Strawberry Alarm Clock – Wake Up Where You Are

January 01, 1970

Recording Artists)


The Strawberry
Alarm Clock is in the unenviable position of being both 1960s-era psychedelic legends
and a rock ‘n’ roll trivia question. The
band is remembered largely for their unexpected 1967 hit “Incense and
Peppermints,” the song originally the B-side of a long-forgotten single,
its authorship shrouded in controversy, just another musical footnote to the
decade. Truth is, however, that among their peers – bands like the Chocolate
Watchband and the Electric Prunes – the Strawberry Alarm Clock were arguably
the most talented and musically forward-thinking of the lot.


True, most
of these arguments over the relative status of a slew of obscure mid-to-late-60s
bands take place among rabid record collectors, fanatical psyche-rock
aficionados, and poorly-paid rock critics, but dammit, they still count for
something! The Strawberry Alarm Clock recorded four albums of varying quality
with an ever-changing line-up, the best of which included vocalist Lee Freeman,
vocalist/keyboardist Mark Weitz, guitarist Ed King, bassist George Bunnell, and
drummers Randy Seol and Gene Gunnels. The band’s first two albums, 1967’s Incense and Peppermints and the
following year’s Wake Up…It’s Tomorrow,
are both bona fide psychedelic classics, the former re-issued on CD in 2011 by
archive label Sundazed Records.


on, no doubt, by renewed interest in the band prompted
by their inclusion as part of the Nuggets garage-rock compilation, the Strawberry Alarm Clock re-united in the mid-1980s
and have been around, in one form or another ever since, usually sans Ed King,
who went on to fame and fortune as part of Lynyrd Skynyrd (but who has still
found time to sit in with his boys now and then). With Wake Up Where You Are, Strawberry Alarm Clock has delivered its
first new album in nearly 40 years, a strong collection of buried gems and new material
that contemporize the band’s psych-rock sound while still displaying the same
playful sense of musical experimentation that characterized the band’s first
two albums.


Wake Up Where You Are is no mere cash-grab
rehash of old glories – you won’t find “Incense and Peppermints” here
– but rather a creative bridge between the band’s sound as it is now and as it
was then. With a current line-up of Mark Weitz, George Bunnell, Randy Seol, and
Gene Gunnels from back in the old days, as well as long-time collaborator Steve
Bartek (guitar) and guitarist Howie Anderson (who joined in 1986), Strawberry
Alarm Clock has managed to bring their trademark psychedelic sound into the
21st century without losing an iota of the energy and vision that thrived on
their 1960s-era recordings, mixing old tunes with new, and even throwing in a
couple of choice cover songs.


enough, Wake Up Where You Are cranks
up with one of the aforementioned covers, the band offering their take on
fellow garage/psych-rockers the Seeds’ “Mr. Farmer,” an acid-rock cult
classic taken from an upcoming Sky Saxon tribute album. SAC does Mr. Saxon’s
musical eccentricity proud, delivering the curious tune with a claustrophobic
wash of instrumentation and a wild, buzzing electricity that perfectly captures the zeitgeist of the ’60s. A longer version
of the song, with more psychedelicized instrumentation, is tacked on near the
end of the album. Of the new material, “World Citizen” stands out,
the band seamlessly welding syncopated world music rhythms to socially-conscious
lyrics, the sort of song that wouldn’t sound out of place on a vintage ’80s Talking
Heads or Oingo Boingo album.


new song, Howie Anderson’s “Wake Up,” is a muscular rocker with
strident vocals and chiming guitars and keyboards that could easily pass for a
1990s-styled alt-rock number if afforded noisier production. The band’s cover
of the Fuzztones’ “Charlotte’s Remains” is oddly disconcerting, a
mind-bending trip both forwards and backwards in time, SAC an authentic ’60s
psych-rock band performing a song by a gang of 1980s-era ’60s revivalists…the
sort of M.C. Escher dichotomy that would have even Timothy Leary’s head
spinning around in circles. The band delivers the goods, though, making
“Charlotte’s Remains” sound even trippier and period-perfect than the
original version.


Of the
vintage Strawberry Alarm Clock material reinterpreted for Wake Up Where You Are, although the band passed by the chance to
remake its biggest hit, they still take a stab at a couple of their other
charting singles. “Sit With The Guru” sounds just as good as it did
in 1968 when it hit 65 on the charts; here it benefits from a new perspective,
with gorgeous backing harmonies joined by exotic, Eastern-flavored stringed
instrumentation and busy percussion. The band’s second biggest hit, the
Weitz/King song “Tomorrow,” peaked at 23 back in 1968, but it sounds
just as lively and vigorous in 2012. Again benefitting from luscious harmony
vocals and thick instrumentation, it’s a welcome slice of psyche-pop sunshine
driven by joyous keyboards and rolling drumbeats.


Alarm Clock walk a fine line on Wake Up
Where You Are
, managing to combine the youthful enthusiasm they shared in
the late 1960s with the experience and chemistry they’ve developed as a live
band through the years. The band’s first new album in nearly four decades
doesn’t disappoint, SAC delivering a strong set of performances that display a
luster provided by maturity, but tempered by a musical legacy that is as strong
as any of their contemporaries.   


DOWNLOAD: “World Citizen,”
“Tomorrow,” “Sit With The Guru”  REV. KEITH A. GORDON


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