Get into this stuff along with The Millennium’s BEGIN if you like baroque and sunshine pop so pioneering it sounds like it could have been made last week! -Ian!
Although it only reached number 70 in the national charts, Sagittarius’ 1967 single “My World Fell Down” is one of the great experimental pop-psych gems of the era. Sounding very much like a lost Beach Boys classic from the “Good Vibrations”/Smile era, the record had beautiful California pop harmonies, exquisite symphonic orchestration, and a downright avant-garde middle section of carnival and bullfight noises. It was perhaps too weird to become the Top 40 smash it deserved to be, but in any case, Sagittarius would have had a difficult time launching a successful career, as the group didn’t really exist. It was a studio project of noted producer Gary Usher, who wrote several great Beach Boys songs with Brian Wilson and produced classic albums by the Byrds.
Usher made the recordings that came out under the Sagittarius name in his spare time, with help from such prominent friends as Beach Boy Bruce Johnston and Glen Campbell (who sings lead on the “My World Fell Down” single). The most important of Usher’s associates, however, was fellow songwriter/producer/singer Curt Boettcher, who has a cult following of his own for the sunshiney California pop with a touch of psychedelia that he produced during the era, especially as part of the Millennium. Boettcher wrote and sang much of the material that ended up on Sagittarius’ 1968 Columbia album, Present Tense. Unlike the “My World Fell Down” single (included on the LP in a brutally edited version), the album wasn’t reminiscent of the Beach Boys at their best and most progressive. It was California good-time pop with a mild dab of psychedelia, relentlessly and sometimes annoyingly cheerful, although immaculately crafted and produced, particularly in the layered harmony vocals. Not as commercial as the Association (with whom Boettcher also worked), it still had a lot more in common with the Turtles and the Mamas and the Papas than Pet Sounds or the Byrds. Although it only sold in the neighborhood of 40,000-50,000 copies, the record has a cult following, and was reissued on CD in 1997 with numerous bonus tracks.
All 11 tracks from the 1968 LP, with the addition of seven previously unreleased items and a couple cuts from non-LP singles. Although the production is beautiful and the songwriting melodic, the material is really too cloying to qualify this as a lost classic. When there’s even a bit of a serious or melancholic edge — as on the graceful opening track “Another Time,” or Gary Usher’s strange and stunning slice of psych-pop, “The Truth Is Not Real” — it’s much more memorable. Otherwise, this is kind of like the lesser fairy-tale, sing-songy British psychedelia of the time, but with state-of-the-art L.A. ’60s production. The bonus cuts are similar to the album, highlighted by the gorgeous instrumental “Sister Marie,” although the non-LP single “Hotel Indiscreet” is silly fluff. The version of “My World Fell Down” that appeared on Present Tense was brutally edited, but fear not: one of the bonus cuts is the classic original single version, all of its glory (and avant-garde bridge of found noise) intact.
The second and final album from Sagittarius was the first for the ambitious Together Records in 1969, but the label folded soon afterward, leaving The Blue Marble virtually unheard for over 30 years. Like its predecessor Present Tense, The Blue Marble is producer Gary Usher’s (the Beach Boys, the Byrds) take on the decidedly late-’60s sunshine pop genre, and features members of the Millennium, including the legendary Curt Boettcher. The record opens with an interesting, intermittently discordant version of the Beach Boys’ paean to childhood empowerment, “In My Room” (which Usher co-wrote with Brian Wilson). A new plaything, the Moog synthesizer, is employed on many of the numbers, and the results are distracting, leaving this period music even more dated. It’s as if Usher used Robert Moog’s invention to spruce up the weaker songs, instead of letting the tune carry the track. The country-tinged “Will You Ever See Me” showcases what Sagittarius could do with a strong melody, while the tempo-shifting “Gladys” is an intriguing anomaly of dark psychedelic pop.
Richie Unterberger, Bart Bealmear, allmusic.com
PRESENT TENSE (1967)
THE BLUE MARBLE (1969)