First recorded by Barry McGuire (1965).
Hit versions by The Mamas & the Papas (US #4/UK #23 1966), José Feliciano (US #43/R&B #20 1968), America (US #56 1979), The Beach Boys (US #57/MOR #8 1986).
From the wiki: “According to John Phillips in a Bravo documentary, and Michelle Phillips in an NPR piece, the song was written in 1963 while they were living in New York. John dreamed about the song and woke Michelle up to help him write it. At the time, the Phillips were members of the folk group The New Journeymen which would evolve into the Mamas & the Papas.
“The Mamas & the Papas earned their first recording contract after being introduced to Lou Adler, the head of Dunhill Records, by Barry McGuire. In thanks to Adler and McGuire, they sang the backing vocals to McGuire’s original 1965 recording of ‘California Dreamin” (along with session musicians from The Wrecking Crew) for McGuire’s album, This Precious Time.
“Not released by Adler and McGuire as a single, the Mamas and the Papas then recorded their own version of ‘California Dreamin” in late 1965, using the same instrumental and backing vocal tracks to which the group added new vocals, plus an alto flute solo by Bud Shank. P. F. Sloan performed the guitar introduction. (McGuire’s original vocal can be briefly heard on the left channel at the beginning of the Mamas & Papas recording, having not been completely wiped from the original master.)”
“After gaining little attention in Los Angeles upon its release, Michelle Phillips remembers that it took a radio station in Boston (WMEX-AM) to break the song nationwide. In March 1966 the song peaked at #4 on the Hot 100. Sharply dividing the popular music market that month, rival songs ‘California Dreamin” and ‘Ballad of the Green Berets’ eventually tied for the #1 record of 1966. ‘California Dreamin” became a signpost of the arrival of the nascent counterculture era, and is ranked #89 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
“José Feliciano’s arrangement, released as a single on RCA Records in the summer of 1968, reached #43 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and #20 on the Billboard Rhythm & Blues Singles chart. It was the opening track of Feliciano’s 1968 hit album Feliciano!, and was also heard in a key sequence in Quentin Tarantino’s 2019 film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Feliciano’s recording was the A-side of a single which went on to become a huge international hit when radio stations started to play the B-side – his cover of ‘Light My Fire’, which would go on to peak at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100, #1 in Canada, and #6 on the UK Singles chart.
“In the spring of 1979 the band America reached #56 on the Billboard Hot 100 with their remake of “California Dreamin'” which was the first studio recording by America as the duo of Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell without third founding member Dan Peek who had departed the group in 1977. America had performed ‘California Dreamin” at least one occasion in concert as early as 1974, being a sentimental favorite of the band’s members when all three had performed while London Central High School students in the late 1960s.
“The Beach Boys recorded ‘California Dreamin” in 1986 for their greatest hits compilation Made in U.S.A., featuring Roger McGuinn from The Byrds on 12-string guitar. Although the song only charted at a modest #57 on the Billboard Hot 100, it reached #8 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart, supported by a music video that saw heavy rotation on MTV featuring the Beach Boys along with McGuinn and original Mamas and Papas members John Phillips and Michelle Phillips.”
The Mamas & The Papas, “California Dreamin'” (1966):
José Feliciano, “California Dreamin'” (1968):
America, “California Dreamin'” (1979):
The Beach Boys, “California Dreamin'” (1986):