OUR BLOG CHRONICLES A MUSICAL JOURNEY
The basic story line is, even though he never played guitar before and had not played a musical instrument since tuba in elementary school band, Bill T received an electric guitar after he was 60 -- as a joke. From then on, despite a musical talent deficit, he tried to learn instrumental surf music but at first could not find an instructor. He met Paul the Pyronaut -- a surf guitarist a couple of generations younger. Over a few years they wrote some original songs. The Lava Pups eventually emerged from Bill T's imagination. A CD was recorded to check something off of his bucket list. Then the CD had to be performed live. And -- voila -- we had a band! The Lava Pups were a reality. For how long, who knows?
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This series of posts started because California does not have an official rock song despite a rich history of rock artists, innovative music producers, and renown songwriters. So what song should be nominated as the official (or unofficial) California rock song? In our last blog, we eliminated a bunch of songs about California or parts of California -- immediate scratches.
Today, we look at some viable nominees. To show no bias on our part, they are listed alphabetically. But, in the end, each is a little less viable than first thought.
“California Dreamin’” by The Mamas & the Papas. This song already received a vote from -- more accurately was nominated by -- one of my friends on Facebook. Rolling Stone selected it as number 89 on its list of 500 Greatest Songs. It is about some guy in a cold place dreaming of the warmth of California. John and Michelle Phillips wrote it before The Mamas & the Papas were formed. The Phillips were living in New York City at the time. Even though he also wrote “San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers in Your Hair),” John Phillips did not become a Californian until sometime after “California Dreamin’.” The only connections to California are the title and Michelle Phillips.
“California Sun” by The Rivieras. This song is my style: Catchy and really simple. “They’re out there having fun in the warm California sun.” What’s not to like about that? Well . . . “the girls are frisky in Old Frisco” potentially offends every person who ever lived in the San Francisco Bay Area and every 1970s feminist. Even though rock ‘n roll has not always been P.C., the pedigree of the song may remove it from consideration. The Rivieras were from South Bend, Indiana. That alone should eliminate the song. After all, Indiana banned “Louie Louie.” And the writing credits go to Morris Levy and Henry Glover. Mo Levy was the controversial and reputedly shady owner of Roulette Records in NYC; he was reported to have mob connections. Henry Glover was one of the few black record executives who were successful back in the day. He produced Bill Doggett, Hank Ballard, and James Brown. He wrote “Drown In My Own Tears,” which Ray Charles popularized, and the “Peppermint Twist.” Hey, those may be interesting stories, but the only connection to California is the title.
“Everyday People” by Sly & the Family Stone. This is Sylvester Stone’s plea for peace and equality between the races and different social groups. Sly practiced what he preached with a multi-racial band which included both men and women. This was pretty idealistic stuff by a San Francisco band during the idealistic part of the 1960s! The theme of “Everyday People” may not stand up to the history of the California ballot box. The “left coast” is not as left as the folks in Iowa -- where same sex marriage is legal -- think. If California voters are to decide, peace and equality between the races and different social groups just might lose. At least, that is what history tells us.
The next two songs make the viable list because they are by two of my all-time favorite artists. Maybe this list is not as unbiased as initially professed.
“PCH” -- Pacific Coast Highway -- by Slacktone. It is a classic by the best surf band in the world. No lyrics. Just the energy of Dave Wronski, Dusty Watson, and Sam Bolle. California through and through, but “PCH” is not widely known. Not many folks are humming it as they walk through the mall.
“Summertime Blues” by Los Angeles rock pioneer Eddie Cochran. Blue Cheer and The Who covered it. The song reflects an idyllic time in the past when summer jobs -- or jobs at all -- were available for teenagers. When a politician might say, “I’d like to help you, son, but you’re too young to vote.” To modernize the song, the verse would have to be changed. “I called my Congressman, and he said quote, ‘I really can’t help you, son; the chamber of commerce bought my vote.”
“Surf City” by Jan and Dean. This is another California through and through song. Jan Berry and Brian Wilson wrote it. The “Wrecking Crew” played on the recording. It was the first surf song -- assuming that any vocal ever is -- to reach number 1 on the charts. Jan Berry was known as one of the best record producers on the West Coast. How’s that for a pedigree? Huntington Beach later became known as Surf City. So what are the warts? First, “two girls for every boy” implies promiscuity and fun. Is that something that social conservatives could tolerate in a state rock song? Wait, they probably cannot tolerate a state ROCK song! Second, their first hit (actually Jan & Arnie’s first because Dean was on Army Reserve duty) -- “Jenny Lee” -- was about a Hollywood burlesque performer. Third, Dean gave $500 to Barry Keenan, who was a former high school classmate and who, in turn, used the money when he masterminded the kidnapping of Frank Sinatra, Jr. Finally, Jan and Dean are not even in the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. Obviously, that may auger against “Surf City” as the official California rock song.
Loyal, not-so-loyal, or first time readers, do you have any suggestions?