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Pop Music | THE SoCAL SONGBOOK

`Pacific Coast Highway' Burt Bacharach / 1969

July 02, 2006|Geoff Boucher

Take New York, remember Paris or sing of Chicago, but don't ever forget that Southern California is the leading landscape of pop-music dreamers. From the days when Bing Crosby crooned of the San Fernando Valley as a giddy heaven on Earth (how's that going?) to N.W.A's slightly less rosy "Straight Outta Compton" and beyond, the lyrics on the radio have long reminded us that Southern California -- for better or worse -- is best mapped in lyrics. In the SoCal Songbook, we look at a SoCal-related song, old or new, and check its cultural compass points.

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BACHARACH is the picture of California country club style -- the preternaturally perfect tan, gleaming teeth, the sweater sleeves draped around the collar of his polo shirt. And if there was ever a song that the Pacific Palisades songwriter tinkled out on the piano that sounded like the soundtrack to his own life, it was this 1969 tune.

There's the trademark Bacharach brass, polished to a high gleam, a piano piece of sophistication and then a flute that meanders through the middle of the song. Never fearful of going over the top, Bacharach even added a marine layer of female vocals -- "woo-hoo-hoo" -- that waver like seagulls above craggy cliffs. Ahhhhh. Burt, could you please pass the chardonnay?

"That one, that whole song was the sound of driving up the coast, up PCH to Malibu," Bacharach told us. "That song is supposed to make you know what it feels like to make that drive if you never have. It was a long time ago that I recorded that one. I had a Corvette convertible then. That's the song of that car, right? What color was it? It could have been yellow. I can't remember." He paused, searching for a music video of memory. "Yeah. Let's make it yellow."

-- Geoff Boucher

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