When we wrote a list of our 21 favorite Santa Cruz songs last year to go with 11 honorable mentions, we felt we had done a complete job.
Sure, there were a couple that we knew got left out.
And we figured there were others that we had probably somehow missed. But how many songs about Santa Cruz could there be, really?
Well, it turns out, many, many more. So after fielding suggestions and doing plenty more research on our own, we now have a working master list that’s well over twice the length of our previous roster. Some of the newer entries, of course, are more obscure. And for their contributions, we extend our deepest gratitude to some of our loyal readers, who apparently moonlight as local music historians—Rachel Goodman, John Patterson and Daniel Dowell.
Anyway, this whole charade all began in the GT office, years ago, when we began compiling a list of our favorite Santa Cruz Songs in our heads and during long-winded discussions about music. Then as 2016 drew to a close, we learned that the ultimate former local band, Devil Makes Three, would be playing the Catalyst, providing us the impetus (well, it was really more of an excuse) to put our growing list down on paper.
And one year later at the end of 2017, it’s Cracker, fronted by former Santa Cruzan David Lowery, that’s playing the Catalyst Friday, Dec. 29, when the oufitt will share the stage with Lowery’s old local band Camper Van Beethoven. And so in honor of that occasion, we present the next—although certainly not the final—installment of the best Santa Cruz songs, with ten more from the local canon.
“Santa Cruz” — Fatboy Slim
We were pretty sure last time around that this edgy piece by instrumentalist Norman “Fatboy Slim” Cook wasn’t actually about our Santa Cruz. We found no evidence of Cook, who’s from Brighton, England, ever visiting, and its music video features a bunch of Christian crosses, making us think maybe it had more to do with musings on religion than anything else. However, we got some flak for leaving it off last year, so before scratching it off this year’s list, I contacted Cook’s management, which responded with a statement from Cook himself: “Yes, it was written about the town. I visited it on a road trip in 1995 (or 1996) and loved the vibe of the town and the locals. It could be twin towned with Brighton, I thought. Twenty years later in 2015, I took my kids there for a couple of days on another road trip to show them the town that inspired the very first Fatboy Slim record. The place is still the second coolest town in the world!” Note to self: Find out where Brighton is, and go visit. JACOB PIERCE
“Month of May” — Larry Hosford
Longtime KPIG fans love this song, and seriously, how could they not? It’s basically Santa Cruz’s “Margaritaville,” complete with an eerily similar island-rock sound—but released two years before Buffet’s hit. Lyrics about catching the “feeshie” down in the Santa Cruz bay and how “together we smoke on the bong pipe” push this anti-anthem to the edge of ridiculousness, but everyone listening to this is almost guaranteed to be too stoned to care. “Month of May” is a spiritual sequel to John Prine’s “Illegal Smile,” and it’s hard to say which one is more fun. STEVE PALOPOLI
“Santa Cruz” — Todd Snider
Todd Snider wrote the ultimate Santa Cruz party song in “Beer Run,” the kind of tune perfect for anyone who knows what it’s like to be running low on libations, and simultaneously not so low on thirsty friends. This other local anthem didn’t make the cut last time around, and although Snider’s “Santa Cruz” doesn’t have the cleverness of “Beer Run,” the straightforward blues rock jam doubles as a touching, heartfelt tribute to the Americana radio station KPIG 107.5 FM—and, more than that, to its late co-founder Laura Ellen Hopper. A song like this is high praise coming from Snider. To be honest, there’s no one more deserving of the honor. JP
“Santa Cruz” — Gold Motel
Greta Morgan has been a touring musician since she was 16 years old, which is maybe why at only 29 she seems to have made an entire career’s worth of music. She started out as a singer and pianist for the acclaimed Chicago band the Hush Sound and is already doing reunion tours with them, among her many other projects. But it was when that band first went on hiatus in 2008 that she escaped to California, where she let some sunny soul seep into the songs of her new band, Gold Motel. On this song, however, it’s sunlight once removed, brightness diffused by darker realities: “Forget it all, it’s just a sun-drenched dream/I bet you make a good memory/I’ll come back soon, when you least assume/Oh, Santa Cruz.” What exactly went wrong is never specified, leaving this among the more mysterious of the bizarrely numerous “alone in Santa Cruz” type songs. SP
“Santa Cruz” — Erin McKeown
In a song propelled forward by rapid-fire drum machine beats and catchy piano riffs, Erin McKeown sings of a passionate romance that burned between cigarettes and sips of alcohol during the evening hours near the beach. And not unlike Gold Motel’s take, this other “Santa Cruz” seems to explore the wistful longing of a fling here in town that the speaker struggles to put behind her. The question remains the same, when it comes to both dreams of faraway paradise and brief romances: How do you know when it’s time to let go? JP
“Lovers From the Moon” — The Magnetic Fields
This is back from the earliest days of the band, when Susan Anway was singing instead of Stephin Merritt. Anyone familiar with her delivery of “100,000 Fireflies” knows that at peak performance, Anway could convey just as much longing and whimsy as Merritt would on the band’s more famous later albums. This lo-fi indie folk song is another of her best, a lovely balance of Morrissey-esque angst and dreamy courage. It also has easily the best name-check rhyme of any song on our list: “Getting confused/In Santa Cruz.” SP
“Girls From Santa Cruz” — Lacy J. Dalton
Music fans in these parts have long had a special affinity for the myths of outlaw country, so it certainly seems fitting that Santa Cruz would, sooner or later, secure a place in a myth of its own. In this one, Lacy J. Dalton sings about two Santa Cruz women who steal a stallion and hit the dirt road with a wad of cash, before the cowgirls find themselves tangled in a love triangle. The ballad was written for a 2002 benefit concert of the same name filmed for PBS in Santa Cruz to raise money for the dwindling wild horse populations of Nevada, with Ginny Mitchell and Mary McCaslin backing Dalton up. JP
“Santa Cruz” — Tea Leaf Green
I don’t know why Santa Cruz doesn’t seem to inspire romantic ballads, but this rare one from jammy San Francisco rock band Tea Leaf Green seems appropriate, as locals here fell for their sound way back in the early 2000s, before they were being heralded as a central part of the Bay Area’s rock revival. The feeling was mutual, apparently, as this is a straight-up love song to Santa Cruz, with vocalist Josh Clark asserting about 10 times over the course of four-and-a-half minutes that he’s got to get down here. This may be the first band to make us downright sexy: “We’ll light a fire/Drink some wine/Write messages no one will find/In bottles we corked and cast away/Don’t want it any other way.” But skinny dipping in the freezing cold water off Bonny Doon Beach? Hells to the no. SP
“Seacliff Tonight” — Papa Doo Run Run
Easily the most wholesome Santa Cruz song we’ve discovered thus far, “Seacliff Tonight” documents an evening date from the point of view of broke Cabrillo College student. In the tune, Papa Doo Run Run, which started as a surf rock tribute band, drenches lyrics with Beach Boys-esque harmonies that reverberate with the sensation of suntans and lying down by the crashing waves.
“Santa Cruz” — The Vaughns
A lot of bands that aren’t from here seem to unfairly pick on Santa Cruz out of sheer jealousy; surf and sun, in particular, seem to inspire vicious fits. But New Jersey rockers the Vaughns do the opposite on this smart and subversive gem from earlier this year. The song questions whether it’s better for love to burn out or fade away, and vocalist Anna Lies concludes that rather than the reckless highs and lows of wild affairs, she’ll take consistency and warmth. Thus Santa Cruz becomes a metaphor for emotion itself: “What’s love? What’s love? Santa Cruz … I don’t need the seasons, I’ve got love.” That is just cool. SP
Lastly, for your listening pleasure, here’s a playlist of our original 20 best songs about Santa Cruz. Enoy!
Update 12/27/17 9:50 p.m.: Updated to include Steve Palopoli’s contributions.