The Songs of Summer #39: ‘California Sun’ by The Rivieras
Today’s Song of Summer is a surf/garage rock hybrid from 1964. I first heard this song on a cassette I bought back in the 80’s at Wherehouse Records (R.I.P.) in East Lansing from Rhino Records called ‘Frat Rock‘,and I’ve been throwing it on summer mixtapes ever since. (Frat rock was a term coined for the raw, garage pop sound of bands in the early 60’s, and the wild beer-soaked frat parties they often gigged at. ‘California Sun‘ is a classic example of frat rock.) Oh, and I still have that cassette, which I consider one of the best music purchases I’ve ever made.
Like another ‘surf’ band from the middle of the country The Trashmen, The Rivieras were a rock band from South Bend, Indiana who created their own brand of surf sound that centered around the organ. And I don’t know what it is about that organ sound, but it’s the organ that makes this song sound like summer. ‘California Sun‘ is the band’s biggest (really their only) hit, reaching #5 in the U.S. According to Wikipedia, it was one of the last U.S. rock bands to reach the near-top of the charts before The Beatles and the rest of the British Invasion took over. In fact, the song peaked at #5 on the charts at the same time The Beatles were hitting #1 for the very first time with ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand.’ To me, this little ditty by a group of teens from South Bend Central High School, named after the Buick Riviera, is the better of the two by a long shot.
Frequent personnel changes eventually forced the band to break up in 1966, but not before leaving us with one of the great Summer Anthems. A song for all of us stuck in the cool, cloudy midwest, dreaming of getting out there where they’re having fun, in that warm California sun.