1001 Songs Challenge,  1960s,  Music

1001 Songs Challenge #171: California Dreamin’ (1965)

On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenging of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.

My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.

I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.

So long as I post everyday (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be…


The Mamas & The Papas – California Dreamin’ (1965)

We’re heading back to the US today and as we’re waist deep in this memorable decade, the great songs just keep on coming. We find ourselves in Los Angeles in California and are in the company of a quartet whose time together was sadly very brief but in that short space they made a permanent mark on music history. We are talking today about The Mamas & The Papas and what better song to go with than California Dreamin’.

Written by members and married couple, John and Michelle Phillips, California Dreamin’ was inspired during their time living in New York City. The narrator sings of autumnal leaves and grey skies, the cold is unbearable and what makes it worse is they know that back in Los Angeles they would be warm and safe. They long to be back there and dream of California. At one point they seek solace in a church and start to pray but it sounds like a ruse to get out of the cold. Not that the preacher minds. The cold is their friend for it brings more people through their doors. This doesn’t make New York City sound appealing, though I understand it is a fine place, as is Los Angeles. 

A staple of the great songs from the Sixties, California Dreamin’ has lost none of its appeal more than fifty years later. John Phillips and Denny Doherty open the vocals and for each line they sing, they are followed by Michelle Phillips and Cass Elliott. It is a wonderful contrast of vocals amongst the quartet. Doherty goes solo when singing of the church with the remainder of the group backing him but collectively the song is perfect and you feel that it wouldn’t be the same if you took just one member away. Sadly, Michelle Phillips is the only member of the group still with us today. As solo artists, none of the members could replicate what they did in the group though Cass Elliott appeared the most likely and could have gone on to greater things were it not for her tragic death at the age of 32 to heart failure. Even in death The Mamas and The Papas will always have millions of us dreaming of California.


Favourite songs so far:

Chuck Berry – Johnny B. Goode (1958)

Ritchie Valens – La Bamba (1958)

Eddie Cochran – Summertime Blues (1958)

The Everly Brothers – All I Have to Do Is Dream (1958)

Edith Piaf – Non, je ne regrette rien (1960)

Ben E. King – Stand By Me (1961)

The Righteous Brothers – You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling (1964)

The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)

Bert Jansch – Needle of Death (1965)

The Mamas & The Papas – California Dreamin’ (1965)

My name is Dave and I live in Yorkshire in the north of England and have been here all my life. I hope you enjoy your visit to All is Ephemeral.

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