California Dreamin'

"California Dreamin'" is a song written by John Phillips and Michelle Phillips and was first recorded by Barry McGuire.[3] However, the best-known version is by the Mamas and the Papas, who sang backup on the original version and released it as a single in 1965. The song is No. 89 in Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.[4] The lyrics of the song express the narrator's longing for the warmth of Los Angeles during a cold winter in New York City.

"California Dreamin'"
Single by The Mamas and the Papas
from the album If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears
B-side"Somebody Groovy"
ReleasedDecember 8, 1965
FormatVinyl record (7") 45 RPM
RecordedNovember 4, 1965, Western Recorders, Hollywood
LabelDunhill Records
Songwriter(s)John Phillips, Michelle Phillips
Producer(s)Lou Adler
The Mamas and the Papas singles chronology
"Go Where You Wanna Go"
"California Dreamin'"
"Monday, Monday"

The song became a signpost of the California Sound,[5] heralding the arrival of the nascent counterculture era.[6][7]

"California Dreamin'" was certified as a Gold Record (single) by the Recording Industry Association of America in June 1966[8] and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2001.[9]


The song was written in 1963 while John Phillips and Michelle Phillips were living in New York City.[10] He dreamed about the song and woke her up to help him write it.[11][12] 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[13] on McGuire's album This Precious Time. The Mamas and the Papas then recorded their own version using the same instrumental and backing vocal tracks, to which they added new vocals[14] and an alto flute solo by Bud Shank. The guitar introduction was performed by P. F. Sloan.[15] McGuire's original vocal can be briefly heard on the left channel at the beginning of the record, having not been completely erased.[16]

The single was released in late 1965 but was not an immediate breakthrough. After gaining little attention in Los Angeles upon its release, a radio station in Boston was the catalyst to break the song nationwide.[17] After making its chart debut in January 1966,[18] the song peaked at No. 4 in March on both the Billboard Hot 100, lasting 17 weeks, and Cashbox, lasting 20 weeks.[19] California Dreamin' was the number one single in Billboard's Year End Hot 100 records for 1966 [20] and tied for number one with "Ballad of the Green Berets" in Cashbox. California Dreamin' also 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 there.[21]

The song is repeatedly used in the 1994 Hong Kong film Chungking Express as a central plot point.[22]

Michelle Phillips wrote the lyrics, "Well, I got down on my knees, and I pretend to pray," but Cass Elliot had been singing "I began to pray" until corrected by Phillips when they were touring. She sang "began" on the original recording.[23]

Other versions

America version

"California Dreamin'"
Single by America
from the album
California Dreaming soundtrack
B-side"See It My Way" (by F.D.R.)
ReleasedMarch 1979
RecordedStudio 55 (Hollywood) 1978
Genresoft rock
LabelAmerican International
Songwriter(s)John Phillips, Michelle Phillips
Producer(s)Dewey Bunnell, Gerry Beckley
America singles chronology
"Don't Cry Baby"
"California Dreamin'"
"Only Game in Town"

In the spring of 1979 the band America reached No.56 on the Billboard Hot 100 with their remake of "California Dreamin'" which was the first studio recording by America as the duo of Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell without third founding member Dan Peek, who had departed the group in 1977. Bunnell – who sang lead – and Beckley – who sang background – self-produced the track which featured America's touring musicians: David Dickey, drummer Willie Leacox, guitarist Michael Woods, percussionist Tom Walsh, and Jim Calire who played keyboards and also saxophone.[24][25]

America had performed "California Dreamin'" at least on occasion in concert as early as 1974,[26] "California Dreamin'" being a sentimental favorite of the band's members having been a setlist staple of the cover band in which all three had performed while London Central High School students in the late 1960s.[27][28][29][30] The recording of "California Dreamin'" by America was specifically made for to play under the closing credits of the American International Pictures (AIP) movie release California Dreaming[31] which had been shot in the final months of 1977 for release in the summer of 1978 although the movie would in fact be held back from wide release until 16 March 1979[32] with America recording the song "California Dreamin'" in the autumn of 1978:[33] Beckley and Bunnell agreed to record the song after being (at least partially) shown the movie – (Gerry Beckley quote:) "We liked what we saw"[25] – and the track was recorded at Studio 55 (Hollywood): (Gerry Beckley quote:)"We did it more as a rock thing [compared to the original], [with] a full sound but reliant on the harmonies."[25]

The track was originally scheduled for a 15 January 1979 release[33] which was delayed until after AIP's February 1979 pacting with Casablanca Records to distribute the California Dreaming soundtrack, Casablanca having recently managed to bolster the modest success of the film Thank God It's Friday through a hit soundtrack album:[34][35] the recording of "California Dreamin'" by America was therefore given parallel release with the movie, another soundtrack item: "See It My Way" by session group F.D.R., serving as B-side. Both the America single and (in April 1978) the soundtrack album were issued by AIP on its own label (distributed by Casablanca): outside the US and Canada, Casablanca acted as label of release.

By the spring of 1979 America were involved in sessions for their Capitol Records debut album Silent Letter[36] and were either unable or uninterested in promoting their version of "California Dreamin'" which single proved unable to buoy its parent film's faltering box office take. However the publicity inherent in the film's release was evidently enough to afford minor hit status to America's soundtrack item (heard in the film's trailer, America's "California Dreamin'" was also cited in the movie's poster), and despite its lowly chart peak America's "California Dreamin'" remake would be more successful than any of their first five Capitol single releases none of which ranked in the Hot 100 (the band's sixth Capitol single release: "You Can Do Magic", would in 1982 afford the band a sole latterday Top Ten hit).[37][38]

"California Dreamin'" continued to be featured in America's live gigs eventually being established as a mandatory America concert title.[39] A live performance of the song by America is featured on In Concert the band's 1996 album release of a 1982 live gig.[40] The band's 1978 recording has been included on the 2000 America retrospective box set Highway: 30 Years Of America[41] also being featured in 2001 on The Complete Greatest Hits.[42]

Beach Boys version

"California Dreamin'"
Single by The Beach Boys
from the album Made in U.S.A.
B-side"Lady Liberty"
RecordedMay 1986
Songwriter(s)John Phillips, Michelle Phillips
Producer(s)Terry Melcher
The Beach Boys singles chronology
"Rock 'n' Roll to the Rescue"
"California Dreamin'"
"Happy Endings"


The Beach Boys recorded "California Dreamin'" in 1986 for their greatest hits compilation Made in U.S.A.. It was produced by Terry Melcher and featured Roger McGuinn of The Byrds on 12-string guitar. Denny Doherty was on the East coast and declined; Cass Elliot had died in 1974. This version of the song was referenced in the lyrics of the Dead Milkmen's 1988 novelty hit "Punk Rock Girl".

Although the song only charted at a modest number 57 on the Billboard Hot 100, it reached No.8 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary.[43] and it was supported by a music video that saw heavy rotation on MTV. The video featured the Beach Boys along with John Phillips, Michelle Phillips and Roger McGuinn.


Credits sourced from Craig Slowinski and Andrew G. Doe.[44]

The Beach Boys

Additional musicians and production staff

unknown – bass, drums, acoustic lead guitar, saxophone, synthesizer

Freischwimmer version

A tropical house version by German DJ/remixer Freischwimmer was released in 2015. This version reached number one on the Billboard Dance Club Songs chart in its February 13, 2016 issue.[45][46] "Dreamin" had never before hit No. 1 on any ranking, making this version the first in its nearly 50-year history to reach the top spot on a Billboard chart.[47]

Lesser-known versions

Bobby Womack recorded a version of the song for his debut album Fly Me to the Moon in 1968. Released as a single who recall the 1968 Jose Feliciano arrangment, it reached number 43 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and number 20 on the Billboard Rhythm & Blues Singles chart.

The elaborate string version of "California Dreamin'" by Jose Feliciano serves as the opening track on the singer's 1968 album Feliciano! and the song is also featured in a key sequence in Quentin Tarantino's 2019 film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

In 1978, a disco version proved popular in European clubs for the Italian project Colorado, reaching 45 on the British charts,[48][49] and house cover versions have been released by DJ Sammy and Royal Gigolos.

The Liverpool folk quartet River City People recorded a version of "California Dreamin'" as a double A-sided single with "Carry the Blame" in 1990, reaching number 13 on the official UK top 40 singles chart, with the single also charting in Ireland (number 16).

In 2004, German punk techno group, Royal Gigolos, sampled the song on a track by the same name on their Musique Deluxe album. The song reached number 2 on the French charts.[50]

Sia recorded the song for the disaster film San Andreas. The song came out in May 2015 and was featured in the movie's trailers. The song reached the top 20 in Lebanon, peaking at No.14 and becoming a big airplay gainer there, position no. 92 on the UK Singles Chart, No.44 on the Scottish Singles Chart,[51] No.87 on the chart SNEP Singles Chart.[52]

Lee Moses recorded his version of the song for his 1971 album Time and Place.

Eddie Hazel, who played lead guitar with Parliament-Funkadelic, released his cover on his 1977 solo album Game, Dames and Guitar Thangs. An edited version was released as a single in the same year.

See also


  1. Dictionnaire des Musiciens: (Les Dictionnaires d'Universalis). Encyclopaedia Universalis. October 27, 2015. p. 3635. ISBN 978-2-85229-140-9.
  2. Fontenot, Robert (October 29, 2015). "What is Folk-Rock Music?". ThoughtCo. Retrieved March 12, 2017.
  3. Southern California Public Radio. "Take Two". Southern California Public Radio.
  4. "The RS 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on April 16, 2007. Retrieved April 6, 2012.
  5. Bisbort, Alan; Puterbaugh, Parke (2009). California Beaches: The Best Places to Swim, Play, Eat, and Stay. Avalon Travel. p. 172. ISBN 978-1-56691-614-1.
  6. "Eagles, Fleetwood Mac Selected for Hall of Fame | Music News". Rolling Stone. October 28, 1997. Retrieved February 3, 2014.
  7. Stamberg, Susan (July 8, 2002). "'California Dreamin,' Present at the Creation (Archived Radio Program)". NPR. Retrieved April 29, 2014.
  8. "California Dreamin'". The Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved July 11, 2014. The RIAA Database may require user input
  9. "California Dreamin'". The Recording Academy. Retrieved July 11, 2014. CALIFORNIA DREAMIN' The Mamas And The Papas Dunhill (1966) (Single) Inducted 2001
  10. "1995 Interview (5) - "California Dreaming" - Scott McKenzie".
  11. "TRIBUT Presents: Monday Night Blues". Monday Night Blues.
  12. "California Dreamin' by The Mamas & the Papas Songfacts".
  13. Hartman, Kent (2012). The Wrecking Crew. St. Martin's Griffin. pp. 261–263. ISBN 978-1-250-03046-7.
  14. "Show 33 - Revolt of the Fat Angel: American musicians respond to the British invaders. [Part 1]". The University of North Texas Digital Library. Retrieved April 6, 2012.
  15. Daily, Dan (July 1, 2004). "Classic Tracks: The Mamas & The Papas' "California Dreamin'"". Mix Magazine. Archived from the original on February 4, 2012. Retrieved April 6, 2012.
  16. Rock Family Trees, BBC, interview with McGuire, 1999. McGuire's original harmonica solo can also just be made out under the flute solo.
  17. "California Dreamin'". July 8, 2002. Archived from the original on February 18, 2011. Retrieved April 6, 2012.
  18. Sullivan, Steve (October 4, 2013). Encyclopedia of Great Popular Song Recordings. Scarecrow Press. pp. 483–. ISBN 978-0-8108-8296-6.
  19. Bronson, Fred (1988). The Billboard Book of Number One Hits (Paperback ed.). New York: Billboard Publications, Inc. p. 195. ISBN 0-8230-7545-1.
  20. "Year End Hot 100 records for 1966" Billboard December 24, 1966: 34
  21. Pringle, Hamish (2004). Celebrity Sells. Chichester UK: John Wiley & Sons Ltd. p. 36. ISBN 0-470-86850-3.
  22. Song And Vision No. 5: "California Dreamin'" and Chungking Express, Steven Hyden
  24. "La Bible de la Westcoast Music - Cool Night -".
  25. "Lyrics: California Dreamin'".
  26. "California Dreamin' by The Mamas & the Papas Song Statistics -".
  27. Peak, Dan (2004). An American Band: the America Story. Xulon Press. ISBN 1-594679-29-0.
  28. "Fans brave winter weather for America performance".
  29. Gaydos, Kristen. "America brings sounds of summer to casino show".
  30. "America Performs Hit 'A Horse With No Name'". November 14, 2017.
  31. Horn, Hal (August 24, 2011). "The Horn Section: Film Review: CALIFORNIA DREAMING (1979)".
  32. "AFI-Catalog".
  33. Detroit Free Press "Shirlebreties" by Shirley Eder 30 November 1978 p.17B
  34. Billboard Vol 91 #9 (3 Mar 1979) "Soundtrack lp for Casablanca" p. 19
  35. Harris, Larry (2009). And Party Every Day: the inside story of Casablanca Records. Milwaukee WI: Backbeat Books. ISBN 9781617133831.
  36. "Comprehensive History: America Revisited - Part 4".
  37. "America Songs ••• Top Songs / Chart Singles Discography ••• Music VF, US & UK hits charts".
  38. "America Discography - USA - 45cat".
  40. "King Biscuit Flower Hour - America - Songs, Reviews, Credits - AllMusic". AllMusic.
  41. "Highway: 30 Years of America - America - Songs, Reviews, Credits - AllMusic". AllMusic.
  42. "America - Biography, Albums, Streaming Links - AllMusic". AllMusic.
  43. "AllMusic 'Made in U.S.A' awards". AllMusic.
  44. "quick question..California Dreamin'".
  45. "Dance Songs: Top Dance Music Chart".
  46. Chart history for Freischwimmer from Billboard
  47. "'California Dreamin' Hits No. 1 After 50 Years, Thanks to Dance Remix" from Billboard (February 4, 2016)
  48. "Colorado (2): California Dreaming/Space Lady Love". Discogs. Retrieved September 8, 2012.
  49. "Colorado". The Official Charts Company. Retrieved September 8, 2012.
  50. "French Charts". Retrieved August 13, 2019.
  51. "Sia | The Official Charts Company". Official Charts Company. Retrieved May 24, 2015.
  52. " – Sia – California Dreamin'". Les classement single (in French). Retrieved May 25, 2015.
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