Monday, June 21, 2010

(empo-caallii) What is California music?

Those of you who have visited Disney's California Adventure in Anaheim, California probably can't forget the entrance to the theme park. As you walk under a cartoonish replica of the Golden Gate Bridge, your ears are surrounded by a sampling of "California music" to get you into the California mood.

If you have a Disney annual pass, you quickly realize that Disney pretty much plays the same songs over and over. Kinda like top 40 radio.

If you listen a little further, you'll notice that the playlist has been somewhat Disneyfied. Tupac Shakur's homage to California, for example, is never heard at the park.

But what exactly is California music? I can think of three possible definitions.

First, you can look at musicians and bands who use their songs to comment, explicitly or implicitly, on California. Whether you're singing about a "Hotel California," singing a song that lists a number of California surfing locations, or singing the praises of Compton and the LBC, you can definitely identify lyrical content that relates to California.

But what of musical content? Is there a "California sound"? Certainly there are Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Bakersfield-based musicians who have a clearly identifiable sound. Perhaps the Byrds, Buck Owens, Glen Campbell, Dick Dale, any of Phil Spector's bands, X, and the aforementioned Tupac Shakur never played a gig together, but there are certainly musical elements in all of their works that can be tied to the Golden State. (When speaking of Glen Campbell, I'm not only thinking of his solo work, but also his session work; he was, after all, a touring member of the Beach Boys for a while.)

And, of course, you can have musicians who don't sing about California, and who don't sound like California, but they happen to live in California. Are they part of the California sound? I've been mulling over this third question the most, and may end up posting some additional thoughts on this later. (Hence the blog label, should I care to revisit this, or any other California-related topic.)

I leave you with two things. First, you may not have seen the post that I wrote over a year ago, but it mentioned a California band that you probably don't know about. Not sure why you haven't heard of them.

There was a wealth of southern California bands devoted to surfing and/or cars - the Beach Boys were just the most popular of a slew of bands in those genres. But what of the younger set whose parents wouldn't let them own a surfboard, and who were too young for a car? Enter Don Kirshner, who was between gigs with the Monkees and the Archies and who decided that swimming pools and bicycles were the ticket to stardom with the younger set. Unlike the Beach Boys before them and the Beastie Boys after them, the Deck Boys truly were boys. Kirshner didn't want to monkey around with the Beach Boys' successful formula, so he started with the pool songs first and branched into bicycle songs later. "Floating Safari, "Swimming USA" (Kirshner avoided a lawsuit on that one), and "Be True To Your Bike" did respectably well, although the Deck Boys are best remembered for their subsequent novelty album "Pet Sounds," in which all of the lead vocals are sung by the members' dogs (and gerbil).

Second, I want to return to Tupac Shakur. I thought that I had previously posted the video for "California Love" in this blog, but I guess I haven't. Enjoy.

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