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Gary Zekley

The Yellow Balloon
The Yellow Balloon
Sundazed Records SC 11069

In today's radio world of brooding males and angst ridden females, there doesn't seem to be a place for music that's, well...happy. For this reason we often need a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down, and there may be no better place to get it than with The Yellow Balloon. Their saga is an interesting one: it started in late 1966 when Dean Torrence (of Jan & Dean) needed some songs for a new album, so he enlisted the help of Gary Zekley, a very talented Los Angeles singer/songwriter/producer. One of the songs he gave Torrence was called "Yellow Balloon". Zekley was proud of the song, but didn't like the way Torrence had recorded it, so he went around to different labels to shop it. Among those who Zekley visited was Ken Handler of Canterbury Records, who was very excited about the song and immediately set about having it recorded. He had Zekley do the vocals, and then he brought in noteworthy studio musicians to add the embroidery. The results were magnificent, full of circular keyboard lines, a slight tremelo effect on the guitar, and more ba ba bas and ooohs and aahhs than the sun has rays. The record was released under the group name Yellow Balloon, in direct competition to Torrence's version (which was under the name Jan & Dean, even though Jan Berry was not on the recording, having been in a near fatal accident not long before), and it won the battle, placing at #25 in the spring of 1967 (Jan & Dean's failed to make the top 100). A lot of excitement was brewing, and there was the desire to have the band do an album and perform at various shows. There was only one problem: there was no actual Yellow Balloon! In a whirlwind move Handler elicited the help of Canterbury recording artist Don Grady, who was better known at the time as Robbie Douglas of the TV series My Three Sons. Grady knew several other musicians, vocalist Alex Valdez, guitarist Paul Kanella, bass player Don Braucht, and keyboardist Forrest "Frosty"Green, and they were quickly brought in to record an album, with Zekley at the producer's helm (he also co-wrote 8 of the 11 tracks). The results of this union were fantastic, and The Yellow Balloon has long been considered a classic album in the "sunshine pop" sub-genre. It's also been considered quite rare, its original run being very limited, and over the past few years has been virtually impossible to find. Thankfully, Sundazed Records, in its usual display of good sense and taste, has reissued this album along with several bonus tracks, and it's a work that fans of late 60s pop music cannot be without!

Although many nay sayers have tried to dismiss The Yellow Balloon as being lightweight and disposable, it's absolutely false. Although it's certainly true that most of the songs on the album are sunny and bright, and childlike in sentiment, the arrangements are superb, offering strongly Beach Boys influenced bass figures, sophisticated keyboard flourishes, and some very odd time signatures. You'll feel the magic from the opening cut "How Can I Be Down," sung by Zekley (billed on the album as Yodar Critch, because a colleague thought the name would inspire him!), which is simple in its essence but also awash in carousel like keyboards and dizzying vocal arrangments. Perhaps the attitude of the song, as well as the album, is summed up by the couplet "Life was just a downer till now, but you came along in a wow!" Other quintessential tracks are "Stained Glass Window," which is sung by Grady (who also used a nom de plume, Luke R. Yoo, because he didn't want people to buy the album simply because "an actor" was on it-he even appears on the cover in sunglasses so that he's not recognized!) and is filled with strings which gives it a pastoral feel, the Green sung "Baby Baby It's You," with a circular keyboard that makes it sort of a Beach Boys "California Girls" and "Let Him Run Wild" rolled into one, the bright and breezy "I've Got A Feeling For Love," sung by Valdez (dig his wailing near the end of the track!), the aforementioned title track, the Grady sung "Good Feelin Time", which makes the King Family seem like Hell's Angels (this is meant to be a compliment!), and the shuffling "Follow The Sunshine" . As a change of pace, Grady's "Junk Maker Shoppe" throws a mild dose of jazzy funk (!) into the mix.

Among the bonus tracks are "Noolab Wooley," which was "Yellow Balloon" recorded backwards and was used as its b-side because Canterbury didn't have anything else to put there at the time, and the a and b sides of Don Grady's pre-Yellow Balloon singles. "The Children Of St. Monica" had been a big hit in the Pacific Northwest where Grady was from, and foreshadowed his work with The Yellow Balloon. Speaking of the Pacific Northwest, "Impressions With Syvonne" was a straight cop of that region's own Paul Revere and the Raiders, and its b-side "Leaving It Up To You" was a straight ahead, engaging pop song. Other bonus tracks include alternate and demo versions of songs that appeared on Yellow Balloon, and an interview with Zekley (who passed away in 1996) by liner note writer Domenic Priore, in which he recalls the sessions for the recording of "Yellow Balloon".

It is unfortunate that the original master tapes of The Yellow Balloon cannot be found. Nevertheless, the sound of the vinyl remastering by Sundazed is impeccable, and the liner notes by Priore are among the most detailed and faithful you'll ever see. Just follow the sunshine down to your local record store, buy this disc, and prepare yourself for a good feelin' time!

David Bash

Gary Zekley

...A list of songs written or co-written by Gary Zekley, along with the relevant artist information. Archived here at Spectropop, the list is undoubtedly incomplete and any assistance in filling in any missing pieces will be most appreciated by sending an email to spectropop@yahoo.com with any comments or additional information. Contributors will be credited.
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Yellow Balloonnoollab wolley

"The Yellow Balloon was Don Grady's (Robbie on TV's My Three Sons) rock & roll group, but even more important, the brainchild of California producer Gary Zekley. Not unlike a Gary Usher, Zekley could grab a bunch of musicians and -- filling in the needed holes with his own talent -- produce sessions that rivaled Phil Spector or Brian Wilson for big sound and teen spirit..."
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noollab wolley Yellow Balloon

Listen to Real Audio and LiquidAudio samples of all the great songs by Yellow Balloon here:.

Tracks include: 1 How Can I Be Down; 2 Stained Glass Window; 3 Baby Baby It's You; 4 Panama Red; 5 I've Got A Feeling For Love; 6 Yellow Balloon; 7 Good Feelin' Time; 8 Follow The Sunshine; 9 Springtime Girl; 10 Can't Get Enough Of Your Love; 11 Junk Maker Shoppe; 12 noollaB wolleY; 13 Children Of St. Monica, The; 14 Good Man To Have Around The House, A; 15 Impressions With Syvonne; 16 Leaving It Up To You; 17 Can't Get Enough Of Your Love - (Single version); 18 Follow The Sunshine - (Alternate Mono mix); 19 How Can I Be Down - (Demo version); 20 Gary Zekley Interview. >>>presented by Yahoo Music

The Clique'M in the Clique

"Formed in Austin, Texas, USA, the Clique made their debut in 1966 with a haunting reading of 'Splash 1', originally recorded by the Thirteenth Floor Elevators . Their early line-up included Randy Shaw (vocals), Sid Templeton (guitar/keyboards), Tommy Pena (bass) and Jerry 'Function' Cope (drums), but the group underwent several changes before re-emerging in Los Angeles. Signed to the White Whale label, they enjoyed a US Top 30 hit with 'Sugar On Sunday' (1969), before completing an album under the aegis of the Gary Zekley/Mitch Bottle production team. Shaw was the sole Clique member featured on the sessions, which was comprised of their mentors' compositions, and included 'Superman', later revived by R.E.M ."
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The Clique

" The Clique had a medium hit in late 1969 with "Sugar on Sunday, " a cover of a song from Tommy James' Crimson and Clover album, and a smaller hit with "I'll Hold Out My Hand, " a song from their sole album. Emphasizing harmonies and carefully arranged light pop-rock tunes with horns, they were part of the scene that's now known as L.A. sunshine pop, except that they fell closer to bubblegum than some other acts in the genre. Like several such acts of the time, they were less a self-contained group than a vehicle for a producer/songwriter Gary Zekley, who co-wrote much of their material with Mitchell Bottler and used session musicians on most of their tracks..."
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The Clique

Listen to Real Audio and LiquidAudio samples of all the great songs by The Clique here:.

Tracks include: 1 Sugar On Sunday; 2 My Darkest Hour; 3 Holiday; 4 Hallelujah!; 5 I'll Hold Out My Hand; 6 Judy, Judy, Judy; 7 Little Miss Lucy ; 8 Soul Mates; 9 No Such Thing As Love, (There Ain't); 10 Superman; 11 Shadow Of Your Love; 12 Sparkle And Shine - (bonus track); 13 I'm Alive - (bonus track); 14 Memphis - (bonus track); 15 Southbound Wind - (bonus track); 16 Superman - (bonus track, single version); 17 Shadow Of Your Love - (bonus track, single version). >>> Presented by Yahoo Music


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