Beach Boys Mike Love and Brian Wilson wrote this song celebrating the women of California. Along with surfing and cars, girls were a common topic in many of The Beach Boys songs, and part of the California mythos that was so enticing to young people in other parts of America.
Wilson wrote the music, and Love came up with the lyrics. Regarding his way with words, Love told us: "Ever since I can remember I've always been intrigued by poetry and literature. So that's always been something that I've immersed myself in since childhood. I'd always get really good grades in English literature and American literature and all that kind of thing. Whereas my math skills weren't exactly upgraded." (Here's our full interview with Mike Love.)
Brian Wilson said of this song when he spoke to Goldmine in 2011: "I came up the introduction first. I'm still really proud of that introduction. It has a classical feel. I wrote the song 'California Girls' in the same key as the introduction. It took me some time. I wanted to write a song that had a traditional country and western left hand piano riff, like an old country song from the early '50s. I wanted to get something that had kind of a jumpy feeling to it in the verses."
Structurally, this uses a contrasting verse-chorus form.
Suggestion credit: Bertrand - Paris, France
Lead vocals on this song were by Mike Love, but you can also hear Bruce Johnston on the track along with Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson and Al Jardine. Johnston was brought in to tour with the group when Brian Wilson decided to stay off the road, and this was his first vocal appearance on a Beach Boys song.
Drummer Hal Blaine and bass player Carol Kaye played on this. They were two of the first-call Los Angeles studio musicians known for working with Phil Spector and playing on many hits of the era. According to Kaye, Brian Wilson, who was himself a bass player, always had the bass parts written out for her, and "California Girls" was the only song where she was able to get a lick in that Brian didn't write. She says the bass part is reminiscent of a country song called "Tumbling Tumbleweeds."
Other musicians to play on this track include: Jerry Cole - guitar Billy Strange - guitar Howard Roberts - guitar Lyle Ritz - acoustic bass Leon Russell - piano Al DeLory - organ Steven Kreisman - saxophone Jay Migliori - saxophone Jack Nimitz - saxophone Roy Caton - trumpet Frank Capp - vibraphone
David Lee Roth released his own version in 1985 as his first solo single (he would leave Van Halen a short time later). The video featured a lineup of beautiful women and got loads of airplay on MTV. It set the tone for Roth's solo career as he perpetuated his image as a hedonistic party boy (not much of a change from his days in Van Halen). Carl Wilson from The Beach Boys sang backup on Roth's version, which hit #3 in the US.
Suggestion credit: Todd - Centreville, VA
Paul McCartney conceived The Beatles song "Back In The U.S.S.R." as a Soviet version of "California Girls." He got the idea on a trip to India, where along with Mike Love of The Beach Boys, he was studying Transcendental Meditation. Love told us: "Paul came down to the breakfast table one morning saying, 'Hey, Mike, listen to this.' And he starts strumming and singing, 'Back in the U.S.S.R.,' the verses. And I said, 'Well, Paul, what you ought to do is talk about the girls around Russia, Ukraine girls and then Georgia on my mind, and that kind of thing.' Which he did."
A problem with writing a song like this is that it's hard to top. Speaking with Rolling Stone in 2015, Brian Wilson talked about trying to write songs: "I sit at the piano and try, but all I want to do is rewrite 'California Girls.' How am I gonna do something better than that?"
Brian Wilson discussed the song in his 2016 memoir, I Am Brian Wilson. "The idea of 'California Girls' is that there's this guy who thinks about girls all the time, so much that he starts to imagine all kinds," he explained. "But there's only one kind he really wants, and that's right there at home. The music started off like those old cowboy movies, when the hero's riding slowly into town, bum-ba-dee-dah. I was playing that at the piano after an acid trip. I played it until I almost couldn't hear what I was playing, and then I saw the melody hovering over the piano part."
Kevin from CanadaThe song had come out but I had not heard it yet...picked up a 45 at the local record store. The intro was amazing....absolutely nothing like it before. Clearly it was going to be a smash hit and it has now endured as a favorite BB song for over 50 years. I have been to 17 concerts, most at large venues, but the last two were special, in small settings. #16 got to meet Mike Love and Bruce who signed my BB Guitar song book. #17 brought my daughter, a very accomplished and trained drummer, to see Brian Wilson...told here this was going to be like meeting Mozart. Met Brian, Al and Blondie Chaplin...who signed the same book and some other things. Brian did not say a word, just smiled as needed. Of all of them Al was the most engaging. Being at meet and greets and sound checks is a great experience as is being right in front of the artists as they perform. The Beatles, Rolling Stones and Beach Boys had a big influence on each other and a number of the songs by each group were the result of competition/collaboration among them. 100 years from now people will still be listening to these amazing rock and roll artists.
Duncan from Manhattan, KsTo John from MD: The "Sounds of Summer" stereo mix has a couple of mixing problems. First, the vocals are out of sync with the backing track at some points, and for some reason, the "girls, girls, girls, yeah I dig the girls" backing vocals are almost completely drowned out by the backing track. The original mono version and the first stereo mix (from the first issue of the "Endless Harmony Soundtrack" CD) has more prominent backing vocals.
Jennifur Sun from RamonaA lot of those musicans played on their LPS and for a lot of other artists, they were known as The Wrecking Crew. There are two books and a video documentary about them if anyone is interested. Cal girl and native Californian.
Bill from Rochester, NyByfield, MA!?!?! Jan, what a memory you posted, many thanks, couldn't agree more - went to a school in S. Byfield, MA, just down the road, Beach Boys were part of same experience for me (w/different girl, but same memorable impact!)...good for you and your post, what a powerful flashback - BBoys rock!
Dan from Towson, MdI can't stand when idiotic DJ's talk over the intro. Its the best part of the song! I heard them do it just the other day on Sirius.
Sabrina from Corvallis, OrWhere is this heroin stuff coming from? Now there is a drug reference to the song but not heroin. According to Wikipedia, Brian was inspired to write this song while on an acid trip...but then weren't many of the songs from the 60s lol?
Reed from New Ulm, MnMurph from Peoria....sorry to say, but i think YOU may clearly be about heroin addiction----please do yourself a favor and put the needle and spoon down. You can live without it. This song is one of the best ever written, EVER. Brian Wilson was a friggin' genius!
John from Brisbane, United StatesI always thought they were singing about a wish day on the beach California curls.It took most of my life before I was so very repulsed when I learned it was about girls! What a turn off was that for me.This song is such a turn off,it is about heterosexual stupid men who like females.What a disappointment for woe is me.
Steve Dotstar from Los Angeles, CaMy cousin Dennis and I learned to play a version of the intro to this song on the guitar when it first came out. (a fond memory)
John from Brisbane, United StatesI always thought it was The wish Pack on the Beach.But when I was 20 years old I realized that men have a desire for girls.The wish back on the beat california.
Jan from Byfield, MaThis song brings back the warmest memories. My first kiss was on a warm summer evening with the lyric "And the Northern girls with the way they kiss keep their boyfriends warm at night." in the background. Thank you Tom, wherever you are, you gave me a memory that still makes me smile!!
Fred from Laurel, MdHey! All you who are getting so riled up by the drug comment--take a close look at Murph/Peoria down at the bottom of this page--can't you see that silly smirk on his face? And that cheek bulging from his tongue? He's just trying to get a rise out of as many people as he can, so he obviously chose one of the very least drug-connected songs he could find to plant his comment. Don't fall for it! *** And seriously, this song is one of the pop icons of the 20th century. Period.
Joel from Columbia, ScIt is NOT about heroin or any other drugs. If someone can point out drug references in the lyrics then okay otherwise please give it a rest. P-E-A-C-E-
Dale from Santa Fe, NmJohn in MD, both the Beach Boys version and the DLR version have the "I dig 'em girls" line. I've never heard a studio version of the song without that line. If you have the treble/bass ratio off, however, it could be lost.
Tom from North Attleboro, MaDarrell, Eugene: YOUR interpretation.
Darrell from EugeneThis song is not about heroin addiction. It is about those anorexic models, actresses and wannabes who make me want to turn California into a separate country if I run for president under the Independent ticket several elections down the road, that is, if I live that long. By the way, everything about those same women (who are often so pale that they roast like wienies in the sun) that I mention in the beginning of this comment make me glad that my girlfriend is half Caucasian and half Native Hawaiian and was born in Phoenix.
Joel from Los Angeles, CaGood tune. Did anyone else like David Lee Roth's version?
Krista from Elyria, OhThis is one of their best! They are almost as good as The Beatles! I also like David Lee Roth's version, too. I didn't like his vid woth all the girls in bikinis though.
Sloop Johnb from Kansasville, United StatesActually this song is not about girls from California. Brian , with a little help from cousin Mike, is describing the attributes of girls from around the United States and he wishes they all could be California Girls. Brian hated travelling, expecially flying and once had a nervous breaking down on a plane at the start of a concert tour back in the 60's. His dream was to have all the fine ladies from around the US right in his home state of California, presumable so he wouldn't have to travel far to see them all...
Luke from Manchester, EnglandHow the **** can this be about herion addiction when it clearly celebrates the women of America and says the best are from California... Retards
John from Lansing, MiIn concert, for at least a year or two after the song was released, Mike Love would jokingly tell the audience that the song's original title was "California Girls Are Pregnant"
Henry from Kingston, NyHeroin addiction? You're insane. I absolutely love this song. Something about the vocals drive me crazy.
Caitlin from Upper Township, NjI remeber my mom sang along 2 this in the car once in front of my friend. it was embarrasing!
Aylin from MontrealInteresting how 5 out of the ten weekly most popular songfacts this week contain the word California in the title (counting Californication).
Bram from Zoetermeer, NetherlandsMore Brian Wilson than Mike Love, as often was the case
Voodoocat from Zimbabwe, United StatesThis is an awesome like a possum song!!
John from Millersville, MdI've heard what seems to be two versions of the song--one which includes a sort of chant right before the chorus of 'I dig it giirrlllss' or something like that. I have ONLY heard this version on the radio, my Beach Boys CD (the Sonds of Summer compilation, not the original album) does NOT have this chant. I like the chant. Can anyone tell me if the two versions are distinguishable?
Gary from Auckland, New ZealandForget about hot babes and heroin, you heroes. Brian Wilson composed it (Mike Love probably added and edited lyrics, as usual), reliably reported, immediately after his first LSD trip. He rates the introduction the best passage of music he's ever written. Sales-wise it was somewhat overlooked at the time, coming off second best to raves of the moment like the newly breaking Dylan and Sonny & Cher. New York City's top top-40 station, WNBC, did a vote-in and sales survey in 1976 for most of the eastern Seaboard and found that 'California Girls' came in second only to the Beatles 'Yesterday' for 1965.
Murph from Peoria, IlActually, I think this song is clearly about heroin addiction.
Jeff from Atlanta, GaI love this song! What rock star DOESN'T like singing about hot babes?
Its also great to play at bars for the ladies too. =)