California Dreamin'


June 27, 2024

This month I’m focusing on Rock Songs of the 60s.

Today our song is:  California Dreamin'

Wikipedia tells us this about the song:

The song was written in 1963 while John Phillips and Michelle Phillips were living in New York City during a particularly cold winter, and the latter was missing sunny California. John would work on compositions late at night and brought Michelle the first verse one morning. At the time, John and Michelle Phillips were members of the folk group the New Journeymen, which evolved into the Mamas and the Papas.

They earned their first record contract after being introduced to Lou Adler, the head of Dunhill Records, by Barry McGuire. In thanks to Adler, they sang the backing vocals to "California Dreamin'", with members of the session band The Wrecking Crew, on McGuire's album This Precious Time. Adler, impressed with the Mamas and the Papas, then had the lead vocal track re-recorded with Denny Doherty singing, but paired with the same instrumental and backing vocal tracks, and an alto flute solo by Bud Shank, reportedly improvised. The guitar introduction was performed by P. F. Sloan. McGuire's original vocal can be briefly heard on the left channel at the beginning of the record, having not been completely erased.

The single was released in late 1965 but was not an immediate breakthrough. After gaining little attention in Los Angeles, a radio station in Boston was the catalyst to break the song nationwide. After making its chart debut in January 1966, the song peaked at No. 4 in March on both the Billboard Hot 100, lasting 17 weeks, and Cashbox, lasting 20 weeks. "California Dreamin'" was the top single on the Billboard end-of-the-year survey for 1966. As well, it tied for #1 on the Cashbox end-of-the-year survey with SSgt. Barry Sadler's "Ballad of the Green Berets".

"California Dreamin'" reached number 23 on the UK charts upon its original release, and re-charted after its use in a Carling Premier commercial in 1997, peaking at number nine. Billboard described the song as having "a fascinating new sound with well written commercial material" and praised Lou Adler's production." Cash Box described it as a "medium-paced, rhythmic shufflin' romantic woeser [sic] with a plaintive, lyrical undercurrent."

The song is used repeatedly in the 1994 Hong Kong film Chungking Express as a central plot point and a cover by the Beach Boys was used on season 4 of Stranger Things.

Michelle Phillips wrote the lyrics, "Well, I got down on my knees, and I pretend to pray," but Cass Elliot had sung "began" on the original recording and had continued doing so on tour until corrected by Phillips.



  1. It would be a hit our in this area due to the winter! We would all ge dreaming of a summer's day. This is so iconic and they harmonize so perfectly.

  2. Didn't realize Bud Shank played on thisr. He's a favorite...


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