Feelin' Groovy [Compilation]

by: Harpers Bizarre

Harpers Bizarre, the sunshine pop quintet led by future superstar producer Ted Templeman, has always been dismissed by the uninformed. Based on the fact that Harpers Bizarre's only really big hit was a choral version of Paul Simon's "The 59th Street Bridge Song," which producer/mastermind Lenny Waronker buffed to a lollipop shine, generations of critics have either mocked or (much more often) ignored the group. This is a shame, because Harpers Bizarre was clearly one of the most dryly witty and subtly subversive groups of the late '60s. Cynicism and sarcasm drip from all of Harpers Bizarre's records. Templeman and singing partner Dick Scoppettone were hip enough to undercut their choirboy harmonies with a brattiness that they termed -- three full decades before this became a teen buzzword -- "whatever." This is particularly evident on the several songs penned by Waronker's childhood pal Randy Newman; these are the definitive versions of "Happyland," "Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear," "The Debutantes Ball," and especially the virginity-loss fantasy "The Biggest Night of Her Life," due to the keen double meanings implicit in the drop-dead vocal readings. Sweetly innocent and knife-edge sharp at the same time, Templeman and Scoppettone were terribly underrated vocalists. Of course, the orchestral sunshine pop arrangements by Newman, Nick DeCaro, Perry Botkin, Leon Russell, and Van Dyke Parks (whose "Come to the Sunshine" and "High Coin" are particular highlights) are equal to Templeman and Scoppettone's complex vocal arrangements, making the group's four '60s albums pinnacles of orchestral pop. That said, this is a flawed collection that focuses two much on Harpers Bizarre's first two albums and ignores album number three, the brilliant and overlooked psychedelic patchwork The Secret Life of Harpers Bizarre, entirely. This collection is wonderful to listen to, and Gene Sculatti's liner notes suggest that he gets the inside joke implicit in the group's very existence, but this could have been so much more. ~ Stewart Mason

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