California Dreaming – Songs Inspired by the Golden State

California is one of those places that is in some ways more of a state of mind than a state. It is known around the world thanks to its size, impact, influence and . . . Hollywood.

Personally, I have always dug California and there are times I wish I had grown up there. But, I’m an East Coast guy and for one reason or other never moved out there. I suppose if I count all the times I’ve visited for business or personal reasons, I probably have spent, collectively, no more than a couple of months out there over a period of 30 years.

But to the point of this blog, some great, great music has come out of Cali and I wanted to use this post to share a few. Some of these tunes seem like they’re less about California per se but use it more as a backdrop for a mood.

First up, the song that inspired this post by Quicksilver Messenger Serviee. They are (still around I guess) a band that formed in San Francisco in 1965. (What I wouldn’t have given to be in SF during that period).

Never quite as successful or influential as the Dead or the Airplance, nevertheless they had some hits and their albums sold well. Music historian Colin Larkin wrote: “Of all the bands that came out of the San Francisco area during the late ’60s, Quicksilver typified most of the style, attitude and sound of that era.”

And does any song make you feel California as much as “Fresh Air,” a hit way back in 1970?

I love you, yes I do
I love you, God knows I do
Oh, Have another hit of sweet California Sunshine
Oh, Have another hit–

British blues legend John Mayall is about as far from being a Californian as one can be. I was privileged to see him perform a few years ago. He has since retired and if you’re interested, you can see his final performance here.

Mayall’s seminal 1969 allbum The Turning Point has a song called – what else – “California.” It’s Mayall’s ode to the good life:

America? “Ventura Highway?” Come on! The unoffiicial theme song to the hilarious series of SNL skits known as “The Californians.”

Gotta have a Beach Boys song, right? According to Wikipedia, “In a 2007 interview, Brian Wilson explained that he had gone to his piano and “was thinking about the music from cowboy movies. The lyrics describe the wish that “they all could be” in California.

Among the qualities that the narrator appreciates are “East Coast girls” for being “hip”, “southern girls” for “the way they talk”, the “northern girls” for “the way they kiss”, and the “Midwest farmer’s daughter” for making “you feel all right.” (We men love the ladies.)

Sheryl Crow recorded her excellent debut album Tuesday Night Music Club at Toad Hall in Pasadena California. The album was a blockbuster but was unfortunately marred by some controversy. Crow apparently took more credit for songwriting than the other guys felt was warranted which led to some bad blood. However, the credits do show multiple writers on each tune so at least they’re getting royalties.

“All I Wanna Do” is definitely a fun ‘drive your convertible down the highway’ kinda song:

All I wanna do is have some fun
I got a feelin’ I’m not the only one
All I wanna do is have some fun
Until the sun comes up over Santa Monica Boulevard

Tom Petty. Who doesn’t miss him? You do. I do. There’s actually a park named for Pettty down in Gainesville. Petty co-wrote “Free Fallin” with the ever-wonderful Jeff Lynne. Petty did not write the song about a specific person, but instead about what he saw during his frequent drives along Ventura Boulevard.

And it’s a long day livin’ in Reseda
There’s a freeway runnin’ through the yard
And I’m a bad boy, ’cause I don’t even miss her
I’m a bad boy for breakin’ her heart

Last but not least, the Mamas and the Papas. I tried to find a live version of the whole band but every single one was lip-synched. Here are the surviving members at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. Great harmonies and Denny Doherty was a terrific lead singer:

13 thoughts on “California Dreaming – Songs Inspired by the Golden State

  1. Lot of good music from there, especially around 1967. Buffalo Springfield, Byrds, Jackson Brown, and the list is long. I went out there to see what it was all about. It was great for a few days, then we returned to Dallas and continued on our rock journey. Dallas Fort Worth had a happening music scene similar to LA, so we didn’t miss much by not relocating to the west. Like you, I spent more time as an adult for business and lived in San Diego, Sacramento and Fresno for a while. Nice place to visit or vacation for a few days.


  2. I have spent about 4 hours in an LA mall, the sum total of my American experience. I’ve never been huge on America, the band, but Ventura Highway came on the other day and was super pretty.

    Joni Mitchell’s California is the first song I think of for the topic.


  3. Great list of tunes. Every time I listen to “Ventura Highway” I can picture myself in some convertible driving on Pacific Coast Highway 1 – I know it’s so cliché, but I just can’t help it!

    I’ve been to a few places in California, including LA, San Diego, San Francisco, Monterey and Yosemite National Park. There’re some nice places there. Good friends from Germany have fallen in love with San Diego and are seriously considering to buy an apartment to spend part of the year there once they’re retired.

    That said, every time I hear about raging wildfires and talk about earthquakes in California, I think maybe living in good ole New Jersey isn’t that bad after all. Plus, we have beautiful nature here as well, though not as spectacular as Yosemite or Redwood Forest. On the other hand, New Jersey now seems to be getting tornadoes, which I find truly nuts. And who knows, after the next Presidential elections, it may no longer where we live since we may all be screwed!


    1. I think “Ventura Highway” was written to evoke exactly what yoi said, “Fresh Air” is particulary evocative of a place and time for me.And yes, CA has its downsides. You could spend your life going nowwhere on the 405 and yes, entire towns have been wiped out in wildfires.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Oh yea, terrific. I was surprised by the relative indiffernce to Richard by a friend who knows tht era well and wasn’t necessariy a big Richard fan. And my sister as well. Odd. He seems irresisiible to me.

          Liked by 1 person

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