"Incense and Peppermints" was the definitive one-shot psychedelic pop single, reaching number one in 1967 (though the Strawberry Alarm Clock did have one more Top 40 45, "Tomorrow"). Because of the group's outrageously trendy psychedelic name, its inability to sustain creative or commercial success, and the undoubted mass pop appeal of this one song, they and the single have sometimes been dismissed as psychedelic exploitation. All that taken into account, there's still no doubt that "Incense and Peppermints" is a great song and recording -- "contrived but hypnotic," as Lillian Roxon put it in her Rock Encyclopedia. It certainly is a crafty meld of several discrete sections, starting with a drum roll and a brief instrumental opening with sinuous, curling pseudo-Eastern guitars and organ. Then group harmonies quite similar to the Association come in, rapidly shifting between minor and major keys. Indeed the song as a whole does, and taken in tandem with the Eastern-like organ and guitar, the effect is something like a more pop-oriented Doors. The verses are portentously intoned as if they have great insight, and actually the words don't mean anything special, but they sound good when strung together. The record's strongest hook -- and there are several strong hooks -- is the chorus of an enchantingly descending, vaguely menacing melody, with the inscrutable words "who cares the games we choose/little to win, and nothing to lose?" There's also a nice brief bridge in which the tune gets brighter, the Association-like harmonies return, and the backup vocals eerily descend, coming to a dead stop before a buzzing, ascending organ leads the band back into the verse. A brief fuzz-psychedelic guitar solo instrumental break also helps, and the song unexpectedly ends with a churchy, sunny burst of organ notes, like the calm after the storm, with the band "sha-la-la"ing Association-type harmonies on the fadeout. "Incense and Peppermints" is actually quite a remarkably intricate and accomplished pop recording, and it comes as a surprise to find that it was originally intended as a B-side. In addition, the lead vocalist was not even a member of the band, but a singer (Chris Mumford of the Shapes of Sound) who just guested for the session. It was a happy accident, perhaps, that couldn't be replicated, and the Strawberry Alarm Clock never came up with anything else nearly as good.