In April 1966, pop star Jan Berry was seriously injured in a car accident and in a coma with severe head injuries. Dean Torrence, his partner in the doo-wop/surf duo Jan & Dean, soon went to work to keep the band in the public eye, remixing a three-year-old album track and releasing it as a single for the summer season. “Popsicle” ended up in the Billboard Top 30, and the label needed an album, so what to do? Creatively, Berry was the main mover in Jan & Dean, and it would be some time before he was back to making music.
The resulting Popsicle album unsurprisingly is somewhat of a shaggy dog of a Jan & Dean album; it’s really just a compilation masquerading as a new disc, and a somewhat lazy one at that. Six songs are pulled from the soundtrack to Ride the Wild Surf and two from The Little Old Lady from Pasadena, while the other stray tracks go all the way back to their second single for Liberty, “Tennessee” from 1962.
With the heavy sampling of Ride the Wild Surf tracks, it’s no surprise the album tilts toward surfing/beach songs, so it does mostly hang together thematically. Musically, it does as well. Jan Berry was one of the most creative arrangers working in the rock ’n’ roll world during the 1960s, so it’s really hard to go wrong no matter what order you shuffle around the songs. For example, take a track such as “Waimea Bay”: Horn charts and harp are not exactly what one might associate with surf music, but there they are. Brian Wilson was not the only one pushing surf and hot rod music in more musically adventurous directions in the mid-’60s.
On comparing the mono and stereo mixes of this LP, it’s hard to pick a preference as both have good and bad points. The stereo mix is often fairly basic: the backing track essentially mono in the center, with vocals and other overdubs off to the left or right. (One track, “Tennessee,” is a dreaded all-vocals-left, all-instruments-right mix.) So the stereo gets points for making it easier to hear what is going on with the music, but is not particularly well presented, either. Some of the mono LP sounds to my ears as if it could be just fold-down mixes, with instrument balances off in comparison to the stereo, but other tracks come across as much punchier and unified sounding.
Torrence would continue working to keep Jan & Dean an active band, recording an album on his own that went on to become a cult classic: Save for a Rainy Day. Berry reportedly disapproved of the project, though, and, other than one single for Columbia, it never made it past an initial private release until being rescued by Sundazed in 1996. According to Wikipedia, Berry was back in the studio within a year of the car crash, and the duo put out some great, typically iconoclastic singles via Warner Brothers in 1968...which sank without a trace, leaving the planned album on the shelf until 2010. “Popsicle” ended up being Jan & Dean’s last trip to the upper reaches of the Billboard charts. (Liberty LRP-3458 mono; LST-7458 stereo)