If you’re a fan of 1960s pop culture or a baby boomer, you’ve definitely seen and heard singer/actress Donna Loren at some point — although you might not recognize her name. Loren began her career as a spokesmodel for Dr. Pepper in 1963, appearing in print and TV ads and early versions of infomercials for the soft drink. It wasn’t long before she branched out into singing and acting.
After a short stint with Challenge Records, Loren signed with Capitol and appeared in Beach Party movies with Frankie and Annette, guest-starred on sitcoms, variety shows and game shows, including The Monkees, Batman and Hollywood Squares. The featured female singer on Shindig, Loren appeared on 26 episodes, singing popular songs (“Wishin’ and Hopin,’” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” etc.) and dueting with musical guest stars.
Loren released several singles in the mid-1960s, but none of them dented the Billboard charts. It wasn’t for lack of talent, promotion or presentation, however. These Are the Good Times (Now Sounds) features 29 songs by Loren, including singles released by Capitol in the 1960s, her soundtrack recording of Beach Blanket Bingo and unreleased tracks. The set reveals Loren as a versatile and engaging singer — and she’s surrounded by the crème de la crème of 1960s musicians and songwriters on these recordings.
The songs cover most of themes fashionable just before the Summer of Love changed pop music’s trajectory, and a few that were well ahead of their time. Many of the songs were composed by some of the era’s iconic songwriters, including Phil Spector, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Valerie Simpson and Nickolas Ashford.
There’s the requisite novelty song “Do the Zonk” (a groovy dance that never caught on) and another pop chestnut, the he’s-so-square-but-I-love-him pronouncement in the previously unreleased “Drop the Drip.” In “Play Little Music Box, Play”, Loren says good-bye to a boyfriend joining the military as she admires the music box he gave to her. Loren expresses the vulnerability caused by the separation with a sweet spoken word plea mid-song. “Hold Your Head High,” penned by Jackie DeShannon and Randy Newman, is about a girl maintaining her dignity and self-esteem in the midst of a harsh romantic breakup. It has a “You Don’t Own Me” vibe to it. Loren is up to the task, and handles the lyrics with the emotional maturity of girl in her 20s, even though she was only a teen at the time.
The Wrecking Crew performed on most, if not all, of Loren’s recordings. The credited musicians on These Are the Good Times include Hal Blaine and Earl Palmer on drums, Carol Kaye on bass, Billy Strange, Tommy Tedesco and Al Casey on guitar, Don Randy, Al De Lory and Leon Russell on keyboards, Plas Johnson on saxophone, Roy Caton on trumpet and Julius Wechter on percussion. But wait, there’s more! Ron Elliot of Beau Brummels (“Laugh, Laugh”) penned “It’s Gotta Be.” Glenn Campbell and members of Beau Brummels provided the music on this one.
The Steve Douglas-produced “You Can’t Lose Something You Never Had,” a dramatic rendering of lost love reminiscent of Bacharach/David, but written by Al Kooper, Irwin Levine and Robert Brass. “My Way” (not the one you’re thinking of, but an upbeat declaration of freedom from a two-timing lover) benefits from a frisky horn arrangement by Billy Strange. Unfortunately, the writer of this tune couldn’t be located, and the songwriting credit reads “Writer Unknown.”
The second half of These Are the Good Times is the soundtrack to Beach Blanket Bingo. Featuring songs from the American International movie, it was Loren’s sole Capitol album, released in October 1965. It consisted of her versions of the tunes from the freewheeling beach saga. The star-studded flick featured Don Rickles, Paul Lynde, Buster Keaton and Deborah Walley (along with Frankie and Annette) in a plotline that was silly even for a beach movie. Loren sang “It Only Hurts When I Cry” in one of the movie’s party scenes. Annette was contractually obligated to Disney for recordings in the mid-1960s, so Loren sang Annette’s songs on the soundtrack album.
“I Am My Ideal,” biker character Eric Von Zipper’s comical theme song in the movie (“You are my idol — but I am my ideal”), the upbeat lovers’ joust “I Think, You Think” and the infectious title track are fluffy and fun, but they dim in comparison to the other songs on the collection. Loren’s voice seems better suited to ballads and more complex lyrics.
These Are the Good Times has some pleasant surprises for fans of the West Coast pop sound of the ‘60s. You won’t recognize most of these songs, but a few (or more) of these little-known pop delights will be stuck in your head after listening to These Are the Good Times.