LOS ANGELES — Think of the music that defines Los Angeles and often three words float to the surface: The Beach Boys.
Which is why The Grammy Museum's new exhibition, "Trouble in Paradise: Music and Los Angeles 1945-1975," has carefully chosen not to overemphasize the group that helped cement LA's reputation as the Land of the Endless Summer, filled with sandy beaches, tricked-out automobiles and beautiful women. Think such songs as Surfin' USA," ''Little Deuce Coupe" and "California Girls."
"A lot of people, especially folks not from Los Angeles, might come in thinking, 'OK, I'll learn about the Doors and I'm going to learn about the Beach Boys. Which you will," says Josh Kun, who curated the exhibit running through June 3.
But there's also a much richer, more diverse and sometimes much darker view of Los Angeles that is reflected in its music during those years, and that is what Kun really set out to show.
"My hope is that people come away with a more nuanced and detailed view of just how much was going on in Los Angeles during those years," he said.
In addition to nurturing the Beach Boys, LA was the place Sam Cooke came to in 1963 to record his soulful Civil Rights anthem "A Change is Gonna Come" at the famous RCA Building. That same year, Phil Spector was across town at Gold Star Studios building his Wall of Sound with the Ronettes' song "Be My Baby."
A few years later, James Brown would arrive to record "Say it Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud."
With a vibrant jazz and R&B scene on the city's largely black South Side blossoming after World War II, with Chicano-rock fusion developing on the East Side a few years later, and with the likes of musicians from Joni Mitchell to Frank Zappa filling up every nook and cranny of the city's Laurel Canyon area in the late 1960s, there seemed to be a different style of music taking form every few months.
"Every day, just walking home from school was an adventure for me," recalls Willie Garcia, who grew up on the South Side, where he would see everyone from Cab Calloway to Count Basie arriving in his neighborhood for a show.
A few years later, Garcia would be doing shows himself, over on the East Side, where he would gain fame as Little Willie G, front man for the group Thee Midniters.
With songs like "Land of a Thousand Dances" and "Chicano Power," his group would become arguably the second-most influential band, behind Los Lobos, to emerge from largely Hispanic East LA
Meanwhile, in the northeast San Fernando Valley, a teenager who had shortened his name from Richard Valenzuela to Ritchie Valens would plug in his electric guitar and, reading off a handwritten lyric sheet provided by his grandmother, turn a traditional Mexican folk song called "La Bamba" into one of rock music's enduring classics.
To capture all of those moments and more, "Trouble in Paradise" takes visitors along a timeline that includes not only hundreds of photographs, posters, guitars, stage costumes and other memorabilia, but also the sights and sounds of the era itself.
Stopping around 1960, for example, a visitor can slip on a pair of headphones at one of several listening stations and hear Dick Dale, the king of the surf guitar, perform an ear-rattling version of "Let's Go Trippin'" in all its screaming guitar chords and crashing drum cymbals glory.
And at the center of the exhibit is a gleaming, refurbished 1970s-era jukebox that has been loaded with nearly 100 digital recordings, everything from Rosie and the Originals' "Angel Baby" to the Doors' "Light My Fire."
Video screens, meanwhile, show the Righteous Brothers, Shelly Manne and, yes, the Beach Boys.
After clowning around with comedian Jack Benny during a 1965 TV appearance, the usually shy Brian Wilson and his group perform "California Girls," while surrounded by a gaggle of bikini-clad dancers.
For those who prefer their music radio style, there's a section containing a car's innards (complete with tuck-and-roll upholstery) and the sounds of cruising songs like War's "Lowrider." There's also a mountain of radio memorabilia from the legendary Art Laboe, who is credited as perhaps LA's first disc jockey to regularly play rock 'n' roll.
"I was sort of like a surfer catching a wave," says the 86-year-old Laboe, noting it was the teenagers who attended his weekend dance shows in the 1950s who told him they would rather hear stuff by East LA's Cannibal and the Headhunters and South LA's the Penguins than Frank Sinatra or Doris Day.
"I put it on in the afternoons and the kids went crazy," recalled Laboe, who still hosts a nightly syndicated show through the Internet's iheart.com website.
During those early years, and well into the 1960s, much of the city was intensely segregated. While that may have contributed to the wide array of music that developed here, it also led to numerous confrontations with authorities.
Thus the words "Trouble in Paradise," explained Kun, a professor at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication whose expertise is the region's pop culture history.
Zappa's song "Trouble Every Day" was inspired by the deadly race riots that raged through the city's largely black Watts section in the summer of 1965. The Buffalo Springfield's Stephen Stills wrote "For What It's Worth," with its famous lyrics "Look children, what's that sound? Everybody watch what's goin' down," after witnessing the Sunset Strip riots erupt the next year when police attempted to drive teenagers from Hollywood's music clubs by cracking down on the city's 10 p.m. youth curfew. Thee Midniters' "Chicano Power" was inspired by a civil rights movement that, before it concluded, resulted in the East LA riots of 1970.
Finally, for whatever reason, there was a quiet acceptance from LA's music scene that, despite all the changes that had occurred, there would likely always be trouble in paradise.
One of the last exhibits in the show features Jackson Browne's 1974 song "Before the Deluge." Its lyrics include these words: "And in the end they traded their tired wings, for the resignation that living brings."Comment on this story