Guilty pleasures: The Mind Expanders – What’s Happening? (1967)/ Psychedelic Guitars (1968; 2011 reissue)

More than a few clueless shoppers, when purchasing albums like these, were fooled into thinking they were buying a brain-melting slice of sonic revelations from a new groovy group primed to rival their paisley-attired Carnaby Street cousins in England or their lysergic-lathered peers in San Francisco.

Although the folks behind such exploitation projects were obviously in it for only the money, a lot of these records were amazingly good. Of course, not a stitch of information regarding the musicians, songwriters and producers could be found on the albums, but whoever they were they brandished some pretty mean chops. To be sure, these performances may not be quite on the level as the acts these players aspired to ape, but the stuff is cool, creative and catchy.

Now available on one disc from the Gear Fab label, Psychedelic Guitars and What’s Happening? by the Mind Expanders are both strictly instrumental collections. Contrary to the title of the album, the tone of Psychedelic Guitars is bright, breezy and rather lighthearted, while What’s Happening? possesses an atmospheric, experimental pitch.

Originally distributed by Custom Records in 1968, Psychedelic Guitars tends to favor surf guitars rather than psychedelic guitars. Dominated by the type of choppy, jaunty licks practiced by the Ventures or the Fireballs, the album is fun and lively. But there is a pinch of slight diversions, especially on “Flowers,” which exudes a blues feel, and the thumping, pumping “Take A Trip” that steals the beat from Bo Diddley. Propelled by reams of swinging rhythms, “Psychedelic Ripple” and “Let’s Ride Again” are ideal beach party numbers. A bellowing saxophone is often employed in the tracks, giving the material a shake and bake dance flavor.

Certain segments of What’s Happening? suggest the Mind Expanders were serious scholars of the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds,” as the disc fuses symphonic overtures with progressive pop rock samplings. Commenced by the honk of a car horn, “Downtown Trip” is actually a re-christened version of Petula Clark’s “Downtown,” and what an eerie remake it is. Set to a speedy, nervous pace, “Sensory Overload” is an absolute hoot, and “Pictures At A Psychedelic Art Exhibition” wiggles and squirms with interesting patterns. Daring arrangements collide with stunning melodies and ethereal textures throughout What’s Happening, resulting in an inventive piece of flower pop music.

I admit I’m a sucker for exploitation albums, and Psychedelic Guitars and What’s Happening? definitely dial in as a couple of the best of the genre.

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Beverly Paterson

Beverly Paterson was born the day Ben E. King's "Stand By Me" hit No. 4 on the national charts, which is ironically, one of her favorite songs - especially the version by John Lennon. She has contributed to Lance Monthly and Amplifier, and served as associate editor of Rock Beat International. Her own publications have included Inside Out, and Twist And Shake. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.