On a map of the psychedelic landscape, down a ways from the windmills of your mind and not too far from Strawberry Fields, somewhere between Itchycoo and MacArthur Parks, you might find the forest of Paul Parrish’s mind. The Michigan native could be best remembered for a couple of singer-songwriter albums on the Reprise and ABC labels in the 1970s, or as one-half of Parrish and Toppano in the 1980s…or perhaps as the lead vocalist of The Brady Bunch theme during the sitcom’s first season! But before all that, Parrish signed with MGM’s short-lived Music Factory label for a 1968 one-off: The Forest of My Mind. Over its twelve tracks, the troubadour delivered psychedelia ripe for the flower-power generation, with images of nature, seasons, animals and the elements recurring on almost every track and in many of the song titles, too. This soft throwback to a time when everything was beautiful – and a little mysterious, too – has just arrived in a beautifully crafted reissue from Now Sounds, rescued from the dustbins of vinyl obscurity and given a new, sparkling lease on life.
The Forest of My Mind, recorded at Tera Shirma Studios, may be one of the least Detroit-esque albums to come out of the Motor City as it by and large steered clear of R&B. So it might come as a surprise to some to find that veterans of Motown house band The Funk Brothers, including drummer Uriel Jones and bassist Bob Babbitt, played the exquisite arrangements here. Those charts came courtesy of the team of guitarist Dennis Coffey (a Funk Brother himself) and Mike Theodore, the same duo responsible for arranging and producing Sixto Rodriguez’s 1970 Cold Fact. Rodriguez melded folk with psychedelia and funk, and so did Paul Parrish, though with a quite different lyrical sensibility. The luscious production on Forest was handled by Clay McMurray, producer of Spyder Turner’s offbeat rendition of “Stand by Me.” Hired by Motown to be part of its quality control department, McMurray worked his way up to producer, and in 1971, he co-wrote and helmed Gladys Knight and the Pips’ R&B No. 1 “If I Were Your Woman.” Soon, further work came from The Temptations, The Spinners, and The Supremes, all heavy hitters in the Motown stable. Yet with Parrish, McMurray tapped into a Donovan-esque delicacy, dappled with sunshine.
On the twelve melodic nuggets on The Forest of My Mind, the timbre of Parrish’s voice most closely recalls Micky Dolenz’s, though there are slight echoes of Paul Simon and others throughout. The recurring pastoral imagery gives the whole project the feel of a song cycle. Taut guitar lines intertwine with atmospheric, plucked strings and spacey flute (think Charles Lloyd on “Feel Flows” and you get the idea) on “English Sparrows,” the album’s evocative opening track. The catchy title track is even funkier. Years before Billy Joel had a “heart attack-ack-ack-ack,” Parrish was inviting listeners to the “forest of his mi-i-i-i-ind” with far-out blasts of electric guitar. The song’s baroque outro illustrates just how many influences Parrish was incorporating into his music; that classical-inspired style comes to the fore on the storybook fantasy of “The Painter (Who Lives in the Cellar).” Singing of one who “lives within a shifting world of colors,” Parrish could well be describing himself. The lysergic, Donovan-esque “Dialogue of Wind and Lover” and “The White Birds (Return to Warm Seas)” both betray an Eastern influence in the arrangements; the latter has a particularly spellbinding harpsichord part.
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There’s a lilt to the soft ode “Suzanne” (not the 1966 Leonard Cohen song, but one about a “lover of autumn”) and a driving urgency to the whimsical “Tiny Alice,” on which Parrish pleads, “Why don’t you come back home, Tiny Alice?” (Had the songwriter been familiar with Edward Albee’s 1964 play of the same name?) Parrish’s harpsichord cuts through the tension of the song’s slashing strings. One of the strongest tracks on Forest is “Morning Train,” filled with possibility and the promise of a better day to come. Again, the arrangement perfectly complements the lyrics, with percussion evoking the train of the title, and prominent yet unobtrusive bass adding to the restless underpinning. Piano enhances the gentle, folk-rock “Something of a Love Song.”
There’s something most unusual about the penultimate track. The shimmering “Flowers in the Park” lyrically reflects Parrish’s positive worldview in hauntingly poetic terms. However, parts of its melody may seem rather familiar. Immediately – as in, from the very first line – “Flowers” recalls the melody of another “Park” song: Jimmy Webb’s much-misunderstood magnum opus, “MacArthur Park.” Parrish offers his insights in reissue producer Steve Stanley’s excellent liner notes, recalling how much he felt Webb’s song sounded like his own. Passing no judgment, however, Stanley helpfully points out that Forest of My Mind was mixed in June 1968 (the recording dates could not be determined), two months after Richard Harris’ “MacArthur Park” was released as a single. “Flowers” doesn’t morph into an epic of “MacArthur” proportions; it’s a much smaller song without the dynamics and grand changes of Webb’s composition. One can’t argue, though, with Parrish’s proclamation that “none of us live in a vacuum.”
Just a couple of choice cover versions feature on The Forest of My Mind. Parrish offers a deliberate, perfectly respectable run through The Beatles’ “You’ve Got to Hide (Your Love Away),” as it’s billed on the LP, along with The Four Tops’ “Can’t Help Myself.” The latter, the album’s closing track, could have been an exciting choice had Coffey and co. attempted to rearrange it into the same pop-psych style as the rest of Forest. As recorded, though, the track feels out of place, with a more straightforward R&B rhythm chart than anything else on the album. The swirling strings alone don’t go far enough in reinterpreting the Holland/Dozier/Holland favorite. Parrish’s vocals, too, can’t erase the memories of Levi Stubbs! Still, the track is a testament to the versatility of the musicians and to Parrish’s willingness to experiment.
Two crisp mono versions have been appended to Now Sounds’ reissue: the title track and “The White Birds,” which were the A- and B-sides, respectively, of Parrish’s lone single from the album. Steve Stanley’s design of the entire package is period-perfect, as collectors of Now Sounds’ releases know well by now. In fact, this title marks the 50th release for the Cherry Red-affiliated label which began in 2008 with the indispensable Sunshine Girl featuring the complete recordings of The Parade. Since then, Now Sounds has dug deep to some of the most beguiling musical riches of the second half of the 1960s and beyond; Paul Parrish’s The Forest of My Mind is a perfect cap to the first chapter of the Now Sounds story. Here’s to the next 50, and further walks through similar forests of music and mystery.
- English Sparrows
- Walking in the Forest (Of My Mind)
- The Painter (Who Lives in the Cellar)
- Dialogue of Wind and Lover
- You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away
- Tiny Alice
- Morning Train
- Something of a Love Song
- The White Birds (Return to Warm Seas)
- Flowers in the Park
- I Can’t Help Myself
- Walking in the Forest (Of My Mind) (Mono)
- The White Birds (Return to Warm Seas) (Mono)