At the movies with Strawberry Alarm Clock

Strawberry Alarm Clock at Ebertfest

The Strawberry Alarm Clock rocked out in two B-movie classics, “Psych-Out” with Jack Nicholson and “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,” directed by Russ Meyer. Above, band members at “Ebertfest” in 2007, where “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” screened.

‘Psych-Out’ was a wild ride for band

Psych-Out filmThe Strawberry Alarm clock went Hollywood in 1968, appearing in “Psych-Out” with a young Jack Nicholson. The SAC songs in the film are “Incense and Peppermints,” “Rainy Day Mushroom Pillow,” “The World’s on Fire” and “Pretty Song From Psych-Out.”

“Pretty Song” is the title number and the full band performs “Rainy Day Mushroom Pillow” (video below). Personnel: Randy Seol (vocals and bongos), Mark Weitz (keyboards), Ed King (guitar), Steve Bartek (flute), George Bunnell (bass) and Lee Freeman (drums).

Shot mostly in Los Angeles but set in San Francisco, “Psych-Out” told the tale of a deaf hippie runaway (Susan Strasberg) who hooks up with Nicholson’s character and his pals. Nicholson’s fictional band plays a big gig at “The Ballroom” on the same bill as the Strawberry Alarm Clock.

Other “Psych-Out” cast members of note include Bruce Dern, Dean Stockwell, Henry Jaglom and Adam Roarke. The movie was directed by Richard Rush, best known for “The Stunt Man.” Alas, MGM’s “Midnight Movies” DVD of the film cuts 11 minutes or so from its running time in order to make room for Peter Fonda’s “The Trip.”

The soundtrack album (unavailable on CD) has two Strawberry Alarm Clock tracks — “Rainy Day” and “The World’s on Fire” — but it begins with their “Pretty Song” performed by the Storybook, another Valley band. SAC plays the song in the film.

Bassist Bunnell recalled:

“We were asked by Dick Clark to take part in his movie ‘Psych-Out.’ He asked us not only to appear in it as ourselves, but to provide several songs as the landscape,” Bunnell told the L.A. Times.

“More importantly he asked us to write the theme song. He had been using Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Sounds of Silence’ as the temporary theme. He wanted something along those lines as the central character played by the late Susan Strasberg was deaf and blind.

“Lee (Freeman) immediately had an idea for the lyrics and along with our guitarist Ed King they wrote and sang one of the most gorgeous pieces of psych pop ever recorded, ‘Pretty Song From Psych-Out.’ Not the title they had intended the song to have … but, oh well.”

Trivia: Guitarist Ed King’s Vox guitar abruptly changes to a Fender Telecaster during “Rainy Day Mushroom Pillow.” Guitarist Lee Freeman played drums because Seol was up front singing.

Going ‘Beyond the Valley of the Dolls’

Strawberry Alarm Clock in Valley of DollsIn 1970, the Strawberry Alarm Clock returned to the big screen in Russ Meyers’ “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,” contributing the songs “Incense and Peppermints,” “I’m Comin’ Home”, and “Girl From the City.”

The band — Gene Gunnels, Lee Freeman, Ed King, Paul Marshall — made a cameo during a party scene (pictured) and backed up one of the stars as she sang. Marshall joined the band in 1969, the year the film was made.

Roger Ebert co-wrote the Fox film (yes, that Roger Ebert). It has since become a cult classic, released as a collector’s DVD set a few years back.

In 2007, members of the Strawberry Alarm Clock reunited and performed at the famed film critic’s “Ebertfest” (Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival) in Urbana-Champaign, Ill., where “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” unspooled as the closing film (pictured, top of page). Read Roger Ebert’s thank you letter to the band.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls albumEbert recalls hacking out the script in 1969 with Meyers, “laughing maniacally.” They intended to create “the first rock camp horror exploitation musical.” The movie had pretty much nothing to do with author Jacqueline Susaan and her original “Valley of the Dolls.”

The plot, such as it is, revolves around an all-girl band (The Carrie Nations), whose members are fresh off the boat in L.A. They’re soon plunged into a world of Hollywood hedonism teeming with sex, drugs and rock & roll. The movie has mild nudity, but enormous breasts popped up everywhere, in the cartoonish style of director Meyers (“Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!”). It was distributed with an X-rating, to Meyers’ surprise.

Fans often describe “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” as “so bad it’s good.” “It is unclear whether this is a 5-star movie or a 1-star movie,” one viewer commented.

Trivia: The movie’s line “It’s my happening and it freaks me out!” (Z-man) was reprised by Mike Meyers in “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.” (View fan mashup of “Austin Powers” opening clips and “Incense and Peppermints.”

SAC on TV

The Strawberry Alarm Clock appeared on many of the top television shows in the late 1960s. Above, the band works out on “The Steve Allen Show.” Below right, SAC keyboardist Mark Weitz on “The Jonathan Winters Show” in 1968.

TV appearances included:

  • The Jonathan Winters Show (episode 1.2. 1968)
  • Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In (episode 1.1, 1968)
  • Happening ’68
  • American Bandstand
  • The Steve Allen Show
  • The Dating Game (Randy Seol only, a successful “bachelor”)

Also:
ABC In Concert (series theme song, mid-1970s)
The Simpsons, D’oh-in’ in the Wind (“Incense and Peppermints” used, episode 10.6, 1998)

VIDEO:
Love-In: A Musical Celebration (2007 festival concert recording, released in 2009)