Pop music has developed into different sub-genres over the years, and one of the most popular subgenres in the 1960s was sunshine pop. Known for its feel-good and “commercialized” sounds, sunshine pop perfectly represented the chill atmosphere of California during the 1960s. In order for us to understand how sunshine pop became popular, let us take a look at its humble origins and see the artists or bands that influenced its rise in the music scene.
During the 1960s and the early 1970s, California is considered as the hub for aspiring musicians looking for a big break. As such, the US state was crowded with singers, guitarists, drummers, and other musicians who want to record or play music. It was also during that time that commercial jingles were becoming quite popular, and musicians would often consider playing in singles as a step towards fame and stardom.
Most of the musicians who recorded jingles started forming bands so that they perform in bars and clubs as well. They then incorporated the sounds or chord progressions usually found in jingle to compose their own songs, and this experimentation of adding jingle sounds to a band setting gave birth to sunshine pop.
Obscurity of Sunshine Pop
Jingles are often associated with another subgenre of pop called easy-listening, although the said sub-genre focuses on instrumental recordings rather than having vocal tracks. However, jingles are also connected to the samba music genre, which was popular in California’s beach community along with surf rock.
As there was an abundance of “jingle singers” during the 1960s in California, most of the bands created back then didn’t receive widespread popularity. In fact, most of the bands were only able to record one or two singles, although there are some who were able to record an album. Their unsuccessful venture in the music industry can also be attributed to the fact that most of the songs they composed were imitations of songs that have already been produced by popular bands like The Beach Boys and The 5th Dimension. However, the subgenre was well-known to some teenagers and adults who wanted to escape the rising political turmoil of that period. The feel-good songs and beautiful melodic progressions allowed the genre to become a form of escapism in California.
Clash with the British Invasion
It is critical to note that the 1960s is also the period where the British Invasion occurred. The British Invasion was a moment in pop music history where artists and bands from the United Kingdom have received a surge in popularity. The Beatles are said to be the frontrunners of the British Invasion, and they are followed by The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, and The Who.
There were some music lovers in the United States who didn’t like the rise of British Invasion during that time, so they gravitated towards “real American music” that is brought by Motown, folk-rock, and sunshine pop. Californians were the ones who mostly “rebelled” against the British Invasion, which is the reason why they are the ones closely associated with sunshine pop and folk-rock.
One of the biggest influences of sunshine pop was The Beach Boys, who is known for popularizing the “California Sound” that mixes surf rock and pop together. While The Beach Boys were known for making pop songs with a “commercial” or “jingle-like” tone in the early 1960s, the band has also created influential music that gave birth or gave rise to other music genres, such as psychedelic rock and art-rock. One of the best albums of The Beach Boy that perfectly presents their revolutionary influence in the music industry is Pet Sounds, which was released on May 16, 1966. Although it was not received well by critics in the year of its release, the album’s influence in the music scene grew bigger and bigger over time, as many musicians who wanted to try something new in their compositions were becoming fans of Pet Sounds.
The almost cult-like acclaim of Pet Sounds among musicians allowed it to influence sunshine pop bands to imitate the feel-good music found in the album. Because Pet Sounds is such a big influence to sunshine pop music, the album is considered by some to be the first real sunshine pop album. However, many music critics today would say that Pet Sounds doesn’t have a sunshine pop tone at all, as it is more closely related to psychedelic pop and progressive rock.
On the other hand, there is an album by The Beach Boys that is regarded as sunshine pop, and that album is Friends, which was released in 1968. Friends contained songs that are less than three or two minutes long, and this song length, as well as the lo-fi quality of the songs, are a staple of sunshine pop. The album also has a subtle samba music influence, hence the reason why it is associated with the sunshine pop subgenre.
Decline and Rediscovery
In the 1970s, sunshine pop faded into obscurity, but the feel-good sounds that it popularized were carried over to the psychedelic subgenres that were popular during that period. It was then rediscovered in the 1990s when there was a growing interest over collecting rare vinyl records. As many music enthusiasts are starting to like sunshine pop, especially in Japan, record companies began compiling obscure sunshine pop songs into one vinyl record. To this day, sunshine pop continues to be a “hidden gem” among music lovers who wanted to explore more subgenres of pop.