It was 48 years ago today (April 6th, 1965) that the Beach Boys began recording "California Girls." The song, which was the group's most ambitious recording up until then, featured a soaring orchestral production by the group's leader and producer Brian Wilson, alongside lyrics co-written by singer Mike Love.
Wilson wrote the music to the chorus during a dinner party in early 1965, and then enlisted the help of Los Angeles' top session players rather than use the band on the recording, as he was becoming accustomed to doing. Although the Beach Boys' vocals wouldn't be added until June 4th, on April 6th, he led the "California Girls" session at Hollywood's Western Recorders. Wilson has stated numerous times over the years that the backing track to "California Girls" is his favorite of all his Beach Boys productions.
The track itself was a far cry from the group's first single, 1961's "Surfin'," which only featured a double bass, an acoustic guitar, and a trash can as percussion. "California Girls" utilized drums, piano, vibes, assorted percussion, three guitars, both an electric and a double bass, three saxophones, a trumpet, and an organ, not to mention six-part harmony vocals -- all arranged by Wilson.
There is some debate as to whether Wilson composed the song's signature introduction, or its main melody, during his first LSD trip earlier that year.
"California Girls" was Wilson's first major production since quitting the road the previous December, after he suffered a nervous breakdown while on tour.
Beach Boys historian Jon Stebbins who authored the definitive biographies on the group's Dennis Wilson and David Marks says that while on tour, the farther Brian Wilson was away from home and the recording studio, the more miserable he became: "Brian pouted the whole time. He didn't wanna be out there. Y'know Brian was really depressed when he was out on the road, and he was basically on the phone talking to his girlfriend back home all the time. While the rest of them were out having fun."
The song marked the first vocal appearance of the group's newest member, Wilson's permanent on-stage replacement Bruce Johnston.
Nearly 20 years later, Wilson talked about "California Girls" in a 1993 interview with Capitol Records, recalling, "Everybody was up. The whole gang was there. It became my favorite session. The intro to this song is the greatest piece of music that I've ever written. I was looking for an introduction that would be totally different to the rest of the song, but would lead into it. The song was a big record for us, but I really never liked anything but the intro."
"California Girls" was originally issued on the group's Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!) album on July 5th, 1965, and was released as single on July 12th. "California Girls" eventually peaked at Number Three, kept from the Top spot by the other massive hits from the Summer of '65, Bob Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone" at Number Two, and the Beatles' Number One "Help!"
"California Girls" went on to become the Beach Boys' signature song. Starting in the early '70s, the group regularly used it as their opening number at concerts. Both Brian Wilson and the touring version of the Beach Boys featuring Mike Love and Bruce Johnston still include the song in every performance.
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