Song Of The Week: “California Sun” by The Rivieras

Some songs become hits by embodying the season in which they’re released, while others achieve hit-hood due to wishful thinking.

Everybody loves a good summer song, right? One to play while basking in the bright rays of the sun or cruising through town with the top down and the radio blasting. Think of classic anthems like “Summer In The City” by The Lovin’ Spoonful or “Summertime” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, both of which were released in late spring/early summer to maximize their seasonal appeal.

Sometimes, though, it’s all about escapism, fantasizing about a mythical land of sunshine while you’re huddled by a heater, fighting off frostbite and questioning your life decisions.

The Rivieras formed in South Bend, Indiana in the early 60’s, a teenage garage band who, like many other musical outfits in the car-obsessed teen culture of the time, named themselves after a particular model of automobile. In this case, the Buick Riviera. The band did as bands do, gigging where they could, at high school dances and local fairs, until spotted by a dude who offered managerial services and bought studio time in Chicago for their first recording session.

In common with their frat-rock peers who played primarily for the fun rather than the career opportunities, The Rivieras’ repertoire consisted primarily of covers, including an obscure R&B song called “California Sun,” originally released in 1960 by Joe Jones (a fellow member of the one-hit wonder crowd with the Top 5 “You Talk Too Much”). When the band heard that another local act intended to record “California Sun,” they decided to get their version on tape post haste.

They didn’t plan it, but The Rivieras picked a serendipitous moment (or it picked them) to release their debut single.

January of 1964 saw record snowfalls across the southern and northeastern regions of the US – the most since the 1800’s in some areas – causing frigid temperatures, mass amounts of property destruction, and millions of people to think, “Winter wonderland my ass.” Those millions of people immediately bought “California Sun” when it was released as a single during that arctic month, and the song quickly ascended to #5 in the US charts, held out of the top spot only due to the arrival of four youngsters from Liverpool who launched the British Invasion and soon turned the winter of discontent into a glorious summer. But it was “California Sun” that provided the first bit of escape from Mother Nature’s frosty fingers in 1964.

So walk and twist and shimmy and fly. Spend 2 minutes and 23 seconds in the warmth of a west coast dream … with The Rivieras.


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