1965 - Pop Symphony

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In mid-April 1965, Liberty released "You Really Know How to Hurt A Guy." This beautiful ballad, with little or no involvement from Dean Torrence, featured Jan Berry's answer to Phil Spector's "wall of sound." And the full arrangement -- with piano, horns, and strings -- was one of Berry's finest. The song represented a new, fuller sound for "Jan & Dean" records -- and it soon cracked the national Top 30.

That same month, Jan Berry arranged and recorded an album that would mark the pinnacle of his career as a producer. Berry's symphonic arrangements of "Jan & Dean" material -- packaged as JAN & DEAN'S POP SYMPHONY NO. 1 -- were nothing less than phenomenal. These recordings were a pet project of Jan's, and well represented the depth of his musical vision. 
 
As noted earlier, Jan had an interest in the actual mechanics of music. He could read and write notation. He taught himself a lot, and had taken music theory classes in college to learn the basics. And to date, his resulting abilities had been well evidenced in the vocal, horn, and strings arrangements that had graced his productions. But now he wanted to take it to the next level. He wanted to create full orchestral arrangements and present them symphonically. The result, achieved with the use of more than 30 musicians, was a marriage of the standard "rock" rhythm section with components of a symphony orchestra. And in keeping with previous efforts, Jan remained the driving creative force throughout this bold new project.

"Jan met arranger George Tipton," explains Bones Howe. "George was a studio singer. But he had this really good basis in music theory. Jan and George began talking about music, and they hit it off." And it would be George Tipton who would help Jan realize his vision. Transposing parts, as for an orchestra, requires advanced musical skill. And of course Jan's first notion was to want to do it himself. His interest in music theory was that deep. And according to Bones Howe, Jan realized that four years of music school was not an option at the time! Thus "George became the tools in Jan's hands," says Bones.

"I spent a lot of time with Jan," confirms Tipton. "He loved to arrange. He could find his way around with notation in the treble clef. But he didn't have an idea as to what note was which, in terms of anything that's transposed." Jan communicated his ideas for the different parts to George, and George in turn guided Jan as to what was possible, or not possible. They went back and forth, and Jan pressed with numerous questions throughout the process. "So it was give and take," explains Bones, who engineered the entire album. "And Jan was very much the creative force. George had that kind of soft personality. He was able to let somebody else be creative. He was willing to let Jan do the creating, and then he did the interpretation and translation." 
 
The result of this dual effort was a musical landmark for Jan Berry. Some of these cuts, like "Baby Talk" and "Heart and Soul," featured deep arrangements that closely resembled the beat and melodies of the original compositions. But several, such as "Little Old Lady" and "Drag City," boasted full and extremely complex orchestral arrangements. These gems featured more variation on melody, counterpoint, accents, different time signatures, and some fantastic concert snare drum work from Hal Blaine. Each and every cut on the album was strong -- and more than pleasing to listen to. The mandolin leads on "New Girl in School," with signature tremolo picking, will flat make you smile.

The orchestral album meant a lot to Jan. It represented his far-reaching musical vision, and he relished conducting and otherwise working personally with his cadre of elite musicians (billed on the album as the Bel-Aire Pops Orchestra). He wanted to perform live concerts of the POP SYMPHONY material, and he wanted to make orchestrations available to schools in order to make the study of music more interesting to young students. "I hope that critics of today's music," explained Jan at the time, "will find, after listening to this album, that 'they are making music like they used to' . . . . I have never been much of a crusader, but I do hope this album may help to educate the ears of the skeptics who refuse to recognize the quality of today's contemporary music." Thus, more than one full year before old friend Brian Wilson became spooked by his own discordant "Fire" composition, Jan Berry recorded a full album's worth of brilliant orchestral arrangements. Nearly 20 years later, Jan would share the original score for POP SYMPHONY with friend and composer Cameron Michael Parkes. "I've worked in Hollywood as an orchestrator," admits Cameron. "I know what goes into orchestrating and arranging. And he pulled out the score to that whole thing, and I just went, 'Whoa!' He had them in a drawer, the original parts, beautifully written out. I mean, a guy after my own heart! He was much more sophisticated than Brian, in some ways. He used some very sophisticated orchestral colors and effects. I hold Jan right up there with Brian. And believe me, I'm a Brian fanatic." 
 
Though POP SYMPHONY was "officially" released in May 1965, there were frustrating hang-ups -- more evidence of Jan's problematic relationship with Screen Gems and Liberty. By the summer of 1965, Jan's own vision for his career -- for "Jan & Dean" -- was meeting with increased resistance from company executives. Nevertheless, Jan strongly pushed his own agenda. He actually wanted to reissue "Sidewalk Surfin'" -- because he felt the skateboard craze had "greatly expanded throughout the country" and was "now more topical" than it had been the previous summer. Using his powerful lawyer to help push his plans, Jan also wanted to issue an EP of the four most popular tunes from COMMAND PERFORMANCE. And POP SYMPHONY was of course the latest project on Jan's agenda. "I know of no particular inhibition," wrote Jan's attorney to Al Bennett, "to the release by Liberty of that album, as you have the right to use the name of Jan and Dean and none of their services [as singers] are embodied in this master." In addition to showcasing his arranging and producing prowess, Jan felt strongly that POP SYMPHONY would be beneficial to his career, in that he would receive a writer's royalty on many of the songs featured on the album.
 
By July, however, Liberty had nixed the single reissue, rejected the EP proposal, and shot down Jan & Dean's own concept for the cover art on the forthcoming GOLDEN HITS, VOL. 2 package. POP SYMPHONY, however, was allowed to proceed. The project had been quite expensive to produce. "Jan had made a lot of money for the record company," reasons Bones Howe. "So they were pretty much willing to let him do whatever he wanted to do." But apparently not without great hesitation. Regardless of Liberty's lack of interest in POP SYMPHONY, the album remains the cornerstone of Jan's true legacy as an accomplished arranger and producer.

As July wore on, Jan busied himself in the studio at every possible moment, working on what would be the next single release for "Jan & Dean." He was also preparing to shoot a forthcoming feature film, starring himself and Dean Torrence in the lead roles. The world of Jan & Dean was poised to expand well beyond the realm of music alone.

 

Source: "'A Righteous Trip': In the Studio with Jan Berry, 1963-1966." © 2001-2011 by Mark A. Moore. All rights reserved. (Dumb Angel #4, 2005).