Songs About Los Angeles: “California Dreaming” by The Mamas & the Papas

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SDsbcIWPENs[/youtube]
Originally released in Los Angeles in 1965, it never took off on the charts. A few weeks later when it was re-released in Boston it started climbing in popularity, and was rumored to be responsible for hundreds heading to LA at the thought of summer in January. “California Dreaming” eventually reached #4 on the charts in early 1966.

The Mamas and the Papas had a tumultuous history, largely (no pun intended) due to the drama with singer Cass Elliot. Sadly, after a particularly great performance that ended with ovations, she died quietly of a heart attack in her hotel room. (Yes, the “choking on a ham sandwich” is just cruel urban myth).

I don’t have recollections of the first release as I was still pretty young. I do know that on family road trips “that damn hippy music” was rarely permitted on the radio so that limited my chances of hearing stuff on first release. I do remember the first time I heard the song: it played as a “Golden Oldie” after the band’s final “comeback” album in the early 70’s.

I heard it the first time on my trusty transistor radio, thinking at the time, “I like this song.” It may have been a love song, but it was also painting dream of things better in LA through artful contrasting. I remember thinking LA could be a great place to be. Turns out they were right. Many of us came for our dreams. Dreams can come true in LA.

All the leaves are brown

All the leaves are brown

And the sky is grey

And the sky is grey

Ive been for a walk

Ive been for a walk

On a winters day

On a winters day

Id be safe and warm

Id be safe and warm

If I was in LA.

If I was in LA.

California dreamin

California dreamin

On such a winters day

Stopped into a church

I passed along the way

Well, I got down on my knees

Got down on my knees

And I pretend to pray

I pretend to pray

You know the preacher likes the cold

Preacher likes the cold

He knows Im gonna stay

Knows Im gonna stay

California dreamin

California dreamin

On such a winters day

All the leaves are brown

All the leaves are brown

And the sky is grey

And the sky is grey

Ive been for a walk

Ive been for a walk

On a winters day

On a winters day

If I didnt tell her

If I didnt tell her

I could leave today

I could leave today

California dreamin

California dreamin

On such a winters day

California dreaming

On such a winters day

California dreaming

On such a winters day

Hat tip to Julia Frey who came up with the idea for the series and explained it here.

6 Replies to “Songs About Los Angeles: “California Dreaming” by The Mamas & the Papas”

  1. You know, I’ve never spent time thinking about the lyrics in this song. There are some interesting lines in here. Why is the narrator pretending to pray? Who is the “her” in “if I didn’t tell her?” Is the narrator fantasizing about leaving his wife? Intrigue!

  2. Many people (myself included) assumed for years that the line was, “I began to pray”, but when it was correctly pointed out to me, it made a lot more sense. He isn’t a religious person, he’s just in the church for warmth and shelter from the elements.

  3. Aha, the preacher likes the cold because people step inside to get out of the cold. This is the kind of thing that California natives like myself just don’t understand.

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