Fame does the damndest things to you, and what it did for the early 1960s harmony group The Tokens (best known for their 1962 hit The Lion Sleeps Tonight, the song based on the South African Zulu song Wimoweh) was inspire them to start their own record label. Independent record labels were not the norm in 1964, but that's exactly what The Tokens started when they created B.T. Puppy Records. B.T. Puppy was based around The Tokens' own publishing company Bright Tune Productions which garnered some hit records for the likes of the Chiffons (He's So Fine and One Fine Day) and The Happenings (See You In September and I Got Rhythm) whom both had LPs released on the The Tokens' own label B.T. Puppy at one point during their careers. What Rev-Ola has done with the second installment of the Phantom Jukebox series, is center their attention on the B.T. Puppy obscurities, records that had the hand of The Token's production but didn't reach the charts and to this today remained in the vaults or lost to obscure out of print 45/LP sides. Groups like The Sundae Train, The Scene, Canterbury Music Festival (who had their lone B.T. Puppy album Rain & Shine reissued recently by Rev-Ola), The Rock Garden, The Lollipop Tree, Randy & The Rainbows, Amanda Ambrose, The Steeple People, Beverly Warren, The Majic Ship, Bob Miranda (from The Happenings) and The Tokens themselves (Rev-Ola has also reissued The Tokens late 1960s album Intercourse).
Harmony vocal groups have had a consistent presence throughout the history of rock and pop, and The Tokens figure highly thanks to their worldwide smash The Lion Sleeps Tonight. As is the case with most harmony groups who aren't so lucky to reach The Tokens' height of fame, singing groups love to sing, and The Tokens weren't about to remain silent after their success. Doing the smart thing, they invested their money into a production company and other talents during their heyday in the 1960s. It's that independent spirit which can be heard on the lesser known sides found on the Rev-Ola disc Night Time Music. The Token's talent was lent to many of these groups, and the results are a breezy, harmony charged collection of pop confections. Along with the likes of Dave Appell (from The Applejacks, and also known for his work with the Cameo-Parkway house band backing such artists as Chubby Checker, Bobby Rydell, the Dovells and Dee Dee Sharp, writing and arranging many of their records like "Let's Twist Again", "Bristol Stomp" and "Mashed Potato Time" as well as working with The Tokens' Hank Medress producing hits for Tony Orlando and Dawn in the 1970s) and Brute Force (psuedonym for New York songwriter Stephen Friedland), The Token's helped some lesser known groups create an interesting hybrid music which combined the doo-wop harmony styled vocals of the early 1960s with the more modern Beatles inspired song structures of the mid to late 1960s.
The entire output of The Sundae Train is included here - all 4 songs, including the set opener Love Affair of Two Happy People (one of the few songs with fuzz guitar to be found in Tokens' land), Sing Sweet Barbara (a playful number, which interestingly is also the name for a rare Japanese Barbara Moore collection), the breezy, delightful I Wanna Be and the pensively twee Wake Up (Sleepy Girl) (the latter two songs in fact released on 20th Century Records and included here to properly complete The Sundae Train discography). The Sundae Train are a delight and the biggest highlight for me on Night Time Music. If lush, sweet, harmony pop and lyrics like "I wanna be a candyshop... spending everyday picking lollipops" is your thing, then you'll enjoy the lounge pop of The Sundae Train.
Canterbury Music Festival's B.T. Puppy album Rain & Shine was a delight to hear when finally reissued by Rev-Ola - the original lp was pressed in a small quantity of 150, and would often sell for $300 a pop when it could even be found. Two songs from that lp are included here, First Spring Rain (which was released under the band's original folk rock inspired name We Ugly Dogs) is an orchestrated delight about the rain in spring while Poor Man is a Tokens' composition originally recorded by The Tokens and has a delicately strummed guitar melody and aching vocals probably inspired by Simon & Garfunkel.
The Tokens offer up two songs recorded during this obscure phase in their career. Mister Snail was one of the best songs on the Canterbury Music Festival's album, but is heard here in the original Tokens' version (originally released on Warner Brothers). I'm forever enamored with the bassline and whimsical feel for this Beatles inspired tune. The Tokens were also very influenced by The Beach Boys' Smiley Smile phase, recording the incredible Intercourse album in the late 1960s which didn't find a proper release until recently. A naturally existential inspired album which looks at the lighter side of the dark side of life, I Could Be is one of the many highlights from the incredible stew of an album called Intercourse.
The Scenes' Scenes (From Another World) is a haunting bubblegum tune and the only song ever released by this group. The Steeple People are found here recording a rendition of The Tokens' ode to an office plant that won't die (honest) called Green Plant (a somewhat lack luster performance honestly). The Steeple People's Oh, Kathy works better, a mellow Jan & Dean inspired song to a girl.
The Rock Garden are the most rocking group here (of course), though the rocking Sweet Pajamas is way too noddling compared to the mystically sweet psych of The Tokens tune Perhaps the Joy of Giving.
Another lesser tune by Randy & the Rainbows is balanced by the superior rendition of I'll Be Seeing You, which is a rambuctiously inept take on this old chestnut.
The Majic Ship's Night Time Music is a pretty sweet harmony number, while Bob Miranda (lead singer from The Happenings, heard solo) tries his hand at Girl on a Swing (a song also covered by Gerry and the Pacemakers) puts the sacharine melodies to the test.
Two female singers add some variety
to the proceedings: Amanda Ambrose's Amanda's Man is an upbeat, soulful Brute
Force song. Beverly Warren's So Glad is a sweet soulful girl singer number
and is a real highlight of the set.
Overall I think it would not have hurt to include the bigger B.T. Puppy/Tokens productions to give a more over reaching history on the label and band's productions, but what's offered here is certainly a fascinating journey into the independent spirit of the 1960s. I look forward to much more in the Phantom Jukebox series.