Those of you who follow this site and its accompanying blog know that over the summer I’ve had the opportunity to spin records Friday nights at a Los Angeles lounge called Palihouse. It’s been a great experience, and most of the music I play comes straight from the VINE-YL archives: a heady dose of obscure or forgotten Sixties and Seventies psychedelic grooves. Of all the music I’ve played during my stint at the wheels, people tend to really respond to covers of songs they already know—covers that take familiar, well-loved tunes in wild, strange directions. So I’ve scoured my collection this summer looking for such nuggets, and the process has been a great discovery.
Most of us today tend to think of music as a personal thing. We relate and respond to artist’s voices not just as a craft, but through the secrets they share in their lyrics. We look for expressions that capture a feeling or a mood or a perspective that is unique and individual. The fact that some big performers, a la Beyonce or Justin Timberlake, etc. don’t actually write their own material, but have others do it for them, doesn’t seem to matter; their songs still come across as a personal statement through which can we understand them as people. So it’s hard for us to imagine that for a great era in music, it was no big thing for a band to put out an album full of other people’s songs.
Nowadays, we think of only jazz performers or cabaret-style torch singers as being able to re-interpret other bands’ material. But in the early days of the recording industry, when music publishing companies owned vast catalogs of music and lyrics, it was a commonplace practice. Bands like the Stones and Jethro Tull, which started as blues-oriented outfits, only began writing the classic songs for which they are famous at the urging of their publishers, who craved new material to market, sell and use to collect large sums in royalties. The “singer-songwriter” phenomenon in rock marked the beginning of an enormous money-making machine, but it also strangled an era in which arrangement, talent, vocal craft, instrumentation, execution and production was as important as any content or lyrical statement.
The liner notes to a compilation of covers by anonymous studio performers from Pye Records' 1972 collection Chartbusters Volume 4, says it all: It's the kind of album that was made for sheer musical enjoyment and it's been made by people whose talents place them in the unique position of being able to re-create hit sounds. And not only do they come as close to the originals as possible, they also give them a treatment that even the fans of the original artists can appreciate...
The Deep Six released only one album and a handful of singles in their brief career. They occupy a wide-ranging genre known collectively as “Sunshine Pop,” which flourished in the mid-late Sixties on the West Coast, particularly Southern California. The style was an evolution of the East Coast-based folk movement of the early Sixties and is commonly distinguished by an insistence on vocal harmonies, crisp, elaborate arrangements, and the use of unique, contrasting instruments such as harpsichord, sitar or fuzz guitar. At the top end of the food chain are the Mamas and the Papas, the Beach Boys and The Fifth Dimension. At the other end are experimental, strange, acid-drenched groups like the Moon, the Free Design, Sagittarius and the Millennium.
Many dismiss Sunshine Pop as treacly and irrelevant—the songs were rarely political. But a closer listen reveals a staggering intricacy and beauty to harmony singing interlaced with innovative musical environments. Almost always, a bubbling psychedelic brew percolates beneath the slick surface that hints at the danger, paranoia, and medicated dread of those turbulent times.
The Deep Six are a bit of an anomaly and a relic. They began their career with a week-long gig at a neo-folk club in suburban El Mesa called The Land of Oden. Instantly popular, their gig turned into a seventeen-week stint. Consisting of five men and one young woman (listed in the liner notes as “Miss Dean Cannon”), the group recorded an original called “Rising Sun” which made a minor dent on the charts and led to their self-titled debut on Liberty.
The Deep Six is an early example of Sunshine Pop and fills the gap between folk acts and teen harmony groups and the later psychedelic acts that would follow. Eight of the twelve songs in the set are covers, and the album leads off with one of the best, an eerie, falsetto-laced ballad-like rendition of “Paint it Black” which breaks suddenly into a hard, jarring cry by one of male singers at the chorus, the rest of the band crooning impassioned in the background over a crunching fuzz guitar riff. It is the sound of la belle dame sans merci delivering her fatal kiss-off to her angry, spurned lover.
Dean Cannon’s take on Bob Lind’s “Unlock the Door” anticipates the breathy, blissful emo of Belle and Sebastian, and it is the perfect song for driving down sun-dappled country roads in the middle of summer (preferably wine tasting). Other highlights include “A Groovy Kind of Love” and a swaggering version of Neil Diamond’s “A Solitary Man.”
With its cover photo of the band running playfully away from ocean spray on a California beach and its precious back-cover portrait of them in their suits and thin ties staring down at a low angled camera, The Deep Six emits an irresistible, fun-loving vibe that is the essence of summer. It will charm you to the point of pleasure. In fact it’s so enjoyable you might not realize at first how good it all is—how well-crafted, how unexpected and how well produced. Many of the session musicians—Bread’s David Gates did a lot of the arrangements—went on to long careers during the Seventies. It is a great record on its own and a great starting place for discovering the joys of Sunshine Pop.
Unfortunately, The Deep Six is very hard to find. I was lucky enough to come by a copy at an Out of the Closet thrift store, along with twenty other records I purchased for a dollar each. I almost put it back thinking I had too many already, then took another look at the cover and put it back in my stack. To think how close I was to letting this gem slip through my fingers… for a freaking dollar! It gives me chills.
We didn’t select it for this pairing out of any mean-spirited or malicious intent. It isn’t meant to be a cruel tease. The fact is that, sadly, most records in the Sunshine Pop genre are the same way— underappreciated, discarded, forgotten. But they are rabidly sought out by collectors who know how good the genre can be. The LPs have begun to be reissued by labels like Sundazed and Revola, and the originals are out there if you look around. The problem is that not too many of the original labels have issued MP3 releases as of yet—iTunes and Amazon should really get on this.
In the meantime, we don’t want to leave you empty-handed. Revola re-released a remastered CD version of The Deep Six in 2003, and it's available on their website. Here is the link. For a vinyl copy, I would recommend checking out GEMM online. They have several currently available. I highly encourage tracking it down and taking the blissful cruise down the West Coast into the lost realm of weird, sublime Sunshine.
THE DEEP SIX THE DEEP SIX, 1966, Liberty Records