Ventura Highway

Album: Homecoming (1972)
Charted: 43 8
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  • America member Dewey Bunnell wrote this song. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times October 1, 2006, he explained: "It was 1963 when I was in seventh grade, we got a flat tire and we're standing on the side of the road and I was staring at this highway sign. It said 'Ventura' on it and it just stuck with me. It was a sunny day and the ocean there, all of it."

    Bunnell's father was in the Air Force and was stationed at Vandenberg Air Force Base near Santa Barbara. They were on a trip in the Oxnard area of southern California when they got stranded.
  • Regarding the lyrics, "Seasons crying no despair, alligator lizards in the air," Bunnell said: "The clouds. It's my brother and I standing there on the side of the road looking at the shapes of clouds while my dad changed the tire."
  • There's no official "Ventura Highway," but Ventura is a county in California, and Highway 101 runs through it.

    In Walk on By: The Story of Popular Song, Dewey Bunnell explained: "I remember vividly having this mental picture of the stretch of the coastlines traveling with my family when I was younger. Ventura Highway itself, there is no such beast, what I was really trying to depict was the Pacific Coast Highway, Highway 1, which goes up to the town of Ventura."
  • Songwriting credits on America's songs were typically assigned to whoever came up with the idea, and that person would be the one who sings on the track. The entire band often made some contributions to the compositions, however, and while Dewey Bunnell gets solo songwriting credit on this song, he did get some help. The band's other primary songwriter, Gerry Beckley, told us: "the guitar lick on 'Ventura Highway' is something that Dan [Peek] and I put together that really wasn't a part of the song. The song is of course, super strong on its own. We had a friend back in England, when he heard it with the guitar lick, he said, 'Oh, you've ruined it!'" (here's the full Gerry Beckley interview).
  • Long before Prince used it, America incorporated the phrase "Purple Rain" into a lyric, as they sing here:

    Wishin' on a falling star
    Waitin' for the early train
    Sorry boy, but I've been hit by purple rain

    In this context, the purple rain could be ambition, as the character in the song is ready to move on.
  • Janet Jackson interpolated this on her 2001 hit "Someone To Call My Lover." She had never heard "Ventura Highway," but loved the idea when her producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis played it for her and suggested they use it as the basis for a song.

Comments: 49

  • Joe from LaThat stretch of the 101 IS the Ventura Highway
  • Norman from Southern California This came out when I was a Senior in High School. Coincidentally for fun we used to hitchhike up and down the coast from LA to SF for fun. I’ve always thought of Ventura Highway as the stretch between say Ojai and up near Paso Robles, but that’s just my perception.
    Always liked the song but had forgotten about it over the years. As a Guitarist fir most of my life now I recognize 2 distinct things about it.
    Number one is the similarity to Pete Townsends rhythm guitar style and number two is the use of the Em7 as being very similar to some of Neil Young’s early songs.
    Not taking anything away from these guys who are very talented, but the similarities are very strong in my opinion.
    They do say there is nothing actually “new” in music, it’s all been recycled.
  • Joe from LondonI was a collector of music back in the 80’s, 50 or so 7” singles but mostly 12” singles, I had about 600. I’d bought “Horse with no name” on 7” and had it for quite a while and I was trying to get hold of “Ventura Highway” on 7” vinyl but wasn’t having any luck, I’d try and try but couldn’t seem to get it, I was frustrated, I loved that song, then one day, I decided, as I did quite often, that I’d go and sort a few records out from the bedroom and take them to play in the living room, so I started to flick through the 7” singles and there it was “Ventura Highway” was staring back at me, my heart skipped a beat, I was confused, I then thought it must be a song by someone else, I quickly looked underneath the title for the artists name and yep, it was by America, I was still confused, I’d been really trying to track this song down for years and now here it was, in my hand, still confused I flipped it over to see was was on the other side, only to discover that the other side was “A horse with no name” turns out that I’d had the song for years but never knew it coz I’d never looked at the other side of “horse with no name” I found out later that it had been re-released long after as a double A side so to speak, needless to say it was played to death that day hahahaha.
  • Corey from North CarolinaResponding to questions about the “purple rain” from the lyrics, my completely-individual-and-unassociated-with-any-official-representation-of-the-song interpretation is that it refers to hyper saturated nimbostratus (thunderstorm) clouds that can look purple just prior to letting loose lightning and torrential rain. To me this represents the singer being fascinated that the sky is on the verge of a huge change while not recognizing that same status in himself. In the next lines he opts not to change his name, i.e., remaining the same. Sometimes those clouds don’t let go.
  • Dana from CanadaSong Meaning
    America member Dewey Bunnell wrote this song. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times October 1, 2006, he explained: "It was 1963 when I was in seventh grade, we got a flat tire and we're standing on the side of the road and I was staring at this highway sign. It said 'Ventura' on it and it just stuck with me. It was a sunny day and the ocean there, all of it."

    Regarding the lyrics, "Seasons crying no despair, alligator lizards in the air," Bunnell said: "The clouds. It's my brother and I standing there on the side of the road looking at the shapes of clouds while my dad changed the tire."

    There's no official "Ventura Highway," but Ventura is a county in California, and Highway 101 runs through it.
  • Jon from IowaI'm pretty sure the Ventura Highway is the 126 which leads from the 5 freeway to Ventura.
  • Bill Bailey from New MexicoI was only 9 years old when this album came out, but America is one of my favorite bands. Ventura Highway brings back so many memories of my step-Father. He lived in SoCal when he was in the Marines at Pendleton. One day I remember we were driving, and this song was playing. I asked him, have you ever been down Ventura Highway? He said if it's Pacific Coast Highway, yes. So whenever I hear this song, it brings me back to that time. He passed about six years ago, but I miss him a lot. And this song brings all those memories of him. ;p
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn January 16th 1999, America performed "Ventura Highway" at the inaugural ball of Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura...
    Jesse Ventura, born James George Janos, was the governor on Minnesota from 1999 to 2003).
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn December 3rd, 1972 "Ventura Highway" by America peaked at #8 (for 2 weeks) on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; it had entered the chart on October 21st at position #63 and spent 12 weeks on the Top 100...
    It reached #3 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary Tracks chart...
    Was the group's third straight Top 10 hit ("A Horse With No Name", which peaked at #1 for 3 weeks and "I Need You" at #9)...
    R.I.P. Dan Peek (November 1st, 1950 - July 24th, 2011).
  • Staley from Dallas, TxThe theme to SNL's "The Californians" sketch includes an imitation of the acoustic riff from Ventura Highway. It ties in both to the state and the way the characters always talk about which freeways they took to get around.
  • Jim from Pleasant Hill, CaI always took "Ventura Highway" to be about restarting life in a place with better weather and/or a better mental outlook. The Ventura/Oxnard area has arguably the best climate in that region, with much less pollution than the L.A. basin. But the lyrics seem deliberately vague and contradicting in parts, like much of America's work. That's OK, because when a song gets too literal it can lose enigmatic appeal.
  • Simon from London, United KingdomMusic is so powerfully evocative, isn't it? I listen to Ventura Highway and remember exactly how old I was, where I was, what I was feeling at the time, the person I loved but couldn't have - all so painful, but enjoyable at the same time. Can anybody tell me what 'purple rain' was supposed to mean? Like Eagles, America were/are great musicians, and some of their stuff was so good melodically - it's the good melodies that last. Can anyone remember anything worthwhile after about 1984?
  • Dennis from Hobart, AustraliaGreat song, America are also great live artists who give great value for money, saw them in Cebu Philippines recentlywhere they are extremely popular
  • Rick from Seattle, WaOne of my all-time favorite bands whose songs conjur up so many memories of days-past! Johnny of LA complained "Nobody gives America enough credit." I reply: I think plenty of credit comes to Gerry & Dewey in the form of regular royalty payments as well as the income from their more than 100 concerts throughout the year. The two of them are worth many millions from their songwriting accomplishments alone.
  • Staley from Dallas, TxGreat guitar riff, and another great catchy light rock song. I've been on the California Coastal drive, and it is wonderful, though one of the kids got carsick in Big Sur (and had been eating Cool Ranch Doritos). I was a little ashamed to return that rental car.
  • Steve from Trabuco Canyon, CaAlthough there's no official "Ventura Highway", there is a "Ventura Freeway" which is the US 101 and it runs along the pacific ocean in LA and Ventura Counties in CA. Freeway is a term used by Californians and my guess is that when the song was written "Highway" was the popular term at the time. I only saw America once in concert which was in Kansas City at Memorial Hall in the summer of 1980. McGuinn, Clark, and Hillman (the Byrds) warmed-up for them at this general admission concert which was outstanding. I eventually worked my way up to the front row of the concert and was sitting there for Ventura Highway. I have lived in Southern California twice now (1998-2002 and 2008-present) and think of this song as a soundtrack for the area. I read somewhere that the lyric in this song "chewing on a pice of grass walking down the road" was conceived by the song's author when he lived in Omana NE. Unknowingly I always thought of the open spaces in the midwest and growing up in Kansas City when listening to this part of the song on the radio when it first came out in the 1970's.
  • Brian from Boston, MaBrian from Boston again. Sat. May 29 2010. I just learned how to play this on guitar. I had purchased the America greatist hits guitar tab songbook some years ago and I have finaly learned to play this song.The reason why I never learned it is because the tablature in the book is confusing. The main riff is written in the book for two guitars.The problem is both guitar parts are indicated on the same staff.I have never seen this type of display for any other song book I have.The two guitar parts should have been displayed seperatly.As a result of this confusion I was playing the song wrong and trying to learn it was frustrating. I had recenty gone to youtube and saw a live performance of America singing this song. I noticed that the lead guitar player was playing the main riff with different fingering than I was. I then visited guitar instructional web sites that have guitar tabs of famous songs and noticed the difference. Because these tabs had much fewr notes to play [1/2 as many as the book] for the main riff I just assumed that these were simplified versions.After seeing the tabs displayed the same way on many different web sites I try playing the riff the way it was displayed.I quickly realized that this was how to play the song and after a few hours of practice I had learned it. I realize I am a bit long winded but this riff is one I have always wanted to learn to play. I really thought it was beyond my abilities for many years. To those learning the song from the book don't make the same mistake I did
  • Brian from Boston, MaI just found some more info on this song.If look down this page about 24 or so comments dd from sandiego explains it I just saw this thanks dd
  • Brian from Boston, MaAs far as Janet Jackson sampling this song How is this in any way shape or form an accomplishment on her part. Here's an idea try writing your own song
  • Brian from Boston, MaI would like to know who "Joe"is in the song sorry Ace Marion from West Vinginia I don't buy your story. Just thinking out loud here maybe Joe was Bunnells' [the songs writer] father and its about him going to California I don't know just speculating I would like it if someone who really knows this answer to respond. I can't listen to this song and not be in good mood.I like how Bunnell says this was inspired by a childhood memory and the feeling he had at the time. I think we all have certain memories from our youth that we treasure I can definitly relate to that.
  • Brian from Boston, MaGreat opening riff. This song has a cool laid back feel similar to the Eagles music. I love this song.America is another one of those bands that are not "cool" to listen to. I think they were underrated.
  • Kevin from Washington Dc, DcThe post about Sir George Martin is incorrect he actually came onboard with America for albums 4-7
    Starting with Hearts & ending with Harbor. They remain friends to this day. When the band played the UK last year the guys got to see George. He is still spry for and old guy:)He is in his 80's Definately a legend!!!!!
  • Earthling6 from Sonora, CaSo, Janet Jackson sampled this song on her song "Someone to Call My Lover" AND she grew up in Van Nuys, CA, which is just north of - guess what - the Ventura Hwy/Fwy along the 405 fwy. Coincidence????
  • Earthling6 from Sonora, CaCalifornia soft rock classic! Wonderful bassline by Joe Osborn helps create that carefree feeling. Ventura highway/freeway 101 heads west right to the beautiful ocean. If you ever visit California and want to find the feeling of this song, take the drive up the coast from Ventura to Santa Barbara and follow Hwy 1 north all the way to Big Sur with it's incredible views and bridges! One of the best drives in the U.S., and one of the many beautiful things about California. I live in the Sierra Nevada mtns which is another beautiful thing!
  • Dave from Lehigh Valley, PaI remember seeing America back in the seventies at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA. At that time, all three were still together, and they were still releasing and recording new material. Gives me chills to think back to what an historical concert that was...especially in a field house gym that maybe would hold 2000 people. Good thing my older brothers went to school there and offered to take me. Yeah, they sounded just like the records. That's something you can't say much anymore about live concerts...even then contrasted against Chicago for instance...who sounded very different live than they did on the recordings. Truly gifted and talented trio who gave so much enjoyment to so many. Still wish they would do shows reunited.
  • Johnnys Cousin Steve from Villas, NjAwesome song - I play it almost every gig!
  • Harold from San Bernadino, CaThis one brings back great memories from hitch-hiking days in the early 70's.
  • Angelo from San Jose, CaAll this rhetoric about a great song and nobody mentions the fact that one of the most influential and brilliant musicians ever, borrowed from this song {where I'm pretty sure it was first penned} the phrase "PURPLE RAIN".
  • Tom from Marble Falls, ArI saw America at the Tanana Valley Fair in Fairbanks, Alaska, in 1999. It was one of the greatest concerts I've ever went to. They actually put on a great show, and the locals make a fun audience (a lot of cuties dancing near the stage!)
  • Steve from Lake Havasu City, AzThere is a Ventura Highway it is Highway 126 it starts at Interstate 5 and goes west and ends at Highway 101 in Ventura, California.
  • Robert from Salt Lake City, UtOne of my college friends was from Southern California, and when ever he would hear that song he would complain, "That song is so so stupid, it's Ventura Freeway!" When ever I hear it it reminds me of those innocent, carefree, days.
  • Bill from Drexel Hill, PaIm 16 and AMERICA is one of my favorite bands I have four of there albums and I agree that they do not get enough credit.
  • Darwin from Portsmouth Oh (closest), CaThis song is "mine"!
    I'm a country bumpkin who spent many a summer day in southern Ohio walking down a dusty country road in summer chewin' on a piece of grass knowing that in a few months I'd be wading that same path in snow a couple months later.
    I have to thank God that I now live the dream depicted in this song. I live in Thousand Oaks, CA, which is along the Ventura Highway (RT 101) Bordering on horse, farm, wine, poultry, dairy, citrus & farm produce country.
    The previous post stating that the Ventura Highway and the RT.101 are the same is correct. RT 101 (Ventura Highway) used to be the stagecoach trail that connected the Catholic Missions on the west coast for the Indians in the area. Come visit the Stagecoach Inn Museum here in T.O. if you want to get a better perspective
    The weather here is near perfect, and the people are as close to small town as you can get, mixed with a lot of good Hispanic people to make it interesting. Remember this region used to belong to wealthy Mexican land barons.
    If you get cable or satellite TV look for the RFD channel and the program California Country to see what most of California is really like. It's not all Hollywood, Universal Studios, and Disneyland.
    If you think you want to live here, city slickers need not apply, we already have too much of your kind...(go live in the Los Angeles cesspool). It also helps if you are willing to learn to speak some Spanish to make our hard working (legal) first generation Hispanic population feel welcome! Hey maybe you should change your name from Joe to Jose...just kidding!
  • Sara from Van Nuys, CaI noticed in the songfacts it said that there's no ventura highway but there actually is a ventura freeway that begins from ventura to pasadena.
  • Barbara from Chicago, Ilhere's an article about this song from the LA Times:,1,6148083.htmlstory
    if the link doesn't work, google ventura highway america 1972 Geoff Boucher
  • George from Little Rock, ArThis song is so mellow, everytime I hear it I reflect about nothing but good times.
  • Muff from Siouxer City, IajeEz i wIsh I cudd spPeeL. Ventura = venture a
  • Muff from Siouxer City, IaI always a play on the spelling. "Ventura" = "veture a" it really seems too simple
  • Joe from Winston Salem, Nc I was and am a huge America Fan. I always wondered what Dewey Bunnells songs really meant. "Horse with No Name, Ventura Highway and Tin Man were all were hard to determine a meaning. According to Dewey himself those songs were simply words to create images in your mind. " Aligators,lizards in the air were as he put it, cloud formations. My favorite line is from "my Dear" a song on their " Your Move album. "You can't miss it, a blue forest on a green sky"
    Well that comes straight from the horse's mouth. Pun intended. Don't waste your time trying to figure out what his songs mean and enjoy the music and the word paintings that Dewey loves to create......Joe
  • John from Corpus Christi, TxAmerica was one of the best bands in the 70's. It brings back a lot of good memories to me.
  • Eddie from Natchez, MsIf you listen to Janet Jackson's lastest single she sampled the acoustic guitar from this song.
  • Dd from San Diego, Ca"Ventura Highway" became Homecoming's lead track and first single. This breezy vignette by Bunnell became one of America's signature tunes. "It was about leaving," Dewey says. "It reminds me of the time I lived in Omaha as a kid and how we'd walk through cornfields and chew on pieces of grass. There were cold winters, and I had images of going to California. So I think in the song I'm talking to myself, frankly: 'How long you gonna stay here, Joe?' I really believe that 'Ventura Highway' has the most lasting power of all my songs. It's not just the words--the song and the track have a certain fresh, vibrant, optimistic quality that I can still respond to.
  • Brandon from Peoria, IlI give America enough credit :) I own 2 cds that aren't multi-group compilations. One is Queen's Greatest Hits, and the other is America's Greatest Hits History. They have such an awesome sound. But what the hell does this song mean?
  • Johnny from Los Angeles, CaAmerica is a good band. This is a good song. Nobody gives America enough credit.
  • Ken from Louisville, KyFrom the band's first album that was produced by Beatles producer George Martin. When they asked Martin to produce the follow-up to their debut LP, he told them they had to come to London (they wanted to record in Los Angeles) and have all arraigments completed before they got there since he would only spend 2 weeks on the project. They finished in 10 days. Martin produced several other of their albums after that.

  • Aj from Cleveland, GaJanet Jackson took the tune and put it in her own song.
  • Kim from Dagenham, EnglandAlso a nice version of this by Paul Hardcastle (of "19" fame)
  • Melissa from Green Bay, WiJanet jackson sampled this in her 2001 hit "Someone to call my lover"
  • Ace from Marion, WvActually, the "Joe" the song spoke of was a reference to Jimi Hendrix. The song (Just like "No Time" by the Guess Who) was making reference to the falling out between Hendrix and Guess Who member Burt Cummings.

    ...That's what I've heard, at least. I may be wrong.
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