It's a song Mike McCaffrey hopes will help to brand Laguna Beach in popular music, and Friday morning at the edge of a parking lot on Ocean Avenue, it had its first-ever public performance.
With the driver's-side door of McCaffrey's black Ford Explorer open, the composer slipped a CD into the stereo and serenaded the audience — well, one reporter and one photographer — with a bouncy tune that sounded like a relic from the days of Irving Berlin. After an introduction of guitar, ukulele and swishing drums, a honey-smooth female voice began rhapsodizing about the charms of the seaside city: "Laguna, nestled by the sea / is softly calling you and me."
On the phrase "Laguuuuuna," which rises and falls delicately, McCaffrey pantomimed the motion of fingers on a guitar. "That's what I got at the beach," he explained.
The 79-year-old musician, who lives in town, had thought of the hook earlier this year while strumming next to the waves. In recent weeks, he finished the song — titled simply "Laguna" — and set up a recording session that features the voice of Laguna Beach High School junior Marlie Becker.
McCaffrey himself doesn't appear on the track, though he has more than cut his teeth as a performer: His combo, the Mike McCaffrey Trio, has recorded and played gigs for more than a decade. Still, his name appears as "composer" on the CDs of "Laguna," which he had personally pressed, and if one of them lands in the right hands, well, hello royalties.
For now, McCaffrey plans to give the song out for free. Two locations in town — Hobie Surf Shop and Sound Spectrum Music & Memorabilia — have agreed to stock copies, and he has enlisted a friend to compile a YouTube video, still in the works, featuring the song playing over a series of photos the composer took around Laguna.
Whitney Rose, the manager of Hobie, said she was won over by the song when McCaffrey visited the store and played it for her.
"I think everyone should come down and grab a copy," she said. "He did a really nice job with the song."
Sound Spectrum owner Jim Otto said he would also hand out the song — but only to people who request it or whose tastes appear to lean toward Great American Songbook balladry.
"We'll be selective," he said. "We'll pick people who we think would like it. We'll play it in the store, and people who are interested will get a copy."
Considering some of the songs that have captured the flavor of cities — "New York, New York," "Sweet Home Chicago" — it's not hard to imagine a ballad like McCaffrey's having the same association with Laguna, even if the city is much smaller than those cultural hubs in the East.
Has the city ever had an official song? According to Laguna City Clerk Lisette Chel, it may have come close once. In 1972, the song "In Laguna" by George Russell, Jay Livingston and Ray Evans placed first in the Laguna Beach Municipal Song Contest, and City Council records state that Russell dreamed of the tune being officially adopted by the city.
In 2009, the city bestowed a proclamation honoring Russell for the song, which opens with the lyrics "In Laguna, as waves were rolling / I saw you strolling along the sand / Brown arms and sun-kissed shoulders / made travel folders seem oh so bland." Still, Chel couldn't find a record of Laguna making the song its anthem.
"There's not something that actually declares it," she said.
Perhaps a compilation album of Laguna-themed tunes will be put together someday. In the meantime, if McCaffrey's tune takes off, Marlie — who joined the project on a teacher's recommendation — may be the voice many listeners associate with the city.
After getting the go-ahead, Marlie practiced "Laguna" for a few weeks and then recorded her vocal in three takes. It was a new experience for the 15-year-old, who had never been in a studio before. She was happy with the final product, though.
"I think it's really cute," Marlie said. "I like the arrangement. It's really '40s, and it makes you want to dance."