Detail of the cover illustration of Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, December 1974
The Peanut Butter Conspiracy were one of the definitive "hippie-rock" bands of the late '60s - formed from the ashes of folk-rock band the Ashes in LA in '66, the Peanut Butter Conspiracy had singles that were actually called "It's a Happening Thing" and "Turn on a Friend (to the Good Life)". It doesn't get much more hippie-rock than that. Featuring two singer-songwriters, Alan Brackett and John Merrill, and a great lead vocalist named Sandi Robison, the band had a lot going for them: nice three-part harmonies, some inventive lead guitar sounds, and an unlimited supply of hippie lyrics about time, love, and flowers.
Living Dream is a collection of the best tracks from the Conspiracy's two best-known LPs, plus a couple random outtakes. In retrospect, maybe I should have just bought the Collectables' 2-fer CD that has both albums (The Peanut Butter Conspiracy Is Spreading and The Great Conspiracy) - Living Dream only covers half of the tracks from ...Is Spreading, but those six tracks are easily my favorites. Also, only one track from The Great Conspiracy is omitted, which also seems odd. Why leave off a song called "Invasion of the Poppy People"?!? It sounds awesome! Especially when they decided to include the track "Captain Sandwich", a decidedly un-awesome bit of filler.
The thing that strikes me most about Living Dream is how much I prefer one of the Conspiracy's songwriters to the other. Alan Brackett's more bombastic approach to hippie-rock is very Jefferson Airplane, and his song structures are often odd and ungainly. On the other hand, John Merrill's more melodic songs really appeal to me with their Byrds jangle and baroque touches. It's not that Brackett's songs are terrible - I was just surprised when I checked the CD booklet and found out that EVERY song I liked was by John Merrill. Brackett is seen as the band's main creative force, as he wrote their two best-known singles, but I think that John Merrill (with the production help of Gary Usher) may have been the band's secret weapon. Check out one of his best tracks, "Dark On You Now", from The Peanut Butter Conspiracy Is Spreading - it has a lovely lead vocal by Sandi Robison and the chorus melody is perfect hippie-rock goodness.
"Dark On You Now" by the Peanut Butter Conspiracy