|Cultural origins||Mid 1960s, California, U.S.|
Sunshine pop (originally called soft pop) is a lightly produced subgenre of pop music that originated in Southern California in the mid 1960s. Rooted in easy listening and advertising jingles, sunshine pop acts combined nostalgic or anxious moods with "an appreciation for the beauty of the world". It largely consisted of lesser-known artists who imitated more popular groups such as the Mamas & the Papas and the 5th Dimension. While the Beach Boys are also noted as prominent influences, virtually none of the band's music was representative of the genre.
Sunshine pop enjoyed mainstream success in the latter half of the decade, with many of its top 40 hits peaking in the spring and summer of 1967, especially just before the Summer of Love. Popular acts include the Mamas & the Papas, the Turtles, and the Association. Other groups, like the Millennium, Sagittarius, and the Yellow Balloon were less successful but gained a cult following years later with albums like Begin (Millennium, 1968) and Present Tense (Sagittarius, 1968) highly sought-after on the collectors’ market.
Origins and characteristics
Sunshine pop originated in California in the mid to late-1960s, beginning as an outgrowth of the California Sound and folk rock movements. Rooted in easy-listening, advertising jingles, and the growing drug culture, the music is characterized by lush vocals and light arrangements similar to samba music. Most of the acts were lesser-known bands named after fruits, colors, or cosmic concepts who imitated more popular groups like the Beach Boys, the Mamas & the Papas, and the 5th Dimension. In some ways the genre is similar to baroque pop music through being elaborate and melancholic, though it also crossed into folk-pop and Brill Building styles. It may be seen as a form of escapism from the turmoil of the times. The A.V. Club's Noel Murray writes: "sunshine pop acts expressed an appreciation for the beauty of the world mixed with a sense of anxiety that the good ol' days were gone for good."
Some of the artists who influenced the style include Curt Boettcher, the Mamas & the Papas' John Phillips, and the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson. Concerning the Beach Boys' involvement with sunshine pop, the orchestral style of Pet Sounds (1966) was imitated by many Los Angeles record producers, but as The A.V. Club notes: "Though [the Beach Boys] ... were hugely influential on the sunshine pop acts that followed, [their] music was rarely in step with the genre." The Suburban's Joel Goldenburg believes the closest the group ever came to the genre was the lightly produced album Friends (1968): "the vocals of sunshine pop songs are a little more anonymous and not as lushly featured as that of The Beach Boys. And I don't see the [Phil] Spector connection. The light touch applied to the songs reminds me more of soft samba music." Murray says that "John Phillips, on the other hand, practically created the blueprint for sunshine pop, with little of Wilson's uncommercial weirdness." Brian Wilson commented that "you can turn the Beach Boys upside down ... just the track or whatever, and I think they [the Mamas & the Papas] have as much vocal as we do track ... whereas, I think, we emphasize a little more track than vocal."
For many years, the genre lingered in obscurity, although it enjoyed some interest among collectors of rare vinyl singles and LPs. Certain albums would occasionally fetch hefty prices at online auctions or in record stores. A name was eventually given to the music, "sunshine pop", rarely deployed outside of record collecting circles. In the early 1990s, a renewed interest began in Japan, where record companies started publishing compilations of long-forgotten, obscure 1960s music. This revival subsequently spread to Europe and the United States.
Compilations or even box-sets by groups such as Spanky and Our Gang, The Association, The Arbors and The Love Generation have been released on CD. Among the record labels which issue sunshine pop re-releases are Revola Records from Britain and the American label, Sundazed.
List of artists
- The 5th Dimension
- The Association
- The Collage
- Eternity's Children
- The Free Design
- The Grass Roots
- Harmony Grass
- Harpers Bizarre
- The Mamas & the Papas
- The Millennium
- Roger Nichols and the Small Circle of Friends
- The Peppermint Rainbow
- Peppermint Trolley Company
- Sounds of Sunshine
- Spanky and Our Gang
- Strawberry Alarm Clock
- The Sugar Shoppe
- The Sunshine Company
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- Howard 2004, pp. 50, 69.
- "Sunshine Pop". AllMusic.
- Unterberger 2003, p. 64.
- Reynolds 2011, p. 168.
- Reynolds 2011, p. 152.
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