Sunday, December 2, 2007

More Pet Sounds

We've been focusing a lot on beat-heavy music here at DBJ--not that there's anything wrong with that. But you'll notice our lovely logo includes one genre that isn't quite like the others. So, I think it's time we put the spotlight on a sound that's affectionately known as Sunshine Pop. Haters will probably call this the last refuge for WASPy syncopation-less elevator music, but I'd like to set the record straight with a few of my favorite cuts.

At it's best, Sunshine Pop is an emulation of Pet Sounds/Good Vibrations era Beach Boys. So let's kick it off with just that--a track from Gary Usher's 1968 brainchild Sagittarius. Not only was Usher one of Brian Wilson's earliest collaborators, but he filled this band with Beach Boys regulars, such as backing vocalist Bruce Johnston, Brian Wilson's touring replacement (and Rhinestone Cowboy) Glen Campbell, as well as famed session musicians Hal Blaine (drums) and Carole Kaye (bass)--both of whom were featured on Pet Sounds.

Sagittarius - My World Fell Down

The next selection is an offshoot of Sagittarius--a veritable supergroup of studio musicians and songwriters called The Millennium. The principal leader was Curt Boettcher, Gary Usher's co-producer on Sagittarius and perhaps the most renowned figure in the Sunshine Pop genre. Their lone album Begin was also released in 1968 and at that point it was known to be the most expensive album ever produced by Columbia records. It has since become one of the most legendary cult albums of all time. I highly recommend listening to the full LP. But here are a couple tracks to whet your appetite. [Hot Beat Alert: Note the unheard-of hip-hop drumming that start of "Prelude"]

The Millennium - Prelude

The Millennium - To Claudia on Thursday

Next up is a band named after a song by early Beach Boys rivals Jan & Dean. The song Yellow Balloon first appeared on their 1966 attempt at a Pet Sounds-like album--the results of which will be discussed later. As for the band The Yellow Balloon, they were led by Gary Usher cohort Gary Zekley, who, according to, "produced sessions that rivaled Phil Spector or Brian Wilson for big sound and teen spirit." Hear for yourself...

The Yellow Balloon - Stained Glass Window

The Yellow Balloon - Yellow Balloon

Here's the story on the above mentioned Jan & Dean album. After Jan was left paralyzed from a car accident just miles from Dead Man's Curve--a treacherous stretch of Sunset Boulevard that Jan & Dean ironically wrote a song about just a few years earlier--Dean embarked on an album he hoped would lift the duo from teen popster status into the ranks of progressive experimentalists like their good pal Brian Wilson. Say what you will about the lyrics, but the production and arrangement is certainly more challenging than anything found in their more famous surf songs.

Jan & Dean - Lullaby In The Rain

If it isn't clear yet, the Sunshine Pop scene of the 60's was rather incestuous. Every band is less than three degrees related to Brian Wilson. Most likely that's because everyone was hanging out in the same LA recording studios. Not true, however, for this next and final selection. Billy Nicholls hails from across the pond and his 1968 album Would You Believe? was billed as the British Pet Sounds. Don't get too excited, though. It's not nearly that good. But it certainly has its moments, thanks largely to the production of Rolling Stones producer Andrew Loog Oldham.

Billy Nicholls - Would You Believe?


seandonson said...

Great post. You really turned me on to some great stuff, Millenium in particular. Thanks!

Dave Tat said...

Niiice. You know I loves me some Millennium.