A Music Inspired Adventure
It’s one of the world’s great US coastal road trips. But as well as tracing a route through surf-smashed Californian scenery, the Highway 1 drive between San Francisco and Los Angeles also connects two legendary music cities. Listening material, therefore, requires careful consideration. The songs you choose to have pounding out of your speakers are as important as the towns you choose to stop in and the diners you choose to eat in (top tip: leave room for the three-berry pie at Nepenthe’s in Big Sur). With this in mind, here are ten classic albums born in, or inspired by, The Golden State.
Ben Lerwill is a freelance travel writer based in Oxfordshire. His work has appeared in more than 50 publications, including National Geographic Traveller, The Times, The Independent, Wanderlust, BBC Countryfile and Time Out.
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The Byrds: The Notorious Byrd Brothers (1968)
The band encountered all sorts of acrimonious snags in putting the LP together – two members quit during the recording process – but the end result is a thing of beauty. Folky, psychedelic and distinctly Californian, it’s a listen that dips and swoops like a Monterey Bay gull. The Byrds had no finer moment.
Crank it up: Wasn’t Born to Follow
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The Doors: LA Woman (1971)
Singer Jim Morrison died just weeks after this record was released, leaving the sixth Doors’ studio album as the band’s final, and arguably finest, work. From the growling blues of opening track The Changeling to the rain-lashed moodiness of final song Riders On The Storm, it remains atmospheric throughout. It’s said that Morrison recorded his vocals in the bathroom of the band’s LA studio, to deepen the sound.
Crank it up: Love Her Madly
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The Beach Boys: The Beach Boys Today! (1965)
Just as every Highway 1 car needs a sun-roof, no self-respecting Californian list would be complete without a Beach Boys album. The band’s recordings range from the hand-clap surf-pop of the early years to the critically extolled maturity of Pet Sounds, but this – their eighth studio album – bridges the two periods with aplomb. It’s got a young, singalong quality, but there’s real depth to it too. A great on-the-road listen.
Crank it up: Help Me Rhonda
Red Hot Chili Peppers: Californication (1999)
Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of Top 200 Albums of All Time, the pummelling funk-rock of Californication represented the Chili Peppers’ first record in more than four years. Guitarist John Frusciante and bassist Flea are both on towering form, and more than 15 years after its release the album is still seen by many as the band’s musical peak.
Crank it up: Around the World
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Joni Mitchell: Blue (1971)
The provenance of albums isn’t always obvious. Local icons The Eagles recorded their two biggest LPs in England and Florida respectively. Joni Mitchell, on the other hand, was Canadian but created her greatest record here on the West Coast. Blue is a simple but sincere masterpiece: divine vocals carried along by soft strings and piano. “My heart cried out for you, California,” she sings, midway through. “Oh California, I’m coming home.”
Crank it up: This Flight Tonight
Creedence Clearwater Revival: Green River (1969)
A little way north of San Francisco sits the unassuming settlement of El Cerrito, famous for having been founded by survivors of California’s 1906 earthquake – and for being the hometown of the hugely influential Creedence Clearwater Revival. Still seen as one of the forefathers of American country rock, the band reached a high-point with this rootsy blow-out. The whole album clocks in at less than half an hour, and there’s precious little filler.
Crank it up: Bad Moon Rising
Eagles: Hotel California (1976)
An obvious inclusion? Of course, but with good reason. Having once earned a crust as Linda Ronstadt’s backing band, the Eagles went on to become one of the best-selling acts in the world. This album was their commercial pinnacle, perfecting the art of radio-friendly listening. Lyrically it’s far from cheery – the main theme is the decline of US society – but it’s precisely this that gives substance to songs like The Last Resort.
Crank it up: Life in the Fast Lane
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Beck: Morning Phase (2014)
Music to drive to isn’t always upbeat. LA’s own Beck Hansen has released his fair share of foot-stompers over the years, but the Grammy-winning Morning Phase is a pared-back, hauntingly beautiful collection of slower songs. As the title suggests, the record is partly dedicated to the day’s early hours. It’s best listened to on a sun-warmed morning on the road, coffee to hand, as Pacific breakers roll in from offshore.
Crank it up: Heart Is A Drum
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Love: Forever Changes (1967)
Still frequently cited as an album for the ages – a group of British MPs once put forward a light-hearted motion naming it “the greatest of all time” – Forever Changes was put together in a studio on Sunset Boulevard. Full of strings and swirling horns, it’s a dreamy rock record that, perhaps unsurprisingly, sounds even better on the West Coast than in Westminster. Arthur Lee, the band’s singer-songwriter, cited fellow Californians The Byrds as a prime influence.
Crank it up: Alone Again Or
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