June 20, 2019

ALL THE LEAVES ARE BROWN: Stacy McCain on “California Dreamin’,” then and now.

A couple of days ago, I was driving my youngest daughter (born in 2002) to her summer internship and told her to look up “California Dreamin’” on her Spotify. Why was that song in my mind? Probably some headline I’d read about California’s recent descent into Third World chaos. It’s a forlorn bit of nostalgia to recall what California signified in the 1960s, before Democrats turned it into a socialist nightmare of typhus infections, homeless encampments and heroin needles. At any rate, the song had been stuck in my head and so I asked my 16-year-old daughter to play it on her phone — she’d never heard it before — and when it ended, I said, “That was Number One for the Mamas and Papas in 1966.”

My daughter is quite the chip off the old block, however, and she quickly Googled up the fact that “California Dreamin’” only made it to #4.

That seemed wrong, an injustice. From the first notes of the classical guitar intro to the sonic crescendo of the vocal harmony ending, “California Dreamin’” is a musical masterpiece, two-and-a-half minutes of pure genius in the key of A-minor. In 2004, when Rolling Stone published its list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time,” this 1966 hit was #89 on the list and yet it never actually topped the charts? When I got home, I decided to explore this mystery further and, being rather obsessive about research, I dived in deep.

Read the whole thing, which is a reminder that in the 1960s, the counter-culture actually was the counter-culture, back when it still had a grownup, if rather staid, postwar overculture to push against.

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