396) The Millennium — “The Island”
A 60’s sunshine pop* supergroup creates Begin, the greatest sunshine pop album ever recorded, one that costs more to make than any other album from ’68 other than The Beatles (the White Album) — and no one buys it (at least until era of CD reissues). As Richie Unterberger writes, it was “at once too unabashedly commercial for underground FM radio and too weird for the AM dial.” Dominique Leone says the album, “probably the single greatest 60s pop record produced in L.A. outside of The Beach Boys . . . found itself very much outside the times that year.” (https://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/5546-pieces/) Noel Murray sagely adds:
On the surface, the music . . . is right in the mainstream of radio-friendly pop from 1966-68. [The] songs had the angelic harmonies of The Association and The Mamas & The Papas, the aspirational naïveté of The Beach Boys, the live-inside-the-music atmospherics of The Beatles, and the lysergic tinge of every California band from San Francisco on down. But [Curt] Boettcher and [Gary] Usher were also interested in the avant-garde and classical music, and their highbrow approach to the sweet and fluffy didn’t connect in an era where rock ’n’ roll was getting harder and rowdier.https://www.avclub.com/sunshine-pop-1798225095
Curt Boettcher? Per Noel Murray:
Boettcher became an in-demand producer for acts who combined the dreamy with the catchy, like The Association, for whom Boettcher produced the hit singles “Along Comes Mary” and “Cherish.” Boettcher formed his own band, The Ballroom, and recorded an album for Warner Bros. that went unreleased, but got passed around among other young studio wizards like [Brian] Wilson and Columbia Records songwriter/producer Gary Usher. Boettcher joined the Columbia fold and helped Usher with his experimental pop band Sagittarius, while assembling some of the top songwriters and session-men in Los Angeles for his own project, The Millennium.
Anyway, Matthew Greenwald rightly fawns over Begin in All Music Guide:**
The Millennium’s Begin is a bona fide lost classic. The brainchild of producers Curt Boettcher and Gary Usher, the group was formed out of the remnants of their previous studio project, Sagittarius — which had been preceded by yet another aggregation, the Ballroom. On Begin, hard rock, breezy ballads, and psychedelia all merge into an absolutely air-tight concept album, easily on the level of other, more widely popular albums from the era such as The Notorious Byrd Brothers, which share not only Usher’s production skills, but similarities in concept and construction. The songwriting — mostly by Curt Boettcher, Michael Fennelly, and Joey Stec — is sterling and innovative . . . . At the time the most expensive album Columbia ever produced (and it sounds like it), Begin is an absolute necessity for any fan of late-’60s psychedelia and a wonderful rediscovery; it sounds as vital today as it did the day it was released.https://www.allmusic.com/album/begin-mw0000690213
Jamobo adds that:
[Begin] is notable as being the second album to use 16-track recording and the group made the most out of that here. Wonderfully lush music that sweeps you in with its fantastic harmonies, both in the instruments and in the vocals, and with the individual melodies that grab your attention instantly and have you singing along by the end of the song. . . . [It] manages to capture a wonderful part of the the era that is was created in, but also remains timeless through its use of gorgeous melodies, harmonies and instrumentation.https://www.albumoftheyear.org/user/jamobo/album/91645-begin/
My favorites track is “The Island” — which would have been a fitting theme song for “Lost”. Double Z says that “[l]ost and alone in peace on ‘The Island’, Curt Boettcher’s angelic voice lulls you to sleep and you don’t want this moment to end.” (https://www.albumoftheyear.org/user/doublez/album/91645-begin/) To Jamobo:
[“The Island”] has a gentle, warm haze that gets almost spiritually lifted through the wonderful vocal harmonies. The dreamy vocals come together on the chorus magically. The bridge takes the song to psychedelic places with unusual lyrics before a light key change to the chorus to close out.
“The Island is calling. The Island is my land. And it could be your land too if you weren’t so scared to go there. You’ve been told you can’t, so if that’s what you want to believe you’ll go nowhere. The Island is your land. The Island is giving us the word. It’s saying you’ve got to let me out of this little cage that we live in. It’s time to free yourself and start to live instead of thinking about dying. The Island is calling – it’s calling, it’s calling, and it’s there inside of you. The Island, the Island, the Island is surrounded by a sea of you. And if this song sounds crazy, it’s because you really are. The Island, the Island, the Island, The Island is calling. . . .”
* Hilariously, Richie Unterberger, also in AMG, says Begin finds “only half-baked artistic success, but nonetheless retains some period charm.” Pure Unterberger!
** The best definition of sunshine pop that I have come across was penned by Noel Murray:
Influenced by the pretty sounds of easy-listening, the catchiness of commercial jingles, and the chemically induced delirium of the drug scene, the sunshine pop acts expressed an appreciation for the beauty of the world mixed with a sense of anxiety that the good ol’ days were gone for good.
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