Friday, June 29, 2012

Up, Up And Away

Sunshine Pop: Part 2
Well, it's officially summer and the weather is fantastic in Southern California (my apologizes to those suffering in the heat waves across the country), so looks like it's only appropriate to continue with this sunny series.

One of the essential Sunshine pop tunes from this era is definitely "Up, Up And Away" by The 5th Dimension. Themed around images of hot air ballooning, this single was a breakthrough hit for the Los Angeles-based group, reaching #7 in mid-1967 and earning the vocal quintet several big Grammy Awards including Song of the Year and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. Written by young songwriter Jimmy Webb (while actually skipping a Music Theory class!), this song also features those excellent session musicians known as the Wrecking Crew (to be featured soon), including Tommy Tedesco and his Latin-flavored flourishes on nylon-string guitar. With those beautiful leading ladies Marilyn McCoo and Florence LaRue, this airy anthem is pure '60s sunshine pop.

From Delevan, New York, The Free Design was vocal group known for their sunshine pop and baroque pop music. Made up of siblings from the Dedrick family (originally Chris, Sandy, and Bruce, and later, sisters Ellen and Stefanie), their trademark sound incorporated complex vocal harmonies with folk, jazz, and classical elements. Although Chris did most of the songwriting, this ironically sunny tune, "Umbrellas," was written by brother Bruce and was featured on their debut album Kits Are Fun in 1967. Unfortunately, no live performance here, but you will hear how effectively this song evokes the subject matter with light sprinkles in the beginning, a cloudburst in the middle, followed by the sun coming out and the rain fading away at the end. 
From the East Coast, The Cyrkle also fall into the sunshine pop genre, particularly with their biggest hit "Red Rubber Ball" in 1966 (previously featured here). That same year, they followed up with that #2 hit with "Turn Down Day," which managed the Top-20 at #16. Although this tune sounds a bit more melancholic than most sunshine pop songs, it still fits the category (as well as drawing from folk rock and surf rock) with its well-arranged production, extensive pop smarts, and warm harmonies. Although their career was short-lived in the mid-'60s, this "summer goof-off" anthem is another essential Cyrkle song. Plus, check out that multi-neck guitar (actually a Gretch guitar/bass combo, pretty cool!), and although it's a mimed performance, you gotta love the drummer's showmanship.
Created by Curt Boettcher (who worked with Sagittarius from our last post), The Millennium was an L.A.-based group consisting of psychedelic rock musicians that incorporated sunshine pop harmonies. In 1968, they released their first and only album, Begin, which became notorious for being the most expensive album that Columbia Records had released at the time. Despite its poor sales, critics agree that it was money well spent, and it is now generally considered to be a classic of sunshine pop. Featuring the first two tracks from the album in this audio clip, you'll notice "Prelude" begins with a very harpischord-heavy, baroque pop-ish sound (turning into a dream-like carnival), but around around 1:20, "To Claudia on Thursday" starts subtle and evolves into an impressive and beautiful work of sunshine pop. 
Today's final group associated with the sunshine pop genre is, well, The Association, of course, also based in California. A benchmark in this style of pop music, their 1966 debut album released two singles that gave the six-man group their national break: "Along Comes Mary" (#7), followed by the even more successful "Cherish." Skillfully produced by Curt Boettcher (hey, there's that name again!), "Cherish" reached #1 on the Billboard chart for three weeks, and features their trademark sound of tight vocal harmonies and lush instrumentation (much like the amazing "Never My Love," previously featured here). Written by founding member Terry Kirkman, this shimmering tune is widely regarded as one of the greatest love songs ever written, and their original version still receives a lot of airplay today. Although members of this multi-instrumentalist group were classically trained, the Wrecking Crew studio musicians were used in most of The Associations' recordings. However, here's a truly live performance from 1967 (although the video quality is a little dark).


  1. Another fun post, Leah. I bought the Millenium album when it first came out (don't think the phrase 'Sunshine Pop' had been coined yet.) It was actually played quite a lot on local FM radio (DJs hadn't yet been straitjacketed and seemed to be able to play whatever appealed to them). The first time I heard it was at a tiny coffee house underneath 'Rochdale College', an educational experiment in Toronto that went from funky hippie 'free education' seminars to biker drug dens (sadly within less than a year of its founding.) Sorry, I got off topic - but music does trigger odd memories!

  2. Love Millenium. Soent a bit too much on an 8 cd set whilst in Japan (a mecca for Sunshine pop fans) but it has 2 x Boettcher/2 x Salisbury albums and plenty of other good stuff. That and the 3 cd 'Magic Time' set is so much music thankfully spinning out of a group that unfortunately only released one album.

    I should have been more patient citing the lack of Association on part 1 of the blog, oops!

    Great stuff :)

    1. I appreciate the feedback, Poncho! I love hearing from other Sunshine Pop fans. I hope to get back to posting more regularly this fall. Thanks for reading!