One of the great eccentric pop producers of the '60s, Gary S. Paxton first scored with the early-'60s novelty singles "Alley Oop" and "Monster Mash," and a decade later he decamped for Nashville, where he got straight and found religion. In between those two extremes, he scored smash hits with the Association and Tommy Roe, and those singles are the touchstones for Happy Lovin' Time: Sunshine Pop from the Garpax Vaults, a spectacular collection of 24 Paxton-produced rarities from the late '70s. Most of these recordings -- a good chunk of which are unreleased; 13 of the 24, to be exact -- were made in 1966 and 1967, which is when Paxton headquartered his Garpax Studios in Hollywood, instructing the Four Freshmen on how to sing harmonies as he foraged a fruitful partnership with Curt Boettcher. "Nowhere to Go," that Four Freshmen 45, is here, as are the unreleased Boettcher numbers "Stay" and "Christina, In My Dreams," along with other collaborations with Curt. Boettcher was a good match for Paxton, ratcheting up his majestic instincts, but what's striking about Happy Lovin' Time is the extent of the producer's quirks, how he'd throw everything into the mix, balancing freaked-out fuzz guitars with blaring horns, undercutting a soul groove with harpsichords, and sliding harmonies into a bath of liquid echoes. All this studio flair is very trippy and very Southern Californian; the sides Paxton recorded in Bakersfield prior to leaving for Nashville aren't of a piece with this lush studio craft, there's not a bit of prescient country-rock. That ingenious use of the studio -- colorful and willful without being self-consciously strange -- is what makes Happy Lovin' Time such a delight. Sure, some of the songs are tightly written or boast hooks that carve their way into the cranium, but it's those sounds, softly swirling yet slyly insistent, that make this collection such a blast and such a valuable document of the swinging '60s L.A. underbelly.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine