Category Archives: surf

#140 and 141 – California Sun

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#140 & 141 – California Sun by The Rivieras

Surfin’ all the way from Indiana!

People my age can be really annoying bragging how things were in “the good old days.” Especially when it’s aimed at generations currently living in the time they’ll look back on as their “good old days.” Based on my memories, a lot of it wasn’t all that much better and I’m happy to be dealing with things in the “current days.” If you need examples, my list includes better meds (health care), seat belts (better safe than sorry) and even better frozen foods (aluminum tray TV dinners vs. microwave meals).

The best reason I’d ever have to go back in time would be to tell the youthful me to “smarten-up!”

However, as you may have noticed, these Classic Rocker ramblings are all about going back in time. So, is the joke on me? I don’t think so because if I was forced to clarify, I’d call it what it is – reminiscing. Music brings back memories, which can be fun, enlightening or even nightmarish to recall. There’s nothing wrong with that and I enjoy doing it here (you’re welcome very much). But when all is said and done, I would rather be waking up in my own bed – today – instead of in an era before the internet, laptop computers, cell phones and streaming music.

Speaking of waking up in my own bed…

That’s how California Sun joined this Dream Song List – not once, but twice. First was on September 29th and again November 28th. I must have been dreaming about escaping to a warm Pacific coast beach during a couple chilly fall nights near the north coast of Cleveland, Ohio.

Speaking of up north…

The best-known version of this song is by the surf band, The Rivieras, who also came from up north. If you don’t believe me, look at a map. The group formed in South Bend, Indiana, which in the 1960’s had a music scene about as far from the surf as London, England.

Speaking of England…

California Sun can also be seen – if you imagine a pop music map with your mind – as a line drawn in the beach sand separating “the good old days” for people older than me and “OMG!” For boomers my age lacking benefit of Gen-X’er or Millennial hanging around the house, that translates into, “Oh my gosh!”

In other words, it signifies a great divide.

The song was released in January 1964. Boomers will immediately know what happened the month after because the music scene went through the OMG big change I referred to above and one we’re still trying to explain to younger generations. California Sun has been called the last American rock and roll hit record before The Beatles and The British Invasion.

Aging punk rockers with “good old days” that are not as far back (but close) will undoubtedly remember the version by The Ramones that was also featured in the classic 1979 movie Rock ‘n’ Roll High School. Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy may not have a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame membership for being a New York City surf band out of the clubs in lower Manhattan, but they were geographically closer to an ocean than The Rivieras in South Bend.

Surf’s Up!

But I need to stick with The Rivieras with this edition of Dream Songs since it was their record that rode a double wave onto this list. I had recently added the song to my digital playlist, inspiring me to cure my wife Disco Deb’s insomnia with the following reminiscence. So, for that reason it charts on the recently heard category rather than as a non-prescription sleep aid.

Let’s discuss the “good old days” of vinyl records…

I hate to disappoint my fellow classic rockers, but I lack the mania we once had for vinyl records. I’m not into the cracks, pops, fizzes, and other sounds that accompany the music we were meant to hear on disks dragging a stereo (or hi-fi) needle around in circles on a turn table. I’ve also had my fill of accidental scratches, needle jumps, sun warps and worn-out grooves we suffered through before 8-tracks and cassettes became state-of-the-art replacements. Imagine how psyched we were to play our songs in a moving car! Currently I’m more than happy with my digital playlists and can stay home downloading favorite tunes while collectors are out re-buying re-issued vinyl during industry-driven “record days.”

Hey wait… Don’t go broken record on me and repeat over and over that something must be warped in my boomer brain for admitting to that. We learned in the 1960’s we have choices and that’s mine. I’m a proud veteran of “the good old days” when records were the only way to hear a song other than waiting for a deejay to play it on the radio. And during that time, I was a dedicated vinyl head.

State-of-the-art sounds!

For my segment of baby boomers that were young teens or preteens, the start of The British Invasion on February 9, 1964 was ground zero for vinyl record collecting. Only a year or two before, the pop-rock music scene was missing the dangerous excitement that came from the original rock ‘n’ rollers. I mean… seriously… Pat Boone singing Tutti Frutti? But once The Beatles hit the charts and other English groups followed on their collarless jacket coattails, kids within walking distance or bike ride to a record store could scrape up enough change to buy the latest hits.

I was no different. But I had to be careful with my funds.

Being a pre-teen in a family that had a family business, having a job was a given. In fact, it was given to me when I really didn’t even want it. But the main benefit was the weekly pay envelope. With money I’d earned stuffed in my pocket and only a short bike ride to a store with a record department, I started a collection of vinyl 45 rpm singles that I had previously only been able to hear on Top 40 AM radio stations.

Now I could own these records! That was a big deal…

But not all the singles being sold in our local stores would go down as classics. In fact, many of them weren’t even played on the radio. That meant the sellers were stuck with dozens of unheard and unwanted records. So, they did what merchants have done in the decades before and since.

They came up with gimmicks.

One of these ploys was to take five random non-selling 45 rpm’s and packaging them into one “surprise” bag. You never knew what records were in the bag, but you would have five to take home for only one dollar. That was a lot of money for pre-teens in 1964 when hit singles were priced at about sixty cents, but some of us were born to gamble.

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In 1964 our town had a new outdoor shopping center, which would today be described as a strip mall. It was just a mile or two east and appeared state-of-the art when compared to the older buildings in our downtown area. It had a good variety of stores and we could ride there on our bikes.

The shopping center had a pretty good variety of stores. There were two grocery stores (A&P and Kroger), a drug store (Marshall’s) with a good-sized lunch / dinner counter that was popular in those types of stores back then. There was a men’s clothes store, a couple women’s clothes stores, and one that I’ll call a hardware store. It was Western Auto (they might still be around) and it’s where we went to buy streamers, lights, banana seats and handlebars (boomers will remember those) and stuff like batteries, flashlights and I’ll assume – though I couldn’t drive at the time – accessories for cars (autos).

One item I distinctly remember was displayed on a glass counter near the cash register. It was a pinkish-red solid body electric guitar. I have no idea what brand it was or even if it would sound good. I just knew it looked cool and I wanted it. I’ll also assume a lot of pop music influenced guys in our town did also. But I didn’t know anyone my age that could afford it. I remember getting a “No” from my mother since it was considered an expensive item at the time and I had no clue how to play it. So, every bike ride to the shopping center included a few moments spent in Western Auto paying respects to this out-of-reach, state-of-the art instrument.

Next to Western Auto was a “Five and Dime Store” called Ben Franklin’s. Again, I think there are a few still around, but probably few and far between. It seemed to have everything in stock from clothes to school items to candy to… yeah, you know what’s coming – records.

As a preteen I remember they had a decent number of records for sale. Not everything I wanted – I’d have to go shopping with my mom and dad to bigger cities for the best selection – but it was possible to find something that was fab enough to buy for about sixty cents and bring home. I also remember it being the first place I had seen photos and posters of The Beatles on sale.

Ben Franklin’s is also where I fell for the gimmick mentioned above. They had “surprise bags” on sale for a dollar and it caught my interest…

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I only fell for it a few times before I “smartened-up” and realized almost none of these records were worth listening to. In showbiz terms they were duds.

But in one of these packages was California Sun by The Rivieras. I had never heard it since American rock ‘n’ roll was practically non-existent on our transistor radios during The British Invasion. And surprise of “surprises” – it was good. With The Beach Boys and Jan & Dean already making breakthroughs over the airwaves and turning us on to the California Sound, this was ground zero (surf-breaker?) for me.

California Sun was the lone survivor from that “good old days” era and is probably (hopefully) collecting dust in a collector’s collection. Then again, I still have a few stacks of vinyl 45’s hidden away in my “secret” storage space. It could be there with the original British Invasion records I’m still proud to own but have no intention of playing again.

And there’s really no reason to when so many favorite songs are stored on my digital playlist. It’ll make it so much easier than carrying a box of vinyl if I decided – once again – to go chasing the sunshine in California.

Here’s a video looking back at “the good old days” of baby boomers digging the California Sun:

They’re out there having fun in the warm California Sun!

To purchase California Sun The Best of The Rivieras visit Amazon.com

Have a comment? I’d love to hear from you. Thanks – and keep rockin’!

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

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