California Girls

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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"
Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!) track listing
Endless Summer track listing
Music sample

"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.[2] The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame included it as one of "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll".[3] In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked it #71 on its list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time".[4] In 2010, the Beach Boys' recording was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.[5]


The music came from Brian Wilson's first psychedelic experience.[6][7][8] He's 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."[9] 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."[7] Inspiration came from the rhythm of "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring".[8] In 2015, he explained: "'California Girls' had that beat — it's called a shuffle beat — and that's definitely a Bach influence."[10]

The next day, he and Mike Love finished off the remainder of the song.[7] Love was not originally listed as the song's co-writer, but his successful 1994 lawsuit for songwriting credits amended the alleged omission.[8] 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.[8]

Musical structure[edit]

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.[8]

Problems playing this file? See media help.

"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."[11] It was advised against by Brian's father, Murry Wilson, who felt it made the song excessively complex.[12] 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.[13]

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.[14]

Recording and production[edit]

The track was produced by Wilson, who intended to encapsulate the feel of the Drifters' version of "On Broadway".[7] The instrumental was made on April 6, 1965 at United Western Recorders, requiring 44 takes before Wilson could deem a satisfactory performance.[15] Problems had arisen from the tempo and guitar part in the introduction, which fatigued Wilson, engineer Chuck Britz, and the dozen-plus session players.[8] 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".[8]

Vocal overdubs followed two months later on June 4 at CBS Columbia Square.[15] 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.[8] "California Girls" was the first Beach Boys recording to feature vocals from Bruce Johnston,[8] who had joined the group to substitute for Wilson on concert tours. Bruce's vocals can be heard at the end of the song.[citation needed]


Sourced from Musician's Union AFM contract sheets and surviving session audio, documented by Craig Slowinski,[15] except where otherwise noted.

The Beach Boys
Additional musicians

Single release[edit]

In addition to reaching #3 in the US,[8] other countries where the single was popular include Canada (#2 in RPMs national chart), Rhodesia (also #2), and Sweden (#6). It peaked at #8 in Australia, and in South Africa it made one of the Beach Boys' best-ever international showings, staying six weeks at No. 1. Radio plays of the song in the United States alone are said to total between four and five million to date, thus making it the Beach Boys' biggest royalty earner.[citation needed]

Cultural references[edit]

The song has been prominently referenced by other artists on more than one occasion. The Beatles' "Back in the U.S.S.R." homages the song.[16] 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.[17]

The song was a strong inspiration for Katy Perry's hit 2010 song "California Gurls". Katy's song initiated controversy 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 Katy 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.[18][19]

The title "California Girls" also became the reference point for two other identically-named songs by Gretchen Wilson and the Magnetic Fields.[8]

Use in film[edit]


The song has been covered by Jan & Dean, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and Ricky Martin.[citation needed] The song was sampled by rapper Tyga in his demo song titled "California Girls".[citation needed] A parody was recorded by The Barron Knights.[citation needed] In 2004, the song was covered for a Cotton commercial featuring mannequins.[citation needed]

David Lee Roth version[edit]

"California Girls"
Single by David Lee Roth
from the album Crazy from the Heat
Released December 19, 1984[21]
Format CD single
Recorded 1984
Genre Pop rock, hard rock
Length 2:50
Label Warner Bros.
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 contributed by Beach Boy Carl Wilson along with Christopher Cross), and like the original it topped at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100.[8]

The music video for the cover, directed by Pete Angelus and Roth, was released in February 1985.[22] Roth stars as a tour guide, showing tourists the beach and swimsuit models. One of the tourists is played by Jane Leeves, who went on to play Frasier's Daphne Moon. 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 in mannequin poses. It 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 which greatly impaired his vision. Each time the editor would increase the red saturation, Roth would tell him to turn it higher, until finally proclaiming, "Now THAT'S red!" The video was parodied in the video for The Dresden Dolls' "Shores of California".


  1. ^ Pichaske 1981.
  2. ^ a b Sumrall 1994, p. 15.
  3. ^ "500 Songs That Shaped Rock". Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Retrieved November 15, 2014. 
  4. ^ "The RS 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Rolling Stone. Retrieved June 19, 2008. 
  5. ^ "Home►The Recording Academy►GRAMMY Awards". National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Retrieved July 8, 2015. 
  6. ^ Carlin 2006, p. 65.
  7. ^ a b c d Boucher, Geoff (August 12, 2007). "‘California Girls’ The Beach Boys - 1965". Los Angeles Times. pp. F–4. Retrieved August 17, 2008. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Dillon 2012.
  9. ^ a b Leaf, David (1990). Today/Summer Days (CD Liner). The Beach Boys. Capitol Records. 
  10. ^ Wenzel, John (July 3, 2015). "Brian Wilson says he's not America's Mozart — Bach, maybe". The Denver Post. 
  11. ^ Carlin 2006, p. 66.
  12. ^ Carlin 2006, p. 74.
  13. ^ Harrison 1997, pp. 39, 42.
  14. ^ Harrison 1997, pp. 38, 42.
  15. ^ a b c Slowinski, Craig (2009). "The Beach Boys - The Beach Boys Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!)" (PDF). Retrieved October 27, 2012. 
  16. ^ Carlin 2006, p. 135.
  17. ^ Richie Unterberger. Good Morning Starshine liner notes, Santa Monica: Collector's Choice Music, 2005.
  18. ^[dead link]
  19. ^ "Katy Perry’s ‘California Gurls’ Is A Nod To … Big Star?". MTV. 2010-05-13. Retrieved 2014-06-29. 
  20. ^ "Love & Mercy". Autotelics, LLC. Retrieved August 8, 2015. 
  21. ^ "The Best" cd liner notes (1997)
  22. ^ "David Lee Roth - "California girls"". Retrieved 2014-06-29. 


External links[edit]