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Once Upon a Dream

The Rascals

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Album Review

Once Upon a Dream was the Rascals fourth album, and the first to drop the word "Young" from their moniker; but it's more than a name change. Released in February of 1968, the quartet took the easy, textured feel of its previous single, "Groovin," and the deeply felt influence of the Beatles Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, and put their own spin on it by adding their trademark blue-eyed soul and jazz influences to the mix of psychedelia. While the influence of the Beatles cannot be underestimated on the emerging sound of the Rascals, their own maturity as songwriters and recording artists can't either. Self-produced, the Rascals had help from arranger-conductor Arif Mardin and engineer Tom Dowd, as well as Adrian Barber, who engineered the various sound effects in the intros, outros, and inside the tracks themselves. Once Upon a Dream was conceived of and recorded as an album, whereas their previous trio of full-lengths had been collections of singles with other tracks (many of them excellent) to fill the gaps. The set netted one single in the gorgeous "It's Wonderful," and the set itself peaked at number seven. All details aside, though, a listen to this platter is startling. Its sophisticated orchestral and vocal arrangements are remarkable even in the 21st century. Beginning with an ethereal piano, string and vocal intro, it quickly gives way to a punchier acoustic guitar, harmonica, B-3, and popping snare riff that ushers in the laid-back soul of "Easy Rollin." The track is laid-back with bird sounds (which is a logical extension of "Groovin'," the previous album's title track), a beautiful refrain, and lots of space, which is indicative of two things: first, the production level was a giant leap, as were the songs (all but one written by Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati — guitarist Gene Cornish wrote "I'm Gonna Love You Too"), which, while expansive, were deeply rooted in the kind of pop the Rascals had perfected. There's the sweet and utterly crazy "Rainy Day" that seems to be a minor opus with its orchestral interludes, many parts, and stormy effects; nonetheless, it's a very accessible love song. Then there's the rave-up rocker "Please Love Me" that could have been done as a garage band track but with its flute (played by Hubert Laws!), soprano saxophone solo (jazzman Steve Marcus) fuzzed out guitar effects, and an undercurrent of strings, becomes something else entirely. After a fun house carny interlude, the single pops in with that trademark snare leading the way, and the pillowy harmonies that keeps the soul groove in its pocket.

"My Hawaii" is a cut that Jimmy Webb would have been proud to write, given its melodrama and orchestral colors, the addition of a harp, and the added bass drive of Richard Davis Other bassists on the session include Chuck Rainey and Ron Carter (who was with Miles Davis at the time). "My World" is pure blue -eyed soul with Ray Charles-styled female backing vocalists along with the Rascals themselves, and might be the toughest cut on the set. There's a Fats Domino-c*m-Charles styled blues cut in "Singin' the Blues Too Long," with sputtering trumpet and saxophone lines (the former by Mel Lastie, the latter by King Curtis). Just before the final cut, the listener encounters "Sattva," the Rascals answer to "Within You, Without You." It's complete, with Cavaliere playing sitar, Dino Danelli on tabla, and Brigati on tamboura, but still contains the Rascals, tight New York pop-soul in the bridge; in other words, it's truly psychedelic! The title cut that closes out the album and concludes the cycle is sung by David Brigati. It's an over the top crooner that is drenched in pompous orchestration, and it's only the dynamics (controlled tightly by Mardin), and the truly languid, beautiful, and yes, dreamy melody that reins it in from the ledge. It's an under-celebrated masterpiece of the psychedelic era and belongs next to Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper's on the shelf because it is easily as sophisticated, and once heard in its entirety, can never be forgotten. [The Collector's Choice reissue was made from the Rhino Handmade box set of complete Atlantic recordings. It contains not only stereo mixes, but the entire album in mono as well.]

Biography

Formed: 1964 in New York, NY

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '60s, '70s

The Rascals, along with the Righteous Brothers, Mitch Ryder, and precious few others, were the pinnacle of '60s blue-eyed soul. The Rascals' talents, however, would have to rate above their rivals, if for nothing else than the simple fact that they, unlike many other blue-eyed soulsters, penned much of their own material. They also proved more adept at changing with the fast-moving times, drawing much of their inspiration from British Invasion bands, psychedelic rock, gospel, and even a bit of jazz...
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Once Upon a Dream, The Rascals
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