Monday, 9 June 2014

The Beach Boys 'California Girls'

Chart Peak: 26
Surprisingly only reached no. 26 in September 1965 (no. 3 in America) but known to millions through the "Caledonian Girls" adverts.
In case you didn't live in the UK in the early 1980s, didn't watch commercial TV, or are just a fan of casual sexism and ethnic stereotyping, the adverts are now available on YouTube. Whilst they're the earliest memory I could plausibly have of the song, my impression is that it was already relatively well-known in the UK, not least thanks to the success of their many hits collections which feature this song. Indeed, I presume it was parodied in the ads on the assumption that people would already know it.

This is the other side of the commercial peak from 'Do It Again', but arguably comes from another transitional time in their career. It is in fact the first released Beach Boys track to feature Bruce Johnston, who famously took Brian Wilson's place in the touring band after Wilson had a breakdown and refused to travel. Johnston was not an official member of the band yet, for contractual reasons, but his presence did also allow Wilson to spend more time in the studio working on the music; the backing track for this was recorded (by top-notch session musicians) almost two months before the actual Beach Boys were available to add their vocals. The other great significance of the song is in the band's legal history; as of 1986 the writing credit was to Brian Wilson alone, but he'd already widely acknowledged that the lyric was penned by Mike Love, which ultimately led to a lawsuit in the 1990s where Love claimed co-writing credits on a large and lucrative share of the back-catalogue. In fairness, this lyric in particular has Love's fingerprints all over it, as he boasts of his success with the ladies, praises girls from various locations in vaguely lecherous tones but ultimately sucks up by saying his local audience are the best of all.

The good news is that the lyric is easily the weakest thing about this track. Already an accomplished composer, Brian Wilson excels himself here with once of his most complex and beautiful melodies to date, using the studio as an instrument to integrate the composition and arrangement more than ever before. In a particular favourite trick of this time, he starts the song with an introduction totally unrelated to the main melody and the transition is joyous. Even the delivery of the words makes up for their content, with the brilliant and complex harmonies you'd expect - Wilson famously mixed the music into mono on one track of an eight-track tape and used the other seven just for vocals. There is a stereo mix available now, which is interesting to hear for detail but it's not quite the same as the proper thing. An authentically sunny record that sounds good all year.

Available on: Summer Days (and Summer Nights) (Mono & Stereo Remaster)

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