Sometimes the best sounding songs ever recorded aren’t the deepest or most relevant songs ever created nor the ones that hit the top of the Billboard charts. Every music lover has those fun guilty pleasures that blows their mind and, despite some element of questionable quality, we will defend our love for the music to the death. That can be said for my latest musical obsession, The Love Generation. An obscure Los Angeles based vocal group formed at the end of the 1960’s, The Love Generation was formed by superstar session singers John and Tom Bahler, but without generating any hits on their trio of albums, went nowhere. However the rich sound that they created would become a lost predecessor to the pop music of the 70’s, crafted by the brothers who helped define the next generation of bubblegum music fans sugar filled soundscape. Although The Love Generation went unnoticed at the time, the music created by the Bahler Brothers formed the blueprint of things to come in pop music.
This Christmas I started down a deep rabbit hole discovering the music career of the Bahler Brothers and have become virtually obsessed. Although I was told that the Love Generation’s albums are difficult to find, I was lucky enough to find a vendor in Cambridge, Ontario who had all three of their albums for sale and sold them to me at a good price. Although I will admit it’s not the most cutting-edge music within my collection, the albums are filled with delicious ear worms which are now on constant repeat in our home. But it’s no surprise that I’d love the music of the Bahler Brothers. For much of my life, even as a serious record collector, I have been an unapologetic fan of 70’s pop music and have marveled at the production that went into these often-dismissed musical gems of bubblegum goodness. The Bahler Brothers were involved in the recording of many of the 70’s most beloved pop acts, and the music of The Love Generation is like concentrated bubble gum music. The lyrics aren’t hard hitting, and the song writing might not be the best, but the harmonies and vocal arrangements are some of the tightest and best I’ve ever heard. Its music so sweet that it could put a diabetic into a coma.
Now while trying to piece together Tom and John Bahler’s musical journey through the 60’s and 70’s, I have found it difficult to figure out a coherent timeline on where all their various projects fit together except to say that they may have been two of the busiest men in the Los Angeles music scene during that era. If someone in the know sees a discrepancy in this early outline, please drop me a line and let me know.
From Inglewood, California, Tom and John Bahler were interested in music early on in their lives and as teenagers played in an independent big band. After high school, Tom went on to study music at the University of Southern California, while John went into the navy. While attending USC, Tom got interested in folk music and started singing with a group called The Good Time Singers. But when they were about to go on the road, as well as started making regular appearances on The Andy Williams Show, Tom didn’t want to leave school in fear that he might get drafted and sent to Viet Nam. However, when John got discharged from the military, Tom arranged an audition with The Good Time Singers for his brother, who joined the group instead.
The Good Time Singers proved popular with Andy’s producer George Wylie, who gave John’s name to Dick Clark to be the musical director on a new country music show featuring Roy Clark called “Swingin’ Country.” Tom put together a studio-based country band for the show and brought in Tom who was able to fit his school schedule around filming the show.
Now around this time Tom and John got involved with Ron Hicklin, which would change the direction of the career and sound in a major way. Ron Hicklin organized and arranged what would become known as The Ron Hicklin Singers, which were one of the most prolific vocal groups working behind the scenes in Los Angeles. If you needed a cracker jack vocal group behind your recording session, producers would often hire The Ron Hicklin Singers to do the job. What the Wrecking Crew was to session players, The Ron Hicklin Singers were to session singers, and not surprisingly they often appeared on many of the same recordings. Through the 60’s Ron Hicklin worked with major groups such as Jay and the Americans, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Paul Revere and the Raiders and Gary Puckett and the Union Gap helping them develop their sound. They would also be go to vocalists for TV theme songs, recording memorable themes as “Batman,” “Flipper,” “That Girl,” “Here Comes the Brides” and “Love American Style.” From film soundtracks to television and radio ads, the distinct harmonies of The Ron Hicklin Singers created a signature sound for the era which was distinctively modern and tight. In 1966 Hicklin was brought in for the original Monkees sessions, and with them he brought in John and Tom Bahler as new members of the group. Their work with the Monkees would be extremely successful giving the Ron Hicklin Singers a long running association with Screen Gems.
But around the time that the Bahler’s were doing the Monkees sessions they began to write their own brand of pop music. Now, when listening to the Bahler’s music there is no denying the influence that Ron Hicklin had on the vocal arrangements. The harmonies are the same vibe as Hicklin’s feel-good melodies and the vocal arrangements have the same tight, clean, nearly other worldly quality that Hicklin brought to every project he directed. With word that “Swingin’ Country” was coming to an end, the Bahler’s recruited four members of the music team – Mitch Gordon, Marilyn Miller, Jim Wheaton and Angie White – and formed The Love Generation. Through one of the band members, The Love Generation got a record deal with Imperial Records and released their first self-titled album in 1967.
When listening to the Love Generation, you need to pack away all sense of cynicism. The songs are pure bubblegum that seemed to be designed for the “modern teenager,” although I’m unsure that the Bahler Brothers were tapped into what the kids of the moment were listening to. Although the Bahler’s were in their 20’s, they already were part of that corporate world, and the lyrics often sound like something written by an older generation trying to figure out what “the kids” would dig. The result is a lot of overuse of the word “groovy” and saturated in terms aimed towards the “love generation.” This is clearly evident in the first single from their debut album, “Groovy Summertime”:
“It’s a groovy day
You’re groovy girl
Throw your cares away
It’s a groovy world
So come on (come on)
So come on
It’s a groovy summertime
And the sun is out
(And the sun is out)
Do I have to tell you girl
What it’s all about”
Other stand outs of the strange insertion of “groovy” appears in a revved up pop cover of Barbara Streisand’s “He Touched Me” with the backup vocalists singing Simon and Garfunkel’s timeless hook “Feelin’ Groovy” throughout the entire body of the song. But while the disconnect between “hippie lingo” and it’s reality seem to continue throughout, some of the songs are solid pop bangers. In possibly the best song on the album, the Bahlers invite a girl to “Meet Me at the Love-In” despite the fact that I’m not sure they have actually been to an actual “love-in.” A second stand out, “When the Sun Goes Down” declares “You really blow my mind when the sun goes down,” although I have a feeling that its not an LSD experience they are singing about. But despite that it all feels like kids stuff, the strength in the music and melodies stand solid. The songs still drip with goodness.
The music sounds like it is an album written for the flower generation, but which might appeal more to their younger brothers and sisters. The real hippies were up in Haight Ashbury listening to Jimi Hendrix and The Jefferson Airplane, but The Love Generation were so squeaky clean that they make the Cowsills sound like degenerates. Furthermore, with that Ron Hicklin sound behind them, the songs are unfortunately too corporate sounding. The Bahler’s also avoid any kind of taboo or political themes despite releasing the albums during one of the most divisive eras of the 20th Century making the lyrical content of the songs completely superficial.
But if the lyrical content of the songs were lacking, there was a powerful magic in the vocal arrangements and the harmonies. By working closely with Hicklin, the Bahlers were masters at arrangements, and the vocals on these songs are, without a doubt, some of the best I’ve ever heard. Nobody in pop music was creating harmonies this tight. Not the Mamas and the Papas. Not the Beach Boys. Not even The Beatles. The only group I can think of who could compete with The Love Generation for the same mastery of harmonies and vocal arrangements would be The Free Design, but they were on the opposite coast being equally unappreciated.
The Love Generation released “Groovy Summertime” and “Meet Me At the Love-In” as singles but neither caught the interest of radio djs or record buyers. But this didn’t deter the group from releasing a second album, “A Generation of Love,” the following year. “A Generation of Love” contained a lot more cover songs than the first, including fairly decent versions of “Working my Way Back to You Babe,” “A Groovy Kind of Love” and “Stop in the Name of Love.” The same strong vocal arrangements are present, and Tom Bahler continues to prove himself to be a strong leading vocalist, who was also now starting to find more lead vocal work on a lot of the Ron Hinklin projects too. Even the song writing is a bit better, with the bizarrely wordy “Consciousness Expansion” and the sweet love ballad “You” as the outstanding tracks on the album. But the single released from the album was an inoffensive pop song called “W.C. Fields” which, again, didn’t attract any attention.
The Bahler’s would go back into the studio and record under The Love Generation one final time, but this time they reportedly dropped the other members of the group and did the entire album themselves. Ironically, the third album, “Montage,” would be their strongest release with some of the best tracks they ever produced.
The opening track, “Montage” is a warm version of the theme song to the forgettable James Garner/Debbie Reynolds film “How Sweet It Is,” written by Jimmy Webb. One of Webb’s weirdest songs with potentially the worst lyrics he ever wrote, the Bahler Brothers make something special out of it with their polished vocal rendition bringing an air of passion to what is, essentially, a bit of a nonsense song.
Meanwhile, the Bahlers do finally make an attempt to say something in “The Pill,” although I’m unsure completely what they are trying to say. If you guessed that it was about drugs or birth control you are wrong, and it seems to be a satiric commentary on modernity. However, it’s the Bahlers attempt to go into a more rock direction with interesting results. The Bahlers even attempt to go political without being at all political in their song “Touch of Love,” where they bizarrely over dub a voice actor reading excerpts from John F. Kennedy speeches onto their original song. It sounds intense, but when you actually listen to the song the Bahlers, again, really aren’t saying much of anything.
The best of the album are more groovy bubblegum tracks, such as the well produced “Candy,” which might make modern feminist audiences cringe today, But the most important song on the album would prove to be “Let the Good Times In” which would find its own important place on the pop culture stage a few years later in an unexpected turn of events that only strengthened the Bahlers hold onto the pop music industry.
While working on “Montage,” the Bahler Brothers were contacted by representatives from the Ford Motor Company who wanted to create their own pop band for their new campaign, “The Going Thing.” With The Love Generation pretty much dead in the water and the members of the group having gone on to other things, the Bahlers reportedly auditioned 400 singers and hired ten to make up their new vocal group called, naturally, The Going Thing. Amongst those hired was their Love Generation compatriot Jim Wessen. With Tom taking lead vocals again, the Bahlers shaped the sound in the Love Generation style, albeit with less complex lyrics, and released four albums for Ford. Although I have yet to locate any of these albums, which seem to fetch a big price tag on Discogs, it’s a nice extension of sorts to The Love Generation (if anybody out there has any copies of The Going Thing’s albums kicking around they’d like to sell, drop me an email and lets talk). However, the true legacy of The Love Generation would be felt in the Bahlers’ next project with Ron Hicklin, but that’s another Vinyl Story.
The Love Generation was not one of the most lucrative projects for the Bahlers, but a bigger musical legacy was yet to come. They would continue with Ron Hicklin, with Tom taking more vocal leads, and help create the defining sound of pop music throughout the early seventies. But The Love Generation were the humble beginnings of a musical movement that would come to delight teenage record buyers at the chagrin of the more cynical “serious” music fan. Although the Love Generation didn’t produce any hits, the quality of the music is undeniably rich, and as the only project that put the Bahlers front and center in the spotlight, it could be their most defining recordings and are true obscure gems of the 1960’s.