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Author Topic: Why Brian Dumped Mike: Exhibit A, "California Girls"  (Read 7926 times)
mammy blue
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« on: November 24, 2016, 06:12:11 AM »

The following is just one man's opinion.

I woke up this morning thinking about why I tend to be so ambivalent about the song "California Girls".

The majestic instrumental opening is one of the great turning points of Brian's career as a writer/producer, a doorway leading to a new world.

The basic track and ethereal backing vocals are sublime from start to finish.

The problem as I boil it down is simply this: most of us know that "California Girls" was the first track Brian wrote on LSD. The lyrics, however, read like they were written on beef jerky: leering, hokey, clumsy, a bit sleazy, without trajectory and lacking in any bite, snap or wit.

The simple lyrical sentiment of the chorus is of course effective, and I know that is a big part of the charm: I am of course referring more specifically to the wordy and clunky verses.

We all know that Mike can do it. "I Get Around" is just one of many examples of Mike nailing it and getting the job done. I also know that "California Girls" is considered a classic and was a huge hit, but to me the seams are really showing. In this particular instance, I don't think that Mike's relatable lyrics are providing an effective counterpoint to Brian's majestic vision: the BB "formula" as it were. I would argue that the lyrics in this case are painfully pedestrian and jarring and they bring the song down, cheapening it and tainting it, frankly. They just don't do the music justice.

It makes me wonder whether, and this is purely supposition on my part, someone took Brian aside and told him, 'You know, that "California Girls" song was great, but maybe you should consider bringing in another lyricist again who might be more on the same page with you musically'. A little while later, enter Tony Asher.

I would certainly argue that later on with "Good Vibrations", Mike stepped up his game and proved that he could still hold his own and add a complementary and unique element to Brian's evolving music. However, by that point Brian was already well down the garden path with Van Dyke Parks.

In summary, I don't believe that "California Girls" was one of Mike's finer moments as a lyricist. If he had tackled the song differently, coming up with something that truly rose to the task, dazzling Brian and still maintaining that identifiably "Mike" quality, maybe the later decisions and conflicts regarding lyrical content might have played out a little differently...
« Last Edit: November 24, 2016, 06:36:35 AM by mammy blue » Logged
Add Some
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« Reply #1 on: November 24, 2016, 08:18:06 AM »

Yep.  Musically Brian was light years past where Mike was with his sophomoric...tending toward moronic...words.  They needed to do more than just rhyme and recount high-school wants and desires.  As a lyricist Mike remains a juvenile.
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« Reply #2 on: November 24, 2016, 08:23:14 AM »

Agreed, Exhibit one of the Mike/Brian divide is this song! Cool
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I don't see the point in punishing Brian's musical output solely because Mike wants to wow the President Elect with how long he can weeze "wheeeeeeen" into a microphone.- rab2591
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« Reply #3 on: November 24, 2016, 09:06:07 AM »

I agree. My thoughts don't revolve so specifically around California Girls, but I think there's a basic art v. commerce divide between Brian and Mike. I think it's evident from the way Brian talks about his experiences with music as a child and throughout his life, he's very connected to the art of it. That's the main draw for him. I think when they started out, the excitement of making a living as a musician, and of making a good living at all, enlivened the commercial aspect for him. But as he gained in material comfort, it became less of a controlling factor and he became more focused on the quality for quality's sake of his work. He wanted it to be successful, and obviously he has a lot of baggage around ideas of success, but for his music to achieve his artistic vision, which didn't coincide entirely with commercial interests, seems to have become more critical. So, he looked for lyricists that would be more likely to help deliver that.
It seems that he had an art v. commerce struggle within himself at times as well, and you can hear that in his varying comments.
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« Reply #4 on: November 24, 2016, 10:32:08 AM »

That "written on beef jerky" line may be the funniest thing I've read in years :D

For me, I don't care about lyrics. It's all about the music for me. Words to me are just placeholders, just stuff to give someone something to sing so unless they are bad enough to distract, they make little to no impact on me.
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« Reply #5 on: November 24, 2016, 11:53:57 AM »

"CA Girls" is simply a great song in my opinion. No need to have "serious" lyrics here, they're innocuous enough. It's the harmonies that sell this song.
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Debbie KL
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« Reply #6 on: November 24, 2016, 01:06:13 PM »

I agree. My thoughts don't revolve so specifically around California Girls, but I think there's a basic art v. commerce divide between Brian and Mike. I think it's evident from the way Brian talks about his experiences with music as a child and throughout his life, he's very connected to the art of it. That's the main draw for him. I think when they started out, the excitement of making a living as a musician, and of making a good living at all, enlivened the commercial aspect for him. But as he gained in material comfort, it became less of a controlling factor and he became more focused on the quality for quality's sake of his work. He wanted it to be successful, and obviously he has a lot of baggage around ideas of success, but for his music to achieve his artistic vision, which didn't coincide entirely with commercial interests, seems to have become more critical. So, he looked for lyricists that would be more likely to help deliver that.
It seems that he had an art v. commerce struggle within himself at times as well, and you can hear that in his varying comments.


Agreed, Emily.  And the very nasal lead wasn't helpful either.  I know Brian loves this song.  I love the intro, the arrangement and the chorus.  Other than that...
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Lonely Summer
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« Reply #7 on: November 24, 2016, 01:38:16 PM »

What was Mike supposed to write about? California weed? LSD? Honestly, there are some people for whom Mike can do no right.
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« Reply #8 on: November 24, 2016, 02:13:05 PM »

True...and now that we further understand BOTH of his ultimate his motives...gettin' lucky and gettin' rich...it all makes sense doesn't it?  But still...$50 million isn't enough for the old bald-headed gas jockey so revenge is his added and lasting motivation?  So ya.  It's plain to see why he can do NO right.

I agree with Billy.  The over-all sound sold me on the group.  Mind you it was Brian's over-all sound and the intricacies of the arrangements.  THAT's what helped me see past foolishly worded, far reaching yet cheap attempts at rhyming like "she's giving me X-sigh-Tay-shuns".

The group prevailed in spite of some of the 'twiticizims' Mike tossed onto the pile with the help of his atlas and his high-school year books.

That Brian wanted to keep pace with lyrics like those provided on Rubber Soul and by emerging forces like Bob Dylan was the ONLY way to go.  That the follically challenged one faced the great divide empty-headed is no one's fault.  It's just reality.  His.  It still is.
« Last Edit: November 24, 2016, 05:05:55 PM by Add Some » Logged

"Add Some...Music...To Your Day.  I do.  It's the only way to fly.  Well...what was I gonna put here?  An apple a day keeps the doctor away?  Hum me a few bars."   Lee Marshall [2014]

Y O U  voted for Trump?   "What a disaster."  "Overrated?"... ... ..."BIG LEAGUE."  "Lots of people are saying it"  "Make America Immigrate Again!!!"  2-faced arsewipist!!!
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« Reply #9 on: November 24, 2016, 08:33:46 PM »

The idea for the lyrics of California Girls is great: an ode to teenage male attraction for beautiful girls! And even the more specific concept of listing all the different States, and how it would be great if they all could be California girls, is good.

But the actual lyrics feel like a first draft, like Mike Love came up with a first set of words, and then never refined them, never improved them. There isn't a single witty image or fun, clever idea. Not a single double entendre or anything risque like "two girls for every guy" from Surf City. It's a missed opportunity; a real, professional, talented lyricist could have done so much more with the idea.
« Last Edit: November 25, 2016, 08:38:01 PM by kreen » Logged
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« Reply #10 on: November 24, 2016, 08:39:11 PM »

"CA Girls" is simply a great song in my opinion. No need to have "serious" lyrics here, they're innocuous enough. It's the harmonies that sell this song.

I am not asking for "serious", just lyrics that aren't clumsy that distract from the song.
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Kid Presentable
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« Reply #11 on: November 25, 2016, 12:50:10 AM »

Lol.  "Mike can do no right" is as far-fetched of a statement as "Brian has never made a mistake" and I feel bad for anyone who says either of those without a twinge of irony or sarcasm. 

I agree with the original poster though, although I always thought Salt Lake City was a bigger whiff by Mike.  That music was awesome and perfect and had so much potential.  I consider CG's lyrics to be mediocre but at least kind of the right idea (the "first draft" post is right on), and SLC's baffling.
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JK
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« Reply #12 on: November 25, 2016, 01:17:49 AM »

For me, I don't care about lyrics. It's all about the music for me. Words to me are just placeholders, just stuff to give someone something to sing so unless they are bad enough to distract, they make little to no impact on me.

We have more in common than I thought. :=)
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« Reply #13 on: November 25, 2016, 05:22:02 AM »

I certainly believe that Mike's lyrics have kept some people from recognizing the sophistication of Brian's music. They worked well until the mid-60s, when rock lyrics began to get more sophisticated and Mike couldn't keep up. Brian was right to seek out someone else.

Mike didn't have the lyrical gifts of some of his peers. The Beatles were lucky enough to have John Lennon, who loved wordplay. A passage like, "Here I stand, head in hand, turn my face to the wall. [great image] If she's gone I can't go on, feeling two foot small..." is well beyond what Mike could manage, even at his peak with Beach Boys Today. Even Brian surpassed Mike with the lyrics to 'Til I Die. And Brian was correct to change "She goes with me to a blossom world we find," to "She goes with me to a blossom world." So much better.

Simple lyrics can be a lot of fun in a rock and roll song. People love Fun, Fun, Fun. But when Mike brags that he wrote a set of lyrics in a car in 5 minutes or whatever, I'm not really surprised.

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« Reply #14 on: November 25, 2016, 08:41:21 AM »

Brian had to "dump" Mike as a lyricist because Mike refused to grow up*. And it seems he's still refusing.

* Of course I mean artistically.
« Last Edit: November 25, 2016, 09:04:48 AM by thorgil » Logged

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« Reply #15 on: November 25, 2016, 12:03:00 PM »

I read a rather interesting point in a book somewhere.  The author noted the nostalga wave in America in the early to mid 1970s (ie American Graffiti, Happy Days, Endless Summer LP, etc).  But then he went onto make the point that the Beach Boys were already becoming a "nostalga" version of themselves with the Summer Days/Summer Nights album.  The group was already moving in an entirely different direction, and the "surfing" phase of their career had passed, but here they were, making songs about the beach and girls once again, retreading old ground even in 1965.  Of course that discounts the leaps and bounds of the album production-wise, but it's an interesting way of looking at how quickly things changed in the 1960s.
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« Reply #16 on: November 25, 2016, 12:04:49 PM »

For me, I don't care about lyrics. It's all about the music for me. Words to me are just placeholders, just stuff to give someone something to sing so unless they are bad enough to distract, they make little to no impact on me.

We have more in common than I thought. :=)

Great minds think alike! Cool
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« Reply #17 on: November 26, 2016, 01:24:49 PM »

I read a rather interesting point in a book somewhere.  The author noted the nostalga wave in America in the early to mid 1970s (ie American Graffiti, Happy Days, Endless Summer LP, etc).  But then he went onto make the point that the Beach Boys were already becoming a "nostalga" version of themselves with the Summer Days/Summer Nights album.  The group was already moving in an entirely different direction, and the "surfing" phase of their career had passed, but here they were, making songs about the beach and girls once again, retreading old ground even in 1965.  Of course that discounts the leaps and bounds of the album production-wise, but it's an interesting way of looking at how quickly things changed in the 1960s.
Huh? The BB's hadn't left surfing and cars and girls behind yet in 1965. If Summer Days had followed PS, yes, that would've been a step backwards.
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« Reply #18 on: November 26, 2016, 02:06:35 PM »

Exhibit A for the defense: Brian didn't seem to mind having himself officially credited as the lyricist of 'California Girls' for 30 years.
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« Reply #19 on: November 27, 2016, 12:55:37 AM »

I read a rather interesting point in a book somewhere.  The author noted the nostalga wave in America in the early to mid 1970s (ie American Graffiti, Happy Days, Endless Summer LP, etc).  But then he went onto make the point that the Beach Boys were already becoming a "nostalga" version of themselves with the Summer Days/Summer Nights album.  The group was already moving in an entirely different direction, and the "surfing" phase of their career had passed, but here they were, making songs about the beach and girls once again, retreading old ground even in 1965.  Of course that discounts the leaps and bounds of the album production-wise, but it's an interesting way of looking at how quickly things changed in the 1960s.
Huh? The BB's hadn't left surfing and cars and girls behind yet in 1965. If Summer Days had followed PS, yes, that would've been a step backwards.

I'm referring to side two of Today! here.  It's definitely a step backwards after how groundbreaking that half-an-album was. 
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« Reply #20 on: November 27, 2016, 07:27:11 AM »

I read a rather interesting point in a book somewhere.  The author noted the nostalga wave in America in the early to mid 1970s (ie American Graffiti, Happy Days, Endless Summer LP, etc).  But then he went onto make the point that the Beach Boys were already becoming a "nostalga" version of themselves with the Summer Days/Summer Nights album.  The group was already moving in an entirely different direction, and the "surfing" phase of their career had passed, but here they were, making songs about the beach and girls once again, retreading old ground even in 1965.  Of course that discounts the leaps and bounds of the album production-wise, but it's an interesting way of looking at how quickly things changed in the 1960s.
Huh? The BB's hadn't left surfing and cars and girls behind yet in 1965. If Summer Days had followed PS, yes, that would've been a step backwards.

Girls were never left behind right through That's Why God Made the Radio.  Surfing and cars had been left behind - none on Today, first side or second side.
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« Reply #21 on: November 27, 2016, 08:11:42 AM »

Exhibit A for the defense: Brian didn't seem to mind having himself officially credited as the lyricist of 'California Girls' for 30 years.

Great point - in many interviews over the years, Brian has expressed his fondness and pride for this song, not only the music, but the concept of the song itself. The only criticism I can recall him expressing for it relates to Mike's lead vocal, which he felt was a bit rushed (however, at other times, I'm pretty sure he's called it Mike's best).

To the original point of this thread - if the musical tone of the song had remained in the vein of the stately introduction, I would agree that the current lyrics would not be appropriate, and something more akin to Pet Sounds or Side Two of Today! would fit better. But, the song soon progresses from that "Grand Canyon Suite"-inspired intro, to a mid-tempo "Happy Trails"-style gallop, that's been described as "coming on like gangbusters". A surefire hit pop song, if you ask me, and one best served by lyrics that connect with a wider "pop" audience. Would it be cool to write these kind of semi-misogynist lyrics today (outside of the rap/hip hop genre, where it seems this kind of lyrical approach, and worse, will always be in style)? Probably not. But this was the mid-'60s...plus, Mike wisely included a line about east coast girls being "hip".

One additional note: in 1978, the following exchange occurred between Jonathan Cott and Mick Jagger, in the former's interview of the latter, as published in Rolling Stone (the Mick/Stones song referred to here is, of course, the title song of that year's Stones album, Some Girls):

JC: Do you remember the Beach Boys' "California Girls"?
MJ: Yeah, I love that song.
JC: Well, it seems to me that instead of all the girls in your song being California girls, they've all turned into a different type of girl, and certainly from another state!
MJ: I know what you mean. I never thought of it like that. I never thought that a rock critic of your knowledge and background could ever come out with an observation like that [laughing].
JC: You mean it's pretentious?
MJ: Not at all. It's a great analogy. But like all analogies, it's false [laughing].

As if Mick wouldn't remember the timeless "California Girls", even 13 years after its chart life!

Final note: on the subject of girls in Brian's '65 songs, we have of course the follow-up to "California Girls", which is "The Little Girl I Once Knew' - the lyrics of which were apparently composed by Brian himself (and which could be considered an early contender for the project that turned into Pet Sounds.
« Last Edit: November 27, 2016, 08:14:01 AM by c-man » Logged
Don Malcolm
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« Reply #22 on: November 27, 2016, 09:37:15 AM »

Brian wanted to "dump" Mike (as a lyricist) long before CG, and he'd been working on it in various ways ever since the band hit the big time. In '65 Brian was still in nascent stages of such a separation, easing his way toward a situation where he could collaborate in a more comprehensive way with someone like Tony Asher. He pretty much had to withdraw from songwriting (late 60s) before he could shed his creative ties to Mike, and there are precious few "BW-ML" songwriting credits from 1970 on--with a goodly portion of those having stemmed from some form of coercion.

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« Reply #23 on: November 27, 2016, 10:36:48 AM »

Exhibit A for the defense: Brian didn't seem to mind having himself officially credited as the lyricist of 'California Girls' for 30 years.

Great point - in many interviews over the years . .

Great post! I couldn't have said it nearly as well myself.

I don't believe any misogyny is going on in the song. I recall that at some point in the '70's the lyrics suddenly offended some in the feminist movement, and political correctness has grown steadily through the years.

I think the lyrics fit the music perfectly.

And can someone explain the lyrics to You've Got to Hide Your Love Away to me? The lyrics were cited above as somehow exemplary, but they don't hang together for me.
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Emily
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« Reply #24 on: November 27, 2016, 10:53:01 AM »

Exhibit A for the defense: Brian didn't seem to mind having himself officially credited as the lyricist of 'California Girls' for 30 years.

Great point - in many interviews over the years . .

I recall that at some point in the '70's the lyrics suddenly offended some in the feminist movement.

Probably at the point when women started recognizing that they are humans, not consumer goods.
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