It was 53 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.
Shortly before his death last year, longtime fan Tom Petty explained that especially during his ’60s heyday, Brian Wilson’s musical vision in the studio was unparalleled in rock: “You really have to admire him as an artist for just having that kind of vision. ‘Cause, it’s y’know, anyone that makes records knows it’s very hard to think that far ahead.
Y’know, just to book all those guys for the session! Right? You’re thinking pretty far ahead. You’re really visualizing sound long before its actually appeared if you call 19 guys down to the room.” 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’s band — featuring Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin — and the touring version of the Beach Boys featuring Mike Love and Bruce Johnston still include the song in every performance.
Photo Courtesy of Capitol Records