From Brian Wilson to Nancy Sinatra: The L.A. Music Scene in the ’60s

Electric Guitars, Fast Cars, and the Myth of the California Paradise
By Joel Selvin

“Let’s go surfin’ now, everybody’s learnin’ how,” sang the Beach Boys on their breakthrough hit, “Surfin’ Safari,” in 1962, and numerous youths started dreaming of the Southern California good life — a Shangri-La of mile-high waves and tanned surfer dudes lugging their boards throughout the sand. The Beach Boys and their inspiration, the duo Jan and Dean, had inaugurated a faculty of rock ’n’ roll that had little to do with greaser rise up. Their music had a breeze blowing via it; it swung with a straightforward gait.

Joel Selvin, the former pop music critic of The San Francisco Chronicle, has explored rock’s historical past in a string of enjoyable books, together with “Monterey Pop” (written with Jim Marshall) and “Summer of Love.” In his new one, “Hollywood Eden: Electric Guitars, Fast Cars, and the Myth of the California Paradise,” he tells the story, set between 1957 and 1967, of a community of younger Angelenos who “captured a California of the mind” — one among “cars, sun, sex and surf; ‘Gidget’ set to a rock ’n’ roll beat.”

Their lives have been bathed in Hollywood unreality. The youngsters Jan (Berry) and Dean (Torrence) seemed like blond, preppy Ken dolls. They beloved snappy doo-wop and quick driving, however their partnership, fashioned in the late ’50s, had a snail-like crawl up the charts; solely in 1963 did they make No. 1 with “Surf City,” a couple of legendary ocean paradise the place there have been “two girls for every boy.” Its composer, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, had repaid a debt by giving it to them: His group’s first single, “Surfin’,” was “practically a Jan and Dean knockoff,” Selvin writes. In a sequel, “Drag City,” Jan and Dean unveiled a brand new style, the automotive music — “a symbol of freedom, possibility, self-sufficiency, the romance of the highway, all tied to life in Southern California.”

Jan and Dean unlock the door to different scrappy personalities in Selvin’s ebook. Kim Fowley, their schoolmate at University High in West Los Angeles, was a ubiquitous music-business hustler who, although a lot disliked, had ears. In 1965, he met a bunch of “ragged hippies” who have been sleeping on a pal’s ground in the Hollywood Hills. They grew to become the Mamas and the Papas, and their hit “California Dreamin’” voiced yet one more siren name to the balmy West. It got here out on Dunhill, a label based by Jan and Dean’s early mentor, Lou Adler, who by now was dwelling a Hollywood dream; he dated Ann-Margret, then married the teen idol Shelley Fabares. His former enterprise associate, the trumpeter Herb Alpert, had given the California sound a Mexican twist. After attending a bullfight in Tijuana, Alpert had recorded “The Lonely Bull,” the hit that launched his new label, A&M, and made him a star.

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