37 Songs About California; How Many Of These Do You Know?
Los Angeles is one of the best music cities in the U.S. and many people move there hoping to make their dreams of fortune and fame a reality.
It isn’t just musicians either. It’s a melting pot of talent, from models and actors to photographers and scriptwriters.
L.A. is just one smaller part of California, which is home to nearly 40 million people. Some have positive feelings about it. Others have bad memories of it.
It shouldn’t come as any surprise, then, that there are so many songs about California. There’s no way we could possibly cover them all here, but here are 37 songs about California.
“Dani California” by Red Hot Chili Peppers
Song year: 2006
It’s hard to say exactly who has the most songs about California, but Red Hot Chili Peppers is definitely up there. The association is practically inescapable.
One read through of the lyrics to “Dani California” might leave you scratching your head.
Dani California, as it turns out, is a fictional character representing every woman lyricist Anthony Kledis had a relationship with.
Dani’s story is mostly tragic, but this kind of raises some questions about Kledis’ picker too, don’t you think?
Either way, this was one of the Chili Peppers’ biggest hits. The music video is also fun, with the band’s costumes shifting through various decades in music (50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, etc.).
“California Girls” by Beach Boys
Song year: 1965
The Beach Boys, a direct competitor to The Beatles, made some odd songs through the years. This isn’t one of them. “California Girls” is an ode to – what else? – California Girls.
The lyrics basically list off girls from all over America and talking about their positive qualities (sounds like a modern country songs). At the end of the day, however, the Boys seem to prefer California girls.
It’s The Beach Boys, so you can’t hate it. It’s catchy, fun and a classic.
“Going To California” by Led Zeppelin
Song year: 1971
In “Going To California”, the narrator leaves behind his old life in search of something new in California – in search of someone special.
He does question, however, if there’s anyone out there that could possibly live up to his hopes and dreams.
Robert Plant later went onto comment that the lyrics were kind of embarrassing, but they reflected a brief period in his life when he was 22.
“California Dreamin’” by The Mamas & The Papas
Song year: 1965
“California Dreamin’” is simply a song about wishing you were in California, where it’s warm and comfortable. The song does have an interesting bit of history attached to it thought.
It was written in 1963, when John and Michelle Phillips were living in New York City. Having dreamed about the song, John woke up Michelle to help him flesh it out.
I suppose winters can get cold, and sometimes you long for somewhere warmer.
Musically, “California Dreamin’” is an absolute classic.
“I Remember California” by R.E.M.
Song year: 1988
“I Remember California” seems to be experiential in nature, as the lyrics take on kind of a stream of consciousness quality.
The accompanying music is dramatic, somber, dark and sad. This gives us a little more information to work with.
Reportedly, Michael Stipe said it was a song about his impressions of California. He was uncomfortable with the idea of looming earthquakes and perhaps took a disliking to the culture as well.
See what I mean about “bad memories”?
“Drinking In L.A.” by Bran Van 3000
Song year: 1997
Speaking of stream of consciousness style songs, “Drinking In L.A. features excerpts of conversations, a male rap and a female lead vocal part.
And, overall, it seems to be a song about going all the way to L.A. only to end up drinking away the night.
The repeated “L A” part sounds more like “hell A”, suggesting that the narrator may have been depressed because of something that happened.
The broader theme of the song, however, is that the narrator had dreams of achieving something big but ended up getting nowhere with it. I’m sure this is a sentiment more than a few artists can relate to.
“California Waiting” by Kings Of Leon
Song year: 2004
There are different ways of looking at this upbeat tune via Kings Of Leon, which seems to evoke images of driving down the highway.
The relatively sparse verses let us know that the narrator is in a relationship. It sounds like it might be falling apart despite his best intentions. “I’d give you the news but nothing’s changed” seems to indicate stagnation as well.
He’s still waiting for something, however, as suggested by the title of the song.
This is mostly speculation, but could the song be about waiting for the right opportunity? Putting yourself out there and not getting anything back in return? This seems to work nicely with the “California waiting” imagery.
And, it seems to tie in with the second verse, which otherwise isn’t saying much. A line like “I’d sing you a song but they blew it away” makes a lot more sense when you think of it as one of the many ways the narrator tried to “make it” but didn’t.
“Going Back To Cali” by LL Cool J
Song year: 1987
This mid-tempo, early hip-hop song seems to be glorifying California. Of course, the repeated line “I don’t think so” either suggests the narrator is torn or they’re facetious about the idea.
“Going back”, of course, indicates that this isn’t the first time the narrator has been to Cali, and even recounts an experience with sexually aggressive women.
This song, however, was co-written and produced by Rick Rubin, who was himself ambivalent about the idea of moving from New York City to Los Angeles.
It seems more likely that it’s a song satirizing California, but that’s just me thinking out loud.
“California Kids” by Weezer
Song year: 2016
“California Kids” by Weezer seems to connect with a theme I’ve already shared – moving to California in search of fortune and fame.
The narrator isn’t exactly optimistic about his prospects. But in the chorus, he says it’s basically going to turn out fine:
“It’s gonna be alright / If you’re on a sinking ship / The California kids / Will throw you a lifeline / And if you’re up all night / Thinking ‘bout something you did / The California kids / Will show you the sunshine.”
The references to “sinking ship” and “something you did” are what’s kind of funny, suggesting that many of your endeavors will end in failure, and you will do things you regret to get to where you want to go. Thus, it’s a conflicted sentiment, which is maybe the point of the song.
“California Gurls” by Katy Perry
Song year: 2010
This catchy pop song couldn’t be a tribute to anything other than California girls, who according to Perry, are unforgettable.
True to form, the song is plenty of fun and even features Snoop Dogg. This instantly reminds me of the late 90s, when everyone and their dog was featuring a rapper in their song.
Anyway, this song is for getting up and dancing. I can’t imagine what other purpose it would serve.
“California” by Lenny Kravitz
Song year: 2004
“California” by Lenny Kravitz sees the narrator moving to Cali as a young man, meeting a wild girl, and getting exposed to the culture.
This song is a tribute to a variety of artists, like Led Zeppelin, The Beatles and Kiss as well as brands like Vans. It feels like this could be a hip-hop song just as much as its finished form, which is more of a blend of different rock styles.
This seems like another great song to dance to. Put it on when you’re in the mood to have fun and celebrate!
“California” by Semisonic
Song year: 1998
This is a song about visiting California. The narrator, however, gets more than he bargained for and ends up calling California his “home.”
This isn’t a happy story, however, as indicated by these lines in the chorus – “With twelve little pieces of me.”
The number 12 has significance in a variety of contexts, especially as applied to the Bible.
Fans have speculated that this number refers to the number of songs on an album and that the song is about the band’s experience with it, apparently leaving them exactly where they were before they had even recorded it.
I like that. Let’s go with that.
“California” by Yellowcard
Song year: 2014
Yellowcard’s “California” seems like a love song on the surface, but also sounds like the narrator’s significant other is moving to California without him.
That seems to be underscored by these lines: “When everything that I can see / Goes dark I feel you where with me / And I, I’m holding on to you / When shadows try to swallow me, you’re the / Only light I’ll ever need.”
Then again, the lines “No more black clouds, just colorful days” might indicate that this is indeed just a simple love song.
“California And The Slipping Of The Sun” by Gorillaz
Song year: 2010
Gorillaz’ “California And The Slipping Of The Sun” is first and foremost about traveling, and maybe in this case, “trippin’.”
As fans have speculated, it’s likely this song is about drugs. But there’s a little more if you’re willing to dig.
First, it’s clear the narrator felt it necessary to return to California: “Oh, ocean, now I come again before you.” And, clearly, he’s broke and depressed. So, he turns to drugs.
This could easily be a song about trying to make it big but finding yourself having to numb out the pain of failure.
“Hang Ten” by Edwin
Song year: 1999
First, let me just say that “Hang Ten” is a brilliantly written song, both lyrically and musically.
Ex-I Mother Earth singer Edwin struck out on his own after a six-year stint with the band, feeling too constrained to express his musical vision. And, he certainly proved himself with his first album, Another Spin Around The Sun, which includes this song.
Interestingly, the music on this album is still reminiscent of I Mother Earth.
Getting back to the topic of the song, there are obviously different ways of looking at it. But it seems to be about a girl the narrator was and is probably still in love with. He’s waiting for her and daydreaming about her.
But we’re not sure exactly how this turns out for him. If anything, the line “Wearing yourself thin California” suggests he’s going to succumb to temptation before he sees this girl again.
“California Blue” by Roy Orbison
Song year: 1989
Roy Orbison’s “California Blue” was written by the legendary Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty.
It’s a relatively simplistic song. It could either be about someone the narrator is missing in California, or about the ocean. I can’t imagine it goes any deeper than that.
This song is stylistically close to home for Orbison, and it even reminds me of Traveling Wilburys (no surprise there, considering who wrote it).
“California Calling” by Beach Boys
Song year: 1985
This is relatively standard stuff for the surf rock outfit The Beach Boys. Beatle Ringo Starr drums on this song, though, and that’s a bit of trivia you may not have known.
As per usual, this is a song celebrating beautiful women, surfing and the ocean.
If you’re in a summery mood, this song ought to catch you in your element.
“California Nights” by Sweet
Song year: 1992
We continue our little jaunt down simplistic avenue with “California Nights” by Sweet, which is about the world converging in California.
Specifically, it’s about every girl moving to California because no other place compares, whether it’s New York, Miami, Las Vegas or otherwise.
If you love California and want to celebrate, this is a great tune to put on.
“California Sun” by The Outfield
Song year: 2011
With lush, vintage-meets-modern production, The Outfield’s “California Sun” is about how your hard work will one day be rewarded. If you persevere and keep on, “the California sun will come your way.”
I don’t sense even a hint of cynicism in this song, suggesting that the narrator is sincere in his belief.
You might make mistakes along the way. You might have to suffer through failures. But you will make it if you don’t give up. Cool!
“California Sunset” by Neil Young
Song year: 1985
Here’s another song paying tribute to “California”, a theme we’ve seen come up several times as we continue to explore various songs about Cali.
While Neil Young has many satirical, critical and political songs, this one doesn’t seem to be one of those.
If there’s anything that might indicate otherwise, it would be the line “Kiss another day goodbye”, but that might refer to how much he’s enjoying himself.
“California (There Is No End To Love)” by U2
Song year: 2014
I’ll offer my own thoughts on this song before I get into more popular interpretations of it, as I often like to do.
This is a song about searching, trying to find your bearings as you’re going through challenging times. The narrator is led to California, which brings him to his knees.
Then he declares, “All I know / And all I need to know / Is there is no / Yeah there is no end to love.”
What this tells me is that he came all the way to California to discover that love (God) is still watching over him.
Others have said this is a song about the more common theme of coming to California to find fame and fortune.
I think it’s entirely possible that it’s a combination of the two interpretations.
“The Golden State” by City And Colour
Song year: 2013
City And Colour’s “The Golden State” has a refreshingly direct message.
The narrator is basically saying, “Yeah, California is great and all, but I’d rather spend time where seasons change.”
There might even be some resentment on their part, looking at lines like “But fortune and fame won’t save you, when California / Is wiped out by the ring of fire or a grand earthquake.”
If I were to take a stab at it, this song goes a layer deeper. It’s entirely possible the narrator didn’t have a great experience in California and still holds onto it, which is why he only passes through from time to time.
Some fans even said it’s a song about holding onto something deeper than fame and fortune, which is a relatable sentiment too.
“Hotel California” by The Eagles
Song year: 1976
It would be sacrilege to wrap up this list without mention of this Eagles classic (of course, we’ve still got a way to go before we’re done).
Plenty of people have shared their own interpretation of “Hotel California”, so I don’t feel it necessary to add to the noise here.
Eagle Don Henley simply said that this song is thematically in line with all their other songs, which are about loss of innocence, naivete, excess, fame, the American dream, idealism, illusions, balance, business vs. art, political corruption and so on.
That’s quite broad in scope, Henley, but the bits about fame and the American dream seem to hit home.
Since this song is part of a concept album, I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the lyrical content is both evocative and mysterious.
“In Your Atmosphere” by John Mayer
Song year: 2008
After a bad breakup, it can be hard to return to familiar places, especially places where you spent a lot of time with your significant other. You can be haunted by all kinds of memories.
John Mayer’s “In Your Atmosphere” hits the thematic nail on the head. This is exactly what it feels like shortly after you’ve broken up with someone you loved deeply.
“Land Of Competition” by Bad Religion
Song year: 1988
“Land Of Competition” is about buying into the image that Hollywood portrays. It’s about being so brainwashed that you don’t have your own identity.
It’s pointing out that everything is pretend in Hollywood, and even the people you see on screen aren’t exactly as they are portrayed. So, modeling yourself after such people is foolish.
“A Long December” by Counting Crows
Song year: 1996
The narrator is clearly happy to leave behind “a long December”. “The smell of hospitals in winter” gives us a good idea of what was going on – it seems likely a loved one passed away.
At first, his mention of this being a better year than the last has us thinking he somehow met someone new in the process of grieving. But it seems this is the very person he is grieving.
There are other ways of looking at the song, but all hints point to this being a song about loss.
“Outshined” by Soundgarden
Song year: 1991
One thing we can say about songs from this era is that they are often abstract, especially lyrically.
If there’s something that comes immediately to mind looking at the lyrics, it’s that the narrator isn’t pleased with himself. He feels depressed and like he’s been outdone.
Soundgarden front man Chris Cornell shared that this song is autobiographical. One moment he feels unstoppable, but if someone puts him down, he suddenly feels insecure and plummets into a downward spiral.
“I’m looking California and feeling Minnesota, oh yeah.”
“Pacific Coast Party” by Smash Mouth
Song year: 2001
No secret messages hidden in this vintage sounding pop rock song via Californian band Smash Mouth.
This is a party song plain and simple. If you’re in the mood to have some lighthearted fun, throw this song on. It sounds like it would be a great song for a backyard BBQ.
“Parallel Universe” by Red Hot Chili Peppers
Song year: 1999
“Parallel Universe” was released as a promotional single but it eventually became a Chili fan favorite.
It might be one of Red Hot Chili Pepper’s heaviest songs, though in my opinion they’ve always had some leanings towards metal.
To me, it’s a song about becoming something you don’t recognize. Like if you had humble beginnings but now, you’re famous and you don’t know what happened to you along the way.
I think it’s open to interpretation, but it’s always fun to speculate.
“Promised Land” by Chuck Berry
Song year: 1964
I’m not sure if Chuck Berry was the first to refer to California as the “Promised Land”, but I do know that he wasn’t the last.
This song – possibly autobiographical – is told from the perspective of the narrator who travels from Norfolk, Virginia to Los Angeles, California and shares about every bump along the way.
Like a good movie, the journey doesn’t go off without a hitch and the narrator encounters obstacles. But he keeps on keeping on, and when he finally arrives, he sees for himself that California is, in fact, the promised land.
“Queen Of California” by John Mayer
Song year: 2012
John Mayer’s “Queen Of California” refers to Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. Then, this lyric shows up later in the song: “I gotta believe there’s another color waiting for me / To set me free.”
There are different ways of looking at this, but fans have suggested that it’s Mayer saying he’s been inspired by Young and Mitchell and is done with the empty celebrity life. He’s embracing inspiration and is coming back to his love of music.
“South California Purples” by Chicago
Song year: 1969
This song’s narrator is clearly distraught and disoriented from a bad breakup. This is clear from the repeated line, “Buddy, this ain’t L.A.”
It kind of feels like he’s saying, “I came all this way to the promised land – how is it possible for something to go wrong?”
The music is a perfect complement to the lyrical content, giving off a hurried urban vibe.
“Speed Home California” by Sugar Ray
Song year: 1997
The song is summed up nicely in the title. The opening Spanish lines “Hay no lugar como en la casa” basically mean “there’s no place like home.” And, it might suggest the narrator is in Mexico, making his way back to California.
The reference to 1894 is a little curious, but I think it might just be referring to a beater of a car.
Some fans have suggested that this is basically a song about wanting to go home after a long tour, which could be the case.
“Californication” by Red Hot Chili Peppers
Song year: 1999
This song mostly seems to be about what California has become and what it means to people. It’s about chasing the dream and realizing it’s all “Californication.”
The lyrics are full of pop culture references. If you’re curious, this is worth exploring on your own time.
Overall, however, it’s basically about the dark side of Hollywood.
“We Don’t Need Another Song About California” by My Chemical Romance
Song year: 2010
My Chemical Romance might be right about that. But not surprisingly, it’s a song about the double-edged sword that California is.
Many people go there to realize their dreams, but a lot of those people never achieve what they set out to do.
This song is basically saying that California is fake, and the promises are lies.
“All I Wanna Do” by Sheryl Crow
Song year: 1993
“All I Wanna Do”, as you are likely aware, is Sheryl Crow’s wordy breakthrough hit. The country tinged chorus is an amazing hook and it’s what most people remember it for:
“All I wanna do is have some fun / I got a feeling I’m not the only one.”
The lyrical content makes a little more sense when you realize it’s a song based on Wyn Cooper’s poem, “Fun.” If you’d like to check it out, you can Google it.
“Beverly Hills” by Weezer
Song year: 2005
A song celebrating Beverly Hills or a commentary on culture and society? Knowing Weezer, my money is on the latter.
Front man Rivers Cuomo, however, said the song was never meant to be sarcastic or ironic. Apparently, he was flipping through a program at the Hollywood Bowl and saw a picture of Wilson Phillips when he suddenly thought to himself, “wouldn’t it be nice to marry a celebrity and live in Beverly Hills?”
So, the song is coming from a sincere place and it’s a catchy one to boot.
Songs With California In The Title; Final Thoughts
Again, we’re just scratching the surface in terms of songs to do with California. It’s crazy how many there are!
What’s your favorite song about California? Are there any that represent your own feelings towards the state and its culture?
We hope you enjoyed this list and found the inspiration you were looking for.
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