California Über Alles

My dad had a friend called Fred, a builder who had quite literally rebuilt the living room of his remote farmhouse around a massive pair of concrete speakers under his floor*.  I shit you not.  Fred, like my father, a hippy of the old school, I can remember being really into Camel, The Pink Fairies and Spirit; I heard all of these for the first time at his house in the hills**.  For some reason I remember one evening it was just me, aged about 13 and my dad there and he played us a new LP he’d got – warning me I might want to stand back a bit as he fired up his amp and proceeded to play Randy California Restless at us, at something approaching full volume.

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Having never seen a hard rock band live at that point, I had never experienced anything like it.  I could feel the volume in my stomach.  There have only been a handful of times in the 34 years since that I have felt louder PA systems than Fred’s home speakers.  I was given some homemade wine and I felt duly inducted into a new adult male world.  The music was devastating, I can still remember the sensation of hearing last track ‘Childhood’s End’ for the first time – the sheer weight of it.

I taped my dad’s copy putting Bryan Adams on the other side of the C90, creating a potent Restless / Reckless combo.  As happens when you only have a handful of your own tapes I played it to death, I couldn’t get any of my friends into it though, I do remember contemplating punching one guy who told me it was just ‘old music’ and that Stryper were much heavier and better; prick.*^ As you can see, I’m not one to harbour grudges at all.  Nope, no grudges from 32 years ago here; none at all Andy.

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But I digress.  I was reunited with Restless a few years ago and I must admit I was a bit loathe to play it, just in case it didn’t live up to my memories of it.  I get easily hung up on stuff like that; prick.

I really need not have worried.  And I write that having just air guitared my way all the through ‘Childhood’s End’ for the second time tonight, it probably won’t be the last time tonight either.

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I shan’t pretend to be remotely objective about anything here but I really don’t think there’s a single duff moment on Restless.  Okay, there are some sonic touches here and there that would enable me to date it back to 1985 if I was hearing it for the first time tonight and there are a couple of tunes here where the guitar sound is better than the songcraft.  But you know what? rock.

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It seems like such a shame that Restless never caught the break it deserved, it should be so much better known than it is today.  Hell, Randy California should be too – Spirit notwithstanding.

Just crank up ‘Second Child’ as a case in point and luxuriate in that ‘eavy sound:

I can hear Purple in that one today, but I was a couple of years away from Gillan and chums then.  Or slip on the opener ‘Run To Your Lover’ which is just a great commercial sounding rocker to my tired old ears at least and one which I was able to air guitar my way through note perfect even after all these years without hearing it.

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So many highlights for me here:

  • Jack Rabbit:  There’s a fragility to California’s voice here I love and the drumming from Preston Heyman is particularly great on this one.  The way it builds to a climax is perfect.
  • Shane:  Just a great aggressive hard rocker.  I named a cat after this song.
  • One Man’s Heaven:  That guitar intro.  It just smokes.
  • Battlemarch Of The Overlords:  Come on! Even if it didn’t have oodles of blistering hot fretwork this would be on the winner’s podium just for the title alone.

The band assembled for Restless need due credit too, for the bulk of the sessions it was Curley Smith on drums, Neil Murray on bass^^ and Adrian Lee on keys.  There are some other players too, Ed Cassidy, Preston Heyman, Joe Leeway and Neal Doughty to name a few.  For the 13-year-old me they were all there solely to service Randy’s blistering guitar breaks.  Which totally ignores the fact that the man was such a complete player, the likes of ‘Camelot’ show a lovely gentle touch.

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My copy is a special ultra hyper mega rare copy missing the label on Side 1. Either that or the factory screwed it up.

Restless really is another one of Proust’s hard rocking madeleines for me.  One note and I’m right back there in a remote Welsh farmhouse, at the back of the room, the taste of elderflower wine on my lips, a rising unfamiliar heat from the alcohol in me, the childish thrill of being invited to participate in something pretty grown up and that music, soaring and swooping around and through me.  Special times, special music, special guy.

RIP Mr California, long live your music.

873 Down.

*it was something to do with valves and the curve of the polished concrete that created the vast sound.  I’m a bit hazy about the precise details; I’m not a very hi-fi person.

**and Fred was kind enough to make me a mix tape heavily featuring all of them.

*^regrets I’ve had a few, and it is true what the Butthole Surfers say, it is better to regret something you have done, than something you haven’t.  I didn’t and I should have.

^^‘appears courtesy of Whitesnake’ it says on the inner sleeve, the first time I had ever heard of that particular serpent.


37 thoughts on “California Über Alles


    I know this name but not the album… but now I wanna. Also that stereo system of Fred’s sounds brilliant. Livin’ the dream!

    I also applaud your Restless/Reckless play.

    1. Yayy! Thank you for all – I wish I could revisit it now as an adult to test it on some of my favourites – talk about Shake Your Foundations. I own tracks now that would liquify ’em.

  2. Thank Fred for spinning something good that stayed with you. Out of all the choices it could have been disastrous for your musical journey. I’ll leave you to that one. “You might want to stand back a bit”. No wonder you were hooked. That’s beautiful.

      1. It’s not a high powered engine, not an explosive device, or a gas guzzling, metal spewing, steel grinding machine. It’s 1537’s mind blowing, head expanding, ear splitting, batten down the hatches music takes “So You May Want To Stand Back”. That works!

  3. A living room built around concrete speakers within the floor, eh? Curious… *note to self: investigate*

    Anyhoo, I really enjoyed this one. I don’t have the album, but I really should. I have Euro-American, which is pretty decent if not very good.

    As for Randy, he was a helluva player… should be considered among the very elite, if you ask me.

    1. They were awesome, it was built to show their capabilities, he wanted to make bespoke ones for wealthy muso dudes thereafter. It was something to do with the shaping and polishing of the concrete.

      This is a great one, 1000 times better than Euro American (which I haven’t heard in 30+ years).

      1. Dang. I’m not a rich muso dude, so I’m gonna hit up B&Q.

        1000 times better, eh? I was kinda hoping for a bit more from it.

    1. Thanks Bruce, Peter Gabriel was interested in Fred making some studio speakers for him at one brief point, never quite materialised.

      It burned its way in to my psyche and never really got around to leaving, it just lay dormant for decades though.

  4. Have not heard this but coincidentally have just this week found and been restlessly spinning a copy of the 1975 Son of Spirit album — which I had as a teen but somehow lost — and have been likewise believing Randy should be much better known than he is today. This one goes on the list.

  5. What a listening context to have as your introduction to this one!
    I appreciate the trepidation about revisiting something with such a vivid memory attached to it, glad to read your worries were unfounded.
    And I love reckless, so a combo with restless does indeed sound potent!

  6. Cool – never heard this, so it was interesting – I like those first four Spirit albums and California’s solo debut, but I’ve never explored further. He’s one of my favourite guitarists.

    1. Hiya, massively underrated player too. If Spirit are known at all these days it tends to be for ‘that song Pink sampled’ (snarls). If you fancy some hard rock kicks it’s a real doozy.

      1. I didn’t know that about the Pink sample – kind of cool that someone knew enough rock music to track down that song. They’re also known for the ‘Stairway To Heaven’/’Taurus’ lawsuit.

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