PEANUT BUTTER CONSPIRACY “IS SPREADING” (U.S. COLUMBIA 9454) 1967. VG/VG stereo
Bassist Alan Brackett, singer/rhythm guitarist John Merrill, and singer Barbara Robinson had previously recorded as The Young Swingers and under the name The Ashes. With Robinson about to become a mother and drummer Spence Dryden hightailing it to replace Skip Spence in The Jefferson Airplane, The Ashes split up in late 1966. Merrill headed for Europe leaving Brackett to form The Crossing Guards with guitarist Lance Fent and drummer Jim Voigt. In short order Brackett and Robinson returned to the fold and the expanded line-up began performing as The Peanut Bitter Conspiracy (Voigt reportedly coming up with the name). Signed by Vault Records (which had signed The Ashes), the band made their debut with a 1966 single:
– ‘Time Is After You’ b/w ‘Floating Dream’ (Vault catalog number V 933)
The single didn’t do much commercially, but with help from band manager Billy James, captured the attention of Columbia which beat Elektra Records in a bidding war to sign the group. Teamed with producer Gary Usher, the band subsequently made their label debut with the 1967 single:
– ‘It’s a Happening Thing’ b/w ‘Twice Is Life’ (Columbia catalog number 4-43985) # 93 pop
left to right: John Merrill – Jim Voigt – Lance Fent – Sandi Robinson – Alan Brackett
As was standard procedure, the band went into the studio with Usher to record a supporting album. Uncertain as to the band’s technical proficiency, much to the band’s dismay, Usher brought in the usual crew of L.A. sessions players which earned him the band’s longstanding contempt. To this day the surviving members disown the album. With Brackett and Merrill responsible for the bulk of the material, the collection found the band in an interesting position – straddling the demarcation line between sunshine pop and harder, California-based psychedelia with a couple of nods to Byrds-styled folk-rock thrown in for good measure. More pop-oriented tracks like ‘It’s a Happening Thing’ and ‘You Should Know’ sounded like The Mamas and the Papas trying to be The Jefferson Airplane. At the other end of the spectrum, more psychedelic tracks like ‘You Can’t Be Found’ sounded like The Jefferson Airplane trying to copy The Mamas and the Papas. Unfortunately, it spite of the band’s talent (particularly singer Robinson who for some reason was billed as ‘Sandy Peanut Butter’), it was a musical niche that wasn’t going to please anyone. That might also explain why I’m partial to the band’s folk-rock offerings. ‘Twice Is Love’ and ‘The Most Up Till Now’ were simply first-rate Byrds-styled performances that made for two of the album highlights.
– Say what you will about the band and this folk-rock-meets-psych effort, but there was know denying Sandi Peanut Butter had a great voice… I’d rather hear her any day over Grace Slick. ‘It’s a Happening Thing’ actually wasn’t bad, Fent’s fuzz guitar and Usher production touches (the psych ending), growing on me after awhile. Easy to see why Columbia had tapped it as the opening single. rating: **** stars
– With its groundbreaking orchestration ‘Then Came Love’ was a very commercial ballad – in fact it sounded like it had been penned with airplay in mind. The heavy orchestration sounded like something Brian Wilson might have been toying around with and should have immense appeal to folks who liked The Association. Wonderful performance from Sandi Peanut Butter. Columbia tapped the song as a single. rating: **** stars
– Opening with some instantly engaging fuzz guitar chords, ‘Twice Is Love’ was a crisp return to folk-rock; easily one of the album’s highlights. Great jangle guitars; a nice melody, coupled with the band’s first-rate harmony vocals made this one a treat. rating:**** stars
– The first outright disappointment, ‘Second Hand Man’ sounded like The Mamas and the Papas trying to score some points with the country-rock crowd. One spin was enough for me. rating: ** stars
– With Brackett on lead vocals, ‘You Can’t Be Found’ found the band opting for a harder rock sound. Brackett’s hyperactive bass was also prominently featured throughout the song. rating: *** stars
– Hum, ‘You Can’t Be Found’ sounded like they’d been listening to more than a little Jagger and company (for some reason the song always reminds me of ‘Paint It Black’). Perhaps the album’s hardest rocking number, the tune featured some snarling male lead vocals (not sure if was Brackett, or Merrill) and another nice Fent lead guitar. Sandi added glistening harmony vocals making for another highlight. rating: **** stars
– Hum, with a title like ‘Why Did I Get So High’ who would have ever guess this was a mid-’60s track ? In spite of the title, musically this one was a pretty commercial pop song, sounding a bit like Spanky and Our Gang. Sporting what had to be an unpopular an anti-drug lyric, the only real psych element came in the form of Fent’s meltdown guitar solo. Oh, yeah, the band also sang the word ‘stoned’ at the very end of the track. rating: **** stars
– Penned by Merrill, ‘Dark on You Now’ was one of the LP’s more commercial numbers. Kicked along by Brackett’s wonderful bass line and a glimmering melody, the song also put the spotlight firmly on Sandi’s amazing voice. Another standout performance. Curiously The Love Exchange recorded the song, but re-titled it ‘Swallow the Sun’. rating: **** stars
– The lone Lance Fent composition (I think that’s him on vocals as well), ‘The Market Place’ was also the album’s strangest song. With a weird middle eastern feel (at times it actually sounded like a klezmer band trying to rock out), it wasn’t particularly commercial, but the ethnic aura and the wild lyrics made it a keeper. rating: **** stars
– ‘You Should Know’ went back to harmony-rich sunshine pop. Very Mamas and Papas with a couple of weird time changes and Fent turning in a jazzy lead guitar solo. rating: *** stars
– Written by Brackett and featuring him on lead vocals, ‘The Most Up Till Now’ was another folk-rock tune with a killer hook.
– I’m not sure why so many mid-’60s felt the need to record good-timey numbers like ‘You Should Know’. Other than Fent’s speed-of-;light guitar solo this one had nothing going for it. Even Sandi’s sterling voice was wasted on this one. rating; ** stars
As mentioned, the album spun off another single:
– 1967’s ‘Then Came Love’ b/w ‘Dark On You Now’ (Columbia catalog number 4-44063)
While the album wasn’t a major seller, the band achieved some recognition among the FM Crowd and did well touring.