Tag Archives: Sunshine Pop

Explorers Club: To Sing and Be Born Again

Well-crafted mid-60s pop covers

Relocated to Nashville, and with a band of friends and studio musicians behind him, sunshine pop mastermind Jason Brewer has released this album of covers songs in parallel to an eponymous album of original material. The titles are drawn from 1966-1968, and mix well-known hit singles with a few lesser known gems. Among the latter are Danny Hutton’s pre-Three Dog Night “Roses and Rainbows,” the Zombies’ album track “Maybe After He’s Gone,” and Orpheus’ 1968 single “Can’t Find the Time.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, by picking material that’s so firmly in his musical wheelhouse, Brewer has left himself little room to stamp these covers as his own. They’re not carbon copies, and Brewer’s vocals (both lead and backing) provide a fresh alternative to the originals, but these songs are so deeply ingrained in his musical ethos that the covers can’t help but trace the original templates. Brewer’s taste in cover material is superb, and his craftsmanship is exquisite, but as interesting as it is to hear him essay some of his favorites, it doesn’t hold the surprise of hearing his musical sensibility applied to original material. [©2020 Hyperbolium]

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Explorers Club: Explorers Club

Bright rays of sunshine pop

Jason Brewer’s fourth album as the Explorers Club finds him relocated to Nashville and fronting friends and studio musicians, rather than a set band. The results show the strength of Brewer’s musical vision as he expands well beyond the Pet Sounds / Smiley Smile stylings of earlier albums with 60s-tinged pop that flows with the airy feel of Boettcher, Bacharach, Usher and others. And he does so without landing hard on any one; there are echoes, such as the piano of “Ruby” drawing upon Three Dog Night’s “One” and vocals suggesting the Turtles; but, winningly, the songs never linger on any one influence long enough to be branded imitative. Brewer has so deeply internalized ‘60s and ‘70s pop that his creations are inevitably shaped by the era’s melodic, instrumental, vocal and production style, without overtly copying.

The album deftly combines guitar, bass and drums with rich vocal harmonies, strings and horns, the latter suggesting the Buckinghams on “One Drop of Rain,” cooing coyly on “Don’t Cry,” and turning boozy for “Dreamin’.” The album stretches into burning neo-psych for “Somewhere Else,” adding an extra touch of surreality with its oddly time-signatured breaks. The closing “Look to the Horizon” has a timely, optimistic message of better days ahead, though with this album in hand (along with the companion volume of covers, To Sing and Be Born Again), listeners will find their mood improved today. [©2020 Hyperbolium]

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The Turtles: The Complete Original Album Collection

Turtles_CompleteOriginalAlbumCollectionThe revelatory album riches of the Turtles

Like its companion singles collection, this album box is a labor of love from the Turtles’ founders, songwriters and vocalists Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman. The six CD set includes all six original Turtles albums, the first three in both mono and stereo, and a wealth of impressive bonus tracks. This is an essential partner to the singles collection, not just for the greater reach of its album sides, but for album-specific takes and mixes of songs that had separate lives as singles. Listeners will discover the Turtles as a band, thriving and growing together as their imagination and musical ability stretched beyond the familiar pop of their hits. The group’s albums reveal a treasure trove of original material, deftly selected songs from rising Los Angeles writers, and interesting experiments that flew beyond commercial concerns.

The group’s 1965 debut, It Ain’t Me Babe, is filled with the jangle of West Coast folk-rock, and includes three Dylan covers. The group’s hit singles often came from the pens of other writers, but their original material, such as the terrific “Wanderin’ Kind,” could be just as good. The album includes a Dave Clark-styled rave-up of Kenny Dino’s “Your Maw Said You Cried Last Night” and a prematurally anguished take on “It Was a Very Good Year.” The latter originally entered the folk scene with the Kingston Trio, but was turned into a Grammy-winning signature for Frank Sinatra just a month before the Turtles album dropped. A pair of P.F. Sloan tunes includes an early version of “Eve of Destruction” and the single “Let Me Be,” Mann & Weil offered up the memorable “Glitter and Gold,” and Kaylin’s hearty “Let the Cold Winds Blow” takes the Turtles into Folksmen territory.

The group’s second album, You Baby, expanded beyond chiming 12-string with a mix of garage rock and harmony pop, including P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri’s superb title tune. Kaylan was still writing wayfaring folk-rock like “House of Pain” (with a tortured protagonist living on “crumbs and sterno”), but ventures into dystopian social criticism with “Pall Bearing, Ball Bearing World.” Turtles Al Nichol, Chuck Portz and Jim Tucker join in the songwriting with “Flying High” and “I Need Someone,” Bob Lind’s “Down in Suburbia” highlights the group’s growing sense of humor, and Steve Duboff and Artie Kornfeld’s “Just a Room” is a real sleeper. The album closes with a superb vocal arrangement of the folk revival standard “All My Trials” (rewritten here as “All My Problems”) and Kaylan’s Kinks-styled rave-up “Almost There.”

Lineup changes saw the departure of Portz and Murray, and the arrival of John Barbata, ex-Leaves Jim Pons, and briefly, Chip Douglas. The resulting LP, 1967’s Happy Together, was the group’s biggest hit on the album chart, led by the chart-topping, group-defining title song and its follow-up “She’d Rather Be With Me,” both written by the team of Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon. Noteworthy album tracks in include the original “Think I’ll Run Away,” and sophisticated material from Eric Eisner and Warren Zevon. 1968’s concept album The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands, reimagined the group playing soul, psych, pop, country, R&B, surf and even bluegrass. The album’s singles, the last of the Turtles’ Top 40s, include their first group-written hit, “Eleanor,” and a radically reworked cover of Roger McGuinn and Gene Clark’s “You Showed Me.”

Battle of the Bands shows off the band’s imagination and talent in full flight. The soulful opener cues a revue-style album, as the group takes the stage in a variety of guises. Ironically, the song that most sounds like the Turtles, “Eleanor” was written as a lampoon of “Happy Together,” intended to get the band’s label off their backs. Without a mono version of the album to fill this disc, the original stereo album is augmented by bonus tracks, including a trio of singles (“She’s My Girl,” “Sound Asleep” and “The Story of Rock ‘n’ Roll”) that appeared on the 1970 anthology More Golden Hits, and their non-LP B-sides. Outtakes include alternate versions of “The Last Thing I Remember” and “Earth Anthem,” a pair of songs (including the superb “To See the Sun”) that didn’t make the album’s final cut, a 3-minute radio spot.

The group’s final original album, 1969’s Turtle Soup, was produced by the Kinks’ Ray Davies in his first and nearly his last producer’s credit outside the Kinks. Two group-written singles, “You Don’t Have to Walk in the Rain” and “Love in the City,” scraped into the Top 100, and despite its strong performance and message, “House on the Hill” missed entirely. The album remains the Turtles’ most satisfying and musically coherent long player, but with White Whale seeking only cookie-cutter pop that played to the group’s legacy of chart hits, positive reviews didn’t translate into sales. It remains a terrific album that deserves a much higher profile than its original release garnered. The original dozen tracks are supplemented here by a dozen bonuses, including demos, acoustic material from Kaylan and Volman, a period radio spot, and tracks completed for the aborted Shell Shock.

Shell Shock was to be the Turtles sixth and final album for White Whale, but with the group and the label both teetering on the edge of existence, the group’s last release was the 1970 odds and sods album Wooden Head. Reaching back to 1965-66, producer Bones Howe combined nine previously unreleased selections with the album track “Wanderin’ Kind” and B-side “We’ll Meet Again,” to create a surprisingly consistent album of golden age pop. The originals found the group developing their pop hooks alongside material from Peter & Gordon, Sloan & Barri, David Gates and a sprightly cover of Vera Lynn’s WWII classic “We’ll Meet Again.” The bonus material includes tracks drawn from Golden Hits and More Golden Hits, highlighted by balanced stereo remixes of “You Baby,” “Let Me Be” and “It Ain’t Me Babe.”

From their first single, the group established a vocal sound unlike any other. Kaylan’s leads were sweet, but with an underlying toughness that was bolstered by Volman’s harmonies. The band’s instrumental backings were tight and fetchingly melodic, and though the albums didn’t chart well (only 1967’s Happy Together made the Top 40), they’re filled with terrific music that shows off the group’s imagination and ability to respond to changing times. The primitive stereo mixes of the first two albums split the voices left and instruments right, and though great to have in print, the mono mixes are more coherent. It wasn’t until 1967’s Happy Together that a full stereo mix was made, and the following year’s The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands abandoned mono altogether.

Though mono albums were left behind, mono singles were not, making the singles collection a welcome companion to this album box. In addition to singles-only mono mixes, several singles differed significantly from their related album tracks, including an early version of “Making Up My Mind” that was released before before horns were added, an electric sitar arrangement of “Chicken Little Was Right” that stood in for the album’s bluegrass take, and a faster single take of the album track “We’ll Meet Again.” Both sets were prepared from the original tapes, and include extensive liner notes by Los Angeles music historian Andrew Sandoval, photos and reproductions of Turtles ephemera. This six disc box comes with a forty page booklet, and is a must have for Turtles fans and all lovers of ‘60s pop. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

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The Turtles: All the Singles

Turtles_AllTheSinglesComplete collection of singles – the hits and well beyond!

Although the Turtles had a parallel life as album artists, it was their singles that first reverberated in listeners’ ears. Starting with a 1965 cover of Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe,” the group navigated folk-rock and harmony-laden pop to the top of the charts with 1967’s “Happy Together.” They scored nine Top 40 hits and five Top 10’s, all of which are included in this more-than-complete recitation of their singles. “More than,” because the full slate of commercial 45s is augmented by unissued singles, and sides released under nom de plumes. Tieing it all together is a 20-page booklet decorated with record label and picture sleeve reproductions, and stuffed with encylopedic (and microscopic) notes by Los Angeles music historian Andrew Sandoval.

The hits include titles written by Dylan, P.F. Sloan (“Let Me Be” and “You Baby”), Gary Bonner and Alan Gordon (“Happy Together,” “She’d Rather Be With Me,” “You Know What I Mean” and “She’s My Girl”) and Jim McGuinn and Gene Clark (a radically reimagined version of the Byrds’ “You Showed Me”). But they also wrote their own hits (notably 1968’s “Elenore”), as well as a host of fantastic low-charting singles and B-sides that ranged from folk to sunshine pop to garage rock to psychedelic and progressive rock. The band’s reach wasn’t always evident on their hits, but their lower-charting singles and flipsides tip the even greater breadth of their albums.

That same inventiveness led the group to reimagine Kenny Dino’s “Your Maw Said You Cried” as a Dave Clark 5-styled rave-up, and Vera Lynn’s WWII-era “We’ll Meet Again” (a song that had been renewed in the mid-60s consciousness by Dr. Strangelove) as Lovin’ Spoonful-styled good-time music. They stretched themselves even further with original material “Rugs of Woods and Flowers,” “Sound Asleep,” and “Chicken Little Was Right.” The latter’s sitar arrangement differs greatly from the album track, making this single version unique. B-sides were often given to artistically rewarding material, such as Warren Zevon’s “Like the Seasons,” rather than throwaways (though there are the Red Krayola-styled freakout “Umbassa the Dragon” and Brian Wilsonish “Can’t You Hear the Cows.”).

While some of their A-sides may have been ill conceived commercially as singles, others simply failed to gain the response they deserved. Sloan & Barri’s deliciously sweet “Can I Get to Know You Better” has all the hallmarks of a Turtles’ hit, yet struggled to only #89, Nilsson’s “The Story of Rock & Roll” was scooped by a same-week release from the Collage, and three Ray Davies-produced singles from Turtle Soup failed to cracked the Top 40. Ditto for the beautiful “Lady-O.” There are several B-side gems, including Warren Zevon’s “Outside Chance” and the original “Buzz Saw,” that managed to find their own form of popularity – the former as a favorite of the Beatniks, Sounds Like Us, Bangles and Chesterfield Kings, the latter as a much loved break-beat sample.

The set’s bonuses include two singles that never saw release. First is the original 1966 mono single of Goffin & King’s “So Goes Love,” and its Al Nichol-penned B-side “On a Summer Day.” Though the former was included on 1967’s Golden Hits, and the latter on 1970’s Wooden Head, the mono single mixes are previously unreleased. The second is an early version of the Ray Davies-produced “How You Love Me,” featuring Howard Kaylan on lead vocal. Additional rarities include a horn-free single mix of “Making Up My Mind,” the holiday single (as The Christmas Spirit) “Christmas is My Time of Year,” a cover of Lee Andrews and the Hearts’ “Teardrops” (released as the Dedications), its unreleased B-side cover of Jan & Arnie’s “Gas Money,” and the promo-only “Is It Any Wonder.” Also included are unlisted tracks at the end of each disc featuring period Turtles-sung commercials for Pepsi and Camaro.

Having bought their White Whale masters at auction, Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman have issued this set (along with a parallel set of the Turtles’ albums) on their own FloEdCo label. The love they have for this material shows in the attention to detail, and in the extensive song notes Sandoval elicited from Kaylan, Volman, Al Nichol and Jim Pons. The two discs and 20-page booklet are packed in a tri-fold slipcase. All tracks are mono except for #16-21 on disc two, and as Sandoval notes, the mono sides are especially revealing for 1968-69 when the albums were stereo only. Taken together with the previously unreleased and promo-only material, this is an absolutely essential companion to the album collection. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

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The Explorers Club: Together

ExplorersClub_TogetherAs if there was a missing late-60s Beach Boys album

This Charleston-bred, Nashville-resident band continues to be the foremost exponent of the Beach Boys sound. But not the surf-and-drag singles-sound of the Beach Boys c. ‘63-’64, but rather the album sounds of Brian Wilson’s growing compositional depth of ‘65-onward. Add dashes of Burt Bacharach, Curt Boettcher and Paul Williams, and you have a sense of the group’s sophistication. Few have so thoroughly imbibed the sunshine that flowed through Brian Wilson in the mid-to-late-60s as Explorers Club vocalist, songwriter and arranger Jason Brewer. When he sings “’California’s Callin’ Ya’,” you can hear Wilson’s imagery calling the South Carolinian like a sea siren. The harmonies are lush and warm, the arrangements multifaceted, the album cover an homage to Friends, and the indie record label – Goldstar – a direct allusion to the craft Brian Wilson laid into everything he produced. The spot-on evocation of late-60s Beach Boys might appeal as a parlor trick if it weren’t so beautifully crafted and so incredibly heartfelt. You can’t help but smile as this music washes over you like a warm summer wave. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

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NRBQ: Brass Tacks

NRBQ_BrassTacksTerry Adams’ latter-day NRBQ keeps chugging along

The discussion no doubt rages on, as to whether founding member Terry Adams’ reconstituted lineup should be using the NRBQ name. Even Adams wasn’t so sure back in 1989. But with the band’s long-time lineup starting to fray in 1994, and an official hiatus ten years later, a number of interrelated projects took the group members in various directions. Adams, who turned out to have been dealing with throat cancer, returned to full-time music-making with the Terry Adams Rock & Roll Quartet in 2007, and four years later, with the rest of NRBQ still dispersed in other bands and projects, reapplied the NRBQ name to his quartet for the album Keep This Love Goin’.

Is it NRBQ? Many of the original band’s fans would probably say ‘no,’ but Adams, guitarist Scott Ligon, drummer Conrad Choucroun and bassist Casey McDonough, certainly carry on the NRBQ ethos of musical taste, deep knowledge and an irreverent sense of adventure. You need a pack full of hyphens to describe their mosaic of R&B, jazz, sunshine pop, country, folk and rockabilly, and their topics range from sweet (“Can’t Wait to Kiss You”) to loopy (“Greetings from Delaware”) to fantastical (“This Flat Tire”), and their music even stretches to a cover of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Getting to Know You” that’s more California sunshine than old Siam. Call them what you will, just make sure to call their music really good. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

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Keith Allison: In Action – The Complete Columbia Sides Plus!

KeithAllison_InActionLos Angeles studio musician’s mid-60s solo shot

Keith Allison’s discovery at a taping of Dick Clark’s Where the Action Is is an only-in-Hollywood tale to rival that of Lana Turner’s first sighting at the Top Hat Malt Shop. Allison had been living a relatively anonymous life as a session musician (that’s his harmonica on the Monkees “Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day“) and latter-day band member for his cousin Jerry Allison’s Crickets. Allison’s appearance as an audience member on Where the Action Is quickly led to a featured slot and a recording contract with Columbia. The latter gave Allison an opportunity to work with producer Terry Melcher for a single and Gary Usher for a pop-rock album.

His first Columbia release turned Joey Brooks and the Baroque Folk’s “I Ain’t Blamin’ You” into folk-rock, and featured an excellent, original B-side, “Look at Me” that turned up two years later as a Cher album track. His next single brought him Boyce & Hart’s “Action, Action, Action” and Mann & Weil’s bounch sunshine pop, “Glitter and Gold.” The former, produced by future Scooby Doo theme song vocalist Larry Marks, is offered here in both its stereo album and mono single mixes.

Allison’s full-length album played to his television audience, who knew him for his covers of hits-of-the-day. The album’s lone original is the very fine country rock “Freeborn Man,” co-written with Mark Lindsay; the rest of the track list is filled with tunes from Boyce & Hart, Neil Diamond, Donovan, Ray Charles and Lindsay. As the liner notes highlight, the variety of material provided a showcase for Allison’s versatility, even when the covers don’t add anything radical to the better-known hits. “Louise” and “Good Thing” give an early indication of how easily Allison would later fit into Paul Revere & The Raiders, and the country-rock arrangement of “Colours” adds something vital to Donovan’s original.

More interesting is the discovery of Neil Diamond’s early single “Do It,” the rave-up “Action, Action, Action,” and a take on “Leave My Woman Alone” that adds a psychedelic edge to the Everly Brothers earlier interpretation. Real Gone’s twenty-three track collection pulls together the Columbia album and singles and adds a self-produced one-off single for Amy that backs Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love” with the Byrdsian original “I Don’t Want Nobody But You.” The post-LP singles include an emotional cover of “To Know Her is to Love Her,” a rave-up medley of Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis and a lite-psych version of Tommy Roe’s “Everybody.”

Despite a promising start and continuing success as a musician and songwriter, Allison’s solo career never really took off. His work with the Raiders can be heard on several albums, starting with 1968’s Hard ‘n’ Heavy, and he turned up on tracks by Al Kooper, Johnny Rivers, The Dillards and others. He dabbled in acting (including a bit part on The Love Boat!), and has recently gigged with the Waddy Wachtel Band, but the quality of these mid-60s sides suggest there was something more to be had. Stardom is a fickle mistress, and though Allison had the talent and a shot, the stars simply didn’t align. Lucky listeners can now cast themselves back and ask “what if?”  [©2014 Hyperbolium]

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The Mamas and the Papas: A Gathering of Flowers


This 1970 anthology, reissued on CD for the first time, is a one-of-a-kind time-capsule of the Mamas and the Papas. In addition to their first six Top 10 hits, the track list adds non-charting singles, B-sides and album tracks, carefully selected and ordered to show off the many sides of the group’s talent. In addition to the harmonies that graced the radio, there’s also the tight jazz work of “Once Was a Time I Thought,” thoughtful originals and keenly interpreted covers. Knitting it all together, and elevating this collection above a simple recitation of hits, are interview clips with John Phillips and Cass Elliot interspersed among the tracks. Their dialog reflects on the group, their producer, sessions and songs, and though the spoken words overlap the instrumental lead-ins of a few tracks, they’re surprisingly unobtrusive.

Several of the original tracks are also enhanced with bits of session chatter, vocal outtakes and rehearsals, providing listeners a few moments in the studio. The songs are organized as a musical program, rather a strict chronological run-through, which gives the set a holistic, album-like flow that’s unusual for an anthology. Though released after the group split in 1969, the tracks only cover through 1967’s Deliver; nothing from 1968’s The Papas and the Mamas (and their 1971 contractual obligation release, People Like Us) is included, which leaves out Elliot’s solo-career launching “Dream a Little Dream of Me.” But even without the last chapter and afterward, this set does an excellent job of telling the group’s story.

Real Gone’s reissue reproduces the 20-track double-LP lineup on a single sixty-six minute disc, and includes the original album’s photo-rich 16-page booklet, shrunk down to CD booklet size. This leaves the lyrics and Andy Wickham’s liner notes to be read with a strong magnifying glass (or find the latter here). In addition to a brief recounting of the group’s formation, Wickham also provides illuminating detail on the men who formed Dunhill Records. The disc was remastered from the original tapes by Mike Milchner at SonicVision, and shows off the rich sound that producer Lou Adler got out of the Wrecking Crew at the famed Gold Star studio. There are more complete sets (e.g., Gold and All the Leaves are Brown) but not even the Complete Anthology tells the story in the same novel way as this collection. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

The Hello People: Fusion

HelloPeople_FusionTuneful “mime rock” from 1968

The Hello People were a late-60s sextet that performed in white face and mimed skits amid their live musical performances. Their visual imagery and theatrical skills landed the band slots on several television variety shows, but even with national exposure, their records failed to dent the charts. The group’s best known track, “Anthem,” was a pungent reaction to songwriter Sonny Tongue’s incarceration for draft-dodging, but even its socially-charged message couldn’t lift the group beyond regional success. The group’s sound incorporated several then-current trends, including baroque-pop, sunshine harmonies, country-rock, electric folk and and old-timey jazz. You can hear influences of the Left Banke, Grass Roots, Blues Project, Lovin’ Spoonful and others, and though the band was quite accomplished (especially in flautist Michael Sagarese and bassist Greg Geddes), their lack of a singular style and the novelty of their stage act seem to have relegated them to a footnote. The group continued into the mid-70s in various formations, releasing their own records and backing Todd Rundgren on Back to the Bars, but this 1968 album is the most complete expression of their original concept. Real Gone’s first-ever CD reissue includes the album’s original ten tracks and a twelve-page booklet with new liner notes by Gene Scalutti. Separated from their stage visuals, the group’s music still holds up. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

The Clientele: Minotaur

Terrific spin on paisley, psych and sunshine pop

These leftovers from the sessions that produced 2009’s Bonfires on the Heath include several memorable mélanges. The title track brings to mind the baroque sounds of the Left Banke, the paisley patterns of the Rain Parade and the sunshine pop of Curt Boettecher. The second track, “Jerry” is even more beguiling, feinting towards progrock with its opening, but quickly giving way to vocal harmonies reminiscent of the Robbs and Three O’Clock, with drifiting piano and a melodic bass displaced by Television-like staccato guitar and an escalating rhythm whose tension is again broken by vocal pop. The EP’s lone cover, “As the World Rises and Falls” is an obscure album track from the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band’s third release. The hypnotic production and crawling psychedelia are perfect complements to Alasdair MacLean’s hushed vocal – particularly his drawn-out reading of “rises” as “rye-zizzzz.” The tone turns jauntier for “Paul Verlaine,” bouncing along like a Paul Weller reverie, and the folk-rock “Strange Town” suggests Cat Stevens and Donovan (albeit with someone tuning a vintage oscillator for a mid-song solo). There’s a moody piano solo and a lengthy spoken word piece before the EP closes on a lovely pop-soul note. All in all, a brief bite, but a tasty one. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

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