Twentieth-century California, and especially Los Angeles, takes part of its allure from its disregard of the ninth and tenth commandments: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor thy neighbour’s goods. L.A. is all about the pleasures of the flesh and rampant capitalism.

Twentieth-century California, and especially Los Angeles, takes part of its allure from its disregard of the ninth and tenth commandments: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor thy neighbour’s goods. L.A. is all about the pleasures of the flesh and rampant capitalism.

In the 1960s these temptations were introduced to the teenagers of the world by the fresh-faced songs of Jan and Dean and the Beach Boys: seemingly innocent pop songs about perpetual sunshine, white-sand beaches and surfing (not on the internet), bronzed blonds in bikinis ("two girls for every boy"), fast cars and fun, fun, fun.

The Associated Press files</p><p>The Beach Boys, seen here in 1966 (from left: Al Jardine, Mike Love, Dennis Wilson, Brian Wilson and Carl Wilson), were linked to California surf culture, despite the fact they didn’t surf.</p>

The Associated Press files

The Beach Boys, seen here in 1966 (from left: Al Jardine, Mike Love, Dennis Wilson, Brian Wilson and Carl Wilson), were linked to California surf culture, despite the fact they didn’t surf.

What teenager wouldn’t covet that? The Mamas and the Papas song California Dreamin’ captured it perfectly.

Joel Selvin tells the story of the origins of this music-made L.A. myth in his new book Hollywood Eden. According to Selvin, it all goes back to the class of 1958 at University High School just north of famed Santa Monica Boulevard in L.A.

A music critic for 35 years with several other pop-music histories to his credit (Here Comes the Night, Altamont), Selvin tells this inside story as if he were right there. It’s brisk, it’s anecdotal, it’s gossipy.

Selvin begins his account in the Uni shower room, where an exuberant Jan Berry leads a bunch of naked football players in a rousing version of Get a Job.

Jan and his buddies soon form a band and have a minor local hit recorded in his garage. The band breaks up, Jan joins with another Uni grad, Dean Torrence, and the rest, as they say, is music history. Jan and Dean, hit-makers of The Little Old Lady from Pasadena, Dead Man’s Curve and many others are, almost overnight, a top-pop sensation.

The other central figures in this story are the Beach Boys. Led by troubled genius Brian Wilson, his brothers and friends, including another Uni grad, Bruce Johnston, the Beach Boys’ ascendancy is even more meteoric than Jan and Dean’s. Although none of them actually surfed, they established surfing as a metaphor and had a string of memorable hits, among them: Surfin’ USA, I Get Around, California Girls, Good Vibrations and Help Me, Rhonda.

These musicians were aided by some fast-talking, equally young promoters and producers — Lou Adler, Phil Spector, Terry Melcher — all of them learning on the fly with the aid of phone-booth offices, phony credentials, trumped-up connections and teenage bravado. Together they created a new, unique "California sound," featuring falsetto-topped harmonies, deep reverb and youthful enthusiasms.

Hollywood Eden is hardly a rags-to-riches story. The senior prom of the Uni class of 1958 was highlighted by performances by Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr., because graduate Nancy Sinatra invited her father. Nancy and other California musicians do get mentioned, briefly: Herb Alpert, Sandy Nelson (Drum Beat), Ike and Tina Turner, the Byrds. But even the Mamas and the Papas, not being from Uni, get short shrift.

And there’s nothing at all about other L.A. bands of that era: the Doors, the Monkees, Buffalo Springfield, Frank Zappa and the Turtles, to name only a few. And the wider pop music scene is completely neglected. Motown, a powerhouse in the 1960s, gets no mention at all. The Beatles, Rolling Stones and other British-invasion bands only appear as background visitors.

And that’s both the strength and the weakness of Hollywood Eden. It has a captivating but limited focus and scope, covering only the years 1958 to 1966 and ending with Jan Berry’s near-fatal car accident and the release of the genre-busting Pet Sounds album by the Beach Boys.

Hollywood Eden is a lively and well-researched book with a special appeal for nostalgic baby boomers and beginning garage bands who might benefit from reading about how it all happened.

Gene Walz has heard that many 1960s singers with falsetto voices now have a false set o’ teeth.