California sound

The California sound is a popular music aesthetic[nb 1] that originates with American pop and rock recording artists from Southern California in the early 1960s. At first, it was conflated with the California myth, an idyllic setting inspired by the state's beach culture that commonly appeared in the lyrics of commercial pop songs. Later, the sound was expanded outside its initial geography and subject matter[3][4] and was developed to be more sophisticated, often featuring studio experimentation.[5]

The Beach Boys in a promotional shot used for their 1964 single "I Get Around"

The sound was originally identified for harnessing a wide-eyed, sunny optimism attributed to southern California teenage life in the 1960s.[6] Its imagery is primarily represented by Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, who are credited for the sound's instigation via their debut single "Surfin'" in 1961.[7][6][8][9] Along with Jan and Dean, the Beach Boys encapsulated surfing, hot rod culture, and youthful innocence within music which transformed a local lifestyle into American mythology.[10] The Beach Boys' surf music was not entirely of their own invention, being preceded by artists such as Dick Dale.[11] However, previous surf musicians did not project a worldview as the Beach Boys did.[12] Other proponents included songwriters and/or record producers Gary Usher, Curt Boettcher, Bruce Johnston, Terry Melcher, and Roger Christian.

The California sound gradually evolved to reflect a more musically ambitious and mature worldview, becoming less to do with surfing and cars and more about social consciousness and political awareness.[13] Between 1964 and 1969, it fueled innovation and transition, inspiring artists to tackle largely unmentioned themes such as sexual freedom, black pride, drugs, oppositional politics, other countercultural motifs, and war.[14][15] A derivative form of the California sound was later classified as sunshine pop.[16][17]


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