by Barry Walters | October 7, 2013
Sunshine pop is one of those genres that didn't get a name or get recognized as its own thing until decades after the fact. It started in the mid-'60s when The Beach Boys' Brian Wilson started losing interest in straightforward surfing and hot rod songs -- right around the time when his fascination with production techniques sharply escalated. Sunshine didn't simply enable beach fun: It could also trigger a spiritual experience so powerful it would alter consciousness. These songs reasoned that nature alone could get you high.
Soon the studios of Los Angeles were bursting with this harmony-based, session-player-enabled soft psychedelic pop. Groups like The Association, The 5th Dimension and The Mamas & The Papas -- often supported by overlapping teams of producers, songwriters and studio musicians -- infiltrated AM radio with emphatically light, multitracked lushness. The sunshine sound then spread east to inspire similarly styled ensembles like Bloomington, Ill.'s Spanky & Our Gang, and even to England with The Flowerpot Men. But heavier, more self-contained bands conquered the free-form FM dial, and when Woodstock hit in 1969, protest-themed acid rock almost immediately wiped out the sunshine sound, sending would-be softies to either kiddie bubblegum or more mature and introspective singer-songwriter fare.
Rediscovered in the '90s and the early '00s, sunshine pop benefited from the CD reissuing boom, which turned forgotten talents like Sagittarius/Millennium collaborator Curt Boettcher into cult heroes by emphasizing through remastered clarity the art of their intricately crafted miniature symphonies. This playlist samples sunny acts huge, obscure, long-lasting and fleeting. Up, up and away!