THE CALIFORNIA SOUND

NOTE: The Beach Boys are often attributed with glamorizing the California Experience with their odes to surfing, sunshine, and girls.  But their music had a more far-reaching aspect as well, creating an entire sub-strata in music known as the California Sound, or more recently, catagorized as Sunshine Pop.  This music, known for it's sunny harmonies, rich orchestrations, and thematic nods to the utopian society which Brian Wilson & Co. sang about, could borrow freely from the Beach Boys, Burt Bacharach, Phil Spector, the Brill Building, and occasional flashes of folk music or psychedelia thrown in, just to keep things interesting.  This music found a permanent home on AM radio, with some artists reaching the same artistic and commercial heights of their predecessors.

Just The Right Sound: The Association Anthology 
Rhino/WEA 78303 [CD]; 
Released February 19, 2002



DISC 1:
1.Machine, The
2.Babe I'm Gonna Leave You
3.One Too Many Mornings
4.Forty Times
5.Along Comes Mary
6.Your Own Love
7.Don't Blame It On Me
8.Cherish
9.Standing Still
10.I'll Be Your Man
11.Remember
12.Enter The Young - (original version)
13.Better Times

14.It'll Take A Little Time - (with Larry Ramos)
15.You Hear Me Call Your Name
16.Memories Of You
17.Pandora's Golden Heebie Jeebies
18.Looking Glass - (single version)
19.No Fair At All - (single version)
20.Windy
21.On A Quiet Night
22.We Love Us
23.When Love Comes To Me
24.Never My Love - (single version)
25.Happiness Is
26.Requiem For The Masses

DISC 2:
1.Come On In
2.Everything That Touches You
3.Barefoot Gentleman
4.Time For Livin'
5.Birthday Morning
6.Like Always
7.Time It Is Today, The
8.Six Man Band - (single version)
9.Goodbye, Columbus
10.Under Branches
11.Yes, I Will
12.Look At Me, Look At You - (single version)
13.Goodbye Forever
14.What Were The Words
15.Just About The Same
16.Along The Way - (single version)
17.P.F. Sloan
18.Pegasus - (with Russ Giguerre)
19.Darling Be Home Soon
20.Names, Tags, Numbers & Labels
21.Carry On - (with Bijou)
22.One Sunday Morning
23.Dreamer
24.Small Town Lovers
25.Across The Persian Gulf

REVIEW:  The Association was, and continues to be one of the more fascinating bands to form during the late 1960s.  With multiple singers, instrumentalists, songwriters, ethnicities and personalities, The Association had a dense melodic core that shimmered with thick harmonies and strong production values.  In fact, their first album was produced by none other than Curt Boettcher, wunderkind of The Saggitarius, Millenium, and other groups.  Today, The Association is known for such AM radio slush as "Cherish" and "Never My Love," giving the band an unfortunate reputation as generic schlock-meisters.  But their other big hits, "Along Comes Mary" and "Windy" display a remarkably twisted compositional sense which is explored more deeply on this long-overdue 51-track set.  For years, the ONLY representation The Association had on CD was the 13-track Greatest Hits set, which didn't even scratch the surface of the band's seven-album output.  Before the group disintigrated over conflicting egos and personalities, they were able to create extraordinary soundscapes which could be dreamy, disturbing, exciting and always just skimming the fringes of acceptable "pop" music.  Listening to them now, The Association sounds far more literate and grown-up than their contemporaries, with songs like "Goodbye Columbus," "Names, Tags, Numbers & Labels," "Barefoot Gentlemen," and "Across the Persian Gulf" showing a depth of lyricism and quirkiness that you can only find today in the more off-beat collegiate rockers.  And their singing is often as densely harmonic and complex as anything the Beach Boys recorded, with high harmonies the rule, and off-kilter sentiments more often than not finding their way into the lyrics.  The Assocation is a whimsical, at times confounding musical experience, but one well worth hearing in its entirety.  This collection, though extensive, is hardly comprehensive.  Check out their entire catalog, which has recently been remastered and released after too many years out of print.


The 5th Dimension: Up-Up and Away - The Definitive Collection
Arista Records 18961 [CD]; 
Released May 20, 1997



Disc: 1   
1. Up-Up And Away
2. Go Where You Wanna Go
3. Learn How To Fly
4. Another Day, Another Heartache
5. Paper Cup

6. Carpet Man
7. Stoned Soul Picnic
8. Sweet Blindness 
9. California soul
10. Wedding Bell Blues
11. Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)
12. Workin' On A Groovy Thing
13. Blowing Away 
14. The Girls' Song
15. Worst That Could Happen 
16. Orange Air
17. I'll Be Loving You Forever

Disc: 2   
1. One Less Bell To Answer
2. Puppet Man
3. Save The Country
4. Medley: The Declaration/A Change Is Gonna Come/...
5. Dimension 5ive
6. On The Beach (In The Summertime) 
7. Love's Lines, Angles And Rhymes 
8. Light Sings 
9. Time And Love
10. Never My Love 
11. Together Let's Find Love
12. (Last Night) Didn't Get To Sleep At All
13. If I Could Reach You  
14. Black Patch 
15. Living Together, Growing Together
16. Everything's Been Changed 
17. Ashes To Ashes 
18. Flashback
19. No Love In The Room

REVIEW:  I always thought it was a little strange that a black soul group could sound so mannered and restrained.  And although the 5th Dimension has often been derided by serious rock critics for what they percieve as "selling-out" for commercial success, it can't be denied that 5D had access to some of the best songwriters of the late-sixties, including Burt Bacharach, Jimmy Webb, and Laura Nyro; or that their rich, sunny harmonies, so finely blended and matched despite the various genders which created it, were fabulous.  Hearing them now is like taking a time machine back to my childhood, when these songs were all over the radio and I soaked them up with the California sunshine.  Comparing them to more recent bands makes the 5D sound almost disembodied, with vocals so smooth and polished that they sound passionless, even cold.  But for every icy take on "Up-Up and Away" or their take on The Association's "Never My Love," there's a fiery vocal to be found, as on "Learn How To Fly" or chunky soul vibrating through "California Soul."  And it can't be denied that even future lounge standard "One Less Bell To Answer" is given plenty of pathos by Marilyn McCoo here.  And the nightmarish opening of the mega-hit "Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)" is great, although the rest of the song suffers from too much sound-bleaching, a pale commercialized shadow of it's hedonistic broadway origins (although I dig the funky bass on the second part.)  This double-CD release (only a single disc in the UK - go figure) is an ideal starting place to hear the full scope of 5D's remarkable string of chart successes, with great notes, and stellar sound.  If this feels like too much to take in in one bite, you can whet your appetites on the less-daunting, yet potent single disc: Greatest Hits On Earth.


The Mamas & The Papas: Complete Anthology
Universal International 9821680 [CD]; 
Released September 13, 2004


Digitally remastered comprehensive 4CD Mamas & Papas career anthology presented in a digibook set. Includes all of their complete studio albums "If You Can Believe Your Eyes & Ears", "The Mamas & The Papas", "The Mamas & The Papas Deliver", "People Like Us" as well as their live performance at the Monterey Pop Festival along with single releases, rare tracks and studio/rehearsal takes. Disc four features rarities and previously unissued recordings. The set was compiled by US expert Jim Pierson and with detailed liner notes by journalist Paul Grein in a lavish 72 page full color booklet with over 100 photos, previously unseen material, a full discography, track annotations and foreward from "Mama" Michelle Phillips.

REVIEW:  In my mind, The Mamas & The Papas are the undiputed kings and queens of the so-called "California Sound" - not only spawning numerous classic hit songs on their own, but generating hordes of imitators, much like the Beach Boys themselves did.  Part of it was their sound; the remarkable blend of men's and women's voices; the strong iconic songwriting of John Phillips, often peppered with self-referencing humor; their look: with Michelle Phillips wispy beauty next to the overpowering presence and voice of Mama Cass; the elfin Denny and home-brewed roughness of John.  Plus there was that indefinable chemistry which they had in spades, an uneasy portent which was the sexual tensions which brewed between the members.  All of this brewed itself into a short-lived sound which verily defines the entire Sunshine Pop sound, and it's here, on this massive four disc anthology, that you can hear the full weight of their brilliance and influence.  So many songs here are ones which you've heard many times: "Monday, Monday," "California Dreaming," "Rock 'N' Roll Music," "Go Where You Wanna Go," "Creeque Alley," and "You Baby;" not to mention the amazing album tracks which slipped between the cracks of popular singles: "I Call Your Name," "Spanish Harlem," "Do You Wanna Dance," "Dancing In The Street," "Words of Love," "Dedicated to the One I Love," "Dream a Little Dream of Me" and "Twist and Shout."  And if the fire which lit The Mamas & The Papas burned out a little too fast, there are still lots of rarities and treasures to be found here, including the group's complete appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival (the same one the Beach Boys bailed on, sealing their doom for the next several years in the eyes of critics and the general public), live tracks from the "Hullabaloo" TV show; and lots of rare singles filling out the picture.  I suppose if you're not that interested in the whole enchilada, you could settle for the perfectly adequate single-disc retrospective Greatest Hits, or even the fuller-picture of the double-disc Gold, but for my money, this complete anthology is the only one which does justice to The Mamas & The Papas.  Absolutely essential.


Cherry People: A Golden Classics Edition
Collectables 0549 [CD]; 
Released August 17, 1994


1. And Suddenly
2. Girl On The Subway
3. On To Something New
4. Imagination
5. Mr. Hyde
6. Do Something To Me
7. Ask The Children
8. I'm The One Who Loves You
9. Don't Hang Me Up Girl
10. Light Of Love
11. Feelings

REVIEW:  
This album, now out of print, is one of my guilty pleasures.  I discovered the Cherry People album at a sale, and just out of curiosity, decided to give it a listen.  What I discovered was a forgotten slice of California Pop/Psychedelia which, while not going to ever be counted as one of the lost classics, has a certain beguiling charm and melodic energy which recommended itself to me in the same way that First Class's "Beach Baby" did.  With no liner notes to speak of, or even an idea of who this power-pop quintet was, I can't give you much history of this one-album flash-in-the-pan, but can only recommend them to affeciandos of poppy AM radio fodder, sounding occasionally like a faint echo of The Raspberries, The Turtles, or The Left Banke.  The lead-off track "And Suddenly" contains much of the elements of their charm: a thick harmony lead off riff, a light, bubblegum melody and love-at-first-glance lyric, and a chirpy bounce which manages to brighten my mood whenever I stick it in my CD player.  The next track, "Girl on the Subway"  is harder, with a power-chord intro leading into a chorus which easily could have been lifted by The Archies or other similarly plastic creations.  Compared to the first two tracks, the third "On To Something New" sounds almost as accomplished as something by The Association, with the same dreamy harmonies and neo-classical touches.  "Imagination" sounds like late-period Monkees, something that Mickey Dolenz would have written, melded with more Association-like harmonies on the chorus.  The baroque strains of "Mr. Hyde" is very similar, with another vocal highly reminiscent of late-period Monkees.  Track six, "Do Something To Me" seems to be channeling the white soul of The Box Tops, while "Ask The Children" again sounds like a castoff by The Association, with a lyrical sentiment lifted straight from Crosby, Stills & Nash.  "I'm the One Who Loves You" is more blue-eyed soul, with a harsh, jittery insistance and whispered falsetto on the chorus that I really dig.  "Don't Give Up On Me Girl" doesn't know what it wants to be - it begins with a film-like flourish, then grinds into what may be a Motown stomper before devolving into grade-Z AM radio slush.  "Light Of Love" has a nice rhythmic push to it and bright hook, but still sounds too brainless to be taken seriously.  The final track, "Feelings" (not the hit song) is a harpsichord-driven power-ballad which is completely forgettable.  All in all, I wouldn't highly recommend this release, but I like it enough to put it on every now and then.  Also available in an edition by Sequel Records.


Love and Sunshine: The Best of the Love Generation
Sundazed Records 11120 [CD]; 
Released June 25, 2002



1. Groovy Summertime
2. The Love In Me
3. Hey, Look Around
4. Not Be Found
5. Meet Me At The Love-In
6. When The Sun Goes Down
7. Playin' On The Strings Of The Wind
8. Consciousness Expansion
9. You  Listen  Listen
10. Leaves Grow Grey
11. The bummer (Guide Me Home)
12. Epitaph (A World Without Love)
13. Fluffy Rain
14. W.C. Fields
15. Montage From "How Sweet It Is"
16. Let The Good Times In
17. I Keep On Talking
18. Love And Sunshine
19. A Touch Of Love
20. Candy
21. Love Is A Rainy Sunday
22. The Pill
23. Magic Land
24. Catchin Up In Fun

REVIEW:  The Love Generation was formed as a response to the success of The Mamas & Papas, and they created a thick, layered choral sound that is very similar to other, similar groups of the era, such as the Association, The Sunshine Company, The Cherry People and the previously mentioned Mamas & Papas.  Something typical in the formation of these Sunshine Pop groups is the use of woman's voices in the mix; this never used to be the case in rock groups, which were overwhelmingly exclusive boy or girl groups.  But The Love Generation, like many other groups listed here, took from the Folk music genre a mixed-gender approach to their sound which is immediately recognizable.  The music on this CD is pulled from the three albums the group put out in the years 1967-68, and is overall very good stuff; it echoes very closely the sound of other, more successful groups, and even steals some riffs from their contemporaries, such as the string arrangement on "Epitaph (A World Without Love)" copied from the Beatles "Nowhere Man," or the song "Leaves Grow Grey," which hearkens back to the Mamas & Papas "All the leaves are brown" from "California Dreaming." Overall, this group was a follower, not a leader, but they are still very good, with excellent singing and production, ... they went on to provide backup music for the Partridge Family, (you can hear early echoes of this group in their prevalent use of harpsichord) as well as Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis, and many others. If you're a fan of the California "Sunshine" sound, you won't be dissapointed by this release.  This CD is nicely filled out with 25 tracks, and contains excellent notes by Robert Pela, sparkling remastering by Bob Irwin, and a fair amount of pictures and interviews in the four-page booklet.


The Best Of The Sunshine Company
Collector's Choice Music 249-2 [CD]; 
Released January 8, 2002



1. Happy
2. Blue May
3. Back On The Street Again
4. A Year Of Jaine Time
5. Children Could Help Us Find The Way
6. I Need You
7. Just Beyond Your Smile
8. Four In The Monin'
9. Warm In My Heart
10. Look, Here Comes The Sun
11. It's Sunday
12. Love, That's Where It's At
13. Sunday Brought The Rain
14. I, To We, And Back Again
15. You Don't Know Her Like I Know Her
16. If You Only Knew
17. Darcy Farrow
18. Wingate Square
19. Sunshine Theme
20. Springtime Meadows
21. I Hate Pigeons
22. The Only Thing That Mattered (After All)

REVIEW:  The Sunshine Company falls into that collection of underappreciated bands like The Peanut-Butter Conspiracy and Eternity's Children - bands which may have had a couple of minor chart successes, having built their sound on other, more successful groups, but not having the studio support or chart action necessary to build and hone their sound.  The Sunshine Company's sound in particular is very beguiling, with ultra-smooth harmonies and catchy hooks which immediately draw favorable comparison to The Mamas & The Papas.  From the bright and tuneful "Happy" to the dreamy melancholy of "A Year Of Janie Time," it's clear that this group could've had a real shot at the big time if they weren't so directly comparable to Mama Cass & Co.  The Sunshine Company nevertheless were more than one-hit wonders, and by the time they disbanded, they had released three albums, and each one takes further steps away from the California pop sound that dominated their first album.  By the fourth track here, "Children Could Help Us Find The Way," the group begins to become more socially concious, and develop a sound somewhere between The New Seekers and the Fifth Dimension, with folk rock and psychedelia rearing their heads on "I Need You," and adopting an Arthur Lee LOVE vibe on the fuzz-guitar laden "Four in the Mornin'."  Collector's Choice Music, who released this fine 22-track compilation, have done a superb job at remastering these tracks, with fine, informative notes by Richie Unterberger who tells the whole story of the band's rapid rise and descent.  This music is far from the lower-tier leftovers which some reviewers would have you believe - The Sunshine Company created some truly great California Pop, with excellent production values, stellar singing, and memorable songs.  Well worth checking out.



Spanky and Our Gang: Greatest Hits
Mercury/Universal 546332 [CD];
Released August 24, 1999



1. Sunday Will Never Be The Same
2. Making Every Minute Count
3. Brother Can You Spare A Dime
4. Like To Get To Know You
5. Lazy Day
6. Prescription For The Blues
7. Sunday Morning
8. Stardust
9. Anything You Choose
10. And She's Mine
11. Yesterday's Rain
12. Without Rhyme Or Reason
13. For Lovin' Me (Live)
14. Everybody's Talkin'
15. Give A Damn

REVIEW:  Spanky & Our Gang is one of the more criminally underrepresented groups on CD, with only the 15-track collection above, or the even slimmer 10-track compilation released by Universal Music widely available.  Hip-O Select, a specialty release arm of Universal has seen fit to put together the four-disc The Complete Mercury Recordings in a limited edition release, but at nearly $80, it's not going to be on anyone's "must buy" list.  Spanky's sound was very much in the mould of the Mamas & Papas, Sunshine Company and other groups, with a lead female singer who is very close to the bold, brassy belt that Mama Cass had, and their sound is more agressive, and pop-oriented than their peers.  They're also less polished, but that doesn't diminish from their appeal, with their big hit "Sunday Will Never Be The Same" leading off the CD, it will be far and away the most recognizable track here, although good readings of "Like to Get To Know You" and "Brother Can You Spare A Dime" are welcome.  In fact, the comparisons between the Mamas & The Papas is very strong here, with cabaret, blues, novelty songs, and pop all blending together into a sound which may be more of an acquired taste than some of the other groups listed here.  In my own opinion, nothing here really matches the appeal of "Sunday Will Never Be The Same," and I can see why Spanky & Our Gang has never had the critical appeal of other groups, but although they may just be a footnote in the annals of rock, their friendly sound, cheery outlook and serio-comic sound may be just your cup of tea.



Happy Together: The Very Best of the Turtles
Shout Factory 37488 [CD];
Released September 28, 2004



1. Happy Together
2. She'd Rather Be With Me
3. Let Me Be
4. You Know What I Mean
5. You Baby
6. Elenore
7. It Ain't Me Babe
8. She's My Girl
9. Eve Of Destruction
10. You Showed Me
11. Outside Chance
12. Can I Get To Know You Better
13. You Don't Have To Walk In The Rain
14. Grim Reaper Of Love

REVIEW:  The Turtles were one of those bands who never seemed to take themselves very seriously as rock icons, but that was all to the good; they were free to create anything that struck their fancy, from the pure pop perfection of "Happy Together" spin a cutting lyric into a impossibly catchy hook for "Eleanor;" direct their energies into canny protest songs with "Eve of Destruction," or throw propriety to the lions with "Grim Reaper of Love."  This was the group who decided to release their only box-set to date on the budget line LaserLight label, and, despite their numerous greatest-hits collections, still are best known for only a few songs.  The fact is, The Turtles never seemed to much care whether their songs were popular or not; they were just concerned with having fun and doing their own thing - which is why their songs have remained so popular, and at the same time so elusive.  There have been more extensive collections, including a double-disc set which Rhino Records released in the mid-nineties, the aforementioned box set on LaserLight, but for most people, this single disc collection will have all the songs which they are most familiar with, while at the same time giving them a hefty sampling of songs which never made the FM radio rotation, including "Outside Chance," "She's My Girl" and the wonderful "You Baby."  I confess that most of the Turtles output doesn't really ring my bell, but the stuff which is great is some of the best pop ever written.



Sandy Salisbury: Sandy
Rev-Ola [CD];
Released August 14, 2001




1. I Just Don't Know How to Say Goodbye
2. Spell on Me
3. Hills of Vermont
4. Good Ol' Good Times
5. Come Softly
6. On and on She Goes (With Me Tonight)
7. Cecily
8. Do Unto Others
9. Once I Knew a Little Dog
10. Baby Listen
11. Goody Goodbye
12. Once I Knew a Little Dog [*][Instrumental]
13. Spell on Me (Pt. 2) [*]
14. Here Comes That Feeling [*]
15. Little Bit of Love [*]
16. Love Came to Strawberry Lane [*]
17. I'll Do the Crying [#][*]
18. Love Is a Place [#][*]
19. I'm in the Mood for Happy [#][*]
20. If Roses Are Blue [#][*]
21. Married to the Wind [*]
22. Measure of a Man [*]
23. Yesterday, Today and Tommorrow [#][*]
24. Best Thing [*]
25. All I Realy Have Is a Memory [*]

REVIEW:  
Sandy Salisbury was one of the contributing members to lost 60's pop acts The Millenium, and along with producer/songwriter prodigy Curt Boettcher, wrote some of the most ear-friendly songs that never got heard.  This particular album, rescued from vault obscurity by now-defunct label Poptones (and later, Rev-ola) shows that while Sandy may not have been the second coming of Brian Wilson, he had an amazingly fluid voice, uncanny melodic gifts, and a musical sweet tooth the size of Los Angeles.  Born Graham Salisbury, "Sandy" honed his musical gifts in California's burgeoning musical scene just as the Beach Boys were hitting their greatest artistic and commercial peak; and this album, which is full of pop gems, shows just how adept he was at sythesizing both Curt Boettcher's touch (Boettcher produced, sang, and played on the album) with Brill Building songcraft.  Aided by several of his Millenium crew, including Lee Mallory on guitar/vocals, and Gary Usher on Moog synthesizer, this album was fully recorded and sweetened, but due to the implosion of Boettcher's influence with his record company and mounting debts (due mostly to Boettcher's over-the-top extravagances) the album was never released.  More's the pity, since this rich, harmonic slice of 1960's pop is easily as potent as anything else released at the time.  From the harmonica-driven rave up "I Just Don't Know How To Say Goodbye," to the raucous homage to the Beach Boys on Sandy's cover of "With Me Tonight" (here titled "On and On She Goes"), to the fuzzy pile-driving thrust of "Spell On Me" this album feels absolutely joyful.  Not content to stick with pure pop, Sandy brings in country influences on the twangy "The Hills of Vermont" but more often sticks with what he knows, with cheery hooks found on "The Good Ol' Good Times" or a beautiful cover of the Fleetwoods' "Come Softly."  In short this lovely, sensitive album is a sweet slice of 60's innocence, and one of the fine unearthed gems of California Pop.  The original album has been amply filled out with bonus tracks, which further show Sandy Salisbury to be a master pop craftsman, blessed with a gorgeous voice.


The Best of Free Design
Cherry Red [CD]; 
Released September 25, 2001


1. Chorale
2. Kites Are Fun
3. Bubbles
4. I Found Love
5. My Brother Woody
6. Never Tell The World
7. Love Me
8. Love You
9. I Wanna Be There
10. Daniel Dolphin
11. Starlight
12. 2002 A Hit Song
13. Children's Waltz
14. Butterflies Are Free
15. One By One
16. You Are My Sunshine
17. You Could Be Born Again
18. Kije's Ouija
19. Love Does Not Die
20. Tomorrow Is The First Day Of The Rest Of My Life

REVIEW:  The Free Design has always been a group that's perplexed me to a degree.  Most of this stems from their sound, which can be described as cool, detached, and yet almost painfully cheery.  When you step into the aural world of The Free Design, it's like stepping into a state of complete denial; all is butterflies and rainbows, romantic sighs and breezy landscapes, which is not to say that their sound is twee or simplistic; it's simply a genre almost entirely secluded in itself.  Imagine the Fleetwoods' cool harmonies tied with the "Up, Up and Away" sentiments of the 5th Dimension, and you've got a good idea of what's going on here.  Suffice to say, that of all the groups mentioned here as belonging to the Sunshine Pop group, The Free Design is that genre's apex - the Dalai Lama of California Pop.  Their sound, built upon a two-man, two-woman blend, is smooth and serene, with lyrics that match the tone of the music, from "Kites Are Fun," '"Bubbles," the twin songs "Love Me"/"Love You;" "Tomorrow is the First Day of the Rest of My Life," "Children's Waltz," and "Butterflies are Free."  You almost want to go brush your teeth after just reading those titles, don't'cha?  But despite the naivety of the sentiments, this is music that is extrordinarily catchy and accomplished, and the singing is blended so artfully that it often sounds like one voice, not four.  And the harmonies are really something to hear, with shimmering highs and effortless complexities that also define most of the music of this genre.  Strangely enough, all this simplicity adds up to a great deal of musical sophistication, so that although The Free Design may not at first appeal to your instincts, it slowly grows on you until you're completely taken in.  For years, the group's music has been out-of-print, but recently several of their albums were remastered (with bonus tracks) and put out by independent label Light in the Attic.  Check them out!


The Cowsills: We Can Fly (1968)
MGM 4534 [LP];
Collector's Choice Music 612-2 [CD]; 
CD Released December 6, 2005


1. We Can Fly [Mono Album Version]
2. Gray, Sunny Day
3. Heaven Held
4. Time for Remembrance
5. Gotta Get Away from It All
6. What Is Happy, Baby
7. I Need a Friend
8. Yesterday's Girl
9. Beautiful Beige
10. Mister Flynn
11. One Man Show

REVIEW:  The Cowsills in another popular group from the 60s whose albums have been sadly neglected on CD - oh, you can find the odd "greatest hits" package which might do you fine, but for fans of folk/sunshine pop, it's far more satisfying to have the original albums.  Happily, Collector's Choice Music has stepped into the gap and released this 1969 sunshine pop surprise from The Cowsills, and to my mind, it's far more satisfying than many of the compilation packages that are out there.  By the late 60s, The Cowsills had signed to MGM records, and this album, their third release on that label, finds them branching out from their signature folkie sound and wholeheartedly embracing sunshine psychedelia.  A family act, reputedly the impetus behind the idea for The Partridge Family television show, have a natural vocal and harmonic blend which is tied to original songs (mostly written by Artie Cornfield and the Cowsills themselves) have a rich, optimistic bounce to them which are layered with thick harmonies.  Bill Cowsill, the verstile lead singer, has a light, pleasant voice, which can nevertheless be punchy and dynamic enough to pierce through the crowd of voices, and the songs, while not exactly individual stand-outs (as their big hit of two years earlier, "The Rain, The Park and Other Things" was), the album as a whole is very good, with top-notch production stirred by strings, brass, harp, flutes, and other slightly baroque touches which ties everything together, rather than relying on the strength of a single song or two.  Highlights for me include the acappela choir which belts out the hook at the end of "Grey Sunny Day", the string quartet/oboe chamber orchestra which kicks off "Heaven Held", the groovy bass licks in "Gotta Get Away From It All" and the almost gothic strains which tremble through the atypical "Beautiful Beige." Not everything here is to my tastes, with the almost cartoonish "What Is Happy, Baby" a bit too twee for my tastes, and other songs, like "Mister Flynn" a pale copy of The Beatles' "Nowhere Man." But taken as a whole, the album is a great listen for fans of Sunshine Pop who like their music sweet and cool.


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