Psychedelic pop perfection from West Coast wunderkind Curt Boettcher

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There is an easy way to sum up the ‘Looking For the Sun’ compilation featuring acts produced by Curt Boettcher: Perfection.

That perfection is fully expressed already on one of the earliest tracks on this compilation, ‘Milk and Honey’, recorded during two sessions, in December 1965 and January 1966, by one of Curt Boettcher’s own project’s, Summer’s Children, formed together with Victoria Winston. On the track, we are invited into a paradisiacal world where lovers live forever. The tracks starts with these lines:

“In the land of milk and honey; everything is fine there

In the land of milk and honey; water tastes like wine there”

Not only is the perspective in the lyrics one of absolute perfection; vocal and instrumental performances are top notch as well as are the tasteful production and sumptuous melody. The fact that it was recorded in Los Angeles and combines obvious religious references with a psychedelic undertone, makes it difficult not to start thinking about teenage symphonies to God when listening. 

And indeed: Allegedly, in the summer of 1966 while working at a movie soundtrack at Studio Three Western, Brian Wilson overheard Curt Boettcher working on Lee Mallory’s ‘That’s the Way it’s Gonna Be’ and was incredibly impressed with what he heard. Or maybe impressed is an understatement. This might in fact have been a turning point for Brian Wilson; one where he heard the future of sound.

Listening to this compilation, it is easy to understand why. The groundbreaking work Boettcher did on that classic Lee Mallory track is not included here (although it is available on the Rev-Ola Lee Mallory reissue among other places), but it isn’t even missed. Neither does it feature tracks like ‘Sweet Pea’ and ‘Hooray For Hazel’ with Tommy Roe or ‘Along Comes Mary’ and ‘Cherish’ by the Association – all Boettcher produced hits from the summer of 1966.

Nevertheless, the more obscure sounds conjured up by Boettcher for various artists that are included here – many of them for the first time on an official release – effortlessly stand their own ground and are seriously cutting edge.

A lot of bands would kill to sound like this today, yet this was recorded back in the 1965 to 1968 timeframe.

Not only do we get backwards sounds and multi-layered vocals, we are also treated to incredible orchestral arrangements, as well as solo instruments that are silhouetted in stark contrast from the crowded production as if they were all alone in the universe.

These recordings may have been made in some of the best LA studios at the time, with the best session musicians and orchestras, but judging from other recordings from the era, musical skills were a dime a dozen at that specific time and place. What really makes the difference here is a person with a singular vision who knew exactly what he wanted; and that is of course Curt Boettcher. 

At the point of his untimely passing at the age of 43, he was all but forgotten, but with a reissue campaign starting with ‘Begin’ by his band the Millenium in 1990, just three years after his death, he has been reinstated as one of the key figures of the West Coast 60s pop scene. And rightly so. It is extremely sad that Boettcher himself never got to know about this.

That bittersweet sadness is also aptly conveyed on the Gordon Alexander track that lends its title to the compilation, ‘Looking For The Sun’. The song starts like this:

“I went looking for the sun, in the darkness of my mind

But I knew right along

It was your touch and gentle smile that made the world seem fine

Come on back where you belong

Beer came splashing into my mouth, I got drunk and I felt alone

I went looking for me

The covers of the night came dimming my eyes, it felt like dry white bone

Without your eyes I can’t see”

With altogether three tracks, Alexander is also the artist most prominently represented here. That makes a lot of sense, given that he is also one of the casualties of the music business: His sole album ‘Gordon’s Buster’ literally busted and sank without trace. It has never been properly reissued until this day, although a bootleg does exist.

But despite its perfection, this compilation is not perfect. As much of an anglophile as I may be, I have to confess that the one track I definitely can live without here is the one with an English singer, namely Jonathan Moore. A comedian who with ‘London Bridge’ tries to update the old nursery rhyme since the bridge at this point in time was actually sinking rather than falling down. However, set in this context, the attempt at being tongue-in-cheek just feels cheap and unnecessary. 

But that one missed opportunity can be forgiven in light of the supreme tastefulness that shines through everything else here. And luckily, even the flipside of Moore’s 1965 single, also included here, ‘I Didn’t Ever Know’ is much more passable.

If there is one track that stands out as much in the other direction, then that would have to be ‘Shadows and Reflexions’. Included on Fading Yellow volume 3, it appears here for the first time ever as an official reissue.: a complete miniature pop symphony that contains the kind of adventurous, genuinely American pop that Brian Wilson tried to position as an alternative to what the Beatles were doing. It would have been a highlight even on ‘SMiLE’ had it appeared back in 1967. This track alone is easily worth the price of this absolutely must have collection.

Oh, and the collection aptly ends with the Gary Usher-penned and raga-styled instrumental mini-extravaganza ‘Pisces’, a track that has only seen previous physical reissue on the Japanese CD version of the Sagittarius album ‘Present Tense’.

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