Archive for the ‘Sunshine Pop’ Category

A Very Hidden Treasure

Sunday, April 20th, 2008

Waterbeds in Trinidad! cover

Waterbeds In Trinidad is a pretty off the wall title, and the album cover in the snow adds the oddity, especially as Trinidad is one of the last places you would expect snow. The Association’s eighth album, and only one for Columbia Records, sunk without trace in the early 70s -not surprising, with the height of Sunshine Pop long gone, and even the Beach Boys moving into a more soulful phase with So Tough.

Indeed, Waterbeds In Trinidad has some country rock influences which distinguish from the earlier work of the group, but the harmonies and melodicism are very much there, with some beautiful songs including Rainbows Bent, Midnight Wind and Indian Wells Women. There is an energetic cover of Goffin/King’s Snow Queen, and Little Road And A Stone To Roll is one of those songs that you feel an identity with on first listening.

This will never be a mainstream classic, but it is a record that you can listen through and say “this is quite nice” and want to play over a few times. It is shifting for a few dollars at the moment on Amazon , but I would certainly recommend it, even at that price.

The Transcendental Era

Monday, January 8th, 2007

One of my Beach Boys fascinations since I became a “hardcore” fan in the mid-90s has been the 67-71 era, incorporating albums from Wild Honey to Surf’s Up, and covered succinctly on the third disc of the Good Vibrations box set. Peter Carlin’s book (which I am about halfway through) covers this era well and notes that a lot of the material in this era seems to seek a sense of transcendental beauty and escape in the natural world. One can think of songs like Country Air, Let The Wind Blow, Wake The World, I Went To Sleep, Soulful Old Man Sunshine and At My Window as examples of this. 

One must remember this was also a turbulent era of student riots and other disturbances, and much of the other music of that time seemed to reflecting that discord. Only the Beach Boys seemed to be retreating from that reality, and in the USA at least, that seemed to reflect on their popularity and sales, as well as their critical standing.

Of course, that harsh reality couldn’t be closed out together, and this era also saw the rather scary Never Learn Not To Love, which almost certainly has significant Charles Manson involvement in its creation. But even Dennis, who was possibly at his own songwriting peak at this point, was also creating his own visions of natural harmony such as Little Bird and Be Still from Friends.

One really gets the sense (without having completed the book) that this era is pivotal to Brian’s life. The book hints at a brief visit to a mental hospital for Brian in 1968, and the sense around this era is of a gradual decline, rather than the public perception that Brian was a complete acid casualty by the time SMiLE was pulled. Indeed, Brian was fairly prolific in this era if one also takes into account material that wasn’t released on albums such as Can’t Wait Too Long, Sail Plane Song and Games Two Can Play.

The era seems to culminate in the Surf’s Up album, which co-incided with Jack Rieley trying to make the Beach Boys hip again. The natural world now became a cause that needed to be saved (Don’t Go Near The Water) , but for Brian, it was his own soul that seemed to be crying for salvation and release. The astonishing pair of new Brian songs (A Day In The Life Of A Tree and ‘Til I Die) both take the natural motif, but instead of peace, there is now a desperate call for help, a sense of decline, and of drifting aimlessly.

Looking at the wider musical world, it was also the high point of Sunshine Pop, but again it was the harder edged music that seemed to getting the public attention. Yet Dylan also seemed to be drifting towards a sense of peace and simplicity (Nashville Skyline, Self Portrait) and the Beatles signed off with a mixture of stuff, but including some of their most beautiful ballads (Something, Because, Sun King, Here Comes The Sun, Long And Winding Road…). Scott Walker brought out his five classic solo albums. And Jimmy Webb’s tortured love life was being played out vinyl in the Richard Harris, Fifth Dimension and other albums that he was involved in from that era (and one of these will be reviewed tomorrow….).

Yes, if I had to relive an era of music, I would choose 1967-71. So much of the music then seemed to a sanctuary from the madness taking place around the world. Can we say that for today?

Understanding The Sunshine

Sunday, October 15th, 2006

If ever pushed to state my favorite genre music, I would say “Sunshine Pop.” I know it would be something of a cop-out, because I would be able to include much of what I love in that definition- a lot of the Beach Boys music, the Association, some of the early work of Jimmy Webb plus many of the newer discoveries that I have already set out in this page.

As with any genre, “Sunshine Pop” is not an easily defined and categorised entity, just as Bill Haley didn’t walk into the studio and say “today, I am making the first rock-and-roll record.” However, the general properties of the music, as defined in allmusic, include harmonies, an in-depth production sound often including orchestration and a generally sunny (bad pun alert) attitude. I do believe that these are values that I look for in the music that I enjoy.

Another feature of the Sunshine Pop (or more accurately, the music that is generally regarded as Sunshine Pop today) is that there was a reasonable balance between the bands, songwriters and producers. All of them contributed- bands such as The Association and The Fifth Dimension had big hits, songwriters like Jimmy Webb saw their songs interpreted in a way that hit the top of the charts, and producers like Curt Boettcher made records that remain cult favorites to this day.

Of course, the Beach Boys are not generally regarded as a Sunshine Pop group, and their music can be regarded as fitting into a number of genres- Surf Music of the early albums, the Rock and Roll influence, the Baroque Pop of Pet Sounds as well as the straight-ahead rock of some of their works. However, the Sunshine Pop values can be seen in much of the bands work, particularly, in my view, the albums from Today up until Surf’s Up.

Sometimes Sunshine Pop is seen as an early version of bubblegum, and I guess by implication, devoid of emotion. I would contest this- although there may be a pervasive optimistic attitude, there are songs in the genre that express deep, and not always, happy emotions. Roger Nichols I Can See Only You is one example here, while everyone should know Cherish by The Association, which may be a sappy love song but expresses something very deep from the bottom of the singer’s heart and soul.

It is good to see labels like Rev-ola making some of the hidden Sunshine Pop treasures from the 60s available again, and there does seem to be some critical re-appraisal of music in the genre. It is also great to see bands like The Now People make new music in this genre. Of course, it isn’t mainstream now -in fact, some of the nihilistic, unharmonic music out there now seems to be the direct opposite, but they say everything goes in cycles, so one day we may see a new sunshine out there. In the meanwhile, let’s enjoy what is there, and as an aside, I encourage any of you interested in the genre to help me flesh out the Wikipedia entry on the genre, so that the world has a real sense of what this wonderful genre is all about. After all, we can’t live without sunshine……

23 Sunshine Pop Favorites

Saturday, September 30th, 2006

23 songs currently on my personal rotation

1)IF I COULD REACH YOU(5th Dimension)
2)THE GIRL’S SONG (5th Dimension)
4)LOVE’S LINES, ANGLES AND RHYMES (5th Dimension): 4 great songs from the harmonic quintet
5)RAINBOW BENT (The Association)
6)BAREFOOT GENTLEMAN (The Association)
7)GOODBYE, COLUMBUS (The Association): There are a lot of gems if you look deeper than the hits for the Association- these are three that I really like.
8)ANOTHER TIME (Curt Boettcher)
9)MAGIC TIME (The Ballroom): Two Curt Boettcher opuses that pre-date the Millennium cult favorite, Begin.
10)WHEN THE WORLD TURNS (Eternity’s Children)
11)ALONE AGAIN (Eternity’s Children)
12)SUNSHINE AND FLOWERS (Eternity’s Children): Sunshine Pop wasn’t all California..this group was from the deep south, but these songs are still very beautiful and Sunshine And Flowers catches the whole mood of the movement.
13)KITES ARE FUN (The Free Design)
14)WHEN LOVE IS YOUNG (The Free Design)
15)DON’T TURN AWAY (The Free Design)
16)I FOUND LOVE (The Free Design): A group that I have recently discovered, but am really enjoying. Kites and I Found Love are probably the best known, but the middle two are two of the most beautiful songs I have heard, from their first album.
17)I SAW HER AGAIN (The Mamas And The Papas): Very much part of the movement.
18)SO FAR AWAY IN LOVE (Orpheus)
20)THE DREAM (Orpheus): Boss-town pop. The Dream is a fantastic mix of east and west.
21)DON’T TAKE YOUR TIME (Roger Nichols and The Small Circle Of Friends) 22)I CAN SEE ONLY YOU (Roger Nichols and The Small Circle Of Friends)
23)LOVE SO FINE (Roger Nichols and The Small Circle Of Friends): Roger Nichols wrote some of the Carpenters best known songs. Here are some lesser-known but great songs from his pen. 


It’s My Birthday Too

Friday, September 22nd, 2006


The Association are possibly the archetypal Sunshine Pop group with their harmonies and lyrics about sunshine and flowers. I know some people may find them insubstantial and sappy but I was always a sucker for Cherish, and indeed my first CD was the Association’s greatest hits as I couldn’t get it on any other format and I really wanted that song. So I had this CD for almost two years before I had a CD player (I did dub the song onto the tape thanks to a friendly cousin). Last year, I got the more complete 2 CD collection Just The Right Sound, and am now trying to collect the original CDs.

Birthday was their fourth album, and was released pretty much after the horse had bolted for the Association in terms of big hits and national fame. This 1968 album does contain their last top 10, Everything That Touches You, and appears to be made at a time of some internal turmoil for the band. They also turned down Jimmy Webb’s Macarthur Park at that time, which appears to have been a mistake in hindsight. However, as with many bands in their most turbulent time, the music has a harmonic and joyful quality, reflected in the lyrics which seem to be all about incence, throwing away one’s watches and going barefoot. Indeed, the lyrics almost seem to be a template for love and peace in a turbulent world. Although there is the odd moment where the vocals may have been stonger, I still think is a great album and another gem from the Sunshine Pop era. No, it’s not really my birthday but this is a present you could open every day.

You Never Knew How Much Fun Kites Are

Wednesday, September 13th, 2006

If you listen to the Free Design’s signature song Kites Are Fun, I suspect you may one of two reactions. You may recoil at the apparent naiveté of it all, and go to your nearest death metal or gangsta rap record to feel normal again, or you will soar with the innocence and beauty of it and feel transcended above the bustle and noise of daily life. You will probably guess I fall into second category. I have just got the Free Design’s debut album, which has this song as the title track, and it is doing very heavy rotations on my personal playlists.

The Free Design were a jazz-inflected, harmony pop group who probably just about fall in the Sunshine Pop genre. Like the Beach Boys, they consisted of siblings, and they also had a more solid technical background in music than many other artists. They never had a big hit (Kites Are Fun was the biggest, languishing in the Billboard 100-200 region) and may well have faded into obscurity after splitting up in the 70s. However, thanks to general revival of interest in the sunshine pop genre and specific interest from artists like Cornelius and Stereolab, there was a revival of interest in the 90s, culminating in a reunion just to record one song for the Brian/Beach Boys tribute album Caroline Now (the song was Endless Harmony, since you’re asking). This prompted a full length reunion album, and the CD release of all of their albums.

So what of this album- well aside from the title track, it has two of the most beautiful love songs you will ever hear (Don’t Turn Away and When Love Is Young). It is mostly originals, but there are three covers, the Beatles’ Michelle, Paul Simon’s Feelin’ Groovy and A Man And A Woman from the film of the same name. This will probably suggest this album isn’t exactly a rockfest, but for beautiful music, lovely harmonies, great arrangements and a simple feegood factor, I recommend this very highly.

A comprehensive Free Design site is here. As a final trivia thought around the title song – apparently Chris Dedrick (the main songwriter for the Free Design) was inspired by a girl with the same initials as Kites As Fun. So have fun wondering what her name was…Karen Ann Fletcher, Katy Andrea Fullarton??…I guess we’ll never know.

A Small Circle Of Friends That You Want To Join

Thursday, September 7th, 2006

Life and death are free
But love is the treasure
And faith is the key

My second album discussion is directly related to the first- Steve Stanley, the lead vocalist of the Now People wrote the liner notes to the re-release and acknowledges the influence of Roger Nichols on his own work. There is also a song in common- The Now People cover Trust, a song on this album.

You probably haven’t heard of Roger Nichols but you will have heard his songs- We’ve Only Just Begun done by the Carpenters is just one of his. This is his 1967 album called Roger Nichols And The Small Circle Of Friends and his small circle includes siblings Melinda and Murray MacLeod. The sound is beuatiful orchestrated pop, a mixture of well-chosen covers and originals. My first exposure to the group was hearing their cover of Goffin/King’s The Snow Queen on the excellent compilation The Trip (put together by members of Saint Etienne) which features some excellent Beach Boys-esque harmonies attached to a strong song. However, the originals are excellent as well and the “pearl” is I Can See Only You, from which I extracted the above lyric. There is an excellent article on the whole album, and especially that song on The Smile Shop, and I pretty much agree with the sentiments. Pet Sounds co-writer Tony Asher is a lyricist on some of the originals. giving this album a solid Brian Wilson/Beach Boys connection

The 2005 re-release, on the excellent Rev-Ola label (thanks for the all the great music!)  includes 8 bonus tracks and extensive liners. It is really good throughout; the last song St Bernie The Sno-Dog is a bit of a novelty number but your kids and dogs will love it, and the rest is well worth many listens by discerning adults. Be part of this circle!

Now (People) That’s What I Call (Real) Music

Wednesday, September 6th, 2006

Ok, time for my first album recommend on this blog. This is a recent release; indeed it is only available from the bands MySpace site until 19 September. The band is The Now People; the album is the Last Great 20th Century Love Affair and the time to get it is now. There is a pretty close Brian Wilson connection in that Probyn Gregory and Nelson Bragg, both regulars in Brian Wilson’s touring band, are part of the group.

The group brands itself around the “Now” sound as an undefinable but definitive sound that is current, and for all ages. The sound is very much the late 60s Sunshine Pop sound that was influenced by Brian Wilson, and taken further by people such as Curt Boettcher and Rogers Nichols, with possibly a slight power pop edge. And indeed it is a sound that will evoke a lot of emotions in the listener- a sound sadly that isn’t that “now” [rant begins]  thanks to the general garbage that radio stations and record companies have force fed us and desensitized us from what is truly good and beautiful.  [/end rant] Ultimately it comes down to the songs, which feature strong tunes and great arrangements. My personal favorites are Something Happened and My Luck Ran Out, but everything is pretty solid. Overall, a great album that affirms one faith that great music is still out there if one is prepared to search a bit.