The Great American Songbook – Southern California Style

Last year in Philadelphia I picked up a 2-LP various artists compilation (of “previously released material”) called California U.S.A. – originally issued in 1981 on Columbia:

California U.S.A.

Surprisingly, my buddy, Tom – a gifted record collector – had never heard of it.  This hodgepodge of 60s & 70s singles/rarities that originally came out on Columbia/Epic (save one) is unified by a connection to sunny California and its association with the beach, surfing, and fast cars.  I was amused to see that one of the songs in this collection was written in 1851:  “Swanee River.”   Why, you may ask, would a minstrel song that is the official state song of Florida (and better known as “Old Folks at Home” or, more accurately, “Suwannee River”)  be included in a California-themed compilation?

Answer: This fresh and original take on Stephen Foster’s crusty classic is pure 70s sunshine/power pop that only could have come from Southern California (or, even better, a UK band clearly besotted with the Beach Boy ideal of Southern California and its lush harmony vocal tradition) – the pastoral “middle eight” section, in particular, being an arrangement straight out of Brian Wilson’s long lost (though recently found) Smile album:

My uncle Chuck might be intrigued to know that this double album also includes “No Surf in Cleveland” by the Euclid Beach Band – a misnomer of a lyric, actually, since not only do Cleveland surfers exist, but they also believe “they are the last remnants of the original surf culture of the 1940s & 50s, when surfing was still a renegade sport of social misfits who scouted virgin breaks, surfed alone, and lived by a code of friendliness to newcomers and respect for the water.”