Archive for the ‘Sunshine Pop’ Category

Sunshine From A Less Sunshiney Country

Monday, August 18th, 2014

Sunshine Pop may be most associated with the sunshine of California, but exponents of the genre have come from many places. These include Canada, not necessarily the first place one associates with sunshine, but is the home to the The Sugar Shoppe. The group recorded one album produced by Wrecking Crew member Al De Lory, and this album was reissued on CD last year, including bonus tracks.

While the music can be described as fairly standard sunshine pop, it certainly isn’t as sugary as the group’s name may suggest. Songs like The Attitude and Let The Truth Come Out have quite an edge to them, while one of the highlights is the bonus track cover of Easy To Be Hard which is moving and very relevant today. Other highlights include Donovan’s Skip-A-Long Sam, Privilege and Take Me Away which encapsulate the melody and spirit of Sunshine Pop. There are a few weaker songs, which detract slightly, but it certainly shows that the sunshine doesn’t end on the 49th parallel. Any fans of good pop music should head here and get a dose of sugar which can only be good for you.

My Top 10 Albums

Sunday, January 5th, 2014

There have been a few people posting their favorite ten music albums on Facebook so I couldn’t resist joining in here. Here they are – no compilations, one per artist, no particular order outside number 1 and probably number 2, subject to change but going on first instincts….

1. BEACH BOYS- PET SOUNDS: Anyone who knows me, or has read this blog a bit, won’t be surprised in the slightest here. I’ve written a lot about it so not much more to say here, except that I really hope that it gets appropriately revered on it’s scarily close 50th birthday in just over 2 years…

2. PADDY MC ALOON- I TRAWL THE MEGAHERTZ: I could make a case for just about all of Prefab Sprout’s records here, but the one record Paddy McAloon released under his own name has always edged it for me in terms of it’s pure emotional power, even although you hardly hear Paddy’s emotion-laden voice.

3. BEATLES-LET IT BE: This may seem to some to be a perverse selection, even although it’s consistent with Brian Wilson’s own views. I’ve been trying to think about why this album resonates with me, and I think it’s because the songs seem emotional and heartfelt -even seeming fluff  like Dig A Pony, in contrast to some of the more impersonal songs on Revolver, Sgt. Pepper, The White Album and Abbey Road. The Long And Winding Road may have been over-Spectored, but it still remains the Beatles song that talks to me the most.

4. ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK-LOST HORIZON (SONGS WRITTEN BY BACHARACH/DAVID) : Another possibly perverse selection, even though this much-maligned movie has picked up some cult appeal in recent years. The record broke-up the Bacharach/David partnership, set back Bacharach commercially for years, but yet there is a tremendous relevance and resonance in the lyric pleas for peace, harmony and understanding, and finding love in dreamed-about places. The fact that my children love this is an additional bonus.

5. THE MAGIC GARDEN- FIFTH DIMENSION: I had to have something by Jimmy Webb, and there are some good candidates, including solo albums and Richard Harris work. But this cult classic has to be my personal favorite, not least of all because of the excellent vocals by 5D. Of course, putting these vocals to the stories of Jimmy Webb’s tortured young love life becomes a winning combination.

6. BOB DYLAN- BLOOD ON THE TRACKS: It’s an easy choice for my favorite Dylan album; anything that has Idiot Wind, You’re A Big Girl Now, Tangled Up In Blue and You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go is going to be a winning combination of incisive lyrics and bittersweet melody -this is ultimately a protest album against the injustices of love, and the personal passion Dylan puts into that has to make this his best record.

7. SCOTT WALKER- SCOTT IV: One could make a case for any of Walker’s classic five albums -Scott 1 to 4, or even ‘Til The Band Comes In. But I always end looking at this record -not only the history of it sinking without trace after three pretty successful records, or the fact that it is stylistically more varied than the earlier records. It ultimately comes down to the songs- Rhymes Of Goodbye, On Your Own Again, The Seventh Seal are all up there with the best written. And it asks some interesting political and personal questions.

8. ASSOCIATION- BIRTHDAY: While one’s top ten records don’t fully define one’s taste, they do give a good indication what sort of music opens my heart and ears. So I’m going to throw in a few sunshine poppy albums to show how much this genre appeals to me, and this album comes immediately to mind. This is the one Association album that has consistently good songs throughout, and some huge home runs (or sixes, for the cricketers here) including Barefoot Gentleman and Everything That Touches You.

9. ORPHEUS- ORPHEUS:  Not strictly a sunshine pop band, but this record is pretty much that. You may know Can’t Find The Time, one of the perfect love songs, but the rest is pretty brilliant too.

10. EXPLORERS CLUB- FREEDOM WIND:  I battled a bit with a few options for the last record here, but went back to my first instinct, and a record that keeps making return trips to my car stereo. I’m not putting  a second Beach Boys record on this list, but here’s a band who took all the best of the Beach Boys sound and added their own personal touch. For those who haven’t heard of this band, please seek out all their music.

Luxury Hotel

Saturday, February 18th, 2012

In 2008, I enthusiastically reviewed the debut album from the Explorers Club, Freedom Wind, on this blog, and noted it was one the finest takes on the Beach Boys sound from a newer band. The sophomore album has been a little while in coming, but was one of the reasons why 2012 was always going to be a year of great musical promise.

Grand Hotel moves somewhat away from a direct Beach Boys sound to a more classic/sunshine pop sound. The sound for me is almost as if a record of Bacharach tunes was produced by Brian, and if that sounds like high praise, it is certainly intended. It’s one of those records where it is clear that every track has been lovingly crafted and designed to fit into an album which has a uniform quality of excellence. It’s also one of those records that rewards repeated listens to appreciate all the melodic and production tricks.

Some standouts for now  include the hook-laded Run Run Run, the tender Summer Days, Summer Nights and the emotional ballad Open The Door. You can check out the band at their website and get their music there, and lots of other places on the web. And you should.

Rare Earth

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

Last week I reviewed The Magic Garden, and noted it was brilliant but not well known enough to even be regarded as a cult album. Even rarer is another album that Jimmy Webb produced and wrote much of the material for the 5th Dimension, and indeed it was the last album that the 5th Dimension released with their original line-up in 1975. The album is Earthbound and it has never seen CD release. And while it does not have the quality or consistency of The Magic Garden, it is still very much worth a listen.

The Fabs I’ve Got A Feeling and the Stones Moonlight Mile may not be obvious choices for a sunshine  pop band, but the group manages to make original and soulful renditions of these songs. You also get five little known Jimmy Webb originals with the title track and When Did I Lose Your Love being particularly powerful.

As noted, this album isn’t available on CD but I did find it particularly satisfying as a very rare work celebrating top songwriting and singing talents. A few well-placed internet searches may help you to get hold of this album…..

Secret Garden

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

The Magic Garden

It’s one of pop music’s hidden treasures -an album that’s probably not known well enough to even be regarded as a cult album, but one that is surely good enough to be spoken in the same breath as Pet Sounds, Blood On The Tracks etc. You should know the artists (5th Dimension – Aquarius etc.)  and you should know the main songwriter/producer Jimmy Webb. The combination had already scored with Up, Up And Away and Jimmy Webb contributed four songs to the 5th Dimensions first album.

However, The Magic Garden is Webb’s show, writing all but one track (a cover of Ticket To Ride), producing and arranging. And similarly to Pet Sounds, he uses other voices to deliver his musical vision and turbulent emotions. Like Pet Sounds, the album opens with a sense of wonderment of the possibilities of love (the title track) and gradually retreats to the withdrawal of Paper Cup.

The Worst That Could Happen is the best known song here although The Brooklyn Bridge had the big hit with it. However, the highlight is probably Requiem: 820 Latham, with an immense vocal reflecting the emotion in the song. All the tracks are worthwhile, however, in terms of vocal, production and lyrics.

A number of Pet Sounds fans also rate this album highly. It’s a pop record that seems to have escaped both major critical and commercial acclaim but it is very highly recommended by this blog. Head over to Amazon or elsewhere to get your copy.

Sad News

Saturday, August 7th, 2010

I was very sad to hear today of the passing of Chris Dedrick, the main singer and songwriter of the Free Design, one of the classic sunshine pop bands, and one whose music often reached the harmonic heights of the Beach Boys and the Association. Have a look at  Chris’s website for more about this special person.

Neon Operas

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

Brilliant Colors: The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings

It’s  funny how sometimes one piece of music can lead you on to discovering another seemingly unrelated work that has an immediate impact on you. In my desperation to hear the new Prefab Sprout album, I downloaded an audio file of a German radio show that previewed the album. On that show, was a piece of music that I never heard before, Morning Girl by the Neon Philharmonic. Intrigued by this orchestrated pop gem, I tried to find out more about the group, and eventually purchased the double CD Brilliant Colors: The Complete Warner Bros. Recording. The album lives up to its title and  is a comprehensive collection of the complete two albums they recorded for Warner Brothers as well as a number of additional singles.

The Neon Philharmonic are certainly a fascinating part of the late 60s Sunshine/Baroque pop song and it is interesting to read the biographies of their singer Don Gant and songwriter Tupper Saussy. The ambition of their first two albums was certainly set very high -to essentially create an album that was essentially a pop opera before this became fashionable. And while there may be an element of over-the-top production and lyrics in titles like Long John The Pirate and  F. Scott Fitzgerald & William Shakespeare, the quality of the songs and intricate nature of the arrangements soon wins you over and makes you realise these are works are real quality.

One reference point is probably the works Jimmy Webb did with Richard Harris that share the orchestral ambition and occassional melodrama with the Neon Philharmonic – some may be turned off, but for me, these are all works of real quality. Are You Old Enough To Remember Dresden? may seem like a pretentious title, but this is a work of raw power and an intense brass-driven arrangement and bassline that really reels the listener in.

Morning Girl was the hit, but there are a lot of great songs amongst the 33 on the two CDs (plus some radio spots). This was a great chance discovery on my musical journey and you can come along too; you can buy or download at Amazon here.

Back In The Circle

Friday, November 28th, 2008

Full Circle

Not sure how this one escaped me, but glad I’ve got it now…many of you won’t have heard of Roger Nichols but all of you know We’ve Only Just Begun (the Carpenters wedding staple) and indeed, Mr. Nichols is the co-writer of that song. His one album of classic Sunshine Pop was one of the first reviews of this blog and now, he has got back with his group, The Small Circle Of Friends to record some of his classic songs. This was actually released in Japan last year, but thanks to Steve Stanley of the Now People, it now has a worldwide release and is available on Amazon.

You may well know the classics Let Me Be The One and Out In The Country, which are featured here, but there are beautiful songs throughout, including Look Away and the inspring instrumental, The Winner’s Theme. Also featured are five 60s era demos of songs featured on the album. This is classic sunshine pop, with beauty and depth, and one of the great songwriters. Highly recommended.

23 Songs For Today

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

1) A Symphony For Susan - The Arbors 

2) Most Of All - The Arbors 

3) That Lucky Old Sun (Reprise)- Brian Wilson 

4) Going Home- Brian Wilson 

5) Southern California- Brian Wilson

6) Message Man- Brian Wilson 

7) Just Like Me And You- Brian Wilson 

8 ) Because We Are In Love (The Wedding Song) -The Carpenters 

9) Someday You Will Be Loved - Death Cab for Cutie 

10) Don’t Forget The Sun - The Explorer’s Club 

11) Lost My Head -The Explorer’s Club 

12) If You Go -The Explorer’s Club 

13)  Safe Distance -The Explorer’s Club 

14) Hold Me Tight - The Explorer’s Club 

15) Pink Confetti - Freshlyground 

16) Malibu - It’s Only Roy 

17) I Keep On Talking- Love Generation

18) Sissy & The Silent Kid - The Magic Numbers 

19) Always a place -The October Project 

20) Ineffable - Paddy McAloon 

21)  The Ballad Of Bjorn Borg - Pernice Brothers The World Won’t End 

22) One Foot in the Grave - Pernice Brothers 

23) Reason To Forgive - Swanky Hotel 

Vocal Harmonies For Susan

Sunday, September 14th, 2008

Symphonies for Susan

Believe it or not, I have been listening to other new music other than That Lucky Old Sun!  Well, new music in that is something I haven’t heard before, but it’s actually classic sunshine pop from the late 60s! The Arbors have an interesting story (well told at Allmusic) and from a hitmaking perspective, it is a very much a case of “what might have been.”

The only currently available CD of their works is the 2007 anthology Symphonies For Susan which covers a fair bit of their recorded work. It’s an interesting mixture of Four Freshmen harmony styles gradually moving into more rock-oriented sensibilities. There are interesting covers of the Doors Touch Me and Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone, as well as songs that were also covered by the Beach Boys -Graduation Day and The Letter. And by the time we get to Hey Joe, we are combining the Four Freshmen harmonies with some pretty hard rocking!

The approach works best on the romantic harmony tracks, particularly A Symphony For Susan and Most Of All. Overall, it’s not the greatest sunshine pop, but there are moments of harmonic bliss and romantic sophistication that should put smiles on any harmonic pop fans. You can get it on Amazon.