|Stylistic origins||Rock and roll, doo-wop, vocal group, rhythm and blues|
|Cultural origins||1960s, Los Angeles, California, United States|
|Typical instruments||Guitars, harmony vocals, bass, keyboards, drums|
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The California Sound refers to a popular music aesthetic engendered by 1960s pop and rock recording artists from the California area. It was first related to the California Myth, an idyllic narrative inspired by the state's beach culture that commonly appeared in the lyrics of commercial pop songs. Later, the Sound was expanded outside of its initial geography and subject matter and was developed to be more sophisticated and bred studio experimentation some of which was classified as sunshine pop.
The Sound was originally identified for harnessing a wide-eyed, sunny optimism that marked southern California teenage life in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Its imagery is primarily represented by Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, who are credited for the Sound's instigation. Along with Jan and Dean, the Beach Boys encapsulated surfing, hot rod culture, and youthful innocence within music which transformed a local lifestyle into American mythology. Other propellants included songwriters and/or record producers Gary Usher, Curt Boettcher, Bruce Johnston, Terry Melcher, and Roger Christian.
The Beach Boys' surf music was not entirely of their own invention, being preceded by artists such as Dick Dale. However, previous surf musicians did not project a world view as the Beach Boys did. Wilson once said of its myth: "It's not just the surfing; it's the outdoors and cars and sunshine; it's the society of California; it's the way of California." Al Jardine of the Beach Boys argued that "It’s not entirely a myth. There are still some elements that are certainly true, especially for a first-time observer. But to be able to come here and to drive that coast on Route 1 ... you experience the water and the animals and the sea life, the whole thing. It’s really magical. It really is."
The California Sound gradually evolved to reflect a more musically ambitious and mature world view, becoming less to do with surfing and cars and more about social consciousness and political awareness. Between 1964 and 1969, it fueled innovation and transition, inspiring artists to tackle largely unmentioned themes such as sexual freedom, black pride, drugs, oppositional politics, and war.
The genesis of the California Sound is said to be the Beach Boys' debut single "Surfin'" in 1961. While the band's leader Brian Wilson then collaborated with Jan Berry for several hit singles written and produced for other artists, they recorded what would later be regarded the California Sound. University of Southern California history professor Kevin Starr has stated that the band was historically important for embodying the era of the Silent Generation, which he described as unpolitical. He explained that the group "could not help but mythologize a landscape and way of life that was already so surreal, so proto-mythic, in its setting. Cars and the beach, surfing, the California Girl, all this fused in the alembic of youth: Here was a way of life, an iconography, already half-released into the chords and multiple tracks of a new sound." The California Sound was thus a musical translation of the California Myth. In the book Pioneers of Rock and Roll: 100 Artists Who Changed the Face of Rock, Harry Sumrall summarized:
[The Beach Boys] virtually defined the image of surfers, hot rods, sun, beaches, girls, and fun, fun, fun that became the California myth. The titles of their songs said it as well as anything: "Surfin' U.S.A.," "Little Deuce Coupe," "Surfer Girl," "Fun, Fun, Fun," "Dance, Dance, Dance," and "California Girls". With these hits and others, the group's bassist and songwriter, Brian Wilson, created a new sound in rock and roll. It was called the "surf sound," but in fact it was a combination of older rock verities set in entirely new lyrical and musical contexts.
David Howard wrote that "Don't Worry Baby" was a "subtle harbinger for the growing dichotomy within the California Sound. While 'I Get Around' symbolized the sunshine ideal in all its carefree splendor, 'Don't Worry Baby' suggested something entirely more pensive and even slightly dark underneath its pristine facade." Allmusic's review of the group's "All Summer Long" calls it a "potent example" of the California Myth's "idyllic dream world of sun, surf, and fun" while containing qualities of sunshine pop. Author Luis Sanchez believes that the entirety of All Summer Long (1964) was "the nearest the Beach Boys ever got to a perfect version of the California myth."
The Beach Boys continued expanding their version of the California Myth until it could no longer be confined to pop music terrain, transcending the limits of genre, commercial expectations, and geography. Aiding this was Wilson's successes with collaborator Gary Usher. The duo helped create a major new market revolving around the California Sound, allowing musicians Bruce Johnston and Terry Melcher to turn their attention to the Rip Chords, a group who then had hits with the hot-rod themed "Hey Little Cobra" and pseudo-surf "Summer Means Fun". Historian Matthew Allan Ides wrote:
The writing duo of [Gary] Usher and [Roger] Christian, like that of Terry Melcher and Bruce Johnston, provided most of the lyrics, production and promotion to the vocal pop music that like instrumental surf music became associated with Southern California youth culture. Ironically, both Usher and Christian had come to California from the East Coast in the late 1950s, and neither had much experience with surfing or local youth. Nonetheless, Usher and Christian translated their impressions of teen life in Southern California into lyrics. Usher’s songs included "In My Room" and the "Lonely Surfer," and Christian’s hits numbered "Surf City," "Little Old Lady From Pasadena," and "Don’t Worry Baby."
Transformation and decline
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The result of Wilson's increasingly artistic interpretations of pop music form helped transform the California Sound into a more musically ambitious and mature world view. Melcher soon worked with the Byrds, producing their 1965 folk rock single "Mr. Tambourine Man". Its recording was based on Wilson's production approach to "Don't Worry Baby". Melcher's "commercially golden formula" with the Byrds was immediately co-opted by many Los Angeles-based recording artists such as the Turtles, the Leaves, Sonny & Cher, and Barry McGuire. The lyricism behind the California Sound gradually became less to do with surfing and cars and more about social consciousness and political awareness. In Bill Flanagan's view, after the Beach Boys epitomized the California Sound, Crosby, Stills, & Nash "ratified it". Arnold Shaw summarized in The Rock Revolution (1969):
The California Sound went from one extreme to another—from "Be true to your school!" to "Let's freak out!", from the Surf Sound to fuzztone and feedback, from celebration of the open road to a search for strange inner experiences, from the thrill of speed to liberation through sensory overload, from the excitement of bodily motion to the explosiveness of mind-expanding drugs, and from the Beach Boys to the Mothers of Invention—a process in which the Boys themselves underwent an audible, if not visible, transformation.
In September 1965, Wilson was quoted saying: "I HATE so-called 'surfin' music.' It’s a name that people slap on any sound from California. Our music is rightfully 'the Beach Boy sound'—if one has to label it." By 1966, Wilson had already begun moving away from the perceptibly lightweight themes that had established his group's image, expressing a willingness to "get out of the Eisenhower mindset" as told by collaborator Van Dyke Parks. Meanwhile, Gary Usher was enlisted by the Byrds to helm their transitional 1967 release Younger Than Yesterday which incorporated folk rock, jazz-influenced pop, novelty space rock, and colorful psychedelia.
In Howard's description, "One can view the evolution of the California Sunshine Sound as a mirror of the evolution of the 1960s. Commencing with its post-Eisenhower narrative and insulated complacency, the early California Sound was predicated on Wilson, Usher, and Melcher's simple fun-in-the-sun ideals." It ran into decline by the end of the 1960s due to the West Coast's cultural shifts occurring in tandem with the psychological descent of Wilson and Melcher's associations with the Manson murders, with Howard calling it the "sunset of the original California Sunshine Sound ... [the] sweetness advocated by the California Myth had led to chilling darkness and unsightly rot".
According to Flanagan, by the 1970s, the "spirit" of the California Sound was kept fresh by singer–songwriters such as Lowell George, Jackson Browne, Tom Waits, and Rickie Lee Jones while avoiding what Flanagan called the Sound's "clichés".
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Native to California
- The 5th Dimension
- The Association
- Curt Boettcher
- The Beach Boys
- The Byrds
- Gary Usher
- Jan and Dean
- Jefferson Airplane
- Terry Melcher
- The Mamas & the Papas
- Gary Puckett & The Union Gap
- Sandy Salisbury
- Sonny & Cher
- The Sunshine Company
- The Surfaris
- The Turtles
Outside of California
Other California sounds
Some areas within the state of California are connected to their own distinguished "sounds" including the San Francisco Sound (San Francisco, 1960s) and the Bakersfield sound (Bakersfield, 1950s). Ides noted: "The Los Angeles sound as popularized in the mainstream obscured or disregarded the contributions made by the working-class, the nonwhite and women."
- Sanchez 2014, pp. 13–14.
- Howard 2004, p. 61.
- Howard 2004, p. 49–50.
- Wheadon, Bret. "The California Sound". The Beach Boys: The Complete Guide.
- Howard 2004, p. 69.
- Howard 2004, p. 49.
- Browne & Browne 1986, p. 194.
- Massey 2000, p. 47.
- Flanagan 2010.
- Goggans & Difranco 2004, p. 358–59.
- Sanchez 2014, p. 13.
- Miller 1992, p. 193.
- Bisbort & Puterbaugh 2009, p. 172.
- "Al Jardine And The Myth Of California". American Songwriter. February 6, 2013.
- Howard 2004, pp. 61–62, 83.
- Shuker 1994, p. 35.
- Howard 2004, p. 51.
- Starr 2009.
- Priore 2005, p. 24.
- Howard 2004, p. 57.
- "Giving the Beach Boys a permanent address". Baltimore: The Sun. March 28, 2004.
- Howard 2004, p. 50.
- Sumrall 1994, p. 15.
- "All Summer Long song review". Allmusic.
- Sanchez 2014, p. 30.
- Sanchez 2014, p. 32.
- Howard 2004, pp. 59–60.
- Ides 2009, pp. 264–265.
- Howard 2004, p. 83.
- Gilliland 1969, show 33.
- Howard 2004, pp. 61–62.
- Shaw 1969, p. 147.
- Beach Boys, The (September 1965). "The Things We LOVE and the Things We HATE". <span />16 Magazine<span /> (16 Magazine, Inc.) 7 (4).
- Priore 2005, pp. 28, 39.
- Reid, Darren R. (2013). "Deconstructing America: The Beach Boys, Brian Wilson, and the Making of SMiLE". Open Access History and American Studies.
- Howard 2004, p. 70.
- Howard 2004, p. 84.
- Howard 2004, pp. 50, 69.
- Gilliland 1969, show 37.
- "The California Sound of the 60's". Allmusic.
- Gilliland 1969, shows 41-42.
- Goggans & Difranco 2004, p. 359.
- Gilliland 1969, show 44.
- Ides 2009, p. 253.
- Bisbort, Alan; Puterbaugh, Parke (2009). California Beaches: The Best Places to Swim, Play, Eat, and Stay. Avalon Travel. ISBN 978-1-56691-614-1.
- Browne, Ray Broadus; Browne, Glenn J. (1986). Laws of Our Fathers: Popular Culture and the U.S. Constitution. Popular Press. ISBN 978-0-87972-338-5.
- Gilliland, John (1969). "UNT Digital Library" (AUDIO). Pop Chronicles. Digital.library.unt.edu.
- Flanagan, Bill (2010). Written in My Soul: Conversations with Rock's Great Songwriters. Rosetta Books. ISBN 978-0-7953-1081-2.
- Goggans, Jan; Difranco, Aaron (2004). The Pacific Region: The Greenwood Encyclopedia of American Regional Cultures. ISBN 978-0-313-08505-5.
- Howard, David N. (2004). Sonic Alchemy: Visionary Music Producers and Their Maverick Recordings. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 978-0-634-05560-7.
- Ides, Matthew Allan (2009). Cruising for Community: Youth Culture and Politics in Los Angeles, 1910–1970 (PDF). University of Michigan: ProQuest. ISBN 978-1-109-11538-3.
- Massey, Howard (2000). Behind the Glass. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 978-1-61774-479-2.
- May, Kirse Granat (2002). Golden State, Golden Youth: The California Image in Popular Culture, 1955-1966. Univ of North Carolina Press. ISBN 978-0-8078-5362-7.
- Miller, Jim (1992). "The Beach Boys". In DeCurtis, Anthony; Henke, James; George-Warren, Holly. The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll: The Definitive History of the Most Important Artists and Their Music. New York: Random House. ISBN 9780679737285.
- Priore, Domenic (2005). Smile: The Story of Brian Wilson's Lost Masterpiece. London: Sanctuary. ISBN 1860746276.
- Sanchez, Luis (2014). The Beach Boys' Smile. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 978-1-62356-956-3.
- Shaw, Arnold (1969). The Rock Revolution: What's Happening to Today's Music. New York: Crowell-Collier Press.
- Shuker, Roy (1994). Understanding Popular Music. Psychology Press. ISBN 978-0-415-10722-8.
- Starr, Kevin (2009). Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance, 1950-1963. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-515377-4.
- Sumrall, Harry (1994). Pioneers of Rock and Roll: 100 Artists Who Changed the Face of Rock. Billboard Books. ISBN 978-0-8230-7628-4.
- Fawcett, Anthony (1978). California Rock, California Sound: the Music of Los Angeles and Southern California. Reed Books.
- Leaf, David (1978). The Beach Boys and the California Myth. New York: Grosset & Dunlap. ISBN 978-0-448-14626-3.
- McParland, Stephen J. (2005). The California Sound: An Insider's Story: the Musical Biography of Gary Lee Usher. CMusic.
- Murray, John A. (2001). Mythmakers of the West: Shaping America's Imagination. Northland. ISBN 978-0-87358-772-3.
- Starr, Kevin (2011). Coast of Dreams. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-307-79526-7.
- Wood, Jack (1995). Surf City: the California sound. Friedman/Fairfax Publishers. ISBN 978-1-56799-186-4.