“Incense And Peppermints” is Strawberry Alarm Clock‘s most famous song, the band’s only #1 hit, and one of the most well-known classics of the classic 60s psych/pop era. It was recorded when the band was still known as Thee Sixpence and was intended as a b-side to “The Birdman Of Alkatrash” on All American. When the band changed its name to Strawberry Alarm Clock and their new record company Uni released it as an a-side in its own right, the song went to the top of the popular charts and became one of the most recognized songs of the rock era, well known even decades later and by people who were not around for the original release. Its first appearance on an album was the eponymous Incense And Peppermints in 1967. (Note: On its first release on All American as Thee Sixpence, the song title was misspelled “Incense And Pepermints“; this was fixed on later Strawberry Alarm Clock releases.)
Famous for its light, nonsensical lyrics (which themselves poke fun at the song’s title as “meaningless nouns”), catchy cowbell clops and piercing organ, “Incense And Peppermints” dares its listeners, in a fit of late 1960s Meaningâ„¢, to “turn your eyes around / Look at yourself”.
Most intriguingly, and likely the reason for the song’s enormous appeal, is its dark underbelly. While the verses chug along amiably enough, there are several moments during the sub-three minute song where the edges curl up in a spooky minor key, sometimes mingling with a distracted, buzzy lead guitar tone. Like the band’s own “Lose To Live” from elsewhere on the 1967 LP, “Incense And Peppermints” goes through several musical changes, a mini-suite of ideas. The air of sensual decay is palpable, and comes across as very organic and real.
Despite the catchiness and weird appeal of the song, “Incense And Peppermints” is not the best track on its namesake album, and its best ideas are often found elsewhere done more intriguingly. What makes the track a classic is the fact that it retains a sense of newness and wonder, and the fact that it happened to catch the culture at just the right time and seemed to say the right things. The song has shown up on every 60s compilation on Earth, and despite being vastly overplayed and lumped in with unworthy musical compatriots (Sonny And Cher, Scott MacKenzie), it is actually one of the more unusual and still-fresh hit songs of the era.
Aside from every ‘various artists’ 1960s compilation known to man, “Incense And Peppermints” is on most official SAC compilations and several singles. Some of these include:
45: “The Birdman Of Alkatrash” b/w “Incense And Pepermints” [sic] (All American 373) (1967) – original release by Thee Sixpence
45: “Incense And Peppermints” b/w “The Birdman Of Alkatrash” (Uni 55018) (1967) – re-release with new band name, Strawberry Alarm Clock
LP: Incense And Peppermints (1967)
LP: Psych-Out soundtrack (1968)
LP: The Best Of Strawberry Alarm Clock (1970)
CD: Incense & Peppermints (1990 compilation)
CD: Strawberries Mean Love (1992 compilation)
CD: The Strawberry Alarm Clock Anthology (1993 compilation)
LP: Step By Step (1998 Thee Sixpence compilation)