The lyrics of the song express the narrator’s longing for the warmth of Los Angeles during a cold winter in New York City. The song became a signpost of the ‘California Sound’ and the arrival of a subculture era. This is a time when the mores of one set of people substantially differ from values and norms of behaviour to those of mainstream society; often in opposition. ‘California Dreaming’ was certified as a ‘Gold Record’ single in 1966 and was inducted into the ‘Grammy Hall of Fame’ in 2001.
The song was written in 1963 while John Phillips and Michael Phillips were living in New York City. At the time, John and Michelle Phillips were members of the folk group the ‘New Journeymen’, which evolved into the ‘Mamas and the Papas’.
The single was released in late 1965 but was not an immediate breakthrough. After gaining little attention in Los Angeles upon its release, a radio station in Boston broke the song nationwide. After making its chart debut in January 1966, the song peaked at Number 4 in March on both the ‘Billboard Hot 100’, lasting 17 weeks, and ‘Cashbox’, lasting 20 weeks. “California Dreamin'” was the Number 1 single of 1966 in ‘Billboard hot 100’. It also reached Number 23 on the UK charts upon its original release and re-charted and peaked at Number 9.
There are few teenagers growing up who do not dream of travelling to different shores and experiencing warmer climates. I certainly was no exception and will never regret to take two years of my life out between the ages of 21 years and 23 years of age to live in Canada and to travel extensively around Canada and many different parts of America.
Such extensive travel was made possible by two factors. Having had a serious accident at the age of 11 years, I received a ‘not insignificant’ amount of compensation when I reached the majority age of 21 years. The amount of compensation amounted to what a grown man on good wages would receive in a two-year period. After giving my parents part, I decided to take the opportunity of having two years out. I suppose in many ways it was a sort of extensive ‘gap year’ I took between 1963/65.
Being financially secure, I only needed to take any job that enabled me to pay my weekly board and keep; thereby always having enough ‘money in the bank’ if I ever needed a ‘get out of jail card’ that wasn’t free. This financial security allowed me to try my hand as a professional singer in Montreal; a career I dropped after a few months and the discovery that I was a good singer but not the best singer in the world. Having a personality flaw at the time that told me if I wasn’t the best at what I did, I no longer desired to do it, I abandoned my singing career and went to work in a menial, low-paid job on the ‘Canadian Pacific Railway’ as a waiter.
While earning barely enough to live upon, the great advantage this job gave me was the opportunity to go on long-distance train journeys across the wide expanse of Canada (3000 miles) and visit different parts of America that I would never have seen otherwise. I will never forget seeing the wide-open places as the train crossed from Montreal to Winnipeg in the winter months and seeing Ghost Towns where mines had once flourished and supported the structures of a town community before the mines had been worked out. I saw thousands of perfectly habitable empty houses which became unsalable and were abandoned to the elements by their owners. During winter months, I saw communities in the wide-open prairies where houses were covered in twenty/thirty feet snow drifts with their occupants stranded for up to a month indoors. Most magical of all though was travelling through ‘Calgary’ which is known as Gods’ Country for its natural beauty. Famous for the ‘Calgary Stampede’ that is held every July. The ten-day event, which calls itself "The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth," brings over one million visitors every year and has the world's largest rodeo. It also has a large parade, numerous rides, side stage shows, concerts, farming games and racing. People from Calgary also begin wearing cowboy hats and other cowboy gear in spirit of the event. The stampede began as a farming fair in 1886 and turned into the Calgary Stampede in 1923. The train I worked on stopped at Calgary a number of times when I worked on the C.P.R. but it was only to drop off and pick up passengers. I never did get to see the famous rodeo, merely ‘pass through’.
One of the places I would have loved to have seen in the U.S.A. was California, but sadly it was never to be. I heard a lot about the place however from many residents of the Toronto Hotel I was later to work at. As far as California was concerned however, the only images I ever captured of the place was in magazines and in my dreams.
Love and Peace Bill xxx