A California Rock Song: Early Scratches and Non-Starters

California does not have an official rock song despite a rich history of rock artists, innovative music producers, and renown songwriters.  Instead, we have a single official song written nearly 100 years ago and that nobody probably has heard in the last 50 years.

So what song should be nominated as the official (or unofficial) California rock song?

Here are some that most likely would be scratched immediately.  They are non-starters.  Each, however, is about our state and presents a perspective -- lame, humorous, controversial, dark, or whatever -- that is worth a thought.  Each was written, performed, or produced by an California icon or two.

“California Uber Alles” by the Dead Kennedys, one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s seminal punk bands.  Jello Biafra, the lead singer and songwriter, was a Green Party activist, who once ran for the mayor of San Francisco.  The song focuses on an imaginary Jerry Brown’s “hippie-fascist vision” for America -- the first iteration of Jerry Brown.  It was updated for Ronald Reagan's presidency and for Arnold.  Punk!  Hippies!  Political statement!  A band with an offensive name!  Obviously a non-starter as a candidate for the state rock song.

“Los Angeles” by X -- the title cut from X’s debut album.  It probably is mentioned in this post because Billy Zoom is on my list of top 15 guitarists.  The song is hardly P.C.  “She had to leave Los Angeles.  She started to hate every . . . and . . . . Every . . . that gave her lotta  . . . . Every . . .  and the idle rich.”  Ethnic, racial, and gay insensitivity and profanity should be enough for an instant scratch.  Interestingly, that kind of language fits the California that voted in favor of initiatives to uphold racial restrictions on housing and property, to do away with affirmative action, and to outlaw gay marriage.  Maybe, if left to a vote of the California public, our scratch is premature.

The Beach Boys gave us two songs on the scratch list which capture a bit of the California vibe.  Both are mildly un-P.C. and might offend those 1970s feminists who found the word “girl” offensive in any context.  Plus, the video for Diamond David Lee Roth’s cover turned “California Girls” into some sexist romp.  “Surfer Girl” never enjoyed the same popularity of “California Girls.”  Even though it probably is disqualified from consideration as California’s rock song, Aaron King -- a local Sacramento blues guitarist -- combined “Surfer Girl” with “Sleep Walk” for a very nice C major bubble-gum chords medley last year at the In the Flow Festival.  That inspired the Lava Pups to combine “Sleep Walk” and “Last Date.”

Dealing with the dark side of Hollywood and the high life in LA are “Californication” and “Hotel California” respectively.  Those should not be subjects for our state rock song.  After all, dark reality cannot be “official.”  Is that a merely form of denial by officialdom?

A couple of other songs came to mind.  They became scratches as they symbolize specific times in California history.  They feel dated today and, except for their nostalgic value, have not stood up to the test of time.
  • “San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” harkens back to the Summer of Love and the Haight-Ashbury.  Written by John Phillips, it was the opening song for the movie “Monterey Pop.”  Mention Haight-Ashbury, “Monterey Pop,” and San Francisco to some people and you will get an earful about immorality, drugs, hippies, liberals, etc.  James Watts, Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior, shut down free concerts in the National Mall because rock music was destroying the good moral fabric of America.  Maybe we are not ready to return to a time that advocated peace and love.   Peace and love were divisive enough the first time around.
  • “Valley Girl” is another song that does not stand up.  It introduced the world to the San Fernando Valley and its language.  “Totally.”  The song is silly -- humorous.  And it was written and produced by Frank Zappa, who played lead guitar.  His rhythm guitarist on the song was Steve Vai.  For a brief moment, I thought that, if Ohio had “Hang on Sloopy,” “Valley Girl” could work for California.  Then, I listened to the song again.  “Gag me with a spoon.”
“Walking in LA” was the last scratch.  Dale and Terry Bozzio met while working with Frank Zappa.  The song preserves a perception -- largely grounded in truth -- of Los Angeles and its automobile culture.  Probably a bit too localized for a STATE song.  But when you hear it, you think how true it must be.  “Nobody walks in LA”!

So we have eliminated a bunch of songs.  What are some viable nominees for the official (or unofficial) California rock song?  That is a topic for another day.

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