It really was no accident that the Sunshine Pop genre arose when it did. Its roots lay in the largely white post rock’n’roll pop era when writing and production teams had firmly established footholds on both coasts of America, and when recording studios were starting to offer more tracks than the hitherto very basic four. Around 1965, a glance at the US charts revealed that harmony vocals were one of the few genres to withstand the British onslaught, and geed by that success record companies were eager to put money behind one of the few areas where indigenous acts could still outdo the Britons.
Many took their cue unashamedly from Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys but, instead of the intensely West Coast outdoor themes and surfin' falsettos, began to develop sophisticated vocal themes that also drew from the rapidly changing folk market. In New York, the warmth of the Lovin' Spoonful's vocals and John Sebastian's songs opened the way for acts like the Critters and Spanky & Our Gang who utilised softer-voiced leads with gentler harmonic back-ups. It was an approach that was quickly recognised as commercial and taken up by existing acts: Bobby Vee being steered towards it at Liberty, and the East Coast's Tokens grasping the opportunities as both singers and producers.
So what would characterise a typical Sunshine Pop single? Firstly, the productions would be smoother and fuller than many previous records and, although traditional pop song verse/chorus formats were largely followed, there was much more room allowed for vocal harmony introductions, backgrounds and breaks, all of which was greatly enhanced by the arrival of eight track boards. The lyrical imagery was often sunny and outdoor, echoing the permanently hedonistic outlook of the Beach Boys, while the overall feel of a song would purposely try to evoke the languor and warmth of endless summer days.
The Turtles, who lead off our collection with ‘Happy Together’, had some of the biggest and most memorable West Coast Sunshine hits along with the Mamas & Papas, the 5th Dimension, Harpers Bizarre, the Sunshine Company and the Association. Many of the tracks here were sizeable US hits, but there is also lesser known cuts from the Peppermint Rainbow, Bobby Vee & The Strangers, Donovan and the Neon Philharmonic. The quality of all their recordings ensured that it would become a collectable genre, and the UK and Japan led the way in recognising the worth of material cut within a comparatively short time frame. This compilation sits proudly alongside Ace's other “Chartbusters USA” collections of more pop-orientated material from the middle years of the 60s.
We at Ace Towers will shortly be skipping out to the park with balloons and frisbees. Come and join us, or just conjure with that imagery! This collection will be the perfect soundtrack.
By Kingsley Abbott