The Neon Philharmonic

The Neon Philharmonic can blame its commercial failure on the same malignant spirit that regularly sends the catchiest, craftiest stuff skidding into the bargain bin of history. Only "Morning Girl" made it onto the radio (#17, 1969), and it's a vivid summary of the style: orchestral pop in the mode of Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys and Burt Bacharach, with a whiff of '60s Broadway and a toe in the then-burgeoning rock opera movement.

Comprising the Neon Philharmonic's two long-lost LPs and a handful of singles, Brilliant Colors is soaking with hooks, but hardly slushy. With help from the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, the elegant melodic arches of composer-songwriter Tupper Saussy etch sophistication into ditties like "Morning Girl" as much as they pep up his rangier, symphonic moments. To the world, this is AM radio-ready pop -- but it's outsider music in the sense that Saussy, like Bacharach and Brian Wilson, was a square, peeking into a rising psychedelic culture and finding a spark of freedom to transduce into conventional pop. Later, the Neon Philharmonic's resident genius was to become a major figure in the tax-resistance underground and end up on the lam for a decade, only to surface in time for this retrospective. That's another story. Brilliant Colors, though, chronicles one of the most bittersweet lost chapters in pop music.


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