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A Symphony For Susan: The Very Best of the Arbors
Artist: The Arbors
Label: Rev-ola
Times: 22 tracks/74:26 minutes

The Arbors were lifesavers for me. Their soft rock, jazzy, middle of the road sound was cutting edge perfect for those easy listening stations that my parents had on the car radio. Many an elevator ride became tolerable due to these two sets of twins from Ann Arbor, Michigan. As I investigated further, I found that the Arbors were quite experimental and entertaining. Gorgeous harmonies laced with transporting soft psych production with often explosive ground-breaking arrangements.

It all started in 1961 at Michigan University when twins Frederick and Edward Farren, Scott Herrick and an unknown/unremembered fourth member started doing dances and glee clubs, got themselves a manager, Art Ward, who decided the group should go to New York City. That unknown/unremembered fourth member bowed out, and Scott's twin brother, Tom, joined, solidifying The Arbors dual twin line-up.Ward had worked with legendary engineer Phil Ramone at A & R Studios, and he helped the group with their New York sessions. The ensuing single on Mercury in 1965, "Anyone for Love?", with its clean-cut vocal sound, sunk like a stone. Their second single was on the tiny Carney label was heard by a Columbia Records rep who re-released it on Date Records. "A Symphony for Susan," with its symphonic overtures and the brother's shimmering harmonies, topped out at #51 in the Fall of 1966.

The inevitable slapped-together album followed in January 1967. An uneven affair with several songs dating back to their formative years did have some nice renditions of several Brazilian tunes, including "Mas Que Nada" (now titled "Pow, Pow Pow" and "Summer Samba"). Several singles later, including a snake bit _Valley of the Dolls_ release involving author Jacqueline Susann, leads us to The Arbors crowning glory: the May 1969 album with the unwieldy title of _The Arbors_ featuring "I Can't Quit Her"/"The Letter."

Rev-Ola's The Very Best of the Arbors spans a career that saw the release of 12 singles--several charting--the highest being "The Letter" making it to #20 in the Spring of 1969.

The festivities open with the group's four most recognizable tracks. The Arbors make "The Letter" one of the world's most covered songs, all their own-halfing the speed of the original and featuring that wonderfully psychy phased vocal closing. A faithful cover of the Rover Boys' 1956 hit, "Graduation Day," covered by the Beach Boys, was a surprise hit that nearly broke into the Top 50 during the Summer of Love. Another is "A Symphony for Susan," with its lush arrangements and effortless vocal harmony. Though not chart topping (#67 in April '69), but top notch on the soft pysch playlist, "I Can't Quit Her"/"For Emily Whenever I May Find Her" showcases what would become a bit of a signature for the Arbors, combining two songs in one. The rollicking, good-timey "Good Day Sunshine"/"Got to Get You Into My Life" with Huch McCracken on guitar, stacks the Fab Four's chorus in a truly imaginative way.

In many ways, the group's later music had become a showcase for producers, conductors and arrangers like Roy Cicala, (John Lennon) Lori Burton and Joe Scott. There are startling interpretations of Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" and the Doors' "Touch Me." "Hey Joe" is the weirdest version _anywhere._ Dark and foreboding, the group takes free license with the lyrics--they simply supplied their own--the song ends a reprise of "Motet/Overture" over a bed of an epic war battle and atomic bomb blast! An appropriate set closer if there ever was one.

"Mr. Bus Driver," penned by Wayne Carson as a sequel to "The Letter" is kind of contrived but fun. After the group's last single, brother Ed Farran's "Julie, I Tried" paired with a funkified version of Bobbie Gentry's "Okalona River Bottom Band" in May of 1969, the Arbors ended the world of touring and hit singles and started working in the commercial jingle arena. For the next 35 years they added their voices to promote Texaco, United Airlines, McDonald's and many others.

The Best of the Arbors is a well researched project. The well written liner notes by Andy Morten do leave me wondering who played on and produced these tracks.

Possessing versatile, seemingly effortless vocals, and blessed with creative, experimental producers and arrangers, The Arbors carved out their spot in the midst of the changes that over took pop music in the 60s and found a radio home with the likes of the Association, Harper's Bizarre, Sandpipers, and Spanky and Our Gang.

Bob Felberg  September 20, 2007


 

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