Bob Irwin should be in the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. Or at least have his own star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame. Or maybe have a star named after him. And the reason why is really quite simple. Over 30 years ago, he started a label called Sundazed and literally changed the world of CD reissues. From the label’s debut, THE FABULOUS KNICKERBOCKERS in 1989 to the label’s most recent releases, they’ve been handled with love and care. Great mastering, packaging, liner notes, and the addition of bonus tracks when available, every Sundazed release is a work of art and labor of love. The label has released catalog titles by The Velvet Underground, Buck Owens, Link Wray, Byrds, Meters, Bob Dylan, Love, MC5, Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash, and many others.
While steering the Sundazed ship, Bob also had a 25-year relationship as a producer for Sony Music. Bob curated and restored titles by Santana, Janis Joplin, The Byrds, Sly & The Family Stone, Simon & Garfunkel, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jefferson Airplane, Donovan, and Carole King. Oh, and loads of others as well. There’s a pretty good chance that if you are a collector, you own at least 29 titles that Bob has worked his magic on!
I’ve collected Sundazed CDs throughout the years. And going through their catalog, I’ve decided to share my thoughts on some of my favorite titles on the label. Some are obscure while others are cult classics. All of them are very much worth your time. And some of them are even available on vinyl! However, I’m a CD man so that is what I’m focusing on below.
OK, let’s get this party started. Grab your favorite beverage and start taking notes!
ASTRO SOUNDS FROM BEYOND THE YEAR 2000
This is a mind-blowing experience for all who love everything from Surf to Exotica. Famed Wrecking Crew guitarist Jerry Cole and friends recorded an instrumental album in 1967 called THE ANIMATED EGG. Two years later, those tracks were overdubbed with strings, retitled and released as ASTRO SOUNDS FROM BEYOND THE YEAR 2000. The results are nothing short of miraculous. It Rocks, it swirls, it twirls, it whizzes, it soars, it… is pretty incredible. The music is tough, funky, experimental, and, at times, just plain strange. Beloved by the Rock and Exotica crowds, this album was also issued under the ‘band’ name 101 Strings but this is the best sounding version released.
The Buckinghams/TIME & CHARGES and PORTRAITS
Two albums from 1967 by the American Pop outfit. One of the many unique aspects of the band’s music is that they incorporated strings and brass into their soulful Sunshine/Soft Pop sound. This disc contains their second and third full-length albums, neither of which features their biggest hit, “Kind Of A Drag”. However, they are still filled with some great tunes. TIME & CHARGES contains the singles “Mercy Mercy Mercy” and “Don’t You Care” plus an ace version of The Beatles’ “I’ll Be Back”. PORTRAITS is an edgier, more varied affair. Including the singles “Hey Baby (They’re Playing Our Song” and “Susan,” the album proves that the band’s blend of Soul, Garage Rock, and Sunshine Pop was emotional, deep, and meaningful.
Chad & Jeremy/DISTANT SHORES
Originally released in 1966, DISTANT SHORES was the British duo’s fifth studio album. In many ways, this album was a bridge between their earlier more commercial Merseybeat Folk recordings and their step into Psychedelia with OF CABBAGES AND KINGS (1967). While Chad & Jeremy wrote a few songs on the album, the rest of the material is penned by outside writers. Their bass player, James Guercio penned the album’s outstanding title track as well as “I Won’t Cry.” Paul Simon’s “Homeward Bound” appeared on this album before Paul & Artie released their own version. Gordon Lightfoot’s “Early Morning Rain” is loose and spirited. “Everyone’s Gone To The Moon” – penned by Jonathan King – is quite lovely. Overall, the album is a splendid reminder of just how great the duo was and how they should be held in higher esteem these days. This CD features 13 bonus tracks including non-album singles, outtakes and more.
The Cryan’ Shames/SUGAR & SPICE
The Cryan’ Shames/A SCRATCH IN THE SKY
The Cryan’ Shames are often referred to as a Garage Rock band but one spin of these albums and you’ll realize that they were much more than that. From Sunshine Pop to Psychedelia, the band traveled down many musical paths – sometimes at the same time!
SUGAR & SPICE – which includes the hit single of the same name – relies mostly on cover versions. Influenced by the janglier side of Folk Rock and Garage, the album is a delight even with its rough edges. “We Could Be Happy”, one of four songs penned by band member Jim Fairs, is a definite highlight and points in the direction of the band’s next album. The six bonus tracks on this CD make it even sweeter!
A SCRATCH IN THE SKY is a revelation. Almost every track on the album is penned by the band’s Jim Fairs and Lenny Kerley. “The Sailing Ship” is pure Psych-Pop with a bagpipe solo, which is something that you don’t hear too often. “It Could Be We’re In Love” is downright glorious Sunshine Pop. “The Town I’d Like To Go Back To” is compelling Psych Jazz. And then there’s the inspired version of “Up On The Roof,” which embraces the emotional power of the original version while adding layers of Sunshine Psych to the mix. The seven bonus tracks are just icing on the cake!
The Cyrkle/RED RUBBER BALL
The Cyrkle/THE MINX (Soundtrack)
Yes, I’m going to use a cliché right up front: The Cyrkle is highly under-rated. This American Pop outfit should be adored by Beatles fans everywhere: they were managed by Brian Epstein, John Lennon helped name the band (and offered up the unique spelling) and the band toured with The Beatles. Regardless of their connection to the Fab Four, The Cyrkle made great records. Sunshine Pop, Folk Rock, Jangle, and Psych were descriptions that you could use to define their output, depending on what song you were listening to.
Their 1966 album RED RUBBER BALL features the massively popular title track (penned by Paul Simon and Bruce Woodley) and the equally infectious “Turn-Down Day” plus eight additional bonus tracks. The album is a feast of great hooks and melodies that fully embrace the joy of Pop music. While not quite Sunshine Pop, The Cyrkle certainly get pretty damn close!
1967’s NEON offered up more thoughtful sampling of their uplifting Pop. While the album sounds a wee bit stripped down compared to the debut, it travels a more varied path. There’s even a few spots of sitar on the album – most ironically on a cover of The Beatles’ “I’m Happy Just To Dance With You”, which is a Lennon/McCartney song that George sang! Sadly, singer/songwriters Don Dannemann and Tom Dawes had fewer originals on the album than on their previous, but that was going to change on their next album. This CD reissue adds nine non-album singles, unreleased tracks and more.
Recorded in 1967 but not released until 1970, the soundtrack to the ‘60s soft-core movie THE MINX is a huge step forward. Not only do Dannemann and Dawes provide some great self-penned Pop tracks for the soundtrack, they also wrote and arranged the incidental music/instrumentals. From Sunshine Pop to Psyche, Exotica to Rock, THE MINX showcases the talents of the two songwriters in ways that you could never have imagined on their first two albums. And with eight bonus tracks, this is a truly essential release. You really need to dive into their small catalog and experience it for yourself!
The Daisy Chain/STRAIGHT OR LAME
This 1967 album is an intriguing one. The Daisy Chain was an OC/LA female quartet with big dreams and a batch of self-penned songs. Not quite Garage Rock, The Daisy Chain tackled everything from Psyche Rock to Motown-influenced Pop on this album. A legendary album to say the least, it drips of ambition and passion. And while not as slick as their contemporaries, The Daisy Chain offers up their own spin with a Hippie spirit. You can almost smell the ‘incense’ and beer while cranking this loudly!
The Five Americans/THE BEST OF…
This quintet of Rock ‘n’ Roll troublemakers ignored the Merseybeat craze and embraced a homegrown sound that combined Garage Rock with the Blues-infused ravings of bands like the Yardbirds. That certainly didn’t mean that they didn’t bring the tunes. “I See The Light,” “No Communication,” and “Good Times” may have been a little rough, but they still brought home the melodies. “Western Union,” their most recognizable hit, is pure genius. This collection reveals the band’s many different personalities – from Garage rockers to Byrds-influenced Pop Rock gems. There’s even a few acoustic-based beauties – including the lovely “Now That It’s Over” – thrown in for good measure. 25 tracks including two previously unreleased nuggets.
Gene & Debbe/PLAYBOY: THE BEST OF…
Caught somewhere between Nancy & Lee and Johnny & June, Gene & Debbe mixed chart friendly Pop Rock with Country & Western and ended up with a chart hit – “Playboy.” This collection of releases spanning the years 1967-68 is nearly flawless. The songs on this collection are all based around politics of the heart. From professing love to lamenting the end of a relationship, this is classic ‘60s Pop that will appeal to lovers of Sonny & Cher and Sonny James. Many of the tracks on this collection were penned by Gene himself – Gene Thomas to be exact. This set will melt your heart!
Jon & Robin/DO IT AGAIN: THE BEST OF…
There’s a touch of darkness lurking deep within the music of Jon & Robin that keeps them from sounding completely innocent… but that is why they are so fun to listen to. If Jon & Robin were your neighbors, you’d probably assume that they were pot smoking swingers! The music on this compilation has Soft Pop tendencies but the musical nods to Psyche place these recordings just north of ‘groovy’. Obvious comparisons would be Nancy & Lee and Sonny & Cher, but Jon & Robin are a lot looser, offering up a load of duets that may not have sailed to the top of the charts but are more than worthy of your attention.
The Knickerbockers/THE CHALLENGE RECORDINGS (4CD)
What an amazing collection of tracks by a band that just doesn’t get enough love. The Knickerbockers scored big with their 1965 Merseybeat-inspired hit “Lies” (included here) but they wrote a load of tracks that were just as good – if not better! – than that career-defining song. Mostly chronological, this set allows the listener to experience the growth of the band from early 1965 up through late ’67. Initially, the band cranked out solid cover versions of songs by The Kinks, The Beatles, Petula Clark, Tom Jones, and other contemporaries. They also recorded some ace tracks penned by their producer Jerry Fuller. However, when band members Beau Charles and Buddy Randell started cranking out their own classics, the game changed for The Knickerbockers. “Lies” was one of those tracks and it gave the band confidence to record more of their own material. They continued to record more covers and the band’s whole vibe began to improve in such a short amount of time. When the band couldn’t maintain their commercial momentum (thank to record label gaffes), they started falling apart by 1968, finally closing up shop in 1970. But have no fear, their amazing body of work can be found in this box – well, at least the mono recordings can be found here. 80 tracks and hours of listening pleasure, this is a box that should NOT be overlooked. The Knickerbockers recorded so much awesomeness in such a short amount of time…
The Left Banke/WALK AWAY RENEE/PRETTY BALLERINA
The Left Banke/THE LEFT BANKE TOO
This band is so beloved in music circles that it is difficult to write about them without stating what has already been written so many times before. They’ve been referred to as masters of Baroque Pop and favorites of those who love Sunshine Pop and Soft Pop and you’ll understand why once you’ve heard these albums. “Pretty Ballerina” is one of their key tracks but they are best known for “Walk Away Renee,” a song that could make a hardened man cry. The Left Banke blended American Pop with British influences and ended up sounding wholly unique. While the debut album is the better of the two releases, both albums are more than worthwhile purchases. They will make you cry – they are THAT good and THAT beautiful! With inventive arrangements and loads of hooks, highlights from the albums include the aforementioned hits plus “Goodbye Holly,” “Nice To See You,” “She May Call You Up Tonight,” and ‘I’ve Got Something On My Mind.”
Attilio Mineo/MAN IN SPACE WITH SOUNDS
A perfect addition to your Exotica collection, these 1959 recordings were originally dedicated to the Seattle World’s Fair. Intended to depict ‘our future in space’, this set includes swooping strings, xylophones, Hammond organ, bongos, early electronics, narration, and so much more. More than just a collection of ‘songs’, this release deserves to be heard in its entirety. Nostalgia is more about looking back but it is even more fascinating to look back and experience the past looking forward. Modern times seem so boring when you realize just how exciting ‘the future’ was back then.
Mr. Gasser & The Weirdos/HOT ROD HOOTENANNY
Mr. Gasser & The Weirdos/RODS ‘N’ RATFINKS
Mr. Gasser & The Weirdos/SURFINK
More than just a series of albums dedicated to hotrods and surfing, this trio of albums – released between 1963 and ’65 – are true reflections of a simpler time in California history. If you want to discover a true mixture of the various aspects of early ‘60s Pop culture, then grab these now! Mr. Gasser is artist/cartoonist/car-customizer Ed Roth, best known for creating the character Rat Fink, the star of all three album covers. The Weirdos were a collective of studio musicians and vocalists who were in charge of creating the music that you can experience on these three albums. Just sit back and enjoy surf and hot-rod music created by legends like Gary Usher, Jackie “Robyn” Ward, Chuck Girard, Richard Burns, Darlene Love, Glen Campbell, Jerry Cole, Howard Roberts, Hal Blaine, Leon Russell, Steve Douglas, Cliff Hils, James Burton, Billy Strange, Ernie Freeman, Carol Kaye, Steve LaFever, Earl Palmer, David Gates, and Neil Levang. Sure, some thought of these album as ‘novelty’ music… but those musicians have some serious clout! Essential!
Music Emporium/MUSIC EMPORIUM
Psych Rock meets Acid Folk on this 1969 album. Keyboards, wild guitars, Buddhist chants, and a hippie spirit drives this album from one end of the universe to the other. From musical freak-outs to gentle, reassuring passages, this is an album that offers up so much Psyche with some great little musical and vocal hooks that will haunt the caverns of your mind for years. CD includes five bonus tracks.
Paul Revere & The Raiders/JUST LIKE US!
Paul Revere & The Raiders/THE SPIRIT OF ‘67
I have a theory about how we view bands from the ‘60s. In my opinion, we lift up the bands who wrote a majority of their back catalog and often overlook the bands that relied on outside writers for material. Bands like The Searchers, Gerry & The Pacemakers, and, to some extent, The Monkees aren’t perceived as ‘cool’ because of their lack of self-penned hits at the beginning of their careers. You can add Paul Revere & The Raiders to that list as well – they are well loved by music fans but don’t get as much love as they deserve on oldies stations. Well, apart from the ‘hits’… Paul & The Raiders blended the crunch of Garage Rock with the soul of R&B and blasted out some great tunes during their successful career. And both albums listed here were produced by the late, great Terry Melcher, a music industry legend.
1966’s JUST LIKE US was the band’s fourth full-length but the first to be released after they became regulars on the TV variety show WHERE THE ACTION IS. Filled to the brim with edgy, bluesy rave-ups, the album is a classic example of WHY we should hold the band in higher esteem. They understood the primal energy of Rock ‘n’ Roll and they knew how to deliver it to a new young audience. And besides, the song “Action” is here! The CD includes three bonus tracks.
THE SPIRIT OF ’67 was their THIRD album released in ’66. The Garage Rock roots are still present but the band has shifted a little, adding some subtle (and not-so-subtle) Beatles influences into their sound. On this album, the band penned nearly every song including gems like “Good Thing,” “Undecided Man,” and “In My Community.” While some songs seem to experiment with different sounds and styles, it is still a classic Paul Revere & The Raiders album. The CD features three bonus tracks.
Combining the beauty of PET SOUNDS with the creativity of SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEART CLUB BAND, this is one hell of an album. While the 1968 album was initially Gary Usher’s baby, singer/songwriter/producer Curt Boettcher stole the show. Not much more can be said of this album that hasn’t already been said – it is now one of the most iconic of all Sunshine Pop albums. However, the melodies and the emotions they evoke go much deeper than you’d expect. There’s a sense of pure joy battling with melancholy that makes this album very special. The CD includes nine bonus tracks including unreleased cuts and a mono mix of the fantastic “My World Fell Down” single.
The Strawberry Alarm Clock/INCENSE AND PEPPERMINTS
First off, that voice you hear on the Psyche Pop classic “Incense And Peppermints” is not one of the band members! It was sung by Greg Munford, a 16-year-old friend of the band who was a member of another band, Shapes Of Sound. And while that track is their most immediately accessible song, the album features plenty of great songs that are worth dipping into. This is Psyche Rock at its most melodically mesmerizing. “Birds In My Tree” has a particularly lovely melody. (NOTE: Oingo Boingo guitarist and Danny Elfman right-hand man Steve Bartek was an original member of SAC, playing flute on this album!)
The Toys/A LOVER’S CONCERTO/ATTACK
One of the most delightful non-Beatles singles of 1965 was “A Lover’s Concerto” by female trio The Toys (Barbara Harris, June Montiero, and Barbara Parritt). Surprisingly, The Toys were not signed to Motown – they were actually part of Bob Crewe’s DynoVoice Records roster! With two bona-fide hits – the aforementioned “A Lover’s Concerto” and “Attack” – it is surprising to learn that this was their only album. Tracks like “See How They Run” offer just as many goosebumps as the two single smashes. This CD adds two bonus tracks.
The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band/PART ONE
The ‘60s Psychedelic scene gave us a plethora of music to discover and listen to for decades to come. This interesting 1967 audio artifact still sounds wonderful, even though it can often feel a bit menacing. The band’s name is quite appropriate, judging by their ability to travel down different roads with each track, conjuring spirits and puffs of smoke from mystic lands. “I Won’t Hurt You” is very childlike, oddly propelled by the rhythm of a looped heartbeat. “Transparent Day” is glorious Byrds-like Jangle Pop. “Help, I’m A Rock” sounds like a go-go party in a vampire’s den. “Here’s Where You Belong” revisits the Byrds-influenced jangle while adding some thicker harmonies on the chorus. The instrumental “High Coin” features strong hints of Country Rock. A wild ride through the ‘60s, PART ONE is an album that seems like it was born in the haze of a drug den in the basement of a nice elderly couple. Which means that it is fab! The CD features two bonus mono mixes.
The Yellow Balloon/YELLOW BALLOON
Perhaps one of the most sunshiny of all Sunshine Pop bands, The Yellow Balloon was initially thrown together quickly in order to release songwriter/producer Gary Zekley’s version of the song “Yellow Balloon” in order to beat Jan & Dean’s version to the record stores and radio waves. Zekley had a specific sound in his head for what he wanted the song to sound like but Dean Torrance and his team wanted to do it their way. Within a few hours studio time, Zekley had his version of “Yellow Balloon” in the bag and the rest is history. The ‘band’ that recorded the rest of the album was made up of a talented group of guys including Don Grady, best known for his role as a Mousketeer on the original Mickey Mouse Club and as Robbie on My Three Sons. The album itself is a wonderful mix of great hooks, glorious harmonies, and loads of joyful merriment. Other highlights include “How Can I Be Down,” “Good Feelin’ Time,” “Springtime Girl,” “Baby, Baby It’ You” and so many others. The CD includes nine bonus tracks including a few rare Don Grady solo singles, unreleased tracks and more.
OK, kids. Time to go shopping!
(P.S. I don’t believe in streaming. But if you NEED to go sample some of these bands, please do so. I highly recommend you support retailers and e-tailers by purchasing physical product!)
Stephen SPAZ Schnee