Many iconic rock bands have written songs about California. Why? Why is this one state so rock ‘n’ roll-friendly? Why do these musicians have such a draw to the state? What are the differences between the songs today and the songs now?
The most recent popular California songs were Local H’s “California Songs” (which was anti-California), then Phantom Planet’s song about California that was featured on “The OC” and Weezer’s “Beverly Hills.” Delta Spirit’s “California” off its forthcoming album, Delta Spirit, may be the song that today’s youngest crowd of music fans get to claim as their California song.
The lyrics speak about a much different California than previous songwriters did, and Delta Spirit might even be making a comment about the bands before it. Instead of wondering about California like the Mommas and the Poppas did, the first line of Delta Spirit’s song says: “I want you to move to California for yourself/I want you to find whatever your heart needs/I want you to move to California for yourself, but not for me,” and tells us that this song isn’t about how the singer feels about California.
This isn’t a straightforward love song dedicated to California, flowers and sunshine (it could be argued it’s a tongue-in-cheek or bittersweet love song about the state), and it’s not really about any particular experience the singer had in California. This song is more of a letter to someone who is in distress with life or needs some direction. It’s almost trying to act as advice to listeners and in some ways, maybe not even the best advice.
In past decades, California has been the place where you run to do more drugs, to drop out and drop acid, to find all the counter-culture that you couldn’t find in places like Texas or Kansas. Is this the type of California journey that exists today? The California that Delta Spirit is talking about might not be the place for the listener to stay forever, but maybe California is just a life lesson.
The other difference Delta Spirit’s “California” has from most of its California competitors is that it doesn’t go along with the typical “California promise” that most of the other songs about California have in them. Songs like “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” by Scot McKenzie offer salvation and hippy love forever. It also doesn’t have a promise like the Beach Boys’ “California Girls” of good-looking girls forever. Delta Spirit’s “California” is a cathartic and complicated sort of place with real depth—not just sunshine, marijuana, movie stars and relaxation.
Instrumentally, the song doesn’t venture far from the Delta Spirit’s typical sound. The guitars and bass combine melodies and rhythm to create a glitter and shimmer that can’t be replicated by other bands. It’s a soft glow that is still powerful and moving at the same time. Check out “California” on Pop ‘stache’s Stubble, Vol. IV mixtape.