Song Title: Incense and Peppermints
Sung by: Strawberry Alarm Clock
Released: May 1967
Recorded: 1967 (Los Angeles, California)
Genre: Psychedelic Pop
Label: UNI Records
Writer(s): John S. Carter, Tim Gilbert, Mark Weitz, Ed King
Producer: Frank Slay and Bill Holmes
In my humble estimation, the important social events during the years of junior and senior high school really came down to the school dances. Sure, today’s modern technology and social networks have taken over much of the how and when young people seek the avenues for meeting others. It’s still learned behavior, one for the expressed purpose of actually putting yourself in the mix — of introducing you to others, that is.
Back in the dark ages that was my youth, teens (especially for those of the Y-chromosome variety) had to make a conscious choice whether they’d take a plunge into the social pool while in the midst of school. That is, putting yourself into the middle of a terrifying maelström, let alone puberty. The most obvious, and probably the damnedest and scariest, was the school dance.
Thus, it was in the junior high of my day, and the 7th grade specifically, where I (and the others known to me) put our pride and feelings in ridicule’s cross-hairs for just such an endeavor. Guess what? If my observances of my son’s current experiences are any indication, it’s still in play.
Certainly, familiarity with music and the act of dancing were already well-known to most of us at that age. Still, having it set in school, among your peers, rivals, and let’s face it, the opposite sex, was the significant barrier to get beyond. It was almost a rite of passage for some of us. For the guys, if they wanted to meet girls, this was a step that had to be made. No one was going to do it for you. Author Tom Schreck’s take on guys dancing, and the repercussions, is a must read here.
At one time I thought the girls (at least from the perspective of this raw young male) seemed more at ease with it all. Attending a school dance was no big deal for them because, A) they were just better at it than the majority of the guys in my grade (no doubt helped by the fact there was no stupid male ego to get in the way), and, B) they enjoyed it. No matter how much you loved listening to music, translating that into physical rhythmic expression, in public, made most of the male juveniles simply deer-in-the-headlights roadkill material. Like me.
However, hormones, rather than valor, can overcome a lot. In actuality, it’s why I learned to type. That, and getting passed the embarrassing fact of asking your mom for pointers (‘cuz I certainly didn’t know what the Hell was expected of me in such situations) no doubt helped. Those that didn’t take that route, asked their buddies for support. Beyond that, and years before I’d have it explained to me, it was what my old sensei use to say came into play with Judo.
That is, you learned through osmosis. Don’t quite get how to fall properly, and without injury, when on the receiving end of Hari Goshi? No worries. The hard floor would serve as that semipermeable membrane through which this knowledge shall pass. It’s called survival. Same here. That same surface was also where you learned the important lessons in all of this:
- you’ll never meet or dance with someone unless you first ask
- failure is a part of the process (to wit, not everyone wants to dance with you)
- don’t let #2 discourage you, keep on trying (see #1)
With that off of my chest, I decided to highlight those songs that still give me instant flashbacks to those days. The ones where the interaction of dance and song were seared into memory. In this case, a one-hit-wonder. Of course, it had to be one of Psychedelic Pop ilk that was Incense and Peppermints by Strawberry Alarm Clock to start this. Hey, give them a break on the name — it was the 60s.
The tune, one that went all the way to top the pop chart, had an infectious quality to us teens — “I give it a 85. I like the beat, and you can dance to it.” It had that unique sound so recognizable of the era. The first Austin Powers film famously and rightly featured the song. But, all that really mattered here was that the girls liked it. I mean, if your potential dance partner was even slightly inclined to move her feet to that melody, and thus more disposed to accept your requesting hand to express that fancy…well, the ditty soon came to be your favorite, too.
It got to the point you could sense the energy rise on the dance floor with the opposite sex as the tune’s recognizable first few notes emanated from the gymnasium’s speakers. Believe me, only those without a pulse let those moments pass.