|Stylistic origins||Pop, rock, surf music, classical music, Baroque pop|
|Cultural origins||Mid 1960s, California, United States|
|Typical instruments||Guitar, bass, drums, horn section, string section, wind instruments, harpsichord|
|Derivative forms||Psychedelic pop|
Sunshine pop is a subgenre of pop music originating in the United States, mainly the state of California, in the mid-1960s, although it only acquired the name later. It began as an offshoot of the 1960s California Sound. Sunshine pop, by nature, is cheerful and upbeat music which is characterized by warm sounds, prominent vocal harmonies, as well as sophisticated productions. In many ways sunshine pop is similar to baroque pop music, through the usage of intricate productions and classical elements, yet, differs from baroque pop, which, unlike sunshine pop, is often dramatic and melancholic.
Sunshine pop enjoyed mainstream success in the latter half of the decade; popular bands include The Beach Boys, The Buckinghams, Mamas and the Papas, the Turtles, the Association, amongst others. Several sunshine pop groups enjoy cult success nowadays.
Sunshine pop originated in the American state of California in the mid to late-1960s. The music may be seen as a form of escapism from the turmoil of the times. While artists such as Bob Dylan, Country Joe and the Fish and others used pop music to deliver political or social commentary, acts such as The Beach Boys, The Mamas & the Papas, The 5th Dimension, Harpers Bizarre, Spanky and our Gang, Strawberry Alarm Clock and The Association instead popularized a cheerful, sunny sound. Typical are airy themes like color and balloons, as found in the canonical examples "Up, Up and Away" and "Yellow Balloon".
As this apolitical music grew in popularity, dozens of groups began recording sunshine pop, with widely varying degrees of success. Some acts were fortunate to score one or two hits, while others failed to achieve commercial success. Notable among the former category is The Association who scored five US Top 10 singles, including two #1 hits, and their 1967 hit "Never My Love" was ranked as the #2 most-played song of the 20th century on American radio (by BMI).
In the early 1970s, the popularity of sunshine pop quickly started to wane. Its lightweight sound made way for new music styles such as singer-songwriter music, progressive rock and hard rock. Many groups thus faded into obscurity.
For many years, sunshine pop lingered in obscurity, although the music 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.
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. Music that was previously available only on vinyl was now re-issued on CD.
Notable examples of compilations containing sunshine pop are:
- Morning Glory Daze: Universal Soft Rock Collection (2 volumes; Universal, 1997)
- Sunshine Days: 60s Pop Classics (5 volumes; Varese, 1997–1998)
- Get Easy! Sunshine Pop (double-disc, Universal/Polygram, 2003)
- Soft Sounds For Gentle People (5 volumes; Pet, 2003–2004)
- Come to the Sunshine: Soft Pop Nuggets from the WEA Vaults (Rhino, 2004).
Compilations or even box-sets by groups such as Spanky and Our Gang, The Association, The Arbors and The Love Generation have also been released on CD. As a result, a wide audience has been able to get acquainted with sunshine pop and many of its key acts. Two record labels in particular have specialized in these sort of sunshine pop re-releases; Revola Records from Britain and the American label Sundazed. Furthermore, digital remastering has meant that the music can now be heard in unprecedented sound quality.
Sunshine pop songs are predominantly upbeat and apolitical, and at first glance, fairly superficial. However, they often feature complex production and arrangements. The instrumentation typically includes strings, guitar, bass, drums or percussion, and piano. More exotic instruments such as harpsichord, xylophone or sitar may also be heard. Multi-part harmony singing is ubiquitous. In short, sunshine pop is most often characterized by a cheerful attitude, harmony singing, and sophisticated production. These three principal elements are most readily associated with this type of music. However, the term actually has a broader use in practice: sunshine pop can sound relentlessly cheerful, but also more subdued or even sad. The music may be experimental and contain psychedelic elements. Sunshine pop is thus strongly related to several other musical styles such as bubblegum pop and psychedelic pop; both usually consist of lightweight, catchy and upbeat songs. However, psychedelic pop adds experimental elements such as studio tricks, sounds effects, and fuzz guitar to pop songs, creating a somewhat trippy whole.
Like sunshine pop, soft rock also creates a gentle feeling, but soft rock songs are more subdued and less exuberant than sunshine pop, often featuring a slower pace and stronger emphasis on orchestration. Other related genres include easy listening and surf music; with prominent use of harmony singing. However topics under surf music are limited to surfing or drag racing, and the production is usually fairly sparse and relatively simple. With orchestral similarities, baroque pop also shares many characteristics. However baroque pop lyrics and orchestration are a lot darker, more melodramatic and surreal; the genre is considered more sophisticated and in line with forward thinking musical styles such as progressive rock and art rock. The boundaries between these styles are often very blurred with the subtle difference, sunshine pop may thus be considered an umbrella term, that can include elements of various styles and genres.
Sunshine pop is strongly associated with a specific time and place, namely California from the mid-1960s to early 1970s. However, it should be noted there were plenty of groups from other parts of the United States as well, including The Cowsills (from Rhode Island), The Free Design (from New York), The Clique (from Texas) and Spanky and Our Gang (from Illinois). Moreover, British acts such as The Flower Pot Men, Harmony Grass, Design, Gullivers People and Eternal Triangle, show that sunshine pop was not a strictly American phenomenon.
Artists generally regarded as part of sunshine pop or associated with this music include:
- The Beach Boys (circa 1965-1969)
- The Mamas & the Papas
- The Association
- The 5th Dimension
- The Lovin' Spoonful
- The Cyrkle
- The Cowsills
- The Yellow Balloon
- The Sunshine Company
- The Peppermint Rainbow
- Small Circle of Friends
- Curt Boettcher
- The Millennium
- The Parade
- The Clique
- The Arbors
- The Flower Pot Men
- The First Class
- The American Breed
- The Innocence
- David Marks
- Euphoria US
- Harpers Bizarre
- Strawberry Alarm Clock
- The Free Design
- Spanky and Our Gang
- Peppermint Trolley Company
- The Brooklyn Bridge
- The Appletree Theatre
- Harmony Grass
- The Love Generation
- Bunky and Jake
- Sounds of Sunshine
- Twinn Connexion
- The Sugar Shoppe
- Friends of Distinction
- The Buckinghams
- Bobby Jameson
Songwriters and producers
While some very well known bands are associated with the style, songwriters and producers played an important role in shaping the sunshine pop sound as well. Apart from the production influence of Phil Spector and Brian Wilson, other producers generally regarded as influential for the genre include Gary Usher, Curt Boettcher, Bones Howe and Gary Zekley. Notable songwriters included Jimmy Webb, Roger Nichols and Paul Williams.
Traces of sunshine pop can nowadays be found in such bands as Tilly and the Wall, The Wondermints, Explorers Club, Belle & Sebastian, Eggstone, Stereolab, Pizzicato Five, The Heavy Blinkers, The High Llamas, The Ladybug Transistor, The Format, Fun, Saint Etienne, Kishi Bashi, Brent Cash, Terraplane Sun, Your Summer World. As with classic sunshine pop, some of the songs of these newer acts are intended as lightweight fun. Sunshine pop has also attracted the attention of Hip-Hop acts such as Masta Ace and KRS-One for use in their songs, mostly due to its melodic beats.
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