at #87. "Tomorrow" was the only hit that was fully the band's. Bunnell and Seol left the band in 1968 and original "Incense and Peppermints" drummer, Gene Gunnels, rejoined along with new lead singer, Jim Pitman. In 1969, Pitman left, and was replaced by Paul Marshall, who remained with the group until they disbanded in 1971. For a short time Jeremy Levine, after his departure from The Seeds, briefly replaced Lee Freeman on rhythm guitar during the summer of 1968. Although the group followed up with more LPs in 1968 (The World in a Seashell, with two songs Carole King was hired to write by the band's producer) and 1969 (Good Morning Starshine, a bluesier album with its title track derived from Hair) the band had begun to fall apart and the audience was mostly gone. In various forms the group managed to keep performing until 1971, when it finally broke up and the remaining band members went the way of the four winds, to so-named "real jobs."
Strawberry Alarm Clock made two notable appearances in films, first in the 1968 Jack Nicholson movie Psych-Out, where they played several songs, including "Incense and Peppermints", "Rainy Day Mushroom Pillow", "The World's on Fire", and "The Pretty Song From Psych-Out", and then in the 1970 Russ Meyer camp classic Beyond the Valley of the Dolls where they played "Incense and Peppermints", "I'm Comin' Home", and "Girl From The City", both written by Paul Marshall.
Ed King went on to join Lynyrd Skynyrd. Several members of Strawberry Alarm Clock reunited in the 1980s to perform on oldies concert tours. The first reunion occurred when guitarist Lee Freeman spotted a newspaper ad promoting an appearance by the Strawberry Alarm Clock at a Los Angeles music club. Original member Freeman knew nothing about this gig, and went to the club to investigate. There he discovered that the advertisement had actually been a plot by the club's owners to get the real band to reunite.
The original band lineup reunited to perform an approximately one-hour set at the Virginia Theatre in Champaign, IL, on April 29, 2007. The event was part of the last day of Roger Ebert's ninth annual Overlooked Film Festival and was preceded by a screening of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. The band, including Steve Bartek as a full member on both lead guitar and flute, has gone on to play several other gigs in 2007.
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