The Infinite Jukebox: The Beach Boys’ ‘California Girls’


In those long ago, sunlit years of my youth, otherwise known as 1977, I was out of work and broke, broker than I have been since.
It was a year in which I only bought four new albums, and that counts the presents I got for birthday and Xmas, which didn’t involve my money.
Into that economic wasteland came the news that The Beach Boys – The Beach Boys! – had signed up to play a concert in Manchester, and not just a concert, an open-air stadium concert, albeit that it was at the Bitters’ old home, Maine Road.
I wanted to go. I wanted to be able to go but it was out of the question. I just couldn’t afford it, whatever the price, it would not be possible on Supplementary Benefit and walking two miles there and two miles back every Monday morning, at Matthews Lane in Levenshulme because that not only saved two busfares but it took up the entire morning so I had that much less of the week to find something to do.
So I didn’t have the cash (it says a lot about my relationship with my mother that I never even thought of asking her to lend me the money), but there was also the complications of getting there, with no direct bus and, much more pertinently, getting back afterwards, in the dark, from Moss Side, which even then had a reputation. It wasn’t on.
But every time I thought about it I had the same thought, almost a vision. The Beach Boys – the real Beach Boys when their voices would have been the voices of all those great Sixties tracks – at the front of the stage as the sun goes down above the stands, the last light beaming into our eyes like Star Trek lasers. And the piano picks out those notes with a bell-like clarity, the horns pick out their notes and then the song jogs into that organ-based rhythm, and they come together in those harmonies and the sound of ‘California Girls’ echoes around the ground. It would be incredible. Imagine, listening to the Beach Boys singing ‘California Girls’ live and for real.
It wasn’t incredible for me that year, nor anyone else because for some reason they had to cancel. And too many of those voices are gone and those that remain aren’t those voices any more, so I’ll never get to hear ‘California Girls’ with the sky draining of light and the voices filling the air.
Funny isn’t it, but with ‘God Only Knows’ coming as near to perfection as music will ever get, and ‘Good Vibrations’ still astonishing in what it does with a song, it’s ‘California Girls’ that comes first to mind when I think of the Beach Boys singing live. It’s simple, unadorned, musically naïve by the standards of what was to follow, and Lord knows you just couldn’t write something that sexist now, with its treatment of women as just faces and bodies, celebrating only those most superficial of characteristics. Even by the standards of Sixties pop, with its near universal negation of the woman’s viewpoint, this is going beyond every Pale there may be.
But they called the Beach Boys the sound of Summer, and this is the archetypal Beach Boys and it’s the sound of Summer, with its uninhibited, joyous and practically naïve celebration of women, or girls. You’ll notice that the singer hasn’t got a bad word to say for any of them. No matter where they’re from, be it a section of the United States or from far beyond its borders, they’re great and the guy loves them all, but the girls from where he comes from, from nearest to his home and his heart, they’re the best, they’re the ones. There’s no girls like them.
And yes, you know that it’s all about sex in the end, that’s all he’s responding to, the prettiest faces, the sexiest bodies, that indefinable sum of everything that makes you look at a woman and go ‘Wow!’ inside, only he’s saying it out loud, and proud, with such naïve enthusiasm that you can let yourself go with it, and obliviate that urge to remove their clothing and get up close and jiggy with it, and just glory in the fact that this world has such wonderful beings in it.
Yes, it’s sung by Mike Love, and yes, he’s a dick and always was and it’s so visible in those old TV clips that survive on YouTube, you wonder why it took so long for everyone to realise it, but in his voice he’s not being a dick, just a guy in awe of the fact that his home state produces the cutest girls in the world. And you too, no matter where you come from, no matter where your heart lies, you wish they could all be California Girls.
And somewhere, in the Infinite Jukebox, the Beach Boys – Brian, Carl, Dennis, Al and Mike – are out on stage as the sun dips towards an Ocean we cannot see and they’re singing ‘California Girls’ and I am lost in the music that reaches into forever.

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