The defining musical style of the state of California largely depends on who you ask and what their ideologies are. Is it the West Coast hip-hop that came out of South Central L.A. in the late ’80s and early ’90s, which blended racial conscious and gangsta rap in a way never quite duplicated since? Is it the mostly SoCal punk scene through the ages, from X and Germs, to the West Coast hardcore of Black Flag, to the pop- and ska-tinged punk that dominated the ’90s? How about the Laurel Canyon sound that blended folk and rock and spawned some of the greatest albums of the early ’70s? Or the sound of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury in the mid to late ’60s, as led by the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, with their collective peace, love, harmony, etc.? Or the dripping-with-excess hard rock and hair metal scene that took shape on the Sunset Strip throughout the 1980s? And what about The Beach Boys and the generations of surf-pop imitators they spawned?!
When we heard that Best Coast — one of L.A.’s most outspokenly L.A. bands — was releasing an album called California Nights this week, we got to thinking, “What’s the quintessential California sound?” This is the place where many go to pursue the American dream, or to opt of it completely, at least during the hippie movement. When we talk about “the sound of California,” the sound itself is important, but it’s the lifestyles behind these scenes that come to define the music. You’ll see all of these varying personal ideologies on display throughout our list of quintessential California albums. — Jillian Mapes