On the trail of The Beach Boys
Just as I can't travel to Liverpool without thinking of The Beatles, so I can't travel to Los Angeles without thinking of The Beach Boys.
Their songs of beaches, baggies, boards and bikinis painted a picture of a sun-kissed paradise, and their voices sounded as bright and as laid-back as California itself.
This time I was travelling specifically to discover the people and places that inspired the band.
Their songs sounded as bright as a sun-kissed paradise, their voices sounded as laid-back as California itself
I started in Hawthorne where the three Wilson brothers - Brian, Carl and Dennis - were raised, and joined up with guitarist Al Jardine and vocalist Mike Love to form a group.
The Wilson family home on 119th Street, where the boys taped their first single Surfin' in 1961, was demolished to make way for Interstate 105.
The rest of the street remains though, its neat lawns, porches and fluttering flags reminders of the group's clean-cut All-American origins.
A redbrick memorial now stands at the site of the Wilson house, with a bas-relief frieze showing the group carrying a surfboard and a plaque noting that the music conceived here 'broadcast to the world an image of LA as a place of sun, surf and romance'.
Hawthorne is indeed a place of sun (263 days a year) but no surf and little romance.
It's a charmless city that expanded on the back of the post-war aviation industry (Los Angeles International is only five miles away).
I could see why the teenagers of the 1950s would get 'bugged' driving 'up and down the same old strip'. Hawthorne Boulevard, with its low-rise jewellery shops and furniture stores, is no place for the young.
The Pizza Show added a splash of colour when it arrived in 1956 and became a home from home for the fledgling Beach Boys.
I started in Hawthorne where the three Wilson brothers - Brian, Carl and Dennis - were raised, and joined up with guitarist Al Jardine and vocalist Mike Love to form a group
Now run by the son of the original owner, it retains its kitsch medieval Italian interior, with wrought iron chandeliers, tiled awnings and mock grilled windows.
Foster's Freeze, another gathering place, is a blue-roofed fast-food outlet that offers food from one service hatch and ice cream from another.
When I arrived Louie Louie, a 1963 hit by The Kingsmen, was playing over speakers in the overhang.
This was the very 'hamburger stand' where Brian Wilson saw a girl pull up in her father's Thunderbird and had the inspiration for Fun Fun Fun.
Hawthorne High School, around the corner on El Segundo Boulevard, is where the Wilson boys and Jardine attended. The Beach Boys came back to play the 1969 prom and honoured the institution in their song Be True to Your School.
The nearest surfing beach to Hawthorne is Manhattan, but the best is Huntington Beach, better known as Surf City USA. Here the sand is soft, the surf is year-round, and the broad beaches stretch for more than eight miles.
Other than Dennis Wilson, The Beach Boys were famously non-surfers, but they were smart enough to observe the burgeoning ocean-side culture and knew there was mileage in chronicling it.
They mentioned Huntington Beach in Surfin' Safari.
The city of Huntington Beach makes much of its surfers. There's a Walk of Fame, a Hall of Fame and a small International Surfing Museum.
The sports shops sell everything from boards and wetsuits to sunglasses, caps and jeans.
My hotel, the Waterfront Beach Resort, had a surfboard in the foyer and doorknob signs that read Wiped Out rather than Do Not Disturb.
It was cold and overcast on my first morning but by 8.30am there were already more than 100 surfers bobbing about in the ocean.
From the pier I could watch them mounting their boards and waiting patiently to ride in on the most powerful of the tall, grey waves.
As if on cue, a local surf music tribute band, The Breakaways dressed in faded blue denims and short-sleeved Hawaiian shirts, began playing at the pier entrance.
An even better insight into surf culture and music came a few days later when The Surfaris drummer David Raven took me to an outdoor gig in Irvine, Orange County, where he played with bassist Jay Truax (ex-Nomads), and guitarists Ron Eglit (Dick Dale and his Band) and Paul Johnson (The Bel-Airs). They called themselves The Legends Surf Band.
We picked up Johnson from his apartment. He was wearing a baseball cap, blue jeans and sandals and had a black patch over his left eye.
On the drive down he told me his story. As a 15-year old schoolboy in 1961 he'd composed a hit tune called Mr Moto for The Bel-Airs.
That summer, when playing at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Redondo Beach, a leading surfer came over to him and said: 'Wow, man! Your music sounds just like it feels out on a wave. You should call it surf music.' So he did.
Other than Dennis Wilson, The Beach Boys were famously non-surfers, but they were smart enough to observe the burgeoning ocean-side culture and knew there was mileage in chronicling it
When The Beach Boys adopted this sound the hard-core sports crowd initially shunned them.
'As long as they posed as surfers they were resented by those in the true beach culture,' Johnson told me.
'But when they went on to celebrate California youth culture at large by singing about cars and cruising, that broadened their appeal. After that, even surfers appreciated them.'
When The Beach Boys started recording their focus shifted from Hawthorne to Hollywood. They signed with Capitol Records, whose 13-storey circular tower at 1750 Vine Street, built in 1956, has become an LA landmark.
Legend has it that the architecture was based on the image of a bunch of singles stacked on the spindle of a record player. The night I visited, Arcade Fire were playing a promotional set on a specially built platform outside the tower.
The Beach Boys' earliest albums were recorded at Capitol but by the time of Surfer Girl and Little Deuce Coupe, they were also recording around the corner at United and Western (6050 Sunset Boulevard).
Now called Ocean Way Studios, this is where they recorded their 2012 comeback album That's Why God Made The Radio.
In 1965, Brian Wilson bought the then-modern 1448 Laurel Way in Beverly Hills with its great views over the LA basin.
That summer, when playing at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Redondo Beach, a leading surfer came over to him and said: 'Wow, man! Your music sounds just like it feels out on a wave. You should call it surf music'
It was here that he notoriously built himself a huge sandbox in the living room to stimulate his creative juices. (The video for Sloop John B was filmed in the garden pool.)
Two years later he moved to 10452 Bellagio Road in the more upmarket gated community of Bel Air.
Several Beach Boys' albums, including Smiley Smile, Wild Honey, 20/20 and Surf's Up, were partially recorded here, while Charles Manson, a fringe figure on the LA music scene in 1969, visited to tape songs that he'd written.
In songs such as Little Deuce Coupe, Shut Down, Little Honda, and Fun Fun Fun, The Beach Boys explored the parallel teenage subculture of cruising and hot-rodding.
Illegal street racing still takes place but usually in the early hours of the morning, and it's a crime even to be a spectator.
Custom car shows tend to happen out in the desert rather than in the city. But at the Petersen Automotive Museum (6060 Wilshire Boulevard) it's possible to see everything from hot rods and deuce coupes to Thunderbirds and Chevrolets.
Spread over two spacious floors, there are plenty of cars from the era The Beach Boys celebrated - a peach-coloured 1957 Lincoln Premiere once owned by Jayne Mansfield, a black 1957 Chrysler, and a wonderful boat-sized 1959 red Cadillac Convertible.
The hot rod section has a classic Deuce Coupe customised from a 1932 Ford. Appropriately the museum cafe, Johnny Rockets, is a 50s-style diner with red plastic seating, chrome surfaces and neon signs.
On my final day I headed north on the Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu. There's probably no road that better embraces the joys of LA - steep hills and canyons to one side, broad beaches and ocean to the other
On my final day I headed north on the Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu. There's probably no road that better embraces the geographical joys of LA - steep hills and canyons to one side, broad beaches and ocean to the other - and no drive is better suited to a Beach Boys' soundtrack. The group even recorded a song about it in 2012.
Beyond Malibu lies Paradise Cove. A left-hand turn took me a mile down a hill to a private beach edged with cliffs where the group was photographed for the cover of 1962's Surfin' Safari, and again two years later for All Summer Long.
Paradise Cove is now home to one of the world's most luxurious trailer parks. Film directors, screenwriters, models and Hollywood actors such as Minnie Driver and Matthew McConaughey have swapped bricks and mortar for transportable homes with a view.
A surfboard-shaped sign ironically declared No Surfboards. The warning was somewhat redundant as beaches can be private but the sea is free and, anyway, the waves are so mild that no serious surfer would choose it.
Maybe that's why The Beach Boys came here - and why they kept their shirts and jeans on during the shoot.