Free Design: Stars/Time/Bubbles/Love (1970)

An anomaly in my collection, but, yeah, there are moments when unadulterated schlock, cloying sunshine pop, is just the right medicine to wash away cynicism and sadness.  And Free Design fill that bill nicely, even though it's something I might not play if anyone's watching.

For those who have not heard them, they had a series of late 60s and early 70s albums that combined Carpenters/Burt Bacharach-like adult pop, Millennium/Curt Boettcher sunshine pop, light psychedelia, lounge jazz, and children's music.  (They covered the Sesame Street theme, so there you go.)  They were an a cappella pop family in the spirit of the Cowsills (and the Partridge Family as depicted on tv) backed by studio musicians; and, admittedly, I had never heard of them until bands like Stereolab starting (literally) singing their praises.

Stars/Time was their fourth album and probably my favorite.  The highlight is lead-off track "Bubbles," which, sure is a multi-part harmony about bubblegum (later covered for the Powerpuff Girls tv show); but it's got a funky clavinet hook, some crazy, jazzy bass & guitar -- it's actually a legit great song, kitsch be damned.

The rest is less funky-weird-jazz, more kitsch, but still fun.  "Tomorrow Is The First Day Of The Rest Of My Life" is as trite as the title suggest, totally unironic, but quite pretty; "Butterflies Are Free" (yeah, look at those titles, what more do you need to know about the spirit of this band?) has the sort of weird, unpredictable interwoven vocals and askew lounge jazz vibe that explain why later pop-hipsters like Stereolab would find them so intriguing; "Time And Love" is like an a capella Christmas song you might hear at the mall (albeit with some odd Jesus-y quasi-spiritual lyrics), only with a perky bassline and such expertly acrobatic vocal interplay that it's hard not to admire; "Raindrops Keep Fall On My Head" out kitsches the original; and the closing bonus track on my cd, "To A Black Boy," is every bit as weird as the title suggests, an agonizingly dated ode to equality that closes out with some Miles Davis-worthy fusion jam.

So will you be blasting this from your car with the windows down?  No.  But it's such an odd and disarming little gem, it's hard not to conclude the world might be a nicer place if everyone played a little Free Design from time to time.

Here's some lava lamp joy for "Bubbles":
...and "Butterflies Are Free":