California Girls

For the song by Katy Perry, see California Gurls. For other uses, see California Girls (disambiguation).
"California Girls"
Single by The Beach Boys
from the album Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!)
B-side "Let Him Run Wild"
Released July 12, 1965 (1965-07-12)
Format 7" vinyl
Recorded April 6–June 4, 1965, United Western Recorders and CBS Columbia Square, Hollywood
Length 2:46
Label Capitol
Producer(s) Brian Wilson
The Beach Boys singles chronology
"Help Me, Rhonda"
"California Girls"
"The Little Girl I Once Knew"
Endless Summer track listing
Music sample
"California Girls"

"California Girls" is a song written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love for the American rock band the Beach Boys, featured on their 1965 album Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!). Wilson conceived the song during his first acid trip, later arranging and producing the song's recording, and incorporating an orchestral prelude plus contrasting verse-chorus form. Upon its release as a single, "California Girls" reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was backed with "Let Him Run Wild", another track from Summer Days.

The song is considered emblematic of the 1960s California Sound.[3] The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame included it as one of "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll".[4] In 2010, the Beach Boys' recording was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.[5] In 2011, Rolling Stone magazine ranked it #72 on its list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time".[6]


The music came from Brian Wilson's first psychedelic experience.[7][8][9] He was quoted saying in 1986, "[The song was] something I’m very proud of in a sense because it represents the Beach Boys really greatest record production we’ve ever made. It goes back to 1965 when I was sitting in my apartment, wondering how to write a song about girls, because I love girls. I mean, everybody loves girls."[10] He added in 2007, "I was thinking about the music from cowboy movies. And I sat down and started playing it, bum-buhdeeda, bum-buhdeeda. I did that for about an hour. I got these chords going. Then I got this melody, it came pretty fast after that."[8] Inspiration came from the rhythm of "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring".[9] In 2015, he explained: "'California Girls' had that beat — it's called a shuffle beat — and that's definitely a Bach influence."[11]

The next day, he and Mike Love finished off the remainder of the song.[8] Love was not originally listed as the song's co-writer, but his successful 1994 lawsuit for songwriting credits amended the alleged omission.[9] Bassist Carol Kaye credits almost every note to Brian, with the only exception being a fill she invented at the end of the bridge section.[9]

Musical structure

The song's orchestral introduction
Beginning with Carl Wilson's 12-string guitar and a horn section, "[this] passage was Brian's proclamation to the rest of the music biz that he was a composer to take seriously", wrote Mark Dillon.[9]

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"California Girls" begins with an orchestral prelude which has been compared by biographer Peter Ames Carlin "as spare and stirring as anything by Aaron Copland."[12] It was advised against by Brian's father, Murry Wilson, who felt it made the song excessively complex.[13] Music theorist Daniel Harrison compared the song to a later Brian Wilson composition, "God Only Knows", as it both avoids a root-position tonic and suppresses a cadential drive.[14]

Author Maury Dean writes: "Musically, 'California Girls' is an adventure in chromatics; any garage band trying to follow their bizarre VII tidal wave of dipping and swooping chromatic major chords will have to buy the sheet music, or hire Sherlock Holmes to find the missing chords."[15] The refrain alternates between the I and ii7 without ever resolving to the expected V. During this, the relationship between the music and text is reflected in the lyric "I wish they all could be California girls", an ideal which is also impossible to resolve.[16]

Recording and production

The track was produced by Wilson, who intended to encapsulate the feel of the Drifters' version of "On Broadway".[8] The instrumental was made on April 6, 1965 at United Western Recorders, requiring 44 takes before Wilson could deem a satisfactory performance.[17] Problems had arisen from the tempo and guitar part in the introduction, which fatigued Wilson, engineer Chuck Britz, and the dozen-plus session players.[9] The song did not appear to have lyrics or a title at this juncture, and Wilson can be heard calling the song "Oh Yeah" and "You're Grass and I'm a Power Mower".[9] Wilson remembers: "When we got into the studio with Chuck, he said that he wanted Carl’s twelve-string guitar in the intro to sound more direct. I didn’t know what that meant. 'Can he play it in the booth?' Chuck said. I had never thought about that before, but it seemed like a good idea. Carl was standing next to me in the booth and all the other musicians were out in the studio. I conducted it like an orchestra."[18]

Vocal overdubs followed two months later on June 4 at CBS Columbia Square.[17] Wilson recorded the Beach Boys' vocals using Columbia's new 8-track recorder, allowing Love's lead vocals to be triple-tracked and the group's vocals spread over three more.[9] "California Girls" was the first Beach Boys recording to feature vocals from Bruce Johnston,[9] who had joined the group to substitute for Wilson on concert tours. Bruce's vocals can be heard at the end of the song.


The Beach Boys
Additional musicians

In popular culture

"California Girls" has been referenced by other artists on more than one occasion. The Beatles' "Back in the U.S.S.R." homages the song.[19] Strawberry Alarm Clock, which toured with the Beach Boys in 1966–67, segues into the intro and first line of the song at the end of their song, "Small Package", on their fourth and final album, Good Morning Starshine (1969). This fadeout was keyboardist Mark Weitz's idea.[20] The title also became the reference point for two other identically-named songs by Gretchen Wilson and the Magnetic Fields.[9]

The song was a strong inspiration for Katy Perry's 2010 single "California Gurls". Perry's song initiated a dispute with publisher Rondor Music about its use of the lyric "I wish they all could be California girls"; this lyric was used as the chorus for the Beach Boys' song, but was also featured in Perry's version towards the end of the song. Additionally, the word "girls" was intentionally misspelled. Perry's manager requested that the song name be compatible with the 1970s hit "September Gurls" by Big Star.[21][22]

Cover versions

David Lee Roth

"California Girls"
Single by David Lee Roth
from the album Crazy from the Heat
Released December 19, 1984[23]
Format CD single
Recorded 1984
Length 2:50
Label Warner Bros.
Writer(s) Brian Wilson, Mike Love
Producer(s) Ted Templeman
David Lee Roth singles chronology
"California Girls"
"Just a Gigolo"

"California Girls" was covered by David Lee Roth on his 1985 EP Crazy from the Heat (with background vocals by Beach Boy Carl Wilson along with Christopher Cross). Like the original, it peaked at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100.[9]

The music video for the cover, directed by Pete Angelus and Roth, was released in February 1985.[24] Roth stars as a tour guide, showing tourists (one played by Jane Leeves, who went on to play Frasier's Daphne Moon) the beach and swimsuit models. The female bodybuilder featured in the video is Roth's personal fitness trainer, Kay Baxter. The scenes follow the lyrics with bikini-clad women from all regions of the United States. An oft-imitated scene has Roth dancing down a sidewalk bordered by models frozen like mannequins. "That is Diamond Dave, the character," he observed. "That is definitely a part of me: I grew up in that whole Southern California thing. I dee-lite in it! But you don't have to be there to celebrate the spirit."[25] The clip was nominated for several 1985 MTV Video Music Awards. In an interview with Howard Stern, Roth explained that he edited the video while wearing thick skiing goggles that greatly impaired his vision. Each time the editor increased the red saturation, Roth told him to turn it higher, finally proclaiming, "Now THAT'S red!" The video was parodied in one for The Dresden Dolls' "Shores of California".


  1. Pichaske 1981.
  2. Christensen, Thor (June 25, 2015). "Concert review: Former Beach Boy Brian Wilson shines with 11-member band at the Verizon Theatre". Guide Live.
  3. 1 2 Sumrall 1994, p. 15.
  4. "500 Songs That Shaped Rock". Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Retrieved November 15, 2014.
  5. "Home►The Recording Academy►GRAMMY Awards". National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Retrieved July 8, 2015.
  6. "The RS 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Rolling Stone. April 7, 2011. Retrieved April 27, 2016.
  7. Carlin 2006, p. 65.
  8. 1 2 3 4 Boucher, Geoff (August 12, 2007). "'California Girls' The Beach Boys - 1965". Los Angeles Times. pp. F–4. Retrieved August 17, 2008.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 Dillon 2012.
  10. 1 2 Leaf, David (1990). Today/Summer Days (CD Liner). The Beach Boys. Capitol Records.
  11. Wenzel, John (July 3, 2015). "Brian Wilson says he's not America's Mozart — Bach, maybe". The Denver Post.
  12. Carlin 2006, p. 66.
  13. Carlin 2006, p. 74.
  14. Harrison 1997, pp. 39, 42.
  15. Dean.
  16. Harrison 1997, pp. 38, 42.
  17. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Slowinski, Craig (2009). "The Beach Boys - The Beach Boys Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!)" (PDF). Retrieved October 27, 2012.
  18. Wilson & Greenman 2016.
  19. Carlin 2006, p. 135.
  20. Richie Unterberger. Good Morning Starshine liner notes, Santa Monica: Collector's Choice Music, 2005.
  21. Archived from the original on December 29, 2011. Retrieved November 16, 2012. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  22. "Katy Perry's 'California Gurls' Is A Nod To … Big Star?". MTV. 2010-05-13. Retrieved 2014-06-29.
  23. "The Best" cd liner notes (1997)
  24. "David Lee Roth - "California girls"". Retrieved 2014-06-29.
  25. Swift, David (December 3, 1988). "I laugh to win". NME: 20.


External links

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