Friday, 13 June 2014

The Mamas And The Papas 'California Dreamin'

Chart Peak: 23

The Mamas and The Papas were John Phillips, Denny Doherty, Michelle Phillips and Mama Cass Elliott. 'California Dreaming' was their first Hit, making No. 23 in May 1966.

I'm going to have to come straight out and mention this: the opening lyric of this song is "All the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray, I went for a walk on a winter's day," and whilst this makes a nice tenuous link with the film clip I included in the previous post (the character is called Phillip Winter), it does rather make me wonder why this track is on a compilation of summer songs. I'm also grateful to Victorian expert Lee Jackson for a couple of tweets last week where his wife points out that grey skies and brown leaves would actually imply Autumn rather than winter. Either way, that's still not summer though.

Mind you, it seems like quite a common misconception that this is a summer song - I remember hearing a music documentary premised on that basis, where even professional writers seemed not to notice that the very point of this song was that the protagonist isn't in California, and in some ways I feel like that's a bit of an artistic failure as the track fails to convey the longing that the words are about. As a pedant I found the conflicting tense use a bit of a distraction as well: "I got down on my knees and I pretend to pray" always sounded awkward. I never totally understood why they were doing that anyway - are they just going into the church to keep warm or something? Knowingly or otherwise, the River City People version - my earliest memory of the song - solves the problem by changing the lyric to "I began to pray".

In fairness, it is pretty good musically if you don't worry too much about the message. The harmonies aren't as rich or complex as the Beach Boys but they're still very good and the song has a strong singalong element as a pop track. Unfortunately, like a lot of music from this era it suffers a poor stereo mix, which is the version here. It's also the version that finally made it to the Top 10 in 1997 thanks to a TV commercial. A few years later, another commercial promoted Bobby Womack's grittier version of the song which for me conveys the sentiment better.

Available on: California Dreamin' - The Best of The Mamas & The Papas

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