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Incense And Peppermints

by

Strawberry Alarm Clock



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

This song has a rather convoluted history that Mark S. Weitz, who was the original keyboard player of the Strawberry Alarm Clock, helped us sort out. The writing credits on the song are listed as John Carter and Tim Gilbert, who were not part of the band, and the lead vocalist on this track was also not a member of the group.

It was Greg Munford, a 16-year-old singer with a group called The Shapes, who sang lead. He was brought in to sing harmonies on this song, but ended up doing the lead vocals. He was not even a regular band member, but ended up singing a tune that would rocket to #1 in the United States and sell over a million copies. Despite this success, Munford never actually joined the group.

Weitz gave us this account of how the song was written and how Munford ended up singing it: "I came up with the idea and actual music to the then untitled song that ultimately evolved into the #1 national hit, 'Incense and Peppermints.' I wrote the intro (the oriental sounding riff), the verses, and the ending (the major sevenths) while Ed King, at my request for some help on completing the song, co-wrote the bridge (the F # part) and of course the lead guitar parts. At the time when the music was recorded at Art Laboe's 'Original Sounds' studio in Hollywood, there was only a temporary title to the song, and lyrics had not yet been written. Our producer Frank Slay decided to send the fully mixed music track (recorded on 8 tracks of mono!) to John Carter; a member of the band The Rainy Daze, who Slay also produced at the time. John Carter was solely responsible for conjuring up the lyrics and the controversial melody line extracted out of the finished musical track. Frank Slay ultimately credited that melody line solely to the writing team of John Carter and Tim Gilbert. To this day, they have received 100% of the royalties.

When Frank Slay was approving the writer's names and how they would appear on the actual label prior to printing, our manager Bill Holmes and our producer Frank Slay had an argument. It was regarding who should receive the credit as writers of 'Incense and Peppermints.' Holmes was not happy with the fact that Ed King, John Carter, Tim Gilbert and I would receive credit as writers (which was rightfully so). Holmes wanted HIS name as well as ALL the members of the SAC as writers to appear on the label. Holmes would not agree to Slay's request for only having FOUR writers maximum to appear on the label. I assume, this was the industry standard at the time, that Slay was committed to uphold. This displeased Holmes to say the least. A verbal battle ensued, and ultimately Frank Slay went ahead and made a decision to have the label printed with John Carter's and Tim Gilbert's names both listed as the writers. Needless to say, when the song climbed to #1 on the Billboard Top 100 charts, Ed King and I were duped out of our fair share and never received a dime for our efforts. I was determined to sue all parties concerned, but was talked out of this action by Slay by mentioning the fact that it would destroy the future livelihood of the band, and we would lose the tour bookings that the band just signed on to do with the William Morris agency. I agreed to call off the dogs. After 2 years, I made a second attempt to initiate the lawsuit against Holmes. Upon the untimely breakup of the SAC in 1970, and due to the high cost of continuing on with the lawsuit, I was forced to drop the case.

Regarding the lead vocalist on I & P: When it came time to record the vocal tracks, none of the members of the Alarm Clock sounded right for the lead vocal. We all tried. Greg Munford (A 16 year old guitar player also produced by Holmes) was a guest in the studio that day, and gave a go at it. His voice sounded best, and we all agreed on keeping his vocal track on the final version."
The group's guitarist, who co-wrote this song, was Ed King. In 1970, an unknown band called Lynyrd Skynyrd opened some shows for The Strawberry Alarm Clock, and King got to know them. In 1973, King joined Skynyrd on guitar.
This is a good example of "Psychedelic" music, which was very popular at the time. Many of these songs had a drug influence, and that may have been the case here. Says Weitz: "When the music was written by myself in early '67 at my home in Van Nuys California, with my request for some help on the bridge of the song from Ed King, it was mid day, and no drugs were involved whatsoever. I came up with this musical idea and chord progressions that evolved that afternoon in a short time to what basically was recorded with some minimal editing to cut down the almost 5 minute original down to 3 minutes and change. As for the lyrics, that was the brainchild of John Carter. Carter was under contract with Frank Slay also as a producer. And there are many stories to how he came about those lyrics, but I can't substantiate any of it."
Regarding the band's name and their psychedelic look, Weitz says, "It went from Thee Sixpence right into the Strawberry Alarm Clock. I was instrumental in coming up with the name. I borrowed the Strawberry from Strawberry Fields Forever and then right down to the noisy Baby Ben electric alarm clock (in my bedroom/guest house where we used to rehearse) that we hooked up with name Strawberry to come up with the new name. We were asked by Frank Slay to come up with a new name because when we did a name check to clear it for label printing, Thee Sixpence was already used somewhere by another band at the time and there would be too much confusion. Slay was not instrumental in our 'Look.' He was our record producer. The East Indian Kurtas we had custom made at a store named Sat Parush in Westwood, California. I think our drummer Randy Seol stumbled on the store by accident one night while having dinner on the floor above at an ethnic restaurant or some kind one night way back in the beginning of 67. He showed us what they had there, and we liked it."

A common misperception is that the band took their name from the Beatles song "Strawberry Fields Forever." That song hadn't been released when the band formed.
According to the group's bass player George Bunnel, they were trying to sound British when they sang this, but their fake English accents ended up sounding trippy, which ended up working very well.
This song was briefly featured on an episode of The Simpsons when Homer was smoking medicinal marijuana. (thanks, zack - Worthington, KY)
Several members of the group reunited during the '80s for a succession of "Summer Of Love Revisited" tours. Their memory would be brought to the forefront again in 1997 when this was featured in the first Austin Powers movie, and in 2007 they reunited to play some shows. See the band in Song Images. (thanks, Kain - Charleston, SC)
Strawberry Alarm Clock
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Comments (34):

I like to think that the Beatles had incense and peppermints on the Yellow Submarine.
- esskayess, Dallas, TX
About the song and its meaning: : 1. The psychedelic was in full swing when Incense and Peppermint became popular. Incense is often burned to mask the smell of marijuana. Peppermints are used to mask the smoke on a person's breath. 2. In the first phrase, we are told innocense and good sense are nice, but they can disable you. "Who cares what games we choose, little to win and nothing to lose" means that it doesn't matter what types of drugs a person uses -- only that you don't gain much by doing or not doing the drugs. 3. "Tune on, tune in, drop out" is a phrase Timothy Leary used to promote the use of LSD. It is used in the second verse to tell the listener to take a look at him/herself. The fact that incense and peppermints are "meaningless nouns" may means that these words are strung together and aren't intended to mean anything in particular. Beatnics and Politicians each have their own point of view. Every group has their own way of looking at things and there's no use in fighting over who is right. (taken from site MusicBanter)
- Guest2491, pen argyl, PA
Brian in Boston - The use of the Hammond organ in various subgenres of rock and roll is well documented. It's one of the things I miss most. You can approximate the Hammond sound with today's synthesizers, but not quite duplicate it.
- Ekristheh, Halath, United States
I never thought this was a great song but it had some potential. I think instead of the organ as the prodominant instument it needs a good rythm guitar. The organ makes it sound like a novelty song.It's as if some executive at the time put out what he thought a psychadelic song should sound like. I realize the Beatles had organ in some of their music at that time [strawberry fields] but to me the organ complimented the song it did not overpower it.
- brian, boston, MA
I always thought that Incense and peppermints were ways to get rid of the smell of pot. Incense for the room in wich it is smoked and peppermints for your breath.
- brian, boston, MA
Has anyone else noticed that the lyrics, if you lay them out and read them instead of singing along to the music, are basically Postmodernism 101?

- Good sense, innocence, crippling mankind.

- Occasions, persuasions, clutter your mind.

- Who cares what games we choose?
- Little to win, but nothing to lose.

- Incense and peppermints, meaningless nouns.

- A yardstick for lunatics, one point of view.

It ain't "c'mon people now, get together" by any means. But it sure sounds hip. The words wouldn't have sounded out of place if Kurt Cobain had sung them.
- Chainsaw, Sedro Woolley, WA
Is John Carter, Jr. from Fairfield, Illinois?
- Dave, Fairfield, IL
I love this song! It's awesome! It makes you want to dance!
- Jennifer Harris, Grand Blanc, MI
I am very good friends with the group, and wanted to let everyone know they are back together, and making new cd's. They have already recorded a few new songs, and hopefully they will have a new CD out this year. They sound better than ever, and still have the Alarm Clock sound. There are 2 drummers, Randy Seol, and Gene Gunnels. They have a website , www.strawberryalarmclock.com . You can visit the website and check for upcoming concerts. I've loved them for 41 years, as they are still my very favorite group. If anyone wants to send them a message, go to the website and post a message !!!!
- Pamela, miami, FL
I worked with Tim Gilbert for about a year when I was Design Director at KUSA-TV in Denver in the mid-80's. He was a short, very straight-looking, short little dude on the sales team. Mentioned his association with the Strawberry Alarm Clock and I remember looking at him in his polyester suit and tie and thinking, WTF?
- Eric, Minden, NE
I discovered this song late, but immediately dug it -- dunno about the drug references but always suspected -- it was a common theme in the 60's & this is just the type of psychadelic sound to showcase it. . .

Personally Ithink there's another hidden meaning -- n the band name -- a strawberry alarm clock being a girl's rude awakening to her first menstrual period.
- Cyberpope, Richmond, Canada
this song is really groovy, incense and peppermints the color of time!!
- eddy, miami, FL
THIS song was released on the UNI label, at a time when the record label released tunes by artists with weird sounding names: fever tree, The Rainy Daze, Orange Colored Sky, The Hook, Durango, etc.
- Kristin, Bessemer, AL
THIS SONG is considered to be the most quintessential song of the entire 1960s - with its mysterious melody and non-sensical lyrics, it really found its place and everyone could relate to it!
- Kristin, Bessemer, AL
This song was covered by The Adult Net - a band led by The Fall's then-wife, Brix E. Smith - on Beggars Banquet. A virtually note-for-note copy!
- Mark, London, England
I experienced' this band @ a old church taken over by hippies...I will never forget going up the stairs w/ black lights and glowing paintings..the band was wailing away up on the church pulpit as we walked down the center aisle between the pews,we swung in one up front and grooved to the scean,overhead oil-projectors throwing pulsating colored lights everywhere...the band was dressed in very colorful flower & paisley type clothes and sounded very loud and good..people were dancing freeform in the aisles.barefoot lovely girls w/ flowers in their hair...[a snapshot frozen in time,this is how it was]...nothing like it before or after...Peace&Love,Billy
- William, Redding, CA
To Dave in Scottsdale: 'Tomorrow' did chart in Chicago. Debuting in the #36 position on the WLS survey the week of December 22, 1967, it made it to #13 for the week of February 19, 1968. It was also heard on "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" at about the same time.
- Ekristheh, Halath, United States
This was co-written by my old Boss Tim Gilbert and John Carter. If I recall he told me it was kind of a nonsense song But I got the impression it was heavily Drug influenced (Pot). He also told me Strawberry Alarm Clock wasn't even a band when it was recorded they used Studio musicians. And I dont think the lead singer actually played with Strawberry Alarm Clock. It was a band created after the song was released. I don't know where Tim Gilbert is now but I do recall he enjoyed those residual checks. I think he told me he got $10,000 when the movie "She's out of control" used it.

Saw this on the web:

OK, this has always been credited to John Carter and Tim Gilbert, but according to the SAC article in _Goldmine_ #359 John Carter wrote lyrics to SAC (and future Lynyrd Skynyrd) guitarist Ed King's instrumental track, 'The Happy Whistler'; Tim Gilbert had written other songs with John Carter before (most notably the Rainy Daze 'That Acapulco Gold', which hit #70 nationwide before program directors found out what 'Acapulco Gold' was) and was apparently co-credited by mistake.

Regardless, Tim Gilbert told me he wrote this, As I believe ASCAP States, and has the Gold record (I have seen it with his name on it) as well as received a great deal of money from royalties for this song over the years.
- andy, Terre haute, IN
Had Ed on the show. The group took their name while rehearsing. Starwberry Fields by The Beatles was playing on the radio and an alarm clock went off at the same time. The rest his hystory.

Be safe,

Gary
- Gary, Seattle, WA
The SAC had a couple other singles that almost charted- "Tomorrow", "Barefoot In Baltimore", and "Good Morning Starshine" which was beat out by the version by Oliver.
- Dave, Scottsdale, AZ
I was just a kid at the time, but I DO REMEMBER
this fantastic song. I will always cherish it because of its super melody, its crazy but serious lyrics, and, of course, my childhood memories. All I can say: Greg Munford had a powerful voice and its his voice that gave this song such a bang coming out of a 16-year-old. Wow.
- DAVID, LOS ANGELES, CA
The band appeared as themselves in the Dick Clark film "Psych-Out" which starred Jack Nicholson, Susan Sarandon, and Dean Stockwell (in an amazingly Neil Young-like role).... I'm with Leya Qwest, the songs she named along with "Hot Smoke and Sassafras" by Bubble Puppy, the Supremes' "Reflections", and "Pretty Ballerina" by the Left Banke were the core of what I thought of at the time as psychedelia. And they still do something to me. Turn on, tune in, turn your eyes around.
- Ekristheh, Halath, United States
This song was also parodied in the short lived Canadian animated series "Clone High" that used to air on MTV. In the episode "Raisin' the Stakes: A Rock Opera In Three Acts", the students went on a hippie-mushroom-trip... from smoking raisins, and during the scene where they express themselves through "Manic Sexualized Dancing" the parody plays with the lyrics:

Bug dance, gravy trance, butterfly dream
Hog, frog, veagan bread, sunflower cream
Tye-dye, contact eye, love from the sun
Smoke, fly, raisins, high, Vietnam fun
Merry Clark, pistolâ??
- Gil, Abilene, TX
I saw the Strawberry Alarm Clock perform at a club called "The World" in Vincennes, Indiana on Dec. 23 1967 (I still have the ticket stub). They used two drummers at the time. They were pretty good. Played a long, long, long version of The Doors' "Light My Fire", as well as their #1 hit "Incense & Peppermints". They were dressed in the typical "Summer of Love/ hippie" garb......pretty cool to us midwest "plow-boys" !
- Rob, Vincennes, IN
Despite the similarity in the title to the Murmaids' "Icicles, Popsicles" and the mentioned: "Sunshine & Lollipops and Polka Dots & Moonbeams. And possibly Pennywhistles & Moonpies," this is a very different song. The drug references start in the title -- Incense to cover the smell of marijuana and peppermints to cover it on your breath.
- Wolf, valparaiso, IN
The Strawberry Alarm Clock made an appearance in Russ Meyer's 1970 movie "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls," performing this song during a party scene. (One character remarks "I've been to parties where they've played records by the Strawberry Alarm Clock, but never one where the Strawberry Alarm Clock played!" The use of "Incense and Peppermints" in "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery" was an homage to the Russ Meyer film (with Mike Myers' line "This is my happening and it freaks me out" being a direct quote from the party scene).
- Erich, Atlanta, GA
This awesome tune is one of the only few that left a very lasting impression on my young soul each time I heard it back in the seventh grade. I was sort of a dummy, not into the psychedelic scene with the nuns, priests and strict Catholic upbringing, but I believe that this music, along with "Pictures Of Matchstick Men" by Status Quo and "Itchycoo Park" by Small Faces, lets me feel like I wasn't totally out of the loop, as the song still definitely does something BOSS to me. Thank you Strawberry Alarm Clock for the wonderful inspiration you alwaya give each time I hear this hit. Sha-la-laaaaaa, sha-la-laaaaaa!
- Leya Qwest, Anchorage, AK
it's definetly a drug song. you can tell at the end when he goes "Sha-la-la"
- jordan, renton, WA
This was obviously a rip-off of Sunshine & Lollipops and Polka Dots & Moonbeams.

And possibly Pennywhistles & Moonpies.
- Ted, Los Angeles, NY
I have to take issue with the comment from joey in Korea. The band was indeed arrested at a motel in East Peoria, Illinois early in 1968. The trial was held in my hometown that summer. They had hired Melvin Belli to defend them and as I recall, he got them off pretty much scott free.
Mike, Pekin IL
- Michael, Pekin, IL
The melody and music was influenced by the Rolling Stones' "Mother's Little Helper" and the Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit."
- Brandon, Seattle, WA
This is one of the coolest tunes EVER written, bar none. Almost eerie, I think. And a great song for the Austin Powers film.
- Brett, Edmonton, Canada
One of the members of this band was Scott Gorham, who went on to the band Thin Lizzy. Scott and his brother both worked this band and Thin Lizzy. Also, on-and-off members of this band were John Howard and Mike Luciano. The band hung out around Hoover High School in Glendale, California. They were busted in Peoria, Illinois in 1968 for marijuana possession, which led to jail-time, and the breakup of the band.
- joey, pusan, Korea - South
Only a drug song if you intrepret is as such. I think it was King himself who said that they were under pressure to write a psychedelic-sounding song and said that they basically sat down and wrote "...a collection of nouns..."
- Randy, Beaumont, TX
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