Everybody Had an Ocean
A nonfiction narrative

Chicago Review Press, 2017

Los Angeles in the 1960s gave the world some of the greatest music in rock ‘n’ roll history: “California Dreamin'” by the Mamas and the Papas, “Mr. Tambourine Man” by the Byrds, and “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys, a song that magnificently summarized the joy and beauty of the era in three and a half minutes.

Click on the book cover to order! Hours of reading enjoyment await!

But there was a dark flip side to the fun fun fun of the music, a nexus between naive young musicians and the hangers-on who exploited the decade’s peace, love, and flowers ethos, all fueled by sex, drugs, and overnight success.

One surf music superstar unwittingly subsidized the kidnapping of Frank Sinatra Jr. The transplanted Texas singer Bobby Fuller might have been murdered by the Mob in what is still an unsolved case. And after hearing Charlie Manson sing, Neil Young recommended him to the president of Warner Bros. Records.

Manson’s ultimate rejection by the music industry likely led to the infamous murders that shocked a nation.

Everybody Had an Ocean chronicles the migration of the rock ‘n’ roll business to Southern California and how the artists flourished there.

Read ‘Brothers,’ the preface to Everybody Had an Ocean
Read ‘Charles Manson and the American Dream’ from The Conversation
Listen to my Academic Minute commentary for Inside Higher Ed
Listen to my appearance on the ‘Booked on Rock’ podcast with Eric Senich.

Listen to Jim Shanahan, founding dean of the Media School at my beloved alma mater, Indiana University, talk to me about the book for the ‘Through the Gates’ podcast. Click on the image to the northwest of this sentence.


“Combining biography, history and sociology, McKeen paints an accurate and detailed portrait of an industry and a culture with a decidedly southern California bent.” —Houston Press

Everybody Had an Ocean is a fascinating, hypnotic look at the underside of the California dream. With smooth prose and keen reporting, William McKeen peels back the facade of peace and love and thoroughly examines the dark heart behind a generation of music. This is binge reading at its best.” —Michael Connelly

Backstage at a Beach Boys concert, December 6, 1973, Charleston, Illinois.  Photo by the late, great Ron Smith. That was the first of many Beach Boys shows and interviews in the mid-1970s. I wrote a story of that first show titled, oddly enough, ‘Everybody Had an Ocean,’ that was scheduled to be printed January 6, 1974, in the Sunday magazine of the Courier-Tribune in Bloomington, Indiana. Unfortunately, that newspaper went out of business on December 27, 1973. I wish I still had a copy of my story. It was pretty good.

“Excellent social history ….” “an indispensible account of a time of beauty and terror.” —Kirkus Reviews [starred review]

“Interesting and provocative …. McKeen’s book makes for good reading.” — Los Angeles Review of Books [Click here for the complete review]

“William McKeen’s Everybody Had an Ocean brilliantly illuminates the day-glo rise of Los Angeles as a counterculture Mecca. The back pages of high-octane rock ‘n’ roll history are ably explored by McKeen. And once again, the Beach Boys reign supreme.” — Douglas Brinkley, author of Cronkite

“People say the sixties died at Altamont, but William McKeen makes a compelling case that it was really Charlie Manson who brought down the flowered curtain. Everybody Had an Ocean sets a generation’s soundtrack to the improbable true tale of a scrawny career thief who befriended a Beach Boy, almost got himself a record deal, and then unleashed a spacey band of murderers on Los Angeles. Few novelists could dream up such a plot.” — Carl Hiaasen, author of Razor Girl and Tourist Season

Judy Collins whispers in the ear of Stephen Stills. He’d left Buffalo Springfield by 1968 and was content to be sideman and eventual lover for Collins. Nearly 50 years later, they renewed their musical collaboration.

“William McKeen’s Everybody Had an Ocean offers a detailed snapshot of the creative fertility, debauchery, and importance of a signal moment in pop music history. Highly recommended!”
Charles L. Granata, author of Wouldn’t It Be Nice

“A widescreen, meticulously researched account of how Los Angeles—the seedbed of surf pop and folk rock—became the epicenter of American music in the 1960s. McKeen follows the thread from the Beach Boys’ sunny innocence to Manson’s noir horrors—via Phil Spector, Jim Morrison, and a supporting cast of hundreds—and brings the music of the City of Angels brilliantly to life.” —Barney Hoskyns, author of Waiting for the Sun and Hotel California