I’d wager a significant amount of money you’ve never heard of Holland, a Beach Boys album released on January 8, 1973. Various critics and longtime fans weren’t overly impressed. But it’s the only Beach Boys album I ever bought.
While there were a few Beach Boys tunes I liked, I wasn’t big into their sound. I never understood — and still don’t — the fervor and praise for Pet Sounds. And while Holland, named for the country in which it was recorded, is the only Beach Boys album I had, I really bought it only for side one. In fact, it is almost exclusively for the three-part song “California Saga,” an ode to the California coast between Monterey and Morro Bay.
Some have panned “California Saga” as tree-hugging hippie twaddle. In fact, when the band brought the LP to their label, it was rejected because it didn’t have any hit material. That sent Brian Wilson to finalize and the band to record in California “Sail On, Sailor,” a song Wilson had hanging around for a few years. Even then, the recod company supplemented the release with an EP of a Wilson musical fairy tale, “Mount Vernon and Fairway.” The label’s views led to “Sail On, Sailor” opening the album and it is an inviting and enjoyable introduction. The momentum is quickly lost, though, by a sluggish Dennis Wilson tune, “Steamboat.” But then “California Saga” closes the first side and you can forget “Steamboat.”
“Big Sur,” written and sun by Mike Love, opens the “saga.” It is a fun and not overly serious ode to the Big Sur area. The middle of the trilogy admittedly is a bit pretentious with the very serious intonation of the 1936 Robinson Jeffers poem “The Beaks of Eagles,” which also serves as the name of the song. Yet the pretentiousness is interrupted and eased by a song with poppy, upbeat and wholly enjoyable lyrics by Al Jardine between the poem’s stanzas. The trilogy closes out with the Jardine-written and Love-sung “California,” a tune which illustrates the best of the band’s California sound and details an upbeat enjoyment of the Monterey/Big Sur/Salinas area.
How much impact did “California Saga’ have on me? I’d never been to that part of California so I don’t know why the song grabbed me. It took another 15 or so years after the LP was released for me to finally get there. Perhaps fueled in part by the song, it was love at first sight. The area became one of my favorite places on the planet, so much so that during the ’90s my family and I spent six weeks or more traveling up and down the Pacific Cost Highway (Highway 1) between Monterey and Morro Bay. And there is absolutely nothing like approaching the Bixby Creek Bridge with “California Saga” blasting from the speakers. It is an incomparable experience.
While my personal experiences now make me enjoy Holland that much more, the album still doesn’t seem to get a lot of love. You can’t buy just Holland on CD. Instead, it comes bundled with the 1972 release, Carl and the Passions – “So Tough” and without the Holland cover art. I don’t care really because whenever I listen to “California Saga” now, I’m immediately taken to one of my happy places.
Big Sur I’ve got plans for you
Me and mine are going to
Add ourselves to your lengthy list of lovers
“California Saga: Big Sur,” The Beach Boys, Holland