Hope you’re enjoying this trek down memory lane.
“California Dreamin'” is a song written by John Phillips and Michelle Phillips and first recorded by The Mamas & the Papas, released as a single in 1965. The song is #89 in Rolling Stone ’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. The lyrics of the song express the narrator’s longing for the warmth of Los Angeles during a cold winter in New York City.
The song became a signpost of the arrival of the nascent counterculture era.
“California Dreamin’ ” was certified as a Gold Record (single) by the RIAA in June 1966 and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2001.
The song was written in 1963 while John Phillips and Michelle Phillips were living in New York. He dreamed about the song and woke her up to help him write it. At the time, John and Michelle Phillips were members of the folk group “The New Journeymen”, which evolved into The Mamas & 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'” 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 and an alto flute solo by Bud Shank. P. F. Sloan did the guitar introduction. McGuire’s original vocal can be briefly heard on the left channel at the beginning of the record, having not been completely wiped.
The single was released in late 1965 but was not an immediate breakthrough. After gaining little attention in Los Angeles upon its release, Michelle Phillips remembers that it took a radio station in Boston to break the song nationwide. After making its chart debut in January 1966, the song peaked at #4 in March on both the Hot 100, lasting 17 weeks, and Cashbox, lasting 20 weeks. Sharply dividing the popular music market that month, rivals “California Dreamin'” and “Ballad of the Green Berets” eventually tied for the #1 record of 1966, according to Cashbox. “California Dreamin'” also reached #23 on the UK charts.
Some high profile artists who have recorded this song include R.E.M., The Beach Boys, America (two versions), Wes Montgomery, Gary Hoey, Dead Artist Syndrome, José Feliciano (B-side on his 1968 hit single Light My Fire), The Carpenters, Baby Huey & the Babysitters, the Four Tops, Melanie, Bobby Womack, Queen Latifah, The Seekers, George Benson, Hugh Masekela, Eddie Hazel, Raquel Welch, Benn Jordan, Wilson Phillips, Dik Dik and John Phillips without The Mamas & the Papas.
MAMAS & THE PAPAS