B is for Beach Boys, the Ultimate California Sound


“Boy, we partied man. They were crazy days, man. Just partying all the time. We’d go surfing – and we’d get up at 6 AM and take off to the northern beaches and surf in the sunrise, then cruise around, and girls and beer and parties.”

~ Martin Henderson

The Beach Boys, but the Mammas and the Pappas too, managed to create a sound that doesn’t only recall the sun and ocean of Southern California but today it still triggers great feelings of nostalgia about dreams, being young and tan during long summers in an Edenic environment of beaches, parties and pastel-colored American grand cars which exuded the sense of optimism and confidence of postwar America.

All the hits of the Beach Boys were composed in the sixties, yet the music says nothing about the protests on the Berkeley campus, the heavy drug use of some hippies who had gone too far, the civil rights marches in the South, napalm in Vietnam and the dramatic murder of Bobby Kennedy in Los Angeles. Instead of that the Beach Boys sang:
Well, East Coast girls are hip
I really dig those styles they wear
And the Southern girls with the way they talk
They knock me out when I’m down there
The MidWest farmers’ daughters really make you feel alright
and the Northern girls with the way they kiss
They keep their boyfriends warm at night
I wish they all could be California
I wish they all could be California
I wish they all could be California girls.

As an antidote against all the suffering in the world and the turbulent times of the 1960s, the California girl (blond, tan, athletic and forever in bikini) seemed to embody the plenty of the young state of California, and although it seems as if the Beach Boys were apolitical compared to say the flower children, the hippies or the Beats, they too engaged in a silent protest against the bourgeois expectations of the Eisenhower years: wasn’t the hanging about on a beach, surfing, and endless partying a clear excuse to dodge military service and postpone adulthood and responsibility? By becoming a surf or beach bum you explicitly showed you were not going to adapt or blend in with what was expected of everyone: the suburban American Dream. The Beach Boys, but the hippies and Beats, too, were a societal and particularly California phenomenon which showed that the California Dream might offer an alternative and in some way encapsulated the counter-culture response to the American Dream of the time.

To conservatives and the rest of the country this California inclination toward hedonism was soon interpreted as a form of decadence, and possibly, California’s downfall. However, for young people, this counter culture coming from the West was the new new thing and many made the trek west and the state grew once again, drawing in the next generation and with it, the talent that the California economy of today is possibly founded on. In a sense, the Beach Boys were like the call of the Sirens, not so young people could crash and burn on Santa Monica Beach, but do away with all that came before and embrace the new frontier of the West, while gazing across the wide expanse of the Pacific Ocean.

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