Monday, November 30, 2009

No More Songs About...California

Yes, that's right, here comes another new feature on 3 Minutes, 49 Seconds. Following in the footsteps of 12 By... and Rock Bottom, I'm proud to introduce No More Songs About.

This one is just like its title sounds. Each time, I'll pick a topic about which I believe there are already too many songs written. I'll look at some of the best songs, some of the worst, and the ones that broke the camel's back.

My first target is the 31st state in the union, California.

Before I get into it, here's my disclaimer. I have nothing against California. I've visited twice (L.A. and San Diego) and loved it both times. I have friends who live there. Inspired by the pioneering visions of Romantic novelists, I really really wanted to move there after I graduated college. And the Beach Boys have a permanent place in my Top 5 Artists of All Time.

But I don't want to hear any more songs about it.

We've gotta start with what should probably be the state anthem, California Love by 2Pac. Over a bomb beat from Dre we learn several things, including that Englewood is up to no good. It's state pride at its best. Classics like California Dreaming, California Girls, and Wilco's California Stars also fit into this category. The excellent California by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers sings the praises of the state, but does it with a little bit of humor, as Petty hopes "it don't fall into the sea."

But hearing how great a place is gets old after awhile. Thankfully there are some songs that are more ambiguous about the the Golden State.

by Red Hot Chili Peppers and Hotel California by the Eagles both imagine the state vaguely sinister place that will lure you in and trap you. California by Rufus Wainwright finds our author unimpressed: "California / You're such a wonder / That I think I'll stay in bed." A clear musical nod to the Beach Boys pervades Losing California by Sloan, who feel similarly bitter about the state's self-image. "And everybody loves it," they sing, "But nobody knows what it stands for."

In every case where a topic comes up in this particular feature, the main case against it is that there are already enough songs. Consider that the word "California" shows up in 20 titles on my iTunes alone. That's not including songs that are about the state but don't use the title (like Death Cab For Cutie's Grapevine Fires), or are about specific places in the state (like The Thrills' Big Sur, Chris Isaak's San Fransisco Days, Randy Newman's I Hate L.A., or Billy Joel's Say Goodbye to Hollywood). But there are also always specific songs that show things have gone too far.

California, by Phantom Planet, is one such song. The once-and-future O.C. theme song is not so much a bad song (or that The O.C.'s quality dropped off so shockingly fast), as it is annoyingly difficult to get out of your head. Everytime you hear someone say "Caifornia," you are then obliged to sing it in a drawn-out nasally voice. Semisonic's California is also clear evidence that things have gone too far. If you have to mispronounce the name of the state (singer Dan Wilson says it like "Cal-i-forn-eye-ah") to make your song stand out then maybe you should just write a song about something else.

You hear that musicians? I don't care how much you love your home state, or how much you've been inspired by your visits there. There's nothing new you can say about California.

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