California has been one of the cities in America that have always represented a bastion of progressive thinking, whether for better or for worse I suppose.
However, most of the image of California is of its golden sandy beaches and its warm summer waves filled with surfers.
Today’s list captures that spirit and is filled with songs about California and its culture.
1. California – Phantom Planet
California was first heard on the eighth episode of T.V. Show Fastlane.
It was released on their 2002 album The Guest and didn’t really receive a lot of popularity until it became the theme song of The O.C (a Fox Television show).
The song is about driving on U.S. Route 101 to see a concert.
It’s quite a catchy early 2000s rock song and even has a re-recorded version from 2005 that is a lot more mellowed down if you’d prefer that version.
2. California Dreamin’ – The Mama’s and the Papa’s
California Dreamin’ is probably one song everyone knows but few people know the title of.
It’s been covered and sung a couple of times by a multitude of bands and has been used in more movies than I could care to list.
Sia did a slow-burning cover of it in 2015 for the movie “California Earthquake.”
3. Hotel California – The Eagles
Hotel California has been around for a while and it’s been a staple in many a modern-day musician’s set lists.
What many don’t know is that it’s a simple song about the loss of innocence.
The Eagles used the image of a hotel because their visit to California was centered around a hotel they were staying in.
They learned a lot while touring there, but ultimately it was a loss of their old life’s innocence.
Glenn Frey stated that the song was made to be like a movie “just one shot to the next… we decided to create something strange just to see if we could do it.”
That said, they intentionally went for ambiguity and aimed for a song that has left itself wide open to many different interpretations.
4. California Gurls – Katy Perry
A real summer anthem, “California Gurls” was a major hit when it debuted back in 2010 and was received well by most critics.
The song doesn’t have much in the way of deep meaning, but it’s not meant to be.
It’s a summer pop song to blast on the radio and sing along to, but ultimately to be forgotten once the party’s over, until you need it next time.
The music video is of a fictional world called Candyfornia and in the chorus, Perry is seen laying on a cloud with nothing but the cloud puff to cover her.
The video was criticized as softcore porn at one point due to the imagery and scantily dressed women throughout.
5. Going to California – Led Zeppelin
A bit of a strange song that tells a fantastical story, Going to California is a ballad released back in 1971 on the band’s untitled fourth album.
It’s a folk-style song with an alternate tuning on the guitars and somewhat of a weird story to tell.
The band originally meant for it to be a song about California earthquakes and when Jimmy Page, the audio engineer Andy Johns, and the band’s manager traveled to LA, they coincidentally experienced an earthquake too.
6. California Love – Tupac Shakur
In California Love, 2Pac and Dr. Dre rap about the many different aspects of life in California.
Arguably one of his most popular songs, it was the first track released after his time in prison, and later decided to join the Death Row record label.
The meaning of the song according to 2Pac himself was that it should be about money and not about violence.
A bit of a departure from his previous rap music, this song is more in the style G-Funk which is rap music influenced by funk.
7. California Stars – Wilco
California stars was originally a song that would have gone unknown.
The lyrics were written sometime between 1940 and 1967 by Woodie Guthrie, who never recorded or wrote music for these lyrics.
Guthrie’s estate approached Billy Bragg and Wilco to record this song that would otherwise have become a lost work.
In it, they tell a story of a weary Oklahoma man during the dust bowl era.
He dreams of moving down to California with his family where he can rest his head and look up at the stars.
8. California Sun – The Ramones
Released back in 1960, California Sun is a rock song that was first written and recorded by R&B singer Joe Jones.
The cover by The Ramones removed the piano and saxophone elements to stay true to the punk sound that the band had curated.
The song was also used in their 1979 Rock n’ Roll High School motion picture.
9. Queen of California – John Mayer
The second single from John Mayer’s fifth studio album “Born and Raised,” Queen of California is a tribute to the folk-rock songs that came before.
Mayer did a couple of unplugged acoustic recordings of his songs a little while ago and Queen of California is featured there too, you should check it out, he does a great deal with just voice and his guitar.
This song seems to also be about Mayer’s desire to be free from his past and how he wants to move away from the spotlight and focus on making quality music.
10. California Waiting – Kings of Leon
A song that seems to be a bit ambiguous in it’s meaning, some have interpreted it as a song about the loss of virginity or the disillusionment that comes with realizing that a relationship you started isn’t what you thought it would be.
However, according to lead singer Caleb Followill, it’s a song about thinking about suicide with him saying “I’ve never considered suicide, but I’ve always written it very well. California Waiting and songs like that, they’re all about the moment when someone just gives in and says, ‘that’s it for me, I’m out.’”
It’s catchy either way and you can make of it what you will.
11. When You Get To California – Hoodoo Gurus
Released back in 2004, with a very 1970s rock feel When You Get TO California is all about reaching that place where you can finally put your feet up and relax.
In it, the singer reflects on his life back in New York and how he wasn’t truly happy with life there.
It’s a bit of a weird song, but I like it.
12. It’s a Longer Road To California Than I Thought – The Wind and The Wave
Another love song but with California as the destination and a bit of a metaphor for the better days.
It’s a fantastic love song by a band I’ll admit I’ve not heard of, but will probably give them a few more listens.
It’s got a pretty nice indie-pop feel to it, with a catchy tune and a melancholy lyrical makeup. It’s ultimately a song about wanting to resolve a tension in a relationship it seems.
13. Dani California – Red Hot Chili Peppers
Red Hot Chili Peppers wrote this song about a fictional girl that gets mentioned in a lot of their other music, Dani is described by Anthony Kiedis as a combination of every girl he has ever met.
Probably a song that everybody has heard somewhere at least once.
It seems to be a song about also putting Dani California to bed, but who knows? Only the RHCP know.
14. California Girls – The Beach Boys
California Girls is an appreciation song about the girls in California, with Brian Wilson wishing that all girls could be California girls.
The song was conceived by Wilson during his first acid trip while thinking about women and Western film scores, oddly enough.
The song inspired many other singers and musicians to make similar songs, with the Beatles writing back in the U.S.S.R. as a parody of California Girls.
15. LA Woman – The Doors
A song about driving on the freeway and a bit of California madness.
The song tells a tale of the city of Los Angeles and seemingly personifies the city as a woman.
Not my favorite song on this list, but it’s here because it’s a song that captures California (or at least a city in it) in a really clear and transparent way.
The lyrics aren’t too ambiguous and the tune is meant to be a catchy swing and Jim Morrison’s final goodbye to LA before his transportation to Pairs, France.
10 More Songs About California
|Californication||Red Hot Chili Peppers|
|It Never Rains In Southern California||Albert Hammond|
|California Soul||Marlena Shaw|
|California Sun||The Rivieras|
|South California Purples||Terry Kath|
|I Left My Heart in San Francisco||Tony Bennet|
|This Is How We Do It||Montell Jordan|
|California Sunset||Neil Young|
Hello there, my name is Ramiro and I’ve been playing guitar for almost 20 years. I’m obsessed with everything gear-related and I thought it might be worth sharing it. From guitars, pedals, amps, and synths to studio gear and production tips, I hope you find what I post here useful, and I’ll try my best to keep it entertaining also.