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The Arbors should be as fondly remembered by oldies enthusiasts as the Tokens, the Association, or Harpers Bizarre -- or at least as fondly as the Lettermen or the Sandpipers. The fact that they aren't is more a function of bad luck and the sheer diversity of their sound rather than anything lacking in their music. As it is, few music groups of the 1960s experienced a more wide-ranging evolution than the Arbors, starting off in a Four Freshmen mold in the middle of the decade and covering (most effectively) songs by Bob Dylan and the Doors by its end.

Two sets of brothers -- Tom and Scott Herrick from East Lansing, MI, and Ed and Fred Farran from Grand Rapids, MI -- met at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor (whence their name came), and found they all loved harmony singing in the manner of the Four Freshmen and the Hi-Lo's. By 1965 they were appearing at Detroit-area country clubs, and they went to New York that same year. A single for Mercury failed, but then they cut a rather more elaborate record, "A Symphony for Susan," for a tiny label called Carney. This was later picked up by Columbia and reissued nationally on the Date label (the same imprint that the Zombies ended up on), and hit number 18 on the listings. A pair of modest soft pop efforts ("Just Let It Happen," "Graduation Day") followed.

The group's prospects away from the easy listening charts were always limited in the midst of the late-'60s rock boom, but their future was hemmed in further when they were caught in the middle of a pair of musical and music business squeeze plays. In 1968, they recorded a song called "Valley of the Dolls," written in connection with (but not used in) the film of that title, and endorsed by original author Jacqueline Susann; it failed utterly in the shadow of the song used in the movie. Around that same time, the Arbors were briefly caught up in the middle of an effort to try and hold the group Chicago back from Columbia, which did little to help their standing with the label. But in 1969 their moody, atmospheric version of "The Letter," cut two years after the hit version by the Box Tops, displayed more of a rock sound and backing than anything they'd ever recorded and reached number 20 on the pop charts. They never saw another hit of that kind or caliber, and they cut their final Columbia releases in 1969 -- ironically enough, this came after cutting an extraordinary album of rock standards reworked to their harmony style, among them a version of Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone," the Doors' "Touch Me," and a medley of Blood, Sweat & Tears' "I Can't Quit Her" and Simon & Garfunkel's "For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her."

This is where most groups begin the process of breaking up, but in the Arbors' case, it was the reverse. Their exposure on record helped them move into the even more lucrative area of music for commercials -- for the next 30 years, they were one of the busiest and most successful groups making music for radio and television commercial jingles. They remained together, still working, into the late '90s, and have been inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi