A nationwide survey of music writers pegged the Beach Boys as the “group or artist who best defines the L.A. sound or best represents L.A.’s contribution to the pop legacy.”
In the questionnaire, mailed to 50 of the more prominent pop journalists in the country, Daily Variety asked who stands as the pre-eminent L.A. pop band or artist, past or present. Critics were asked to select their top three choices in order of importance, and were encouraged to comment on their picks.
As explained in the survey, the talents didn’t necessarily have to have been from the Southland but had to have attained prominence here. For example, the Byrds —whose members hailed from such widespread locales as Chicago, New York and Tipton, Missouri — were cited as candidates since they recorded their first LP in L.A. and played their epochal first gig at Ciro’s on the Sunset Strip.
With first-place votes worth three points, second place worth two and third one, the winner was determined in two different ways: total points scored and number of times mentioned.
The Beach Boys won big both ways, with a total 31 points scored and 11 mentions. As an added measure of dominance, Beach Boys mastermind Brian Wilson alone had more votes than 65% of the other bands mentioned. In fact, Larry Katz of the Boston Herald wrote that he would “be shocked and amazed if anyone comes close to challenging the Beach Boys … ,” commenting that “no other group has been so closely identified with Southern California …” Bruce Haring of USA Today noted that “the Beach Boys will be a part of the music scene as long as there is a summer season.”
However, results came out differently for second and third places, depending on the tallying method. In terms of points scored, the Doors placed second with 14 points, while the Byrds finished close behind with 11. Number of mentions produced different results, with the Byrds placing second with six mentions, while the Doors had five. The Eagles, Johnny Otis and X tied for fourth in the point tally, while Los Lobos finished fourth in the mention total, with four.
Regardless of the outcome, the participants responded with an interesting cross-section of favorites, with artists as disparate as NWA, Warren Zevon and Black Flag included among the favorites. Jazz artists Ornette Coleman and Charles Mingus were listed in two different ballots, even though the poll was identified as a pop survey, while producer Phil Spector showed up on another.
Notably, relatively obscure West Coast blues progenitor Otis was mentioned by both the Village Voice’s Robert Christgau and the L.A. Weekly’s Jonny Whiteside as their No. 1 choices. Whiteside writes: “Although ‘Willie & the Hand Jive” was Otis’ only hit, his legacy of biracial musical dialogue — tragically and thoroughly derailed by the sugar-coated solipsism’s of the Beatles — was a crucial cultural breakthrough.”