I grew up on the beach in Southern California in the 60s (San Clemente High, Class of ’65!!) so I LEAPT at the chance to have an advance copy of Everybody Had an Ocean: Music and Mayhem in 1960s Los Angeles by William McKeen (thanks to Chicago Review Press and NetGalley) in exchange for my honest review.
For starters, I wanted to LOVE this book. Music was one of my best friends in my teenage years, and I retain vivid memories of artists, radio stations, TV shows, and all just hanging on the beach with transistor radios blaring music (unless the Dodgers were playing, in which case it was like a battle of the bands between the music and Vin Scully). Spoiler alert: I DID love it!
Just glancing at the cover made me happy: there were the 1960s images of some of my favorites: the Mamas and the Papas, Beach Boys, Joni Mitchell, Jan & Dean, Charles Manson – wait, WHAT??? Yep, it’s true: while this book is a detailed history of the 1950s and 19060s and the migration of the music industry to Los Angeles, it also is a fascinating look at the dark side of the time, including Manson, the kidnapping of Frank Sinatra, Jr., the murder of Bobby Fuller, and more. As McKeen notes “Los Angeles was fecund with corruption. As it became the American capital of crazy, it also became a reliable source of ghastly crimes…Los Angeles was the promised land and a pathetic and brutal place.” And there is acknowledgement that the stories about Manson’s rejection by the music industry may have led directly to the Manson Family murder spree are in fact true. In addition to Manson, the book includes juicy stories about personalities including Fatty Arbuckle, Charlie Chaplin, and that very weird Phil Spector.
One of the most interesting aspects of the story of the development of rock music is its relationship to race. “Black America met White America through music…once we were all dancing to the same beat, Jim Crow didn’t have a chance and walls came tumbling down.” Some claim that “rock ‘m roll is just black folks’ music played by white boys,” but the bottom line is that “the musical revolution…led to a social revolution.”
Segregation and bigotry are vividly described, especially in the way “the music industry’s official term for black music was “race” (as in “race records” on the radio)”” ...and for white country music it was “hillbilly”.” The term “rhythm and Blues” gave way to rock ‘n roll. It was Alan Freed who changed things: “Freed liked the way it sounded. “Rhythm and Blues,” the new industry term for black music, still bore the stigma of “race records” and Freed saw it as his sad duty to push his particular boulder uphill, trying to introduce the masses (mostly white kids) to this music he loved.” Once he coined the term “rock ‘n roll” for this new music, it stuck.
This book is absolutely packed with stories about the music and people surrounding the music industry. To be honest, I learned way more about Brian Wilson and Jan & Dean than I needed (or wanted) to know, but nothing in the book feels like it is over the top – the stories about the icons of “surf music” are often wild, but are an essential part of the story McKeen tells. Yes, I did love this book, and I’m pretty sure I won’t listen to Sirius Channel 060 the same way again! Four stars…if the final version has pictures, it would likely be 5.