Broadcasting, Music, Music Countdowns, Radio, Retro Rock

Best Sunshine Pop Singles of the 60s

Photo above by Julianne Woodson

What do artists like the Beach Boys, the Mamas & the Papas, the Association, the Turtles and the 5th Dimension all have in common?  Each of these Southern California groups were hit makers during the mid to late 60s, with a refreshing brand of music called Sunshine Pop.

With my latest edition of DJ Dave’s Musical Musings, I will be counting down what I consider to be the best Sunshine Pop Top 40 singles from the 60s decade. My selections were all hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, during the golden age of Sunshine Pop (1965-1969).

What is Sunshine Pop?  Wikipedia describes the type of rock music as, “cheerful, upbeat music which is characterized by warm sounds, prominent vocal harmonies, lush vocals, light arrangements and sophisticated productions. Rooted in easy listening and advertising jingles, sunshine pop acts combined nostalgic or anxious moods with an appreciation for the beauty of the world.”

Originating in California during the mid 60s, Sunshine Pop combined segments of folk-rock, soft pop, progressive rock, Baroque pop and Psychedelia.  Some tunes in this category are slow grooves, but most songs featured breezy, up-tempo beats.

The term Sunshine Pop did not exist during the 60s so it is difficult to pin-point an exact beginning to this sub-genre of pop rock music.  It appears that Sunshine Pop happened because of multiple musical influences as a wide range of musicians and record producers converged together around Los Angeles, California, during 1965 and 1966.

My dog Penny Lane and I with a vinyl copy of “Pet Sounds” album by the Beach Boys. The album was a Father’s Day gift to me in 2016, on the 50th anniversary of “Pet Sounds” LP release.

Some of the more instrumental players in the development of Sunshine Pop include:

  • The Beatles and “Beatlemania” permeates America in 1964
  • British Invasion bands other than the Beatles (1964-1965)
  • Folk rock bands like the Byrds/Roger McGuinn
  • Phil Spector Wall of Sound record producer
  • John Phillips of the Mamas & the Papas
  • Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys
  • Pet Sounds album by the Beach Boys
  • Curt Boettcher Record Producer
  • The Wrecking Crew: Los Angeles session musicians

The Beatles are the most influential band of the rock era and they changed the course of musical history during the 60s.  The band’s impact on all types of pop/rock music is legendary and their musical fingerprints are all over what now is called Sunshine Pop. “Good Day Sunshine” from the Beatles “Revolver” album is noteworthy for being influential with the California pop/rock sounds coming out of Los Angeles during this time period.

Obviously, the Beatles are not considered a Sunshine Pop band.  However, the Fab Four did record similar types of songs during their career.  Two examples that come to my mind are George Harrison’s, “Here Comes the Sun” from the Abbey Road album and the 1967 Baroque Pop masterpiece from Paul McCartney, “Penny Lane.”

One other major influence of Sunshine Pop is the Brian Wilson produced album, “Pet Sounds” by the Beach Boys.  Rolling Stone magazine ranks Wilson’s 1966 project as the number one, “greatest rock album of all time.” The album incorporates rock, pop, and jazz with vocal harmonies and is considered a template for the genre of Progressive Rock.  “God Only Knows” is a gem from the superb album.

The peak for the first wave of Sunshine Pop happened during the “Summer of Love” in 1967.  Young people flocked by the thousands to the San Francisco, California neighborhood of Haight-Ashbury, searching for peace, love and tranquility. Music played a huge part of this cultural revolution. 

During the spring of 1967, John Phillips wrote and produced a song called, “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” that his friend Scott McKenzie recorded as a single. The song immediately became a Top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 and was an inspiration for those creating Sunshine Pop music in the 60s.

While I was researching information for this topic, I found that there were 12 core bands or groups that are associated with Sunshine Pop of the 60s decade:

  • The Association
  • The Beach Boys
  • The Buckinghams
  • The Cowsills
  • Gary Lewis & the Playboys
  • Harpers Bizarre
  • The Mamas & the Papas
  • The Monkees
  • Spanky and Our Gang
  • Strawberry Alarm Clock
  • The Turtles
  • The Rascals
The back cover of “Pet Sounds” album by the Beach Boys. This photo of my vinyl record, was a 2016 Father’s Day gift to me, by my daughters Amy, Stephanie and Julianne.

Of the 12 artists listed above, many of them recorded more than just Sunshine Pop songs.  There is much musical diversity among these top pop/rock performers.

There are also 6 lesser-known Sunshine Pop bands and groups from this time period.  These artists tended to have regional hits and didn’t chart high enough on Billboard or Cash Box music charts to become major hits on Top 40 radio during the 60s.

  • The Peppermint Rainbow
  • Yellow Balloon
  • The Sunshine Company
  • The Parade
  • Sagittarius
  • The Cherry People

There are also two other artists and songs that I want to highlight, which are actually Baroque Pop but sound similar to 60s Sunshine Pop:

  • Pretty Ballerina—The Left Banke
  • 98.6—Keith featuring the Tokens

Before starting the countdown of my 25 best Sunshine Pop singles of the 60s, I want to share information on how I determined my top songs in this category.

With this article about Sunshine Pop, I am including only American artists who had major hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart between 1965 and 1969. Every song on my countdown peaked at least at number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100.  Eleven tunes peaked at number one.

As I surveyed all the top 40 Sunshine Pop hits from the 60s, I found 25 high quality singles that are on my countdown. These are songs that I deem to be culturally, historically, aesthetically significant, meaningful or relevant.

Photo of my vinyl copy of “Pet Sounds” by the Beach Boys.

I submit to you, my top 25 best Sunshine Pop singles.  As Casey Kasem used to say on his weekly American Top 40 show: “Now on with the countdown.”

25. Sunday Will Never Be the Same—Spanky & Our Gang

Peaked at #9 Billboard Hot 100: 1967

Debut single by band. Lead vocals by Elaine “Spanky” McFarlane.  First of two songs on Top 25 countdown.

24. I Saw Her Again—The Mamas & the Papas

Peaked at # 5 Billboard Hot 100: 1966

Song co-written John Phillips and Denny Doherty. Third consecutive Top 5 hit for the group. It is the first of three songs on the countdown.

23.  Grazing in the Grass—The Friends of Distinction

Peaked at #3 Billboard Hot 100: 1969

Vocal remake of South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela’s 1968 instrumental hit. Harry Elston of the group wrote lyrics for the song that repeatedly ask, “Can you dig it?”

22.  Green Grass—Gary Lewis & the Playboys

Peaked at #8 Billboard Hot 100: 1966

Gary Lewis is son of actor/comedian Jerry Lewis. Song was the last of the band’s seven consecutive Top 10 hits.

21.  Good Morning Starshine—Oliver

Peaked at #3 Billboard Hot 100: 1969

Oliver covered a song from the Broadway rock musical “Hair.”  It was the first of two Top 3 hits in 1969 for the singer.

20.  Kind of a Drag—The Buckinghams

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100: 1967

Band from Chicago, Illinois. Song was first of 3 consecutive top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 during 1967.

19.  Up–Up & Away—The 5th Dimension

Peaked at #7 Billboard Hot 100: 1967

Written by Jimmy Webb. First Top 10 hit by the vocal quartet. Won 6 Grammy Awards, including Record of the Year and Song of the Year.

18.  Windy—The Association

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100: 1967

First of 3 Association songs on countdown. Second number 1 song for the group. 4th biggest record of 1967.

17.  Monday Monday—The Mamas & the Papas

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100: 1966

Only number 1 song for the vocalists. First song to top the Billboard Hot 100 by a mixed gender group. Second of three songs on the countdown.

16.   Good Vibrations—The Beach Boys

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100: 1966

First of two Beach Boys songs on countdown. Inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Is the 6th biggest song on the Rolling Stone “500 Greatest Songs of all Time” list.

15.  The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovy)—Harpers Bizarre

Peaked at #13 Billboard Hot 100: 1967

Written by Paul Simon. Harpers Bizarre band from Santa Cruz, California. Song was the biggest hit for the group.

14.  Lazy Day—Spanky & Our Gang

Peaked at #14 Billboard Hot 100: 1967

Third single from debut “Spanky and Our Gang” album. Group performed song on the Ed Sullivan Show. Second song in the countdown.

13.  Incense & Peppermint—Strawberry Alarm Clock

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100: 1967

Los Angeles, California band. Highest charting single for group. 23rd biggest record for 1967.

12.  Groovin’—The Young Rascals

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100: 1967

First number 1 hit for New Jersey formed band. Song is in both the Grammy Hall of Fame and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 Songs that Shaped Rock & Roll.”  

11.  Cherish—The Association

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100: 1966

Second of 3 Association songs on countdown. First number 1 song for vocal group. Second biggest record of 1966.

10.  Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In—The 5th Dimension

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100: 1969

A medley of two songs from the Broadway rock musical “Hair.” Second biggest record of 1969. Ranked number 66 on Billboard’s “Greatest Songs of all time” chart.

9.   Summer in the City—Lovin’ Spoonful

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100: 1966

First of two songs on the countdown. Only number 1 record for band. 11th biggest song of 1966. Ranked at 401 on Rolling Stones’ “500 Greatest Songs of all Time” listing.

8.  Happy Together—The Turtles

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100: 1967

Only number 1 hit for the band. Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan formed a duo called “Flo and Eddie” after breakup of the Turtles. Song is in the Grammy Hall of Fame.

7.  Daydream Believer—The Monkees

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100: 1967

Song written by John Stewart. Last number 1 hit by the band. Davy Jones of the group sings lead vocals on the track.

6.  The Rain, The Park & Other Things—The Cowsills

Peaked at #2 Billboard Hot 100: 1967

Debut smash for Newport, Rhode Island family band. Sold 3 million records. Ties the song “Hair” as the Cowsills’ two biggest hits.

5.  Never My Love—The Association

Peaked at #2 Billboard Hot 100: 1967

Third Association song on countdown. Popular wedding song over the past 54 years. Second most played song on radio and TV during the 20th century according to BMI.

4.   A Beautiful Morning—The Rascals

Peaked at #3 Billboard Hot 100: 1968

Second song on the countdown. 3rd biggest song for the band. Came in at number 35 on the Billboard Top 100 records for 1968.

3. California Dreamin’—The Mamas & the Papas

Peaked at #4 Billboard Hot 100: 1966

Rolling Stone ranks single at number 89 on their “500 Greatest Songs of all Time” listing. Inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame during 2001. “California Dreamin’” is the signature song for the Mamas and the Papas.

2.  Do You Believe in Magic—The Lovin’ Spoonful

Peaked at #9 Billboard Hot 100: 1965

Written by band member John Sabastian. Second selection on countdown.  Rolling Stone ranks song at 216 on their “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” chart.  “Do You Believe in Magic” was the first of 7 consecutive top ten hits for the Lovin’ Spoonful from 1965 through 1967.

1.  Wouldn’t It Be Nice—The Beach Boys

Peaked at #8 Billboard Hot 100: 1966

One of the greatest doubled-sided 45 rpm singles of all time. B-side “God Only Knows.” Brian Wilson’s masterpiece uses the “Wall of Sound” production technique and 18 different instruments played on the track.  The song is considered ground-breaking and influential for future sub-genres of rock music: Power pop and progressive pop.

Pitchfork ranks Wilson’s gem at number 7 on their “200 Best Songs of the 1960s” listing.  Without any doubt, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” is my number 1 best Sunshine Pop song of the 60s.

Now that I have humbly submitted my thoughts on the best Sunshine Pop singles from the 60s, I am curious to find out your opinion on the music from that year.

Obviously, I do not want to come across as authoritative with my critique of Sunshine Pop. The songs that you might feel are the best, may be completely different from my selections.

I am asking for your opinion: What do you consider to be the best Sunshine Pop singles of the 60s decade? There are no right or wrong answers. I welcome your thoughts.

Album cover of Chartbusters USA Special Edition: Sunshine Pop

Listening to Sunshine Pop from the golden age of Top 40 radio will always have a special place in my heart.  I cherish and fondly remember all of the wonderful Sunshine Pop songs from my youth.  Rock on!

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18 thoughts on “Best Sunshine Pop Singles of the 60s

  1. Darlene Richardson says:

    I’ve never heard the term “Sunshine Pop” before, but after reading your blog, clearly I’m one of the genre’s biggest fans. I love every single song on your list and there must be countless others to add to it. So agree with your No. 1 pick–one of my favorites from the 60s. The world needs more positivity, sweetness, and light in it, so when does the Sunshine Pop Revival begin??! Thanks for posting!

  2. Bernard Johnson says:

    I like all those song on the list, but I’ll mention a couple.

    1. I will say my all time fav would be Grazing in the Grass – Friends of Distinction. I have that on my playlist right now. Play it when I’m working out. Who can do those lyrics “I can dig it, he can dig it, she can dig it……..Can You Dig it, Baby” It’s a gas!

    2. “I saw her again” would be my Mama’s and The Papa’s fav song. Saw a documentary that told how that song came to be. Intergroup affairs!

    3. Up, Up and Away- 5th Dimension. Along with In the Summer Time (Mongo Jerry), it was the song I remember after moving to Tidewater in summer of the late 60’s.

    4. “Groovin” The Young Rascals. Just a mellow song all the way.

    4 “Day Dream Believer”. I like all the Monkey’s songs. Loved to watch the TV show. Corney comedy but kept you laughing.

  3. bruce bias says:

    David, very well researched and explained. who could argue with any of these on the list. It’s a Beautiful Morning was my go to song every morning at Hollow Creek. go in at 7 to 8am those summer mornings to hose down the decks and entrance. always rolled out and plug in the jukebox 1st thing. then hit the number for the Rascals to get me going.

  4. pwfariss@cox.net says:

    Great list as always- you do a great job!!! Favs are Cherish, California Dreaming, Grazing in the Grass, Groovin’/A Beautiful Morning and 59th Bridge Street Song .Paul Simon actually wrote 59th Bridge Street Song about that bridge in NY City after a 6 AM walk. Also a note on Oliver. He is the brother of John Swofford, who was commissioner of the ACC. Thanx again.

    • Terrie Martin says:

      This is really good for refreshing my memory on some of these great songs.
      I remember having the 45 of Incense and Peppermint and totally wore it out. I like them all…maybe a couple not so much…
      The rascals, fifth dimension, friends of distinction are my most favorites I believe.
      Thank you for writing this and keeping my memories alive!!!!

  5. Mark Spooner says:

    That’s a great article, thank you Dave!
    I must admit I hadn’t heard of the term Sunshine Pop, but boy are there some great songs under this category.
    Out of those you’ve listed in your top 25, the Cowsills tune is my favourite. Followed closely by Happy Together, Daydream Believer & Wouldn’t It Be Nice.
    Anyway, thanks again. Great reading.
    Cheers, Mark.

  6. Sherry says:

    How cool is this?! I’ve never heard the team Sunshine Pop before either, but I had almost all these songs back in the day, and of course Pet Sounds is among my top 20 albums. It still holds up decades and decades after its release. I can’t really say I have a favorite song, but I was totally swept away by the Monkees and The Beatles’ Revolver was played for a long, long time after I hit up The Record Shop on Commonwealth in Bristol on its release date. Great blog, David. Love these videos! Really takes me back to my preteen, and early teenage, days.

  7. David H says:

    Love Sunshine Pop and Bubblegum Pop!! Brings back a lot of memories of my early years of listening to music.

  8. Holly Parr says:

    Good blog, Dave! I think just about everyone from our generation enjoyed these happy, feel good songs, and consider them an important part of our musical memories. Some of my favorites are:
    -Wouldn’t It Be Nice
    -I Saw Her Again
    -Kind of a Drag
    -California Dreaming
    -Happy Together

  9. Mark Skelton says:

    This is a great blog! Learned about lots of bands I had never heard of before. My #1 choice is “Happy Together”, by The Turtles. This has always been one of my favorites. My #2 choice would have to be “Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In”, by The 5th Dimension”…….and my choice for #3 is “Daydream Believer”, by The Monkeys”.
    Rock on !

  10. David Hardie says:

    DW, your top 25 list was excellent. I may have shuffled a few around. That is just personal preference.Peppermint Rainbow’s hit song always stayed with me. I wish they had done more but music was changing. 5***** on your blog.

  11. Laurie Russell says:

    Another excellent article. Had never heard of Sunshine Pop before this. Lots of wonderful choices you selected. My top favorite is The Association and their songs bring back such wonderful memories. Lovin Spoonful and The Rascals are also favorites of mine. Hard to chose when their is such a great list.

  12. Very enjoyable read, and it was nice to revisit this music. “Happy Together” “Groovin’ “Beautiful Morning” are some of my favorites on your list. “Walk Away Renee” is a song by one of the groups mentioned in the article, The Left Banke. I’m not sure it qualifies as Sunshine Pop because it’s more of a poignant song.

  13. Dave Burt says:

    Great choice for number one song. I’m afraid I would have to take the rest of the songs in your list and move them all into second place. Great jammin Dave, right down my alley.

  14. S Kelley says:

    Nailed it imo. “Wouldn’t it Be Nice” was and forever will be my number one. I think you got the order quite right and I was surprised I knew all but one. Growing up in Syracuse NY where the sun never shines, I realize now it made sense that I liked “Sunshine Pop” so much. And The Beach Boys were definitely a conduit to my moving to CA. Amazing how much music can influence destiny. Great blog as always Dave. Thanks so much.

  15. Steve Murray says:

    David, as always your blogs bring out the best of the past with great music and remembrance of a simpler time. Your research and passion for great music and radio are unsurpassed!

  16. Shari Davis says:

    We used to call those tunes Sugar Rock back in the day. I like your term Sunshine Pop as well. Great list– what a trip down memory lane! Love all your picks. Since you’re asking, I would add The Seekers to this list. Some of my favorites are “There’ll Never Be Another You,” “Morningtown Ride,” and “A World of Our Own.” Thanks for putting together this list.

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