Andy Shernoff of the Dictators once wrote a song called "Who Will Save Rock and Roll?," which featured the memorable verse "June first, '67/Something died and went to heaven/I wish Sgt. Pepper never taught the band to play." Maybe Shernoff was going a bit far to make a point, but the unfortunate truth is that once the Beatles released their magnum opus, it would be many years before an album that was simply a collection of great songs would seem to be enough in the eyes of the rock cognoscenti. Seemingly every act of any significance during the late '60s made a high-gloss concept album, and Chad & Jeremy were no exception; while they had a sure knack for smart and subtle folk-influenced pop with outstanding harmonies, the times demanded more of them, and in 1967 they released their response to the Sgt. Pepper's phenomenon, Of Cabbages and Kings. Taking its title from Lewis Carroll (whose Through the Looking Glass is quoted at the outset) and credited to Chad Stuart & Jeremy Clyde, Of Cabbages and Kings opens with six lushly orchestrated, self-consciously arty pop tunes, beginning with "Rest in Peace," a smart but cheeky number in which a man who carves gravestones tells listeners just how he feels about his customers. Side one also gingerly flirts with controversy with "Family Way" (about an unwed girl who finds she's pregnant), and allows Chad & Jeremy to ponder the sorrows of a musician's life in "Busman's Holiday." If the songs are often too wordy for their own good, they confirm that Stuart and Clyde were gifted songwriters who could work outside the standard pop framework of the day, and Stuart (who orchestrated the album) was a talented and imaginative arranger who gives the material a sound that's both rich and intimate. It's side two where things go seriously awry; "The Progress Suite" is a wildly pretentious five-part tone poem cluttered with sound effects and voice-overs that charts the rise and fall of the modern age (or something like that), and while they manage to inject a certain amount of whimsy into the proceedings, at close to 27 minutes it goes on far too long and raises the eternal question "Sure it's art, but is there another reason why I should care?" The trouble with the second half of Of Cabbages and Kings is that it clearly confirms Chad & Jeremy had the talent and the ability to create something more ambitious than "A Summer Song" or "Yesterday's Gone," but no one had the sense to rein them in once the album began to teeter on the edge of collapse. Ultimately, it's the simpler but still adventurous first side of this album that succeeds, while "The Progress Suite" sounds like the score to a movie that wisely never got made; shut this off at the halfway point and you might think it's a masterpiece.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming