Harpers Bizarre, The Complete Singles Collection

Probably the best known sunshine pop band among the genre's brief 1960s blossoming, this collection is the easiest way for modern ears to access their unusual discography. Fronted primarily by Ted Templeman, more famous later as a producer than a performer, their earlier works as the Tikis and the Other Tikis are best described as undistinguished and their presence on this collection merely counts for completeness. Fortunately, their recordings under their better known name are of far greater quality. To be sure, the band relied on covers almost to a fault ("Chattanooga Choo Choo" and their ponderous take on "Knock on Wood"), but they usually did them competently ("Both Sides Now," "Anything Goes" and Templeman's arrangement of "If We Ever Needed The Lord Before") and frequently as good or better than the original (particularly their big hit "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovy)" but also the lovely Van Dyke Parks track "Come To The Sunshine" and the hypnotically captivating "Witchi Tai To"). Unfortunately their efforts in broadening their oeuvre didn't work so well, such as their vain attempts at going country; "Virginia City"'s faux parochialism clangs (at least it's short), along with "Soft Soundin' Music" to a lesser extent and the out-of-place "Battle of New Orleans." Similarly, while "I Love You, Alice B Toklas!"'s psychedelia-soaked production doesn't wear as badly as those did, as an obvious product of its time it doesn't stand as an eternal classic either. Their artistic sense may not be nearly as sublime as other sunshine acts like the Free Design, but they were at least for awhile better attuned to pop music's fickle demands, and arguably thus aged better in the aggregate. However, this collection faithfully accumulates their highs and lows with equally determined precision, and we all know what that averages out to be. (Content: a couple sly drug references.)