Original v. Cover — #59 in a Series

Beautiful Pictures, Images and Photos

Ah, the joys of early January.  Less than three weeks after the winter solstice, the days are still short and the nights long.  The ubiquitous cacophony and overwrought glitter of the winter holiday season are now past. Some of us dread going to the mailbox, only to be greeted by bloated credit card and utility bills.  The doldrums of this time of year are marked by the great travel bargains to be found until later in the month, as exhausted December revelers go into their brief hibernation. In many parts of the country, the trees are bare and the landscape buried in snowdrifts, at first fresh and bright, but after a few days, grayed and dull. The desire for sun and warmth can be overpowering.

Indeed, the lyrics for this week’s selection, which became a hit almost exactly forty-five years ago, describe the sentiments of a man, mired in the depths of winter, longing for the sunny warmth of that great and now even bluer state of California.  Home to one in seven U. S. citizens, one can only hope that despite its current economic malaise, it may lead the way to ground-breaking progressive reforms that might eventually spread to the rest of the country.  One might recall that the U.K. launched their system of socialized medicine while reeling from the crushing debts and destruction left in the wake of World War II. One can only hope that California, in addition to serving as a winter haven from the snow and cold gripping much of this country, will reassert its leadership and become a new beacon of hope for the remainder of the nation.

According to two of the group’s members, who were married to each other, the song was written in 1963 when the couple was residing in New York.  The husband, having dreamed about this music, awakened his wife in order to finish writing the song. The two were then members of a folk group, The New Journeymen, who eventually evolved into the group that first popularized this week’s feature song.

Although two of the group’s four members wrote the song, in a show of appreciation after Barry McGuire introduced them to the head of Dunhill Records, they provided the backing vocals for this song on McGuire’s album This Precious Time. The group then recorded their own version, using the same instrumental backing track, but adding new vocals and a flute solo by Bud Shank.  McGuire’s original vocals can be heard briefly on the left channel near the beginning of the recording, having not been completely erased.

The hit version of this song, seemingly tailor-made for this time of year, was first released in late 1965 by the then California-based quartet, consisting to two male and two female vocalists.  The song did not do particularly well in the Los Angeles market; however, one of the group’s members, Michelle Phillips, introduced the song to a Boston-based radio station, where it received much needed airplay. The song would become the group’s first popular hit, remaining on the charts for seventeen weeks, peaking at #4 in early 1966, and was designated at #89 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  

With no clues left to be revealed, without further ado, this week’s feature song is “California Dreamin'”, by the Mamas and the Papas.

This was the very first hit for the Mamas and the Papas, was released in late 1965 and first appeared in the Top 40 on February 5, 1966, peaking at #4. In retrospect, Michelle Phillips’ decision to contact the Boston radio station was quite ingenious.  Dreams of escaping the “long winter’s day” for the sunny warmth of California would understandably play much differently in Boston than in Los Angeles.

Barry McGuire, formerly with the New Christy Minstrels, was best known for his #1 hit in 1965, “The Eve of Destruction” first recorded “California Dreamin'”, backed by the vocals of the Mamas and the Papas.  Although his version was recorded earlier, his version was released one month later than the Mamas and the Papas, in January, 1966. Embedding has been disabled, but you can see/hear his version here.

Bud Shank, who played the flute on the Mamas and the Papas hit version, recorded this instrumental version in 1966, performing on the flute and alto saxophone, joined by Chet Baker on the trumpet…

Wes Montgomery, one of the greatest and most influential jazz guitarists of all time, turns in this uptempo instrumental version in 1966, complete with brass.  Tragically, he passed away only two years later from a heart attack in 1968.  Embedding has been disabled, however, you can see/hear his version here

The Seekers, an Australian folk-influenced group, were perhaps best known for their #2 hit from late December, 1966, “Georgy Girl.” Here is their interpretation of “California Dreamin'” from 1966…

Johnny Rivers first recorded his version of “California Dreamin'” in 1966.  This backing instrumentation for this video is somewhat reminiscent of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby”…

The Carpenters performed this studio version around 1967, apparently derived from the one remaining tape (a four-track?) that survives. Karen’s abilities as a percussionist are readily apparent in this recording.  

“Cailfornia Dreamin'” was the “B” side of Jose Feliciano’s 1968 megahit cover version of “Light My Fire”…

This cover version by Bobby Womack was featured in the 2009 British film “Fish Tank” by Andrea Arnold. Accompanied original footage of California from the Fifties, here is Bobby Womack’s recording from 1968…

Raquel Welch teamed up with Tom Jones and producer/choreographer David Winters of Winters-Rosen Productions in 1970 to produce the television special “Raquel!”, considered by some viewers to be a classic pairing together of 1970s pop-culture icons in their prime. This lavish song-and-dance extravaganza was filmed around the world, from Paris to Mexico.

Here’s a 1970 reggae version by Winston Francis…

Jazz great George Benson performed a great version of “California Dreamin'”, which was included in his 1972 album, entitled, “White Rabbit.”  Embedding has been disabled, but you can see/hear this tasteful flamenco/jazz version here. There is another version that seems quite similar, during which he is joined by Herbie Hancock in keyboards, Ron Carter on bass and Billy Cobham in drums.  You can see/hear that version here. Don’t miss these great interpretations!

Here is a fascinating version that does not remotely resemble any of the others, recorded by the late Eddie Hazel, from his solo album from 1977, entitled, “Games, Dames and Guitar Thangs for the 70’s”…

Melanie was best known for her #6 hit in 1970, “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)” and her #1 hit in 1972, “Brand New Key.” The first song was apparently inspired by her observations during her performance at Woodstock during the preceding summer. Here she sings and performs on the piano in this most excellent version from 1978…

The Beach Boys turns in a great interpretation of “California Dreamin'”, which appeared on their 1986 greatest hits compilation, entitled, “Made in U.S.A.” This album also featured Roger McGuinn from The Byrds on 12-string guitar and John Phillips on Saxophone. Michelle Phillips and McGuinn appear in the video. Denny Doherty, also of the Mamas and the Papas was on the East Coast at the time and declined to join the effort. The fourth member of the Mamas and the Papas, Cass Elliot, had passed away in 1974…

Here is a dreamy version by Nancy Sinatra, whose dad was quite talented as well. From 1998, although the original recording may have occurred earlier…

Here is a version by the original California Dreamer, John Phillips, released on August 21, 2001, slightly more than five months after his death on March 18th of that same year…

Here is a great cover version by Queen Latifah from 2004, on an album, entitled, “The Dana Owens Album”, a jazz-oriented group of recordings that departed markedly from her usual style. Her efforts were rewarded with a Grammy nomination for the Best Jazz Vocal Album in 2005…

Michael Chapdelaine’s fingerstyle guitar picking makes one guitar sound like two in this version posted on April 2, 2006…

JD Fortune performs on RockStar: INXS – Posted December 11, 2006…

Here is a promotional video for River City People’s interpretation of “California Dreamin'” – Posted August 30, 2007…

Rosa Marya Colin, a Brazilian bossa nova and jazz singer, lends her interpretation of “California Dreamin'” in this version, posted on March 2, 2008…

The vocal quartet Kazual turns in a very nice a capella version, however, one must be patient, as the music doesn’t begin until about the 1:45 mark.  Posted on September 10, 2008…

America’s first Top 40 hit, “Horse With No Name” soared to #1, where it remained for three weeks in early 1972.  “Sister Goldenhair” was the second and final #1 hit in 1975.  They had five more Top Ten hits and four more that reached the Top 40 charts. Here is a live version by America, filmed at the Adventure Christian Church in Roseville, CA, on March 8, 2008…

Tiombe Lockhart displays her unique vocal talents here in this unique, but tasteful version, demonstrating the profound effect that switching to a minor key can have on a song. Be sure to check this one out! Posted December 18, 2008…

Here is a performance by the Austrian-based group who call themselves the Mona Lisa Twins, having taped the video during a visit to California. The music was recorded in their studio in 2008…

Wilson Phillips, daughter of original members of the Mamas and the Papas, John and Michelle Phillips, performs the Beach Boys’ song “In My Room”, followed by “California Dreamin'” at The Snoqualmie Casino in Snoqualmie, WA on January 16, 2009. Those who were addicted to the 1990s television mini-series “Twin Peaks” are no doubt familiar with the scenery from the Snoqualmie area, where much of the filming took place. The poster opined that Chynna Phillips bears a striking resemblance to her mother. “California Dreamin'” begins at about the 2:40 mark on this video…

The John Mayer Trio’s cover version of “California Dreamin'” was a June 4, 2009 feature on The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien

Electric violinist Eugene Park performed this interpretation, which was posted on November 18, 2009…

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  1. It was basically a coin flip between this stunning image and the one used at the beginning of the essay.  The colors are reminiscent of the artistry of Maxfield Parrish.

    big sur Pictures, Images and Photos

    You can visit the harbor, enjoy the palm trees (but be careful if you stand below one, particularly during a windstorm), and go sailing…

    Ventura harbor Pictures, Images and Photos

    Don’t forget to bring your surfboard!

    Sunset Pictures, Images and Photos

    Love it or hate it, Venice Beach is still a colorful place…

    venice beach walking path by our house Pictures, Images and Photos

    And finally, if you decide to visit California, you will want to take a photo of yourself to send back to your envious, shivering friends back home.  With something like this, you can make a statement, and after returning home, will be prepared for Halloween as well…

    Digital Professional Photography by Hector Villablanca  FotoVillablanca.com Northern California Pictures, Images and Photos

    And sadly, then there just wasn’t enough room to include the following versions in the essay (the poll only allows for thirty choices)…

    Barry McGuire first recorded “California Dreamin'”, with backing vocals provided by the Mamas and the Papas.  Barry, formerly a member of the New Christy Minstrels, was best known for his #1 hit from 1965, “The Eve of Destruction.”  Despite having been the first to record the song, he released his version one month later than the Mamas and the Papas, in January, 1966.  Here Barry McGuire and Terry Talbot perform “California Dreamin'” at the Monterey Pop Festival 40th Anniversary on August 9, 2007…

    Evidence with The Star Sisters, performs “California Dreamin'” in an old Dutch TV Show called “Tineke”, in 1986…

    The Lennon Sisters perhaps peaked in popularity between the mid to late Fifties, but here tried their hand at “California Dreamin'”, in this interpretation, backed by a string section. They were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2001.  From their 1994 album, entitled, “From Our Souvenirs”…

    Shaw Blades, from Californication Season 2 Finale from March, 2007…



    Sungha performs a Michael Chapdelaine arrangement of “California Dreaming'”, posted on May 25, 2007…

    Scenery from Northern and Central California, from Mount Shasta in the North, Morrow Bay to the South and Lake Tahoe to the East are featured in this version, posted on January 15, 2009…

    Here is a low key chorale version of “California Dreamin'” by Scala and Kolacny Brothers, posted on June 10, 2010…

    Speaking of Melanie, whose incredible cover version was included in the essay, here was her first hit, “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain” from 1970.  The Edwin Hawkins Singers (“Oh, Happy Day”) provided the background vocals.

    • RUKind on January 8, 2011 at 4:28 am
    • RUKind on January 8, 2011 at 4:45 am

    The Mamas and Papas version is in my DNA. It got a ton of airplay here. Florida was a quicker drive (one day) for a surf trip and the Jersey Shore (Monmouth, USO Pier) were good for a change of water temp in the summer. But California was always the dream. We were the first wave of surfers at that time and the winter of ’66, my senior year of HS just dragged out forever waiting for the summer swells.

    When you were sitting in the line-up on a January day and the first hundred and fifty feet of ocean was slush (29F) that you had to wade through before you could paddle out, California was definitely on your mind.

    First trip out was in ’68 and stayed in Huntington Beach for a couple of months until the irresistible pull of Laguna Beach got to us. Laguna was the SoCal dream in ’68. Still is in so many ways.

    Like I said, that song is in my DNA. I used to be able to hit that one the radio dial with a two or three second snatch of it. What a time that was.

    • Xanthe on January 8, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    Wonderful – As my name is Barbara Anne – I h ave a soft spot for anything the Beach Boys do.

    Great diary as usual.

  2. Their next hit song, “Monday, Monday”, first appeared on the Top 40 charts on April 16, 1966, where it remained for ten weeks, holding down the #1 position for three of those weeks. The Mamas & the Papas won a Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for this song on March 2, 1967.

    “I Saw Her Again” was one of three songs co-written by the two male members of the band, John Phillips and Denny Doherty, and was inspired by Doherty’s brief affair with Michelle Phillips, then married to fellow group member John Phillips. For whatever reason, it was Michelle who was briefly expelled from the group in the aftermath.  

    During the recording, lead singer Doherty came in too early with the first line of the third chorus, a mistake that was intentionally left in by the producer.  

    “I Saw Her Again” first appeared on the Top 40 charts on July 9, 1966, peaking at the #5 slot.

    The following light-hearted video was made by the group to promote the song…

    “Look Through My Window” entered the Top 40 on November 5, 1966, rising to a relatively modest #24 ranking. The song was written by John Phillips during or around 1964 while temporarily separated from Michelle Phillips. The inspiration for the song was his belief that Michelle was in California, when, in fact, she was located just a block away in Greenwich Village.  

    “Words of Love” became a Top 40 hit on December 17, 1966, peaking at #5.  The song, written by John Phillips, placed Mama Cass in the spotlight. She reportedly said she didn’t want to record the song, but John pushed her to do it.  Their cover version of Martha and the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Street” graced the B-side…

    The Mamas and the Papas’ cover version of “Dedicated to the One I Love” would become their second largest hit, first appearing on the Top 40 charts on March 5, 1967, holding down the #2 ranking for three consecutive weeks.

    Given the timing, this song most likely occupied the #2 slot when one or more of the following songs held down the top spot: Nancy Sinatra’s “Somethin’ Stupid”, The Supremes’ “The Happening” and/or the Rascals’ “Groovin'”, which remained at the top position for four, one and four weeks, respectively. This song marked the first time that Michelle Phillips had been given the lead over Cass Elliott on any of their songs…

    Their last Top Ten hit would follow, entering the Top 40 on May 13, 1967.  “Creeque Alley”, written by John and Michelle Phillips, told the story of the band’s formation and is named after a club in the Virgin Islands where the group spent some time.

    The following video provides a rare opportunity to hear a song sung in English, with subtitles in a foreign language.  Want to brush up a little on your Spanish?  Here’s your chance…

    “Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming to the Canyon)” was written by John Phillips shortly after the group relocated to Southern California in 1965, and was inspired by Laurel Canyon, a neighborhood in the L. A. area.

    Maybe it’s just me, but does Ed Sullivan look like someone who could have been a stand-in for Boris Karloff in some of the B-grade horror flicks of the day?  As they say, the eyes have it.

    “Twelve Thirty” cracked the Top 40 barrier on September 2, 1967, and peaked at #20…

    “Glad to Be Unhappy” was composed by the venerable duo of Rodgers & Hart, which appeared in their 1936 musical, “On Your Toes.”  The Mamas and the Papas’ arrangement first appeared on the Top 40 on November 4, 1967, peaking at the #26 spot.  

    The final song was billed somewhat differently, as Mama Cass with the Mamas and the Papas. The much-covered “Dream a Little Dream of Me” was first recorded on February 16, 1931 by Ozzie Nelson and his Orchestra with vocals by Nelson. This song was also an early signature tune of Kate Smith. Frankie Lane reached the Top 20 with his cover version.  

    Michelle Phillips introduced the “Dream a Little Dream of Me” to the group, at least in part since her father had become friends with Fabian Andre, a co-writer of the song, when the family resided in Mexico City. Michelle was a young girl at the time. Mama Cass’ version first appeared on the Top Forty charts on July 27, 1968, and achieved a #12 ranking…

    Michelle Phillips, 66 years of age, is the group’s sole surviving member.  

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