Sunshine pop

Sunshine pop

Sunshine pop is a certain type of pop music, most often characterized by a cheerful attitude, harmony singing, and sophisticated production, although there is no formal or strict definition.

This music blossomed from the mid-1960s to early 1970s, but subsequently faded into obscurity. However, since the 1990s Sunshine Pop has experienced a remarkable revival which continues until the present day.


Sunshine Pop originated in the American state of California in the mid to late-1960s. [ [ All Music: Sunshine Pop] ] The music may be seen as a form of escapism from the turmoil of the times. [ [ Late 60s Pop Obscurities] ] While artists like Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger and others used pop music to deliver political or social commentary, acts such as The Beach Boys, The Mamas & The Papas, and The Fifth Dimension instead popularized a cheerful, sunny sound. [ [ Expose Progressive Music web issue #31] ] Typical are airy themes like color and balloons as found in the canonical example Up, Up and Away or Yellow Balloon.

As this a-political 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 never had such luck.

In the early 1970s the popularity of Sunshine Pop quickly started to wane. Its lightweight sound had to make way for new music styles such as Singer Songwriter music, Progressive rock and Hard rock. Many groups thus faded into obscurity.

It should be noted that Sunshine Pop was only relatively recently labeled as such, when a renewed interest in the music resulted in a full-fledged revival.


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. [ [ All Music: Twinn Connection] ]

In the early 1990s, a renewed interest in what now became known as 'Sunshine Pop' kicked off in Japan [ [ Music Samples] ] , where record companies started publishing compilations of long-forgotten, obscure 1960s music. The revival subsequently spread to Europe and the United States [ [ El Records: Sunshine Pop 99] ] . 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 parts, Universal, 1997)
*"Sunshine Days: 60s Pop Classics" (5 parts, Varese, 1997-1998)
*"Get Easy! Sunshine Pop" (double-disc, Universal/Polygram, 2003)
*"Soft Sounds For Gentle People" (3 parts, Pet, 2003-2004)
*"Come To The Sunshine: Soft Pop Nuggets From The Wea Vaults" (Rhino, 2004).

Compilations or even box-sets of groups such as Spanky & Our Gang, The Association, The Arbors and The Love Generation have also been released on CD.

As a result, a wide audience was able to get acquainted with Sunshine Pop and many of its acts. Digital remastering furthermore meant the music could now be heard in unprecedented quality. Two record labels in particular have specialized in this sort of re-releases: Revola Records from Britain and the American label Sundazed.

A re-appraisal of The Beach Boys - and Brian Wilson's work in particular - has also contributed in providing an afterlife for many obscure Sunshine Pop groups and their songs. [ [ Steven Rosen: The Los Angeles City Beat] ]


*Sunshine Pop: songs are predominantly upbeat and a-political, 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 hapsichord, xylophone or sitar may also be heard. Multi-part harmony singing is ubiquitous.
**Group examples: The Beach Boys, The Mamas & The Papas, The Fifth Dimension, Spanky & Our Gang, The Association, The Arbors, The Sunshine Company, Harpers Bizarre, The Collage, Mark Eric, The Groop (US Band), Gordion Knot, The Unusual We.

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 cheerfull, 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:

*Bubblegum Pop: greatly emphasizes a good-time feel. Songs are catchy, but lightweight or even sugary. Harmony singing is prominent. [ [ All Music: Bubblegum Pop] ]
**Group examples: 1910 Fruitgum Company, The Yellow Balloon, The Cowsills.

*Soft Pop or Soft Rock: occasionally also known as 'AM Rock'. This is a more subdued and less exuberant form of Sunshine Pop. Often features a slower pace and stronger emphasis on orchestration.
**Group examples: The Free Design, Roger Nichols & The Small Circle of Friends, Bunky & Jake, Bergen White, Triste Janero.

*Baroque Pop: this combines elements from classical music with pop. Its sophisticated production often emphasizes orchestration. [ [ All Music: Baroque Pop] ]
**Group examples: The Left Banke, Montage, The Beach Boys (circa 1966-1968).

*Psychedelic pop: adds experimental elements such as studio tricks, sounds effects, and fuzz guitar to pop songs, creating a somewhat trippy whole. [ [ All Music: Psychedelic Pop] ]
**Group examples: Sagittarius, The Millennium, the Neon Philharmonic, West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, The Flower Pot Men, Strawberry Alarm Clock.

*Easy Listening: some music labelled as Sunshine Pop leans towards easy listening, particularly songs that feature wordless vocals rather than lyrics.
**Group examples: Dave Grusin, Herb Alpert, John Andrews Tartaglia, Julius Wechter & The Baja Marimba Band.

*Surf Music: like Sunshine Pop, vocal surf music is upbeat with prominent use of harmony singing. However, its topics are limited to surfing or drag racing, and the production is usually fairly sparse and relatively simple.
**Group examples: The Rip Chords, Jan & Dean, Bruce & Terry, The Fantastic Baggys, The Beach Boys (circa 1962-1965).

The boundaries between these styles are often very blurred. The subtle difference between Sunshine Pop and Soft Pop for example, is seldomly noted. Sunshine Pop may thus be considered an umbrella term, that can include elements of various styles and genres.

What binds the music labelled 'Sunshine Pop' above anything else, is its obscurity. Sunshine Pop consists mostly of lesser-known groups, some high profile names such as The Beach Boys and The Mamas & The Papas notwithstanding.

Furthermore, 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), and Spanky & Our Gang (from Illinois). Moreover, British acts such as The Flower Pot Men and Eternal Triangle prove 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 and the Papas
*The Association
*The Fifth Dimension
*The Cowsills
*The Yellow Balloon
*The Sunshine Company
*Roger Nichols & The Small Circle of Friends
*The Millennium
*The Ballroom
*The Free Design
*The Parade
*The Arbors
*The Flower Pot Men
*The American Breed
*The Sundowners
*The Moon
*Harpers Bizarre
*Strawberry Alarm Clock
*Spanky & Our Gang
*The Carnival (US Band)
*The Collage
*The Match (US Band)
*The Love Generation
*Eternity's Children
*Strawberry Children
*The Groop (US Band)
*The Oxfords
*The Unusual We
*Mark Eric
*Bergen White
*Don & The Goodtimes
*Cashman Pistilli & West
*Thomas & Richard Frost
*Bunky & Jake
*Fun & Games
*Colors Of Love
*Sounds Of Sunshine
*Vision Of Sunshine
*Peppermint Trolley Company
*Triste Janero
*Twinn Connextion

Billboard Hits

Although the music labelled as Sunshine Pop mostly constitutes obscure groups and songs, there were hits nonetheless. This table contains some notable examples.

The last column shows the peak position in the official American singles chart, the Billboard Hot 100.

ongwriters & 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 The Wondermints, Belle & Sebastian, Stereolab, Pizzicato Five, The Heavy Blinkers, The High Llamas, The Ladybug Transistor, and Afternoon Naps.

Bands like these are often considered part of the Power pop genre, which places heavy emphasis on melody, crisp production and song structure. Like Sunshine Pop, the songs are above all meant to be catchy and fun.


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