Driving down the 101
California here we come
Right back where we started from
Read full Lyrics
In their All-Stars and grunge-chic stripes, the members of the alternative rock band Phantom Planet channel that boy-next-door simplicity into their music. Formed in 1994, the year Kurt Cobain took his life, the band's attire and on-stage antics are unsurprisingly Nirvana-esque. This is no more apparent than in the tour footage music video for the song "California," complete with crowd surfing, on-stage guitar smashing and drum breaking, and a tooth brushing scene in which a band member rinses with Jack Daniels. Unlike Nirvana, born in the working class outskirts of Seattle, Phantom Planet hails from Southern California, a large district including areas of Los Angeles, San Diego and of course, Orange County.
Laguna Beach, Orange County, California
Historically, Orange County was a cattle ranching community devastated by a drought in the 1860s. The region recovered thanks in part to silver mining in the Santa Ana Mountains as well as successful citrus farming from which the area takes its name. Since the 50s, Orange County prospered and became a commuter town for those working in aerospace. The well-off community received a further boost when Disneyland opened in 1955, making the area a tourist hot spot. Despite the county having filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy in 1994, the region has since re-established itself as one of the most prosperous and populous regions of California as well as one of the most politically conservative areas in the US, despite its cosmopolitan demographic
Thanks in part to its affluence and burgeoning tourism industry, Orange County has been depicted time and again in film and TV, from the 1988 film Beaches
to the 2009 blockbuster Star Trek
, and of course the series dedicated to the melodramatic lives of wealthy teens in the hit show aptly named "The O.C." Phantom Planet snagged the attention of viewers and garnered a horde of new fans when their song "California" became the title track for the series.
First released as a single from their 2002 album, The Guest
, "California" was recorded when Jason Shwartzman – best known for his acting roles in I Heart Huckabees
and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
– still played drums for the band. Perhaps having an actor as a band member aided Phantom Planet in their rise to fame, particularly with their song "California," which was used on numerous soundtracks including an episode of the series "Fastlane", and the movie soundtrack for the film Orange County
before becoming the theme song for the similarly titled series. "California" also featured on the soundtrack for the documentary Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
as well as in an episode of "The Simpsons," which parodied The O.C.
Old Orange County Courthouse in Santa Ana
Photo: Cbl62, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
"California" is an uncomplicated song documenting the band's tour days and their road trip along US Route 101 from concert to concert as they head back towards their home in Southern California. The song starts out fairly mellow with a piano part – perhaps played on the xylophone during gigs as depicted in the music video – that's quickly picked up by the guitar before Alex Greenwald starts singing in a clean tenor somewhat at odds with the grungy appearance of the band. Each verse bursts into the repetitive chorus with driving drums as a warbling "California, here we come" takes the song from rocking chorus into a quiet bridge. Phantom Planet recorded another version of "California" in 2005 titled "California 2005," for "The O.C." as the original version, although already mellow by rock standards, was deemed somewhat rambunctious for the TV series producers.
"California" has since been covered several times by the likes of Mates of States – whose version replaced Phantom Planet's as the theme song for "The O.C." – and The Chipmunks for the video game "Alvin and the Chipmunks." Despite this song being Phantom Planet's only real claim to fame, "California" holds far more meaning to the band as an ode to their roots, and not just a TV series theme song.Suzanne van Rooyen
August 1, 2013
Suzanne is a tattooed storyteller from South Africa. Although she has a Master's degree in music, Suzanne prefers conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters. Her published novels include Dragon's Teeth, Obscura Burning, and The Other Me.
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