Merchants of Dream
Band members Related acts
line up 1 (1968-69) (as Merchants of Dream)
- David Baumgardner -- rhythm guitar
- John Baumgardner -- vocals
- Jeff Druck -- lead guitar
- John Francis Murphy -- vocals, keyboards
- Bobby Musac -- drums
- John Pizow -- bass
- Free Flowing Salt
- J.F. Murphy (solo efforts)
- J.F. Murphy and Souled Up
- Murphy's Law
Rating: 3 stars ***
Title: Strange Night Voyage
Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+
Comments: mono promotional copy; sticker on cover
Catalog ID: SOLD866
Price: SOLD $40.00
As much as we might not want to admit it, one of the rules of human nature seems to be that when something becomes popular, people rush to emulate it, and in the process, most of the original charm gets squeeze out in pursuit of popularity and profits. That certainly seems to be what drove this bizarre attempt to recast the childhood story Peter Pan as a psychedelic influenced rock opera. Seriously, by the mid-'60s seemingly everyone and everything had turned on to psychedelia - ever seen those Peter Max designed Seven Up signs? So why not take a beloved children's story, wrap it up in psychedelic trappings, and underscore the comparison to the mid-'60s famed generation gap ? Must have seemed like a good way to cash-in on the public's insatiable appetite for all things psych ...
The creative brain behind this project was John Francis Murphy (aka J.F. Murphy). Murphy had apparently come up with the concept and written the material while attending St. Johns University. Equally important, the business part of the equation was Vinny Testa. Testa was a Murphy buddy and also a St. Johns graduate. He brought the project to the attention of his boss/producer Shadow Morton who saw potential and arranged for a recording contract with A&M Records. For his part, singer/keyboardist Murphy pulled together a band to record the album - they weren't credited on the album, but The Merchants of Dream featured rhythm guitarist David Baumgarnder, singer John Baumgardner, lead guitarist Jeff Druck, drummer Bobby Musac, and bassist John Pizow.
Starting off on the positive side,"Strange Night Voyage" deserved credit as an early stab at a concept album and writer Murphy and executive producer Shadow Morton could have done far worse than sourcing the plotline from J.M Barrie's Peter Pan (interesting to note the liner notes did credit Barrie in any way). In theory the underlying "concept" using Peter Pan to highlight the mid-'60s generation gap, was clever.. Less impressive was the fact that, as released, the plotline was basically unintelligible - it helped to be familiar with Peter Pan, but other than nods to some of the story's main characters, making the connections to the intended social commentary was a massive stretch. Musically it wasn't all that great either. Yeah some of the sunshine pop-psych splashes were mildly interesting, but with the possible exceptions of the bouncy 'The Strange Night Voyage of Peter Pan', 'Wendy' (which sounded a lot like an Associations tune), and the psych-rocker ''Lovelife's Purple Circus', none of the tracks were particularly melodic, or memorable. In fact, songs like 'Jolly Roger Doldrums' and 'Tribute To the Crocodile' sounded like something your local high school theatre program might stage to raise money for their annual trip to Barcelona.
Night Voyage" track listing:
1.) Mother's Overture (instrumental) (John Francis Murphy) - 1:03 rating: ** stars
Hum, amidst the spoken word introduction, sound effects, and bouncy, heavy orchestration the first impression was that of having mistakenly bought some sort of Broadway cast album ...
2.) The Strange Night Voyage of Peter Pan (John Francis Murphy) - 2:36 rating: *** stars
So, in case you hadn't figured it out, 'The Strange Night Voyage of Peter Pan' underscored the album's plotline. Musically this one sounded a bit like The Association suffering from a sugar overdose. The melody wasn't half bad, though it bounced all over the place, diluting the overall effect.
3,) Wendy (John Francis Murphy) - 2:01 rating: *** stars
'Wendy' underscored comparisons to The Association and other '60s sunshine pop bands. With a breezy melody and arrangement, the multi-tiered vocals on this actually reminded me more than a little bit of The Association's 'Windy' ... lucky they didn't get hit with a copy write lawsuit.
4.) Jolly Roger Doldrums (John Francis Murphy) - 2:52 rating: ** stars
'Jolly Roger Doldrums' kicked the album into novelty arena. Easy to image some local theatre group staging this one as a musical. No, that was not a good thing.
5.) Tribute To the Crocodile (The Merchants) - 1:02 rating: ** stars
Speaking of local theatre group, the drunken pirate chorus on 'Tribute To the Crocodile' was laughable. Thankfully it was short.
6.) Dorothy the Fairy Queen (John Francis Murphy) - 2:33 rating: ** stars
So why not throw in a dollop of cheesy lounge act singer ? Yeap, that's what you got with the breeze, flute-propelled 'Dorothy the Fairy Queen'. The track was released as a single:
- 1969's 'Dorothy the Fairy Queen" & "Sing Me Life' (A&M catalog number 989)
7.) Lovelife's Purple Circus (John Francis Murphy - Kenny Vitiatis) - 3:05 rating: *** stars
'Lovelife's Purple Circus' was side one's most successful stab at coming up with a psychedelic rock song. That's not so say it was all that good, rather it was better than most of the other six tracks. The song was full of psych sound effects and weird time changes, but at least rocked thanks to some pounding organ, fuzz guitar, and lysergic soaked, effects treated vocals.
Side two opened up with another slice of Broadway-styled instrumentation, though one short segment had kind of a neat Motown feel to it ...
2.) Come Back Into Your Childhood with Me (John Francis Murphy) - 1:56 rating: *** stars
Probably one of the album's best slice of sunshine pop - nice melody and the vocals were charming.
3.) Alicey (John Francis Murphy) - 2:21 rating: *** stars
More Association-styled pop; 'Alicey' could easily have slotted on one of their early albums.
4.) Sing Me Life (John Francis Murphy) - 3:02 rating: ** stars
Geez, every time I head this one I wonder it I've mistakenly slapped on a Tokens LP.
5.) My Magic Boat (John Francis Murphy - Kenny Vitiatis) - 2:35 rating: ** stars
Sounds like a Las Vegas lounge act with The Four Seasons providing backing ...
6.) When You're Pushin' Six (John Francis Murphy) - 1:37 rating: *** stars
Totally unlike the rest of the album, 'When You're Pushin' Six' was a stark acoustic ballad - just vocalist Baumgardner accompanied by acoustic guitar. Maybe because it was so different, it stood out as a quirky album highlight.
7.) (We Are) Dream Vendors (John Francis Murphy - Kenny Vitiatis) - 3:46 rating: **** stars
Overlooking the goofy spoken word ending (which contained nods to producer Shadow Morton, Kenny Vitiatis - who was Murphy's brother-in-law and co-wrote three of the song, and others), '(We Are) Dream Vendors' was easily the album's stand-out performance. In addition to sporting the best sunshine pop melody, it had some great group vocals, and a cool pop-psych aura. Very 1967.
The Merchants of Dream apparently actually toured a bit in support of the album, but without any real support from A&M (which was probably clueless in terms of how to support the set), they called it quits within a couple of months.
Murphy went on to record a string of albums under the tag J.F. Murphy & Salt.
Who knows why, but for some reason in 2011 the British Cherry Red label reissued the collection on CD (Cherry red catalog number TUNEIN006).
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