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The Best Of O. C. : Critic's Choices : Pop

January 31, 1991|MIKE BOEHM | Mike Boehm covers pop music for The Times Orange County Edition.

Let's start with the best of the best. "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'," a 1964 No. 1 hit by the Righteous Brothers, isn't just the greatest pop song to come out of Orange County, it's one of the most sumptuous ballads of the rock era.

Credit is due to producer Phil Spector for mounting one of his grandest wall-of-sound spectaculars. But it was left to Righteous Brothers Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield to translate "Lovin' Feelin' " into the mini-opera that it is. The Righteous Brothers are both 50 now, but they are still in good enough form to qualify as Orange County's best R & B act and vocal group--both past and present.

Dick Dale is a clear choice as the county's all-time greatest rock instrumentalist. With his band, the Deltones, Dale was one of, if not the , inventor of surf rock. Dale remains a sufficiently searing performer on peak nights to be rated O.C.'s primo contemporary guitarist, as well. But he has lots of competition from such notables as Walter Trout, Adrian Remijio of the Wild Cards, John Jorgenson of the Desert Rose Band and Marc Ford of Burning Tree.

Best rock band? Social Distortion has it all. Mike Ness is a commanding front man, and his extremely checkered past as a reformed brawler and drug addict gives the SD story a touch of danger and bad-boy mystique. The band's three albums have shown steady growth that promises more good things to come.

In the blues, James Harman is Orange County's master performer, a singer and harmonica player with tremendous reserves of knowledge, skill and charm. And for higher-voltage blues-rock, Trout's passionate singing and prolific guitar work make his band the top choice.

Chris Gaffney & the Cold Hard Facts' tremendous debut album this year establishes the group as the top country band in the county. Gaffney is fluent in all the traditional country styles, but it's his highly individual way of seeing things as a songwriter that makes "Chris Gaffney & the Cold Hard Facts" a contender for the county's all-time best pop album title (the Righteous Brothers' greatest hits collections don't count). We'll call it a draw between Gaffney's album and "Adolescents," the Adolescents' definitive 1981 burst of punk rock fury.

While some locals might want to claim Jackson Browne as their own, the Sunny Hills High graduate couldn't wait to get out of here and never established much of a link with the local scene. That leaves Vinnie James as O.C.'s top solo acoustic performer, one who combines trenchant social commentary with an all-out performing style and a keen pop sense.

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