Leon Russell might have been reluctant to return to his pop music roots when producer Lenny Waronker invited him to sit in the arranger’s chair for Harpers Bizarre’s 1967 debut album. But in retrospect, a Master of Time and Space must have been involved in any LP that listed among its credits Randy Newman, Van Dyke Parks, Paul Simon, Richard Rodgers and Sergei Prokofiev! The California quintet’s Feelin’ Groovy long-player is still one of the boldest, most imaginative and most fun debut albums of all time, and it’s getting the red carpet treatment from the fine folks at Now Sounds! The Deluxe Expanded Mono Edition of Feelin’ Groovy expands the original 10-band album to a packed 26 tracks. And what a groovy complement of bonuses they are: instrumentals, single mixes, and seven tracks from the band’s earlier incarnation, The Tikis!
At the time The Tikis (a.k.a. Dick Yount, Eddie James, John Petersen, Dick Scoppettone and Ted Templeman) found themselves on the roster of Warner Bros. Records, the young turks running the water tower were making Burbank the place to be. Under the direction of Mo Ostin, Joe Smith and Lenny Waronker, Warner Bros. was establishing a hip, young identity. The label that had begun in 1958 with Tab Hunter and Jack “Just the facts, ma’am” Webb on the roster was now expanding its ranks to include The Tokens (It’s a Happening World!), The Everly Brothers, The Association, The Beau Brummels and The Grateful Dead. Like The Tikis, The Beau Brummels came to Warner via the label’s acquisition of the Bay Area-based Autumn Records, and Tikis member John Petersen was himself an ex-Brummel. And the embryonic Dead had actually shared stages in the past with The Tikis. In this fertile, creative atmosphere, producer Waronker keenly matched artist to song when he offered the soon-to-be Harpers Bizarre a completely original reworking of Paul Simon’s “The 59th Street Bridge Song.” Wordsmith and arranger Van Dyke Parks recalls being the one who renamed the band for a counterculture audience that wouldn’t accept the square-sounding Tikis! Harpers Bizarre was then born.
In Simon and Garfunkel’s original version, the song is casual (almost tossed-off), low-key and completely charming. In the arrangement crafted by Waronker and master orchestrator Leon Russell, “The 59th Street Bridge Song” became an ambitious pocket symphony, complete with choir and baroque instrumental interlude. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that this big reworking retained the innocent, carefree spirit of the original. In reissue producer Steve Stanley’s compelling liner notes, Waronker recounts Russell winning him over with his intricate charts for instruments unusual to the typical AM single. Unsurprisingly, the musicians of the Los Angeles Wrecking Crew were deployed in full force, including Russell himself on piano, Glen Campbell on guitar, Hal Blaine on drums, and other names that should be familiar to those reading this, like Joe Osborn, Carol Kaye and Lyle Ritz (bass) and Mike Deasy, Al Casey and Tommy Tedesco (guitar). “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” b/w “Lost My Live Today” (a Tikis track that is, of course, included here) made it all the way to the Top 15 on the pop charts.
Though it gives the album its title, the song is just the tip of the iceberg here. Waronker called on his best friend Randy Newman for three tracks. Each one shows Newman the songwriter blossoming; the uptown soul craftsman of “I Don’t Want to Hear It Anymore” and “I’ve Been Wrong Before” was morphing into the familiar creator of offbeat, idiosyncratic, character-driven songs that couldn’t have come from anyone else’s pen. Hence, “Happyland” and “The Debutante’s Ball” were recorded by Harpers Bizarre along with the song that Newman calls “the first song that sounds like me,” “Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear.” Newman provided his own impressive arrangements for these incisive early compositions. He was in good company, and not just with Leon Russell; Perry Botkin, Jr. (frequent Harry Nilsson collaborator) and Ron Elliott (of the Beau Brummels) also contributed arrangements. Another key member of the Harpers team was Van Dyke Parks, whose “Come to the Sunshine” was selected to open the album. Parks had already recorded the tune himself, but he returned to play piano for the Harpers Bizarre version. Songwriter Larry Marks contributed “Come Love” to Harpers’ album, and when he produced Liza Minnelli’s A&M debut in 1968, he championed Newman to the young singer. Minnelli recorded both “Happyland” and “The Debutante’s Ball” for her own album!
In addition to his work on the title song, Leon Russell offered two songs of his own, “Raspberry Rug” and “I Can Hear the Darkness.” Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Happy Talk” was removed from the character of Bloody Mary and the exotic locale of South Pacific for a groovy reinterpretation. The most far-out track, though, was the Prokofiev adaptation “Peter and the Wolf” by Ron Elliott and his frequent partner Bob Durand!
It would be difficult to second-guess Waronker’s decision to stack Feelin’ Groovy with songs by so many accomplished writers. But the bonus tracks on this expanded edition are particularly illuminating as all seven Tikis/Other Tikis cuts (the entire released output of the group under those names) are written by the band members, who took a backseat as writers and musicians on their debut album. These songs reveal the folk origins and diversity of influences that helped shape the Harpers Bizarre sound, and they make for a could-have-been alternate debut album.
The colorful 16-page booklet draws on interviews with principals including Lenny Waronker and Dick Scoppettone, and includes a number of rare photos as well as a reprint of the original LP jacket (with Warner liner note guru Stan Cornyn’s original copy intact). Alan Brownstein has remastered the album and has mixed the instrumental tracks making their first-time appearances. You’ll want to savor these instrumentals, especially, as they reveal in detail the elaborate arrangements and precision in the Wrecking Crew’s playing!
Harpers Bizarre’s second LP, Anything Goes, will be next in Now Sounds’ series. In the meantime, this eagerly-awaited reissue makes a fine companion piece to Rhino Handmade’s box set dedicated to The Beau Brummels’ Bradley’s Barn. Bradley’s features much of the same personnel as the Harpers album, and the Rhino box has been designed by Now Sounds’ Steve Stanley. Feelin’ Groovy: Deluxe Expanded Mono Edition is in stores in the U.K. now, and Amazon.com is currently showing a December 27 release date on American shores. You can pre-order at the link below!
Harpers Bizarre, Feelin’ Groovy (Warner Bros. W-1693, 1967 – reissued Now Sounds CRNOW 30, 2011)
- Come to the Sunshine (Van Dyke Parks)
- Happy Talk (Rodgers–Hammerstein)
- Come Love (Marks–Bergman–Keith)
- Raspberry Rug (Russell–Washburn)
- 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) (Paul Simon)
- The Debutante’s Ball (Randy Newman)
- Happyland (Randy Newman)
- Peter and the Wolf (Durand–Elliott–Prokofev)
- I Can Hear the Darkness (Washburn–Russell)
- Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear (Randy Newman)
- Come to the Sunshine (Instrumental) (Van Dyke Parks)
- 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) (Instrumental) (Paul Simon)
- Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear (Instrumental) (Randy Newman)
- Come Love (Marks–Bergman–Keith) (Instrumental)
- Happyland (Instrumental) (Randy Newman)
- The Debutante’s Ball (Instrumental) (Randy Newman)
- 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) (Mono 45) (Paul Simon)
- Come to the Sunshine (Mono 45) (Van Dyke Parks)
- The Debutante’s Ball (Mono 45) (Randy Newman)
- Bye, Bye, Bye (The Other Tikis) (Scoppettone–Templeman)
- Lost My Love Today (The Other Tikis) (Scoppettone–Templeman)
- Pay Attention to Me (The Tikis) (Edward–Scoppettone–Templeman–Yount)
- If I’ve Been Dreaming (The Tikis) (Edward–Scoppettone–Templeman–Yount)
- Blue Eyes (The Tikis) (Scoppettone–Templeman)
- Darkest Night of the Year (The Tikis) (Scoppettone–Templeman)
- I’ll Never Forget About You (The Tikis) (Scoppettone–Templeman)
Tracks 1-10 from Feelin’ Groovy, Warner Bros. LP W-1693, 1967
Tracks 11-16 previously unreleased
Track 17 from Warner Bros. single 5890, 1967
Tracks 18-19 from Warner Bros. single 7028, 1967
Tracks 20-21 from Autumn single 28, 1966
Tracks 22-23 from Autumn single 18, 1965
Tracks 24 & 26 first released on Dance with Me: The Autumn Teen Sound, Big Beat/Ace CDWIKD 128, 1994
Track 25 first released on San Francisco Roots, Vault LP 119, 1968