For every sunny pop hit of the mid-1960s and early '70s that you know, there were dozens of others with similarly upbeat feels that never made it onto your radar. For instance, you certainly know the Mamas and the Papas California Dreamin', Gary Puckett and the Union Gap's Over You, the Fifth Dimension's California Soul, the Young Rascals' Groovin', the Association's Windy and the Carpenters' Hurting Each Other. But how about Rumors by Eternity's Children? Sunny Day Girl by the Hobbits? Oh What a Lovely Day by the Twin Connexion? Or how about Will You Be Staying After Sunday by Peppermint Rainbow? I didn't think so.
Most of these more obscure pop songs were recorded in Los Angeles, a city overrun in the 1960s and early '70s with superb singers and studio musicians hoping for a break. L.A. also was ground zero for jingle singers who appeared on countless TV and radio ads, and for easy listening arrangers and musicians. Many of these artists formed pop groups that recorded one or two singles or, if they were lucky, an album or two. The feel-good music was aimed at young-adult couples who weren't connecting with the British invasion, acid rock, folk-rock or Motown but favored a gentler, more seductive vocal sound and a sighing, have-a-nice-day theme. Not everyone under 30 was turning on and tuning out. In fact, most weren't.
Not until the digital age, when tape vaults were mined for unreleased material, was this vocal genre discovered and christened "sunshine pop." What most of these groups had in common was a light and polished California sound dipped ever-so-slightly in the psychedelic milieu and rolled in the vocal-harmony sound of car and cola ads. The result was a gentle smoothie of pop rock and easy listening.
Having explored this genre at some length recently, I can tell you it's a wonderful, highly addictive form, especially if you love vocal harmony groups, string sections, the occasional sitar and jazzy Up, Up and Away-style horn arrangements. I have more than 300 tracks of sunshine pop, and I'm feverishly on the prowl for more. It's a groovy, Austin Powers combination of Swinging London and soft-soul Los Angeles, and for some reason it drains the stress right out of you. It may be "smiley face" music, but there's something hip about the sound so many years later.
JazzWax tracks: If you're looking for an entry point to sunshine pop, I recommend a two-album set called The Get Easy! The Sunshine Pop Collection (Universal Jazz/Germany) here. There isn't a bad track on the two discs. From there you can advance to the eight-volume Soft Sounds for Gentle People (Pet Records) series. It's a summer Sunday at Malibu Beach with your ankles in the surf while sipping a root-beer float.
JazzWax clips: You're in luck! It looks like someone has uploaded all the tracks from various places to create the entire The Get Easy! set at YouTube. You'll have to click here to begin listening, since whoever uploaded the tracks from the album decided to disable the embed feature. And here's the track listings and credits.
JazzWax taste: Here's one of the tracks, the Strawberry Alarm Clock's Barefoot in Baltimore...
And here's Rumors by Eternity's Children...
A special thanks to Doug Paterson.