A Pacific Playlist
What does the Pacific Ocean sound like to you?
Surf rock blaring from a radio?
A ukulele strummed at a family gathering?
The sugar rush of a pop ballad?
I teach a class at U.S.C. called “Pacific Beaches and the American Imagination.” In our first assignment, I ask students to pick a song broadly related to the Pacific Ocean and make an argument for its inclusion on our course playlist. Doing so is a way of indexing the ocean’s place in students’ imaginations: how they see the Pacific Ocean and what it means to them.
Their musical selections are as vast and diverse as the ocean itself. Many of these songs address the Pacific Ocean as a geographic place known best through its beaches, whether we’re waxing down our surfboards with The Beach Boys or watching the tide roll away with Otis Redding. Others center on the island Pacific, such as Israel Kamakawiwoʻole’s Hawaiian classic “Somewhere Over the Rainbow / What a Wonderful World,” or songs from Disney’s “Moana.” A few selections hint at transpacific flows of music and ideas (“Karappo no Isu,” “Dripping Sun”). Some songs take us into the ocean itself, where we can play with fish (“Under the Sea”) and listen to whales (“Salish Phantoms”). While several selections celebrate the sunny, idealized dream of the Pacific Coast (“Surfin’ USA,” “California Gurls”), others press towards its bleaker realities (such as “Sweet Life,” “Californication,” and “California Song”). And other songs, while not explicitly about the Pacific, seemed to students to capture a Pacific vibe: of freedom (“I Wanna Go”), melancholy (“Sweet Disposition”), or the limitless potential of an expansive horizon (“For the Coast”). Like the ocean itself, this playlist contains multiple overlapping Pacific Worlds.
Listen for yourself. Access the playlist on Apple Music, Spotify, or YouTube. And lose yourself in these Pacific currents.
- Sean Fraga
- Surfin’ USA by The Beach Boys (from Amera)
- Surfin’ USA by The Beach Boys (from Skylar Sepulveda)
- Surfin’ USA by The Beach Boys (from Cameron Davidson)
- Somewhere Over the Rainbow / What a Wonderful World by Israel Kamakawiwoʻole (from Jolie N)
- Somewhere Over the Rainbow / What a Wonderful World by Israel Kamakawiwoʻole (from Marcos Angelini)
- Sweet Disposition by The Temper Trap (from Rachel Grimaldi)
- Salish Phantoms by Ella Kaale (from Ella Kaale)
- California Song by Patrick James (from Mitchell Carter)
- Where You Are from “Moana” (from Jon)
- How Far I’ll Go from “Moana” (from Via McBride)
- Karappo no Isu by Taeko Onuki (from Joshua Herrera)
- Sweet Life by Frank Ocean (from Zander Tate)
- I Wanna Go by Britney Spears (from Ari H)
- Californication by The Red Hot Chili Peppers (from Camryn Cook)
- For The Coast by The Satellite Section (from minna andrea b. belidhon)
- Under the Sea from “The Little Mermaid” (from Ethan Newman)
- Dripping Sun by Kikagaku Moyo (from henry)
- (Sittin’ On) Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding (from Declan Øsborne)
- California Gurls by Katy Perry (ft. Snoop Dogg) (from Maya Fielding)
Surfin’ USA by The Beach Boys (from Amera)
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No other musical piece captures the excitement and sunny glory that is the Pacific Ocean better than “Surfin’ USA” by The Beach Boys as both the ease and vibrant imagery of the lyrics work to address the Pacific Ocean’s influential power over the cultural landscape of California. From the vibrant energy to the tranquil qualities of calm composure, to the ominous undertones of mystery, the Pacific Ocean embodies an array of moods, meaning, and purpose. The Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ USA” emphasizes the vivacious side commonly associated with the Pacific Ocean and verbalizes such geographical entity’s broader influence.
With a first listen, this song brings an upbeat energy that makes you want to get on your feet and dance, not just anywhere though, in the sun wallowing under California’s exceptionally strong rays of light. The Beach Boys offer insight into the stereotyped “high life” that is living in sunny California, mainly credited to the bonus of premiere access to the Surfin’ USA culture supplied by the Pacific Ocean. Verse 1 begins with, “if everybody had an ocean” (0.02-0.04) immediately addressing and assuming that all desire and envy the beach lifestyle. The elite attributes the Beach Boys utilize to describe the Pacific Ocean further contributes to the exclusivity surrounding the desirably perfectly picturesque perceptions the general person has of California. The Beach Boys effectively capture the incomparable energy that the Pacific Ocean offers through this upbeat joyous song that celebrates the carefree surf culture of California. The song then progresses to acknowledge the casual way of life associated with surf culture, “You’d see them wearing their baggies, Huarache sandals too, A bushy bushy blond hairdo” (0.14-0.22). These stereotyped surfer traits relate to the laidback fashion trends that help to sculpt the overall casual culture of the California environment. The rarity of such ideal year-round weather offered in California serves especially advantageous as many other coastal places experience all four seasons restricting their optimization of ocean use. The constant “vacation” climate of California allows for consistent casual summer attire. Despite California having its superficial traits, the close proximity to nature creates for greater emphasis placed on the comfort and quality of life. Somehow the smooth agility and calming qualities of the ocean water transcribes into the general eased environment that characterizes the west coast. This starkly contrasts the intensity of the rushed lifestyle affiliated with the east coast. For many, this idealized escape from life’s stressors becomes a reality in the form of California with the Pacific Ocean serving as an outlet.
The dominant role the simple existence of the ocean plays on the identity of its geographical neighbors expands beyond just California. The unified identity of other bordering lands is highlighted in lines, “You’d catch ‘em surfin’ at Del Mar, Ventura County line… Australia’s Narrabean” (0.27-0.36). Such accessibility to this landmark translates to the general persona commonly found among such indulgers of the Pacific breeze unintentionally uniting these shared identities, qualities, and lifestyles. Such lifestyle expands beyond just a list of places, but all who are culturally influenced by the ocean’s presence. Verse 2 continues by emphasizing the excitement placed around summer and its associated characteristics. The line, “tell the teacher we’re surfin’”(1.09-1.12) reestablishes the greater emphasis placed on surf culture over education and the skew of values fostered solely in response to the Pacific Ocean’s cultural dominance. Overall, the Pacific Ocean withholds are particular cultural power beyond physical land barriers that few can articulate.
The Beach Boys effectively capture the incomparable energy that the Pacific Ocean offers through this upbeat joyous song that celebrates the carefree surf culture of California. Such iconic song deserves a place on the course playlist as it encapsulates the unique spirit of the Pacific Ocean and its dominant presence on the places it accompanies.
Surfin’ USA by The Beach Boys (from Skylar Sepulveda)
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Pacific beaches, especially California beaches, sound like home. Crashing of the waveson an everlasting loop, seagulls squawking, and music playing on speakers across the beach, all encapsulate the many sounds found on a pacific beach. The Beach Boys, an American rock band, formed in 1961 and quickly rose to fame after the release of their first national hit song “Surfin’”. One of their most famous songs, “Surfin’ USA”, perfectly encapsulates the dreamlike phenomena of pacific beaches in summertime. This song creates feelings of joy and happiness which go hand in hand with feelings evoked from individuals who visit the pacific ocean especially on California beaches. Clearly stated in the group’s name they wanted to heavily emphasize on the wonderful opportunities to make memories and have fun the beach had to offer. This band was heavily influenced by California surfing culture and showed that through multiple songs, however “Surfin’ USA” is most notable for perfectly describing the greatness of the pacific ocean.
One of the most famous and enjoyed recreational activities in the ocean is surfing. Although surfing is massively popular across the globe, it has a special impact on California beaches and has become a trademark to California culture. Within the first verse The Beach Boys sing “ If everybody had an ocean across the USA then everybody’d be surfin’ like Californi-a” (The Beach Boys, :13). This string of lyrics shows how envious other places in the United States are of the availability Californians have to the ocean, and that it is a highly desired place to be.To me this line perfectly sums up the sound of pacific beaches and how highly sought after it is especially for tourists, during summer in California the beaches are massively populated by people from all corners of the world who are trying to get a taste of the California coast. The high tempo and fun rhythm of these lines truly produce the perfect sound to represent California, The Beach Boys masterfully portray pacific beaches as paradise on Earth through the sounds of their songs.
Following this verse The Beach Boys continue to sing “We can’t wait for June We’ll be gone for the summer […] Surfin’ U.S.A” (The Beach Boys, 1:00). Most of the kids who grow up along the pacific coastline can highly relate to this line, the great anticipation of waiting for summer to kick off in June. Growing up in Newport Beach, California myself I can relate to this line and see how it perfectly sums up the feeling of excitement when school is about to get out and summer is just around the corner. Surfin’ U.S.A quickly became the emergence of The Beach Boys signature sound, and allowed them to give people around the world the ability to transport their minds to California and pacific beaches. This song in particular should definitely be added to a playlist that aims to capture the feelings of pacific beaches due to the entity of the song revolving around one of the main aspects of the ocean people desire, surfing. The Beach Boys end most of their verses in this song with “Surfin’ U.S.A”, clearly showing a significance to how important beach and surf culture has affected their group since it is used so frequently throughout the song. Adding this song to the course’s playlist would ensure that pacific beaches are portrayed in a manner that almost everyone views them to be, a place for fun and excitement.
Some of the most famous pacific beaches and surfing spots are referenced throughout this song which exemplifies how much beach culture shaped most of The Beach Boys songs. The first chorus of the song goes “You’d catch ‘em surfin’ at Del Mar, (Inside, outside, U.S.A.), Ventura County line, (Inside, outside, U.S.A.), Santa Cruz and Trestles, (Inside, outside, U.S.A.), All over Manhattan, (Inside, outside, U.S.A.), And down Doheny Way, (Inside, outside)” (The Beach Boys, :48). The incorporation of each spot within the song truly gives me the essence of popular and even famous pacific beaches. Hearing the names of these beaches in such an upbeat, happy melody reminds me of the feelings of each spot and how they should be represented in an upbeat manner. Santa Cruz, Doheney and Ventura especially all lay within a relaxed city and it is very well represented through the sound of this song, it allows the listeners to transport themselves to one of these pacific beaches and feel joy and relaxation.
When thinking about the sounds that resonate from pacific beaches a few come to mind such as, waves crashing, kids screaming with excitement, laughter, surfers saying “nice wave!”, seagulls and many more. The Beach Boys surely captured some of these common sounds within “Surfin’ U.S.A”. During the second verse they sing “Were waxing down our surfboards […] we’ll all be gone for the summer tell the teacher we’re surfin’” (The Beach Boys, 1:15). Surfing and the sounds surrounding this California iconic sport is perfectly captured by this musical group and represents the fun nature of pacific beaches. Without the beach surfing would not have been able to be enjoyed by beach goers around the world, but especially individuals who travel to pacific beaches.
Pacific beaches only emit sounds of excitement, adventure and relaxation to me, and this is why I felt as if the Beach Boys had perfectly captured the essence of the ocean within their song. “Surfin’ U.S.A” allows the joy and upbeat feelings of beach goers to be captured through music and is available to people all around the world so that they can have a taste of what going to a pacific beach is truly like. The Beach Boys are an iconic group to rock/pop history, they took the world by storm and gave everyone an inside scoop to pacific beaches. The course playlist would be incomplete without this famous work of art that transformed the way the world can hear about some of the most iconic pacific beaches in a cheerful manner.
- Skylar Sepulveda
Surfin’ USA by The Beach Boys (from Cameron Davidson)
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When one imagines a Pacific Beach, there are many images that may come to mind. Perhaps they envision the size and scope of the ocean and what lies within it and how meager we are compared to its awesome power, or perhaps they think of an overly commercialized tourist trap. For many Americans, however, (and people all over the world) the one thing that they associate with Pacific Beaches more than anything else is surfing and the concept of fun, leisure, and the escape from dull, everyday life that it represents. There are countless examples of surfing and this vision of California Culture in pop culture and especially music, but one of the first, most well known, and perhaps the quintessential example of this phenomena is its portrayal in the music of the Beach Boys. In their 1963 single “Surfin USA” the Beach Boys encapsulate an idea that will forever be tied to pacific beaches and thus perform a song that any Pacific Playlist wouldn’t be complete without.
Surfing itself is a uniquely pacific activity, and one that may as well be synonymous with the ocean. The first known surfers were the Polanisians, who pioneered the activity in the southeast pacific thousands of years ago. Upright surfing is thought to have been invented in Hawaii when the Polanisians brought their tradition to the islands around the 4th century AD. It first came to the mainland United States when two boys from Hawaii showed it to their classmates while at a boarding school in California. With that, surfing became a mainstay of California culture. Since then, surfing has become frequently linked to California and has even been the inspiration for countless clothing designs, movies, TV shows, and songs.
Many of these songs are by none other than The Beach Boys, who rose to prominence in the early 1960’s with their angelic vocals and bluesy style which came from 1950’s Black R&B in music whose subject matter focused on a laid back lifestyle in the beaches of Southern California. All of the members of the band hailed from this region, but for them the lifestyle of racing cars and surfing which they portrayed in their music was greatly exaggerated. Brian Wilson, the group’s frontman, had in reality never been surfing and wrote songs like Surfin USA at the behest of his brother and fellow Beach Boy, Dennis, who was the only actual surfer in the band. Nevertheless, the lifestyle that their early music advances is one that has since become one of the first things that many will think of when they think of California.
Surfin USA was the Beach Boys’ first hit single. The band emerged onto the scene with a sound that closely resembled the Rock and R&B of the previous decade, but what made the band stand out were their lyrics. For many Americans, especially those living inland or on the east coast, the beach and California symbolized an escape from monotonous daily life, and the Beach Boys’ music allowed them to experience a small taste of this. Additionally, their music would also often touch on some of the joys of youth: romance, racing cars, disobeying authority. This further played into the relaxed vibe of their music which resonated with so many. Surfin USA is very simple in its subject matter. It posits that if every state in the United States had access to an ocean, then everybody would be surfing, like California (pronounced Califor-nye-yay in the song). It then goes on to list popular beaches for surfing across Southern California, always implying how fun the activity is. These lyrics perfectly play into the themes that the band cultivated in their music: fun, relaxation, and an escape from the monotony of daily life.
Musically, Surfin USA is very simple. From a composition perspective it only features three chords and has a very simple melody and format. Moreover, many elements of the song are actually borrowed from a 50’s R&B song by Chuck Berry, who went uncredited with the Beach Boys eventually being sued for copyright infringement. Its instrumentation is one that many would associate with the Pacific, with a classic 60’s rock lineup of a clean electric guitar, drums, and bass, as well as backing vocals supporting the melody. Throughout the career of the Beach Boys they would go on to explore far more complex musical elements, the prime example of this being 1966’s Pet Sounds. On this record, they pioneered new grounds in popular music with their revolutionary use of unorthodox instruments and advanced level harmony. Combined with Brian Wilson’s incredible song writing ability, these elements came together to create what is widely considered to be one of the greatest albums of all time. Despite this, The Beach Boys’ earlier music will always be more closely tied to the Beach. While most of their songs from this era featured very simple, bluesy chord progressions, with simple yet catchy and punchy melodies, and simple instrumentation that focuses more on featuring the vocals, these very things are what make their early music forever and inexorably tied to the beaches of Southern California. The musical elements of their music, even beyond the lyrics, characterize an image of the beach as one of simplicity and relaxation. Of course one would tie a song whose lyrics are all about surfing and which name drops several pacific beaches to surfing and the beach, but what I think is even more important is how the song’s musical style perfectly embodies the spirit of the song and furthermore defines music about the region.
There have been many songs written about the Pacific Ocean. The Ocean is so vast and means so much to so many different people across on all corners of its shores, that there’s bound to be lots that people have to write a song about with regards to the Pacific. However, for many Americans the image they have of the Ocean is one of leisure, and perhaps no song better embodies this than the Beach Boys’ classic Surfin USA. Though the song is not the Beach Boys’ “magnum opus”, its catchy lyrics and relative musical simplicity plays into its relaxed feel that encapsulate what Pacific Beaches represent for many.
- Cameron Davidson
Somewhere Over the Rainbow / What a Wonderful World by Israel Kamakawiwoʻole (from Jolie N)
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“Over the Rainbow” was sung by Judy Garland, composed by Harold Arlen, and written by Yip Harburg for the classic film The Wizard of Oz. Released in 1939, it has become one of the most popular songs of its era. When Dorthy sings it at the beginning of the movie, we are shown her yearning and desire for a place “somewhere over the rainbow.” Nearly fifty years later, Milan Bertosa, a recording engineer for Mountain Apple Honolulu, gave a local artist 15 minutes to arrive at the studio for a last-minute recording. There, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole recorded his rendition of Garland’s “Over the Rainbow’’ in one take. It would later appear on his debut solo album, Facing Future as a medley with Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” and become just as (if not more) famous as the original version. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow ‘’ and “What a Wonderful World” are two songs that were not written about the Pacific or its beaches, but Kamakawiwo’ole’s rendition of the songs transformed it into a tribute to Hawaii and its people.
Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, or more commonly known as Iz or ‘Bruddah’ Iz, was a Native Hawaiian artist who is one of the most famous singers from Hawaii. The song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World” features only Kamakawiwo’ole’s vocals and ukulele. The simplicity of the song’s production allows listeners to focus on Kamakawiwo’ole’s dynamic voice and presence. Kamakawiwo’ole was born in 1959, the same year that Hawaii became a state and later became known as the voice in Hawaii as he introduced Hawaiian music to an American audience. I believe an artist’s “motive” and passion behind their music is what makes a song meaningful. This is apparent in “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World” as you can feel Kamakawiwo’ole’s warmth through his singing.
Although the original versions of “Over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World” were not written about Hawaii, Kamakawiwo’ole can reimagine the classic songs into a version centered around Hawaii. The lyrics in Judy Garland’s “Over the Rainbow” and Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” pair together perfectly because Garland’s song yearns for something beyond the rainbow while Armstrong’s song paints a scene of the beautiful world that lays under it. The lyrics, “The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky, are also on the faces of people passing by, I see friends shaking hands, saying “How do you do?” They’re really saying ’I, I love you,’” perfectly encapsulates the friendly and caring nature of people in Hawaii. The imagery of rainbows throughout the song is one of the main reasons why it is so fitting for Kamakawiwo’ole to sing. Rainbows are a trademark of Hawaii. They are plastered on postcards, websites, and even on our license plates. Our state university’s mascot is the Rainbow Warriors (or Rainbow Wahine for women’s sports) and the phrase “go ‘bows!” is chanted at every sporting event. The imagery depicted in the song’s lyrics perfectly describes Kamakawiwo’ole’s home of Hawaii.
Kamakawiwo’ole’s voice is accompanied by a single ukulele, an instrument rooted in modern Hawaiian music. The simplicity of the song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World” and its instrumentation makes it feel intimate as Kamakawiwo’ole tells a story about his home. In the mid-1850s sugarcane plantations became a prominent driver of Hawaii’s economy, and as the number of sugarcane and pineapple plantations grew, so did the number of immigrants. Many Portuguese, Japanese, Okinawan, Chinese, and Filipino workers immigrated to Hawaii, each bringing their own cultures and customs. The Portuguese brought the braguinha, an instrument smaller than a guitar that only had four strings. After being introduced to Hawaii it evolved into the ukulele, meaning “jumping flea” for the way that one’s fingers moved when playing it. The ukulele’s popularity grew as it became the most well-known instrument of Hawaii. The ukulele serves as a subtle accompaniment to Kamakawiwo’ole’s soulful voice.
This song reminds me of my childhood. From another perspective of someone who may not be from Hawaii, this song may just be another artist’s cover of two classic songs. But I see Kamakawiwo’ole’s as the original and the one with the most connected to my home of Hawaii. If my essay accomplishes anything, I hope it spreads Kamakawiwo’ole’s voice and passion to those who have yet to learn his name.
- Jolie N
Somewhere Over the Rainbow / What a Wonderful World by Israel Kamakawiwoʻole (from Marcos Angelini)
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For my Pacific Playlist Essay, I am going to be writing about the song “Over the Rainbow” by Israel “Iz” Kamakawiwoʻole, and analyzing it in its connection to the Pacific Islands, specifically Hawaii. In my search for a song, I browsed through a variety of bands and styles, ranging from The Who, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Weezer. However, while conducting this search I realized that I was focusing only on songs that directly and generally mentioned aspects of the beach or ocean in their lyrics and/or title. For example, some of the songs I first reviewed included Dani California and Californiacation by Red Hot Chili Peppers, Surfin USA by The Beach Boys, and Island in the Sun by Weezer. If you couldn’t already guess, these songs are very loosely connected to the idea of beaches and the ocean, and focus on a more stereotypical American view. At the same time, most of these songs use the beach/ocean theme as a driver for completely different ideas such as love or loss. This is when I gravitated towards a song that had a more subtle but meaningful connection to the Pacific specifically. I began to look at artists that may have been from an area in the Pacific, that had a more personal connection to their origins and expressed that through their music. That is how I came upon Israel Kamakawiwoʻole and his most famous song “Over the Rainbow”. This essay will analyze the connections between the song and the Pacific through its instrumental adaptation by Kamakawiwoʻole, its lyrical and melodic tone, and the impact it created in Hawaii. These are the concrete aspects that bridge the song to the Pacific and Hawaii.
As I mentioned earlier, the singer and in this case ukulele player of the song “Over the Rainbow” is a man named Israel Kamakawiwoʻole, also known as “Iz” to many of his fans. Kamakawiwoʻole was born in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1959. Kamakawiwoʻole’s mother was born on the island of Ni’ihau, the only island in Hawaii that has a 100% Hawaiian population, and can only be visited with an invitation from a resident. His father was born in O’ahu. From an early age, Kamakawiwoʻole was exposed to music through his family, most notably from his uncle Moe Keale who was a respected singer, ukulele player and actor. Kamakawiwoʻole’s official website states that as early as 10 years old, he would be called onstage where his parents worked to sing and play the ukulele, gaining the respect of his elders. In his teenage years, Kamakawiwoʻole started a band with a couple of schoolmates called the Makaha Sons of Ni’ihau, recording 21 albums and receiving many praise and awards. However, in 1993 Kamakawiwoʻole went off to pursue a solo career, which is how we reach our song “Over the Rainbow”.
In order to better understand the importance of this song in its specific context, we need to learn about its origins. “Over the Rainbow” is an acoustic song cover, consisting only of vocals and ukulele and is a part of Kamakawiwoʻole’s 1993 album, Facing Future. “Over the Rainbow” was originally written and recorded for the movie Wizard of Oz in 1939, and sung by actress Judy Garland. Since then the song has been covered and adapted dozens of times by various people, Kamakawiwoʻole being one of the most recognizable. The now well known story about Kamakawiwoʻole’s version is that it was actually recorded in one take. It was 3 am when recording studio manager Milan Bertosa received a call from a regular client who then passed the call to Kamakawiwoʻole and he explained a project he wanted to go through with. That same night Kamakawiwoʻole went to the studio, the manager set up some microphones, and Kamakawiwoʻole played and sang the song in one recording. This recording was then included in his 1993 album, Facing Future, making it Kamakawiwoʻole’s most famous work. Facing Future became the best selling album of all time by a Hawaiian artist. It is the only Hawaiian album to sell more than one million copies, reaching platinum status in 2005. Kamakawiwoʻole and his album soon became an important figure for the Hawaiian community.
Getting into the connections between “Over the Rainbow’’ and the Pacific Islands, we can look at the song’s instrumentals. The way in which Kamakawiwoʻole covered this song using only his voice and ukulele connects to Hawaiian musical practices and culture. The ukulele is said to have been first introduced to Hawiian people in 1879 by the Portuguese who immigrated to Hawaii to work on the sugar plantations. What the Portugues knew as a ‘branguinha’ (ukulele) fascinated the Hawiian community to a point where king David Kalakauna incorporated it into traditional Hawaiian dances and music. Kalakuna’s wife would host ukulele songwriting contests, and Hawiian monarchs made sure that the ukulele was intertwined with Hawaii’s musical culture. Since then, tourism and the traveling of ukulele musicians throughout Hawaii expanded its popularity and integration into their musical traditions. Now, ukulele is a signature of Hawaiian music, and is obviously present in “Over the Rainbow ‘’. Kamakawiwoʻole transformed the original American song by using this traditional practice of Hawiian music. This is important because in doing this, he integrates the song into Hawaiian culture. Kamakawiwoʻole’s cover of “Over the Rainbow ‘’ is the only one that incorporates ukulele, making it the only one uniquely connected to the Pacific and Hawaii. The Pacific Islander feel to his cover is also a result of solely including vocals and ukulele rather than any other instrument; this restrains the song to the roots of older, more traditional Hawaiian music. More deeply, the song is a representation of how Hawaiian culture was impacted by forein colonization. An instrument introduced by the Portuguese has become such an iconic aspect of Hawaiian culture that just covering a song using it paints a Pacific painting in a listener’s head. The very fact that Kamakawiwoʻole’s “Over the Rainbow’’ is a song cover and was ‘borrowed’ from another culture alludes to the integration and mixture of Pacific Islander culture with that of its foreign colonizers. Overall, because of years of coalescence between the ukulele and Hawaiian culture, Kamakawiwoʻole’s cover immediately has an Islander feel. And at the same time, his use of the ukulele alludes to the history of forein influence on Hawaiian culture.
Moving onto a more personal interpretation, I am going to analyze how some of the lyrical and tonal components of the song make me think of the Pacific Islands and Hawaii. Before I begin, I feel it is important to clarify that I have never been to Hawaii, and my ideas may come from a more stereotypical or popular culture-esque view. What stands out to me first are the lines “Dreams that you dream of, Dreams really do come true”, and “Once in a lullaby”. Having some limited knowledge on the importance of storytelling, spirituality, and music in Hawaiian culture, these lines created a connection to those aspects in my mind. In some cultures like Hawaii, dreams are seen as a form of communication to non-human beings like spirits or gods. Also, many times in popular culture Hawaii is conveyed as this dreamlike or mythical place, which is what I felt and imagined when listening to the line “dreams really do come true”. Looking at the lullaby line, lullabies are essentially a passing down of knowledge from parent to child through stories and music. This parental passing of knowledge reminded me of the ancestral and generational passing of knowledge through stories and music that is also an extremely significant part of Hawaiian culture. Another aspect of the song’s lyrics that made me create a connection to Hawaii was its constant inclusion of the natural world. For example, the lyrics include bluebirds, clouds, stars and of course the rainbow. In my mind, nature and someone’s natural surroundings are a big part of Hawaiian culture, and something that Hawaiian people find important to the islands and peoples lives. Hawaii is also known as a place with incredible natural beauty, and so these aspects of the lyrics make me create a connection to that. Lastly, I believe that the general meaning of the song has a connection to Hawaiian culture. “Over the Rainbow” is a song about hope and bad times that will soon be over. And from my knowledge, hope and optimism in everyday life is a certain point of Hawaiian culture and teaching.
Finally, I believe that what eternally bonds this song with the Pacific is the impact that it has had on Hawaiian people and culture. As mentioned before, Facing Future is the most successful Hawaiian music album of all time, and it was a part of almost every Hawaiian’s life in its times of popularity. The album and song even became popular outside of Hawaii, receiving a great deal of international recognition. This is important because other than being a musician, Kamakawiwoʻole was also an activist for Hawaiian sovereignty, fighting for the livelihood of native communities and lands. Kamakawiwoʻole’s success from “Over the Rainbow” gave him a platform to be able to share his activism through his music to Hawaii and the rest of the world. For example, in the same album as “Over the Rainbow”, Kamakawiwoʻole released the song “Hawaii 78”. “Hawaii 78” is a clear demonstration of Kamakawiwoʻole’s views on the industrial effects on Hawaiian land and people. Lyrics from this song include “ If just for a day our king and queen / Would visit all these islands and saw everything / How would they feel about the changes of our land? / Could you just imagine if they were around / And saw highways on their sacred grounds / How would they feel about this modern city life? / Tears would come from each other’s eyes / As they would stop to realize / That our people are in great great danger now”. It is clear that Kamakawiwoʻole cared about the native land and people, and the success from his music offered an audience to which his beliefs could be heard. This is what ties the song to the pacific so strongly, when “Over the Rainbow” and Kamakawiwoʻole’s career as a whole could have had a larger more meaningful impact on Hawaii and its people.
- Marcos Angelini
Sweet Disposition by The Temper Trap (from Rachel Grimaldi)
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There is no doubt that social media plays an impactful role in the view of coastal regions. With just a few clicks of a button or a few finger swipes one can be greeted by countless photos, videos, posts, and exclamations of ‘how pretty it is’. When it comes to a simple google search of ‘coastal beaches’, you are greeted by the idealized versions. There’s no immediate discussion of the effects of climate change, there’s no mention of the homeless (more immediately seen along the coast of California). You are presented with a picture-perfect description and view. The song, “Sweet Disposition” reminds me heavily of the media portrayal of these coastal lines.
The pre-chorus of the song, “a moment, a love, a dream aloud, a kiss, a cry, our rights, our wrongs”, really captures the whole theme of the track. It’s describing the essence of youth, to be free and spontaneous. The instrumental instills a feeling of nostalgia. These two things combined give one this overwhelming feeling of positivity and reminiscence. This feeling is very unique but not uncommon. It’s comparable to the viewing of an old photo album, laughing about the pages, or seeing an old friend and reconnecting as if no days have passed. It’s comfortable. It’s ideal. There’s a very famous saying, the grass is greener on the other side. This song romanticizes what it means to be young and carefree, even though the teenage years, in its time, can feel so unbearably complex. The definition of disposition is, “how something is placed or arranged, especially in relation to other things.” (Webster) This song romanticizes youth in the same way that the Pacific beaches are romanticized in media. The Pacific beaches have resorts, music, surfing, leisure activities, and is widely showing it in media in every chance it gets, however, the beaches are just as complicated as anything else–if not more.
“Sweet Disposition” should be on the class playlist because it represents one of the class’ settled themes from Monday. It stood for leisure, relaxation, and perfection. I’m majoring in screenwriting, having said that I draw very deep connections to art. Music to me, following this role, has always held a source of inspiration. When I listen to music, I see scenes. Sweet Disposition was one of the songs that had me picturing a couple driving along the Pacific coast, hair flowing in the wind, arm out of a red mustang. Just the fact that this was what my imagination had envisioned for this song means that I, myself am guilty of disregarding the bad about the Oceans and focusing on the ‘Hollywood’ version.
While connotatively, “Sweet Disposition” stands for happiness and youth, it holds a sort of complexity also seen with the media’s view of Pacific beaches. On surface level, they both seem like strong sentiments but they both hold something darker underneath. The beaches are filled with waste, and the song is filled with the ideas of throwing away everything for a single moment.
- Rachel Grimaldi
Salish Phantoms by Ella Kaale (from Ella Kaale)
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This past summer, I visited Washington for the first time. The Pacific Northwest region is utterly stunning, both onshore and offshore. Driving across the Olympic Coast, I noticed a broad reverence for whales, particularly the orca whale. In both indigenous and postcolonial cultures present along the coast, this creature seems to be treated almost as a mythical beast, with centuries of folklore surrounding its presence. Some may call it the “killer whale”, others “qalq̕ aləx̌ ičz” or “kaałin”, but they all refer to the same elusive giant that dwells beneath the freezing waters. Soon after my exploration of the region, I composed a piece of music inspired by the creature’s phantom-like nature. “Salish Phantoms” should be included on the class playlist because it mimics the sounds of whales and exemplifies the concept of sublime duality in the Pacific.
“Salish Phantoms” deserves a spot on the playlist because it demonstrates the Pacific Ocean from the perspective of its non-human inhabitants. When I began to compose “Salish Phantoms”, I spent hours listening to YouTube videos of “Whale ASMR”, which are essentially synthetic whale sounds used to relax the senses played on a loop. I picked a few distinct whale sounds and transcribed them for various instruments, creating what I imagine lurks beneath the waters of the Pacific Northwest—a symphony that can be both chilling and mesmerizing. The piece opens with a gong and a bowed vibraphone creating a texture of sound that seems other- worldly. Little by little, more instruments trickle in, using extended techniques such as harmonic glissandi and pitch bends. This section was inspired by whale “songs”, which are complex melodies used by baleen whales to communicate with each other. The second section, signified by the solo oboe reed, mimics more whale “songs” combined with unpitched percussion. These “clicking” sounds imitate echolocation, a mode of communication used by pods of orcas. The strings accomplish this by tapping on the body of their instrument, and the percussionists switch to a guiro to further blend the clicking sound. Around the 4-minute mark, the flute periodically begins to blow a “jet whistle”, a technique that resembles the exhalation of whales when they breach the surface. The remainder of the piece is a mirror image of the first half, slowly returning to each section before slowly fading out with the same vibraphone and gong as the beginning. While “Salish Phantoms” may not be the type of music one would listen to on the way to Malibu with the windows rolled down, it encapsulates a keystone species of the Pacific Ocean and immerses the listener as if they are observing the whales underneath the water themselves.
Furthermore, “Salish Phantoms” exemplifies an essential characteristic of the Pacific Ocean—its sublimity. In the Romantic era of art and literature, sublimity refers to the duality of nature in how it can be overwhelmingly beautiful but also dangerous and destructive. Additionally, the Romantic lens sees humans as insignificant in the eyes of nature, and its forces will act without considering the potential impact on mankind. “Salish Phantoms” focuses on a microcosm of the Pacific Ocean’s sublimity. Cultures across the Pacific revere whales as beautiful, almost mystical larger-than-life creatures. American culture became so entranced with whales that consumerists unethically seized and bred whales for theme parks, purely for entertainment. Many adore and admire whales, myself included, but not many stop to consider how terrifying their existence can be. A small boat can be completely still on the Salish Sea, blissfully unaware that a ten-thousand-pound mammal is passing by just a few feet beneath. A sudden change in movement could capsize the boat and its passengers could drown or freeze in the water. The actual whale “songs” imitated in the piece are the loudest sounds made by any animal and could rupture human ears, killing them in the process. This concept in particular gave heavy influence to “Salish Phantoms”, in that if the music I wrote was produced by its actual inspiration, it would cause the listener’s death. On a larger scale, whales are just a singular terrifying aspect of the vastness that is the Pacific Ocean. American culture tends to pick and choose which parts of the Pacific to enjoy, like its sprawling beaches and vacation destinations, but rarely acknowledges that the ocean is truly earth’s last frontier, since barely any of it has been explored. Mankind is clueless is to what other creatures or destructive forces are lurking only miles beneath their party yachts or cruise ships.
“Salish Phantoms” is perhaps not a piece of music for everyone, and it would be somewhat of a downer driving the Pacific Coast Highway at sunset. However, it deserves a spot on the class playlist because it mimics the sounds of an iconic natural feature of the Pacific Ocean and explores the simultaneous grandiosity and horror of the deep blue. Ultimately, “Salish Phantoms” serves to offer an alternative view of the Pacific Ocean, one not often considered by Americans or other capitalist cultures that seek to extract only certain parts of the region’s resources for commercial gain. If these groups do not proceed with caution, it is unfortunately possible that they could be met with the mysterious unforgiving side of the Pacific.
- Ella Kaale
California Song by Patrick James (from Mitchell Carter)
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The west coast is a pinnacle that fills our books, films, songs, and media. A narrative about this magical place has developed, a narrative that fraims California as the land of opportunity. Los Angeles, with booming and expanding industries in almost every sector, with diversity in people, culture, art, and ideas, has been dubbed “The City of Dreams.” People see this place as a catalyst for all of their ambitions, a place where fame and fortune is born. Though these ideas ring true to some, others experience a much bleeker and truthful reality. California Song, written and sung by Patrick James, reflects this dynamic between the stereotypical California and the real California. It discusses how many people see LA and the west coast as a place to escape but in reality it can’t fix all of one’s problems. He uses his lyrics to highlight the false hope that the west coast gives people while also using instrumentation that reflects the opposite; the California of dreams and possibilities. These two contradicting elements provide a holistic representation of the West Coast and all it seems to be.
The lyrics of this song recount a struggle between partners. The artist begins the song with the line “I’ve been begging all day for you to come over, I’ve been shouting all night, cause I’ve got something to say.” (James 0:21) He is pleading for his partner to feel the same way he does about them. But, the love isn’t reciprocated and no matter what the artist writes this will always be true. This underlying fact paints the song in a different light. The musician is desperate and broken and willing to say anything to feel reciprocated love which means when he says “meet me in california,” he knows that that will never happen (James 0:52). He is trusting in the narrative of Pacific coasts, in the idea that this place will magically rid you of your problems and believes that this magic will somehow make his partner love him again. In the course, he writes “there’s a man with an axe, telling us to stay away.” (James 1:05) The man with an axe is a physical representation of the destruction of their love and by escaping to California, the artist is trying to run from this symbolic villain. The false hope that the Coast offers and that this song discusses is reflective of the way many people see California and see Los Angeles. It appears to be a city of dreams and opportunities, a place for a fresh start. It is also far more complex than that. In a city of millions, even the most talented and motivated people can get drowned out by the noise. The dreams that they have, the aspirations, aren’t guaranteed to manifest just because they live in the apparent “city of dreams.”
The instrumentation of this song is mainly supported by a paced and relaxed guitar riff with a non-intrusive drumbbeat in the background. As a whole, it sounds similar to an old indie song, a song you would play driving down the coast or laying on the beach. This component of the song identifies with a different aspect of California, the California that is seen in most movies and songs. The “false hope” I discussed in the previous paragraph is integral to the lyrics and their relation to California, as well as life in California, but that image is not what defines this place. There still exists beauty and dreaminess, endless beaches and warm weather, winter surf swells and happiness. The instruments and beats create a picture of what the artist’s life would look like if his lover did “meet [him] in California.” (James 1:52) Without the lyrics it becomes a song where both characters are happy and the dream is real, but with the lyrics, it becomes a dream and a wish that is perfect but will never exist.
It is the contradiction between the lyrics and the instrumentation that makes this song the perfect representation of California and the Pacific coast. The instrumentation portrays a traditional image of California, an image that most people have of the west coast; beautiful sunsets, endless beaches, and sun tan lotion. But, the lyrics highlight the darker and sadder realities of this place; the false sense of escape, the drowning of individuality and of dreams. I guess songs are supposed to capture beauty in the harshness of our reality, so maybe it’s not a bad thing that California is portrayed in such a pleasant way. But, to understand everything and to feel all aspects of this place, you must listen to the California Song.
- Mitchell Carter
Where You Are from “Moana” (from Jon)
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How Far I’ll Go from “Moana” (from Via McBride)
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Karappo no Isu by Taeko Onuki (from Joshua Herrera)
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Music is a very interesting medium. There are so many different songs, genres and so much history behind music. Like many other forms of entertainment, music is complex. It is also very personal. Music is often used as a way for many people to express their emotions when they find it hard to talk about them. It can also be viewed differently by each listener. The ocean, I feel, is just like that. Many people have different views of the ocean. While some of us may see it as a place to relax or even call it home, there are others who may look at the ocean and think otherwise. I find myself on the latter side, as watching the waves come and go seem to put me into a pensive mood. I think this feeling can be seen clearly in Taeko Onuki’s “Karappo no Isu”, a 1977 blues melody.
Listening to the instrumentation of the song helps us understand what kind of tone Onuki was going for when she wrote it. Throughout the song the harmony never seems to change its speed, instead staying at the slow pace it starts with. The softness of the music itself also gives it a certain tranquil feeling to it, which represents that pensiveness I mentioned earlier. This feeling fits perfectly with Onuki’s lyrics. It also gives the song this smooth sound that makes it easy to listen to. This is important because it solves the problem of having a language barrier. While a first-time listener might not be able to understand what she is saying, that melancholic feeling is still universal.
When we actually take a look at the lyrics, that melancholic feeling starts to make sense Even the way the vocals seem to echo just really emphasize the idea of feeling lonely perfectly. The song itself is about a woman in a relationship who wishes to be alone. Onuki sings, “If only you weren’t here anymore, I’d leave this town behind and start new by myself” (Line 3). Within the lyrics, you can tell that she feels a sense of wanting something, but feels stuck where she is right now. As if the only way she can enjoy the life she wants is when she’s daydreaming about it, singing “If I could wander around like this in my dream, I’d become happy” (Line 5). And it’s that feeling that seems to resonate within me. From time to time, my pensive thoughts seem to circle around the idea of “what if” scenarios. What if one thing changed? How much would that have affected everything else that came afterwards? It’s a thought process that seems to make its way around from time to time. There’s a certain guilt that comes with it though, making me wonder if I’m being selfish for wanting more than I already have.
If you couldn’t tell, Taeko Onuki’s “Karappo no Isu” is a special song to me. It reminds me that it’s okay to feel lost from time to time. Feeling alone is, ironically, something that brings many of us together. The reason I chose this song for the course playlist, however, is to remind the class that different takes and views of the Pacific Ocean have been and will continue to be made. At the same time, I also want to introduce the class to one of many creative musicians from the other side of the Pacific that I feel should be appreciated and hopefully catch their curiosity. From time to time, I enjoy spending time searching for new music, whether that be looking into genres I haven’t explored in the past or getting invested into bands I end up finding. While I hope that someone will find this song interesting and look into the jazz scene in Japan more, I know that’s just wishful thinking on my part.
- Joshua Herrera
Sweet Life by Frank Ocean (from Zander Tate)
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Pacific beaches are seen in American popular music as a place of enjoyment and leisure, with this association popularized by the likes of The Beach Boys. On Frank Ocean’s 2012 track “Sweet Life,” Ocean sings about the wealthy and relaxed culture of those on the West coast; however, while the song may sound upbeat and positive, Ocean is critiquing the blissfully ignorant lifestyle discussed in the song. Since “Sweet Life” can be seen as either a fun coastal song, or an introspective analysis of the dangers of an overemphasis on leisure, it is fitting for a playlist on Pacific beaches and the culture surrounding them.
The lyrics of “Sweet Life” are decidedly associated with Pacific Beaches for their references to leisure, wealth, and a carefree lifestyle. Ocean begins the track with a narrative verse, describing a person who is “living in Ladera Heights.” Ocean immediately establishes the coastal environment, as Ladera Heights is a mere 15 minutes from the beach in Los Angeles. Following depictions of “palm trees and pools,” Ocean then sings of the person’s relaxed lifestyle. The song’s subject is nearly hedonistic within their wealthy bubble, as they are “keeping it surreal” and doing “whatever feels good.” The carefree descriptions of the subject continue as Ocean sings of “swallow[ing] pills” and “whatever takes [them] mountain high.” These drug references further connect the song to Pacific beaches and the drug culture surrounding the West coast in Southern California specifically. Ocean then sings the chorus where he makes the clearest connection to the coast. After repeating “sweet life” in a mocking tone, Ocean asks from the point of view of the subject “why see the world when you’ve got the beach?” This line in the song’s thesis as it critiques the carelessness of Pacific beach residents who fail to expand their worldview. The subject has no reason to see the rest of the world, as they already have the pacific beach. The wealth and leisure of the American West coast allows the subject to stay in their own bubble and enjoy life without a care for anything else. This blissful ignorance connects directly to the wealth inequality and extreme expenses of modern coastal living in California. Since the subject has “had a landscaper and a housekeeper since [they] were born,” their concerns over money seem limited as they enjoy life in sunny California.
Beyond the detailed lyrics that reflect the leisure that is commonly associated with Pacific beaches, the instrumentation furthers the track’s aura of relaxation. While the song may be best classified as alternative R&B, a genre not commonly associated with Pacific beaches, the overall sound matches the leisurely culture of the California coast. The track is produced by Pharrell Williams, a Virginia Beach native, but while he was born on the Atlantic coast, he has produced iconic West coast rap songs such as Snoop Dogg’s “Drop it Like it’s Hot.” Williams’ knowledge of West coast music shines through on “Sweet Life,” as groovy basslines and rhythmic keys reminiscent of 90s G-Funk music encompass the soundscape. Even without Ocean’s lyrics about the beach, the instrumental alone would suffice for a drive down the Pacific Coast Highway as the soft drums and bouncy melodies match the joyous music commonly associated with the beach.
Ocean’s background greatly informs his perspective on Pacific beaches. Ocean was born in Long Beach, California, then moved to New Orleans as a child, and moved back to Los Angeles when he was 18. Ocean has spent all of his life near the coast, and his connection to bodies of water is seen in his name since he legally changed his name from Lonny Breaux to Frank Ocean in 2010. Because of Ocean’s extensive connection to the coast, he sings with a personal understanding of those inundated in the blissful waters of the Pacific. Ocean’s aquatic knowledge is displayed throughout his discography as he sings of driving into the ocean on his first single “Swim Good” (2011), as well as making other coastal references on his 2012 album Channel Orange such as his humorous mention of a “beach house… in Idaho.” Thus, because of Ocean’s deep understanding of the Pacific, he aptly critiques the leisurely lifestyles of wealthy West coasters in “Sweet Life.”
“Sweet Life” is well positioned to be on a Pacific Beach playlist as it matches the West coast vibe while simultaneously commenting on the Pacific lifestyle. Ocean created a song that is enjoyable to listen to that still retains depth. Pacific beach anthems by the likes of Katy Perry are important to a playlist on Pacific beaches; however, Ocean has created a song with the same playability that actually serves as a critique of the superficiality expressed in many other songs about the Pacific coast. Just as Bruce Springstein critiqued the United States with “Born in the USA” but subsequently created a patriotic anthem, Ocean has dissected the leisurely lifestyle of wealthy West coasters all whilst giving them a fun song to play in their convertibles.
- Zander Tate
I Wanna Go by Britney Spears (from Ari H)
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While the United States has long been a melting pot of pop culture, freedom of expression, and new concepts that have revolutionized society as a whole, there has always been a taboo against sex positivity throughout the evolution of American culture. Both the East and West coasts have played major roles in the recent cultural revolution of the United States, and the Pacific coast has been at the center of it all. Known for Hollywood, the artsy hub of the United States, the Pacific has a reputation for being a place of sinning, as well as letting loose. In Britney Spears’ iconic song, “I Wanna Go” Britney Spears evokes the ideas of female liberation, the symbolic dark side of the Pacific coast, as well as the need for release, which all speak to the Pacific Coast’s taboo culture.
Firstly, Britney Spears addresses the topic of female liberation, which has played a significant role in Pacific history. This idea of female liberation from Hollywood is one that is still evolving to this day, with songs like Cardi B’s “WAP”, which help normalize women speaking about their sexualities in the same way men have been doing for ages. In Britney’s “I wanna go”, she says “I’ve been told what I should do with it - to keep both my hands above the blanket”, which relates to the idea of women historically being told what to do with their bodies, as well as ignoring their sex drives. However, Britney also says “Time to blow out”, which implies that the Pacific is a place where women can let loose, and explore their sexualities. When referring to herself needing release, Britney declares “Shame on me”, illustrating once more that she is fighting the patriarchy with these seemingly innocent lyrics. The concept of shame in the United States is one that has been prevalent throughout history, whether it be race related, sexuality related, class related, or even related to one’s political beliefs. Due to the past, as well as current religious influence in this country, women have been conditioned to lay low, and keep their sexualities to themselves. However, Pacific culture has challenged this patriarchy, contributing to a nation in which women can let loose, be promiscuous, rule their households, be active members in the workforce, etc.
Moreover, Britney exhibits includes a recurring theme of the “dark” as well as using lexicon such as “freak” to describe the ambiance in which she is letting loose, speaking to the West Coast’s darkside. The Pacific’s dark side comes down to the aspect of sinning, with the prevalent drug culture among Hollywood’s different classes - from crack in the poorer communities to cocaine in the studios. In addition to the West’s prevalent drug culture, there is also plenty of lust on the West Coast, from the sugar baby/daddy culture to the promiscuousness in pop culture. Britney refers to this lust with the line “I got dirt running through my mind”. The word dirt and dirty share their roots, and thus Spears is referring to dirty thoughts, relating back to the sexual themes prevalent in pop songs. Britney, along with other artists on the West Coast, use sex positivity in their art, in order to fight the patriarchy, as well as normalize women having embracing their sexualities.
Lastly, Britney’s “Need for release”, can relate to a different aspect of the Pacific Coast, which is the romanticism of the coast, as a place of laid-backness and vibes. It is a place of fun, with the entertainment business having most of its roots on the West Coast. In addition, the West Coast is notorious for surfing, which adds to the “need for release” in the sense of letting loose from work. On the same note, Spears says “I wanna blow out”, which once again speaks to the West Coast’s romanticized image. In saying she wants to blow out, and needs release, Britney is portraying Pacific culture as one of parties, lust, and letting loose to the fullest extent.
Ultimately, while Britney Spears’ “I Wanna Go” may seem like another generic pop song, it perfectly embodies several aspects of outsiders’ perspective of the West, as well as Pacific culture. While I don’t think Britney Spears thought of these lyrics in this way, she mirrors her lyrics in the portrayal of her life on reality television and such. From my East Coast perspective, queen Britney has always reflected the Pacific culture by being glamorous, but also by including sex positivity, the idea of letting go, and partying themes in her songs.
- Ari H
Californication by The Red Hot Chili Peppers (from Camryn Cook)
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As someone who grew up in southern California, I have been exposed to stereotypical western culture my whole life. The first thing people ask me is if I know how to surf. They are shocked when I say no. They are confused as to why a San Diego native doesn’t know how to surf when the Pacific Ocean is such an integral part of my culture. What they don’t understand is just how much western culture has been idealized and molded into a superficial California lifestyle. People all over the world dream of living this Californian lifestyle: Going to the beach every day, sunny weather, surfing, the industry, you name it. Media has created an image of western culture that is so appealing that people pick up and leave everything they know in hopes of starting a new life in California.
The California dream can be majorly credited to the Hollywood film industry. Films such as Clueless and La La Land romanticize the Los Angeles lifestyle and feature the faces of many highly successful actors and actresses. Social media also spotlights the fame of many young content creators and influencers. All of this combined creates a digital image of a culture so rich and exciting that the truth of Hollywood and western culture gets hidden behind the bright lights. The realistic lifestyle of the west coast remains hidden amongst those who actually live it.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers are an American rock band whose success, to no surprise, began in Los Angeles. In 1999, they released their sixth studio album containing the title track Californication. Californication pushes a mass-marketable melody and is loaded with pop-culture references. With a nostalgic sound, the instrumentation alone is enough to get you thinking. When you listen to the lyrics, however, you discover a blunt rejection of the Hollywood lifestyle and a warning of the deterioration of modern society. While many observing from the outside dream of the pacific culture being promoted by the media, those on the inside have experienced the truth and are aware of the menacing effects on individuals and society as a whole.
Californication critiques how Hollywood sells a manufactured reality. When they state that “space may be the final frontier but it’s made in a Hollywood basement,” the Red Hot Chili Peppers are acknowledging the superficial and plastic existence we are being pushed towards. One lyric from the song, “Pay your surgeon very well to break the spell of aging,” shows how Hollywood has defined the unrealistic beauty standards that have become idealized amongst many cultures. The song also expresses the growing desire for fame and fortune by saying that the “little girls from Sweden dream of silver screen quotation.” This lyric makes it clear that the influences of pop culture are geographically going way beyond the origins of the ideas. Californication also touches on how money and connections can buy fame. Referencing the famous Hollywood walk of fame, lead singer Anthony Kiedis sings “Buy me a star on the boulevard, its Californication.” The word Californication itself is a reference to the mindless development that southern California has undergone as a result of Hollywood culture. Through this, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are bringing light to the toxicity of the celebrity-obsessed culture of America.
Californication deserves a spot on the course playlist because it confronts listeners with the reality of pop culture and forces them to take a step back and look past the romanticized life of the west. While the Pacific coast is home to many great places and people, it is important to remember that everything is not always as it seems. There is so much more to western culture than just fame, money, and success. The diverse pacific coast holds many great cultures that are overlooked because of the stereotypical western lifestyle that is promoted through media. On our pacific playlist, Californication by the Red Hot Chili Peppers can serve as a reminder to forget about the California dream and acknowledge all of the other incredible things that the Pacific coast has to offer.
- Camryn Cook
For The Coast by The Satellite Section (from minna andrea b. belidhon)
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Realistically speaking, the Pacific Ocean sounds like the thunderous crashing waves that heavily contrast the eerie silence of its ominous, vast space of water. Growing up in the Philippines to now living in Los Angeles, California, the Pacific Ocean is near to my heart. When pictured in mind, it is with shimmering water either under the sunlight, or the moonlight. We see the shining horizon where we see what looks like the end, but not quite. We hear people, the waves crashing into the sand, and at some places, the bustling busy piers. To me, the Pacific Ocean sounds alive and breathing. It sounds like a beginning and an end, peaceful and hopeful, yet somehow haunting. The song “For The Coast” by The Satellite Station captures it perfectly.
The first verse starts with “You were heading for the coast, with a single bag of clothes, well you hitchhiked from those Appalachian hills.” Right away, it depicts a picture of a person heading to the ocean, traveling from somewhere else. Historically, the Pacific Ocean has also paved the way for exploration and voyages for people. For example, the Lapita people have ventured into the ocean through the Solomon Islands and Fiji. People from the land, the mountains, walked to the ocean. People traveled by foot until they learned how to travel by water. “Trace your name into the sand,” People often trace their name into the sand as well. The reasoning behind it is not entirely clear but there is something poetic about it as if we are leaving our mark in the world. In a way, voyagers have also left marks and evidence of their path along the way, some have been washed away while some have stayed. The ocean signifies a transition in life.
The chorus begins with “Oh, but you finally feel at home again, throwing caution to the wind.” The Pacific ocean is home to some. It encapsulates freedom and thrill, with its vastness and unpredictable nature. “Starin’ at the waterline, you could see your whole life right before your eyes.” Looking at the horizon also brings a hopeful feeling. The horizon shows the cycle of the day, the beginning and end, right in front of us. It is a reminder that every day, as the sun sets, the moon rises. As the Pacific Ocean has been alive for thousands of years, it has outlived countless lives through its continuous cycle. It is almost reassuring for some individuals like me. It is a reminder of something bigger than myself, that whatever happens, the cycle continues. As the ending of the chorus goes, “Life is short but you still have some time, Oh, you feel alive, feel alive.”
The second verse questions, “Is there magic in these waves? Do they have a will to save?” In some cultures, ocean water is believed to possess healing properties. With this in mind, some people traverse the ocean in desperation or in the hopes of healing themselves and starting anew. Until then, the journey continues. “You had landed on the coast, With a single bag of clothes, Laid on your back, and stared up to the sky.” Eventually, we reach the end of a chapter. Then, we begin again. With one bag of clothes, with more room to grow, and with more spaces to fill. We look up to the sky, reflect on the stars, and appreciate where we land as the melody of the songs captures the solemn yet serene feeling of a bittersweet adventure.
The Pacific Ocean is a living entity. It welcomes anyone, the directionless, the adventurers, the crestfallen, the ecstatic. It holds a different meaning to people across the globe. As for me, it represents a cycle of life, home, hope, adventure, and somber yet ethereal beginnings and endings. The song “For The Coast” was able to depict all of these feelings lyrically and melodically and so, it belongs on the class Pacific playlist.
- minna andrea b. belidhon
Under the Sea from “The Little Mermaid” (from Ethan Newman)
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Dripping Sun by Kikagaku Moyo (from henry)
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(Sittin’ On) Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding (from Declan Øsborne)
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The Pacific Ocean of my youth was a wellspring of joy. A native of Los Angeles, I grew up exploring the beaches that bordered the harbors of Long Beach and South L.A. Their noises: squawking seagulls, laughing families, and the gentle splashing noises of the Pacific’s waves were the sounds that characterized the Pacific in my childhood imagination. However, one’s childhood tendency towards romanticization eventually fades. Growing older, I continued to find myself on the shores of the Pacific throughout my teens, and as pubescence warped my sense of self towards the introverted and lonesome, I increasingly found the sounds of the beach to become shallow reflections of their counterparts in my memories. These sentiments of lonesomeness and melancholy feel fully reflected in the posthumous song Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding, which, as a work of art, encapsulates the feelings of dejection and surrender that the Pacific Ocean can elicit.
Throughout Dock of the Bay, Redding utilizes the setting of the Pacific Ocean as a vessel to advance the central themes of the song, melancholy and feeling trapped in an unchanging world of mental turmoil, by juxtaposing the realities of inner-life near a Pacific coast with the media-promoted concept of the beach as a center for relaxation. Redding establishes the coastal setting at the onset of the song by employing a sample of waves cresting that he allows to ebb and flow, both in the context of volume and tone as well as quite literally, throughout the majority of the song. This concept of repetition, ebbs and flows, also appears heavily in Redding’s lyrics. For instance, the first stanza establishes the verbal norms of the song through Redding’s descriptions of “sittin” and “watchin” as the goings on of a coastal environment occur: “the ships roll in”, the “tide” rolls away, and all the while Redding just sits “on the dock of the bay”. Through this simple cyclical framework, Redding, paralleling the media propagated idea of a “restful Pacific beach”, draws the listener past the vortex of the outside world and into, what appears to be, his coastal realm of stability.
Following this, the chorus adds on to the first verses conceit by both furthering, and thus entrenching, Redding’s repetitive song structure as well as providing the listener with an initial clue that the romanticization they likely expect from this portrayal of the coast may not be forthcoming. Prescribing his “sittin” as “wastin time”, Redding subtly suggests that instead of a relaxing and stable environment where a member of the proletariat might find time to waste a few hours away, some aspect of Redding’s situation exists antithetical to this common practice. Having hinted that the listener should alter their preconceptions, Redding then blaringly reveals his true feelings about his resting place by claiming he has become mired in an unchanging inner sadness, hidden as stability, that leads him to believe that he’s “nothin’ to live for” and that “nothings gonna come my way”. Redding’s sudden and forward admittance of mental dejection both explains the hidden conflict established at the beginning of the song while simultaneously enhancing its themes when re-juxtaposed against his surroundings: a coastal scene wherein “everything” “seems to stay the same”, contrary to suggestions from common American conceptions, does not necessarily serve as an ideal locale to alter your inner being for the better.
Gently concluding his song, Redding attempts to move away from the toils of his mind and back into the physical space of the “dock on the bay”, yet, now that he’s overshared, Redding seems incapable of hiding his dejectedness through a veneer of stability anymore. For instance, although he’s expelled the listener from his mind, Reddings unable to hide his lonesome state as he describes “sittin . . . restin [his] bones”. Suggesting that only his physical extensions can attain any relaxation or benefit from the coastline he resides upon. While, internally, Redding’s turmoil forces him to admit that “the loneliness won’t leave [him] alone”, and that the stability his surroundings suggest to the listener simply hide the weariness he feels amongst the mental and spiritual extensions of his being.
Throughout American media, the concept of rest is seen as a luxury that should, ideally, be attained through recreation among hospitable locations, namely: the beach. The Dock of the Bay challenges this concept of recreation and its association with Pacific Coast while also examining depressive feelings and one’s urge to hide them in settings deemed socially relaxng or joyous. Furthermore, it’s a gorgeous song and I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t be on a Pacific Playlist.
- Declan Øsborne
California Gurls by Katy Perry (ft. Snoop Dogg) (from Maya Fielding)
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When challenged with picking the perfect song to represent the Pacific Coast, one might lean more towards the traditional artists of the California music scene, such as the Beach Boys, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, or the Ramones, who have been writing music about the Pacific for decades. However, when truly examining the lyrics of more modern songs, it is clear that no other song captures the essence of the Californian party culture quite like California Gurls by Katy Perry featuring Snoop Dogg. In its use of traditional Los Angeles beach imagery and cheery melody, the song drops the listener directly into the world created by Pacific party culture. California Gurls also takes the two distinct styles of Perry and Snoop -pop and rap respectively- to merge two of the biggest genres in Californian music. The song California Gurls is the quintessential Pacific coast anthem, truly highlighting the classic California party attitude both through its celebratory, descriptive lyrics and upbeat pop tempo.
Katy Perry’s range of songs comprehensively capture the West Coast party scene, but the lyrics in her verses of California Gurls push this narrative the farthest, particularly in her first verse and the pre-chorus. To describe the California girls themselves, Perry sings, “There must be something in the water, sippin’ gin and juice, laying underneath the palm trees”1. Here, we see her make use of one of the most stereotypical Pacific botanical images to further an image of a warm and beach-centric Los Angeles. Palm trees are quintessential to LA beach culture, and provide an iconic image that is recognizable to the average listener regardless of their own location. By including this reference, Perry positions California Gurls as a song meant solely about the West Coast. In addition, this lyric points to the larger party culture in Los Angeles, mentioning alcoholic mixed drinks that are often associated with coastal parties, in the same way that a Gin and Tonic might have provided connotations of a British event.
Perry’s pre-chorus verse provides another opportunity to emphasize the idea of a celebratory atmosphere, when she sings “You could travel the world, but nothing comes close to the Golden Coast; once you party with us, you’ll be falling in love”2. The term “Golden Coast” has been used to describe California and the Pacific beaches for decades, but in California Gurls, it ties the West Coast party scene to the golden sands and sunsets of the Pacific Ocean. Throughout the song, Katy Perry continuously makes reference to various Californian images and ideas, creating the perfect song that clearly belongs on any Pacific playlist.
Similarly, Perry’s collaborator on the song, Snoop Dogg, brings his own, different representation of the Californian party lifestyle in his verses. Snoop Dogg combines a classic rap-pop melody with expressive lyrics both to anchor this song firmly within the traditional Los Angeles music stylings and also assert how he feels about California beach culture. Just as Perry uses descriptive language to describe the carefree beach culture of the Pacific, Snoop Dogg sings “Wild, wild west coast, these are the girls I love the most”3, claiming that the party culture in California is strong and superior to others. In addition, Snoop later raps, “She drive a jeep and live on the beach; I’m okay I won’t play I love the bay Just like I love L.A., Venice Beach and Palm Springs, summertime is everything”4. This line, along with many others, is infused with imagery about California. He highlights the traditional beach vehicle: a Jeep. Snoop also gives the listener a plethora of Pacific party references, calling our attention to the iconic Los Angeles beach - Venice Beach - and perhaps the most recognizable Los Angeles desert party location, Palm Springs. Not only do the lyrics speak volumes about the clear relationship to the Pacific beach culture, but the melody and stylings of Snoop’s verse point to a larger theme of rap culture in Los Angeles, something extremely relevant to the party culture tied to the beaches. For decades, Los Angeles has been the center of rap and pop music production, with many songs capitalizing on the carefree, wild nature the Pacific beaches bring. Snoop Dogg’s use of a slight dragged-out inflection on words such as “Palm Springs” echoes the traditional pop-rap sound present in many West Coast albums. Therefore, Snoop’s verse, while continuing Perry’s imagery-heavy lyricism, introduces another quite distinct element of Pacific beach culture representation, thus furthering the notion that California Gurls is the perfect California beach song.
Although there are many songs that could classify themselves as the quintessential Pacific beach anthem, few compare to the picture perfect lyrical descriptions and melody that California Gurls presents. Both Katy Perry and Snoop Dogg present us with classic Los Angeles imagery, placing the listener into a fantastical world filled with palm trees, tropical drinks, and the golden sands of the Pacific Coast. Additionally, the blend of Perry’s classic, upbeat pop tempo and Snoop’s seamless rap verse creates the ideal song for a Pacific beach party. The two styles also reflect the merging of two of the biggest musical styles in Los Angeles, with Katy Perry and Snoop Dogg working together despite being vastly different artists in style and genre. In the ideal Pacific playlist, California Gurls unquestionably deserves to be represented.
- Maya Fielding