February 9

A Taste of Folk Rock: “California Dreamin’”

A Taste of Folk Rock: “California Dreamin'” 1

The Mamas and The Papas/Fanart.tv

“Folk rock” is a music genre combining elements of folk music and rock music. In its earliest and narrowest sense, the term referred to a genre that arose in the United States and the United Kingdom around the mid-1960s. Further, the genre emerged from bands such as the Beatles, the Searchers, and the Animals in the UK, and Bob Dylan and the Byrds in the US, who played traditional folk music and songs with rock instrumentation. 

One of the most popular folk rocks that made it in the 60’s is California Dreamin’ by The Mamas and The Papas. “California Dreamin'” is a song written by John Phillips and Michelle Phillips and was first recorded by Barry McGuire. However, the best-known version is by The Mamas & the Papas, who sang backup on the original version and released as a single in 1965. To note, 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.

Moreover, the song became a signpost of the California Myth and the arrival of the nascent counterculture era.

Furthermore, “California Dreamin’ ” was certified as a Gold Record (single) by the RIAA in June 1966. Then, it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2001.

Dreamin’ about California

The song was written in 1963 while John Phillips and Michelle Phillips were living in New York City.

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'” with members of the session band The Wrecking Crew on McGuire’s album This Precious Time.

In addition, The Mamas & 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 performed the guitar introduction. Also, McGuire’s original vocal can be briefly heard on the left channel at the beginning of the record, having not been completely wiped.

Moreover, when they released the single in late 1965, it was not an immediate breakthrough. After gaining little attention 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 number 4 in March on both the Billboard Hot 100. It lasted 17 weeks.

“California Dreamin'” was the number 1 single of 1966 in Billboard and tied for number 1 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 Black Label commercial in 1997, eventually peaking at number 9 there.

Here are the lyrics of the song.

All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray.
I’ve been for a walk on a winter’s day.
I’d be safe and warm if I was in L.A.;
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.

Stopped in to a church I passed along the way.
Well I got down on my knees and I pretend to pray.
You know the preacher liked the cold;
He knows I’m gonna stay.
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.

All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray.
I’ve been for a walk on a winter’s day.
If I didn’t tell her I could leave today;
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.

Watch The Mamas and The Papas perform California Dreamin’.

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California Dreamin', The Mamas and the Papas

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