Autumn, “California Dreaming” and The Mamas & the Papas

Having totally accepted now that autumn is well and truly with us, it’s possible to start enjoying all the things it brings. It was interesting this week to discover that the Pagan name for the autumnal equinox is actually “Mabon”, and that it really is a celebration of the fact the harvests are in and we can count our proverbial blessings for another year. Not that I’ve suddenly gone all new-age or anything but I decided to head out for a walk on Thursday (the day of the equinox) to gather some of nature’s riches in a basket. Hubby decided to humour me and tagged along. Living right on the edge of a forest we didn’t have to go far to find all sorts of interesting bits and pieces. The basket idea was ditched however in favour of a bag (too Little Red Riding Hood-like otherwise) but when I asked hubby to retrieve the bag from his pocket it turned out he’d taken a giant plastic one from a well-known sporting goods store. This was not the rustic, rural idyll I was trying to recreate so he very kindly headed back for something in cloth or hessian.

Celebrating Mabon!

It was a beautiful afternoon and the walk in itself would have been enough but I was really pleased to be able to gather so many interesting berries, leaves and seedpods. Once back home, my items were placed in a bowl on the hearth but when darling daughter arrived home and questioned why there was indeed a bowl of “stuff” in the living room, I explained we were celebrating the start of autumn and the fact the harvests were in for another year. “But we go to the supermarket” she said, seemingly nonplussed – Missing the point there I think!

Anyway, having done my bit of new-age celebrating (with a candle no less) it occurred to me that one of my favourite autumnal songs is California Dreamin’ by The Mamas & the Papas. Now this is a really great song (not least because of the harmonies) but can cause real seasonal confusion. It shouldn’t really as the lyrics are quite straightforward – The narrator is basically longing for the warmth of his home in LA during a cold winter’s day in New York. But what with the reference to the autumn leaves, the winter’s day, and the sunshine of California, it kind of encapsulates three seasons in one song.

All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey.
I’ve been for a walk on a winter’s day.
I’d be safe and warm if I was in L.A.,
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.

California Dreamin’ by The Mamas & the Papas:

This autumn/winter song was written by John and Michelle Phillips of The Mamas & the Papas. Because it is so closely associated with The Mamas & the Papas however, it confusingly comes under the sub-genre sunshine pop. They, along with other mid-sixties artists such as The Beach Boys and Jan & Dean, were part of a musical aesthetic called The California Sound. To be a teenager in southern California in the late 1950s and early 1960s, it must have felt as if you’d died and gone to heaven, and the songs identified with that culture were full of wide-eyed, sunny optimism. They were all about surfin’, riding around in hotrods and partying at the beach. The California Sound however gradually evolved to reflect a more mature world view, becoming less to do with surfing and cars and more about social consciousness and political awareness. Between 1964 and 1969, it inspired artists to tackle meatier themes such as sexual freedom, black pride, drugs, politics and war.

But for now I will just enjoy the song, whatever musical sub-genre it belongs to. I was too young to enjoy The California Sound first time around but it is a sound we are all familiar with. The offspring of Beach Boy Brian Wilson, and Mama and Papa John and Michelle Phillips, went on to form the late ’80s band Wilson Phillips so one of those second generation things going on there – Sadly I was a bit too old for their kind of sunshine pop by this time so yet again missed the boat. I will however leave you with their biggest hit, Hold On from 1990 (which incidentally had a bit of a starring role in the very funny Kristen Wiig film, Bridesmaids). Enjoy.

California Dreamin’ Lyrics
(Song by John Phillips/Michelle Phillips)

All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey.
I’ve been for a walk on a winter’s day.
I’d be safe and warm if I was in L.A.;
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.

Stopped in to a church I passed along the way.
Well I got down on my knees and I pretend to pray.
You know the preacher liked the cold;
He knows I’m gonna stay.
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.

All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray.
I’ve been for a walk on a winter’s day.
If I didn’t tell her I could leave today;
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.

Author: Alyson

Whenever I hear an old song on the radio, I am immediately transported back to those days. I know I'm not alone here and want to record those memories for myself and for the people in them. 57 years ago the song "Alfie" was written by my favourite songwriting team, Bacharach and David. The opening line to that song was, "What's it all about?" and I'm hoping by writing this blog, I might find the answer to that question.

8 thoughts on “Autumn, “California Dreaming” and The Mamas & the Papas”

  1. WordPress has the most annoying tendency to post the comment before it’s completed or to suddenly disappear. I’ll try to reconstruct what I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted. 😉

    I think this is a perfect song for this time of year. I’d intended to post it myself eventually, but I was glad to see that you’d selected one of my favourites today. How lucky you are to be living on the edge of a forest – I’m envious!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. John Philips was one of the great vocal arrangers of the pop era and I have always loved the harmonies. What I hadn’t realised was that the men’s and women’s parts on this one are almost like different songs which happen to fit around each other (courtesy of Philips’s genius). This came home to me five or six years ago when I was playing an acoustic gig at a charity event – all afternoon in a community centre in, of all places, Tobago, and I was on for most of it while trying to get other people up. A woman I knew slightly was standing at the side and when I launched into this she kind of brightened up but didn’t start singing straightaway. That’s because the girls don’t come in with their version of the first line until the men have almost finished theirs. So it goes “All the leaves are All the leaves are brown”. Brilliant stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

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