Saturday, January 28, 2012

I Hear Trumpets Blow - The Tokens

I Hear Trumpets Blow
The Tokens 
B. T. Puppy Records  B.T.P/S 1000

I was a big fan of the Tokens' hit "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" when I was a kid but I never really thought much about the group until I picked up the CD reissue of their lost album, "Intercourse" (recorded in 1968 with limited release in 1972) which astonished me with its sophistication and originality.  After that I started exploring their catalog with mostly happy results.  This was their third album and their first for their own record company, B. T. Puppy (I believe the B. T. stands for Bright Tunes.)  It sounds more like the doo-wop group that released "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" than the group that made "Intercourse."  The record came out in 1966 but it sounds older, more like the early 1960s, because the album was largely compiled from earlier singles.  The album features several rock and roll oldies that are mostly faithful to the originals including the Cadillacs' "Speedo," the Everly Brothers' "Wake Up Little Suzy [sic]," the Browns' "The Three Bells" and Gene Pitney's 1961 hit "Every Breath I Take."  They also tackle "Barbara Ann" but their version is obviously modeled after the Beach Boys cover and not the Regents' version, they even duplicate the party noises on the Beach Boys version and mention Brian Wilson.  All the covers are competent but none of them will make you forget the originals.  Even the groups' own songs have a retro feel to them.  "Swing" was a 1964 single for the group and it has a Latin feel to it, almost like a mambo.  The moody Goffin-King composition, "He's In Town" was also a 1964 single.  It is one of my favorite songs on the album with its soaring vocal and lovely vocal harmonies, but it definitely belongs to a different era.  The dramatic 1965 single "Sylvie Sleepin'" features tribal drumming that calls to mind "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" and a tune reminiscent of Brian Hyland's "Sealed With a Kiss."  Even the self-penned hit single on the album, "I Hear Trumpets Blow" (which reached #30 on the Billboard chart in 1966) has a doo-wop style arrangement layered over a sunshine pop song.  It is a fun song, very catchy and appealing, it sticks in your head like a good top 40 single should.  "Don't Cry, Sing Along With The Music" sounds more like mid-1960s music mixing the driving bass and pronounced beat of Motown and the vocal harmonies of the Beach Boys.  "Saloogy" is another group composition and a propulsive pop-rock song.  I had trouble figuring out what the song was about since I had never heard of the game "saloogy" which the singer uses to describe his love life.  I looked it up and learned it was a New York City children's game akin to keep-away, ouch.  The most modern sounding song is Al Kooper and Irwin Levine's "The Water Is Over My Head" which has a folk-rock flavor to it.  It is a terrific song with clever, evocative lyrics.  This is a nice album for fans of vocal harmonies and pop craftsmanship.  It isn't ground-breaking or profound, but it is likely to put a smile on your face.  Recommended for fans of the Four Seasons who wish they sounded more like the Beach Boys.  

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