It’s the best word Joni Mitchell ever sung. There are about a hundred recorded songs with the same title but her “California”, from 1971’s Blue, does more for the word than any other. “Oh but California,” she sings, and then, as if sucker-punched, repeats the word as an ecstatic, crescendoing coloratura that stretches it into seven rippling syllables, an overladen, over-expansive, overcome, “Cah-ah-ah-li-FOR-nyi-ah-uhhh.” In classic Joni fashion, there’s an excess of expressiveness that’s just on the edge of absurdity.
But, in this case, who can blame her. “California” has to be the most-referenced place in pop. There’s the euphony of it - a perfect word to sing, however many syllables you choose to endow - but it’s also the Shangri-La of pop’s lexicon, the place of eternal summer, suntans, youth, love, freedom - the golden state. It’s a place you dream of, rather than the place you are. As such, the phrases “movin’ to California”, or, “goin’ to California” have become a kind of pop song shorthand for idealistic yearning.
Because California is a state that invites car travel like no other (the Pacific-kissing Highway 1 is famous for a reason) and because there are just too many damn songs to deal with without some kind of ordering principle, this playlist comes to you in the form of a road trip.
We’ll start in the south in the barrios of Tijuana, go surfing in Huntington Beach, fall in with the wrong crowd in Los Angeles, end up in Death Valley, make our way back to the Pacific, catch some good vibes in Santa Cruz, take a wrong turn in Oakland, find ourselves in Sacramento, and then wind up 786 miles from where we started, in Eureka.
And then Joni, inexhaustible, will sing us out.
1. Intro - “Don’t Call It Cali!”
2. 2Pac - "California Love"
3. Dick Dale and the Del-Tones, “Let’s Go Trippin”
4. Tijuana - Kartel de las Calles, “Milandra Ciudad”
5. San Diego - Tom Waits, “San Diego Seranade”
6. Huntington Beach - The Petticoats, “Surfin Sally”
7. Long Beach - Clit45, “Long Beach Kids”
8. Compton - Kendrick Lamar, “Compton”
9. Los Angeles (Paradiso) - Doris Day, “Hooray for Hollywood”
10. Los Angeles (Purgatorio) - Frank Ocean, “Super Rich Kids”
11. Los Angeles (Inferno) - Charles Manson, “Close To You”
12. Death Valley - Sonic Youth, “Death Valley 69
13. Bakersfield - Buck Owens, “Streets of Bakersfield”
14. Pacific Coast - Courtney Love, “Pacific Coast Highway”
15. Big Sur - Beach Boys, “Big Sur”
16. Monterey - Eric Burdon and the Animals, “Monterey”
17. Santa Cruz - Bob Marley, “Positive Vibrations (live in Santa Cruz, 1979)”
18. San Jose - Dionne Warwick, “Do you know the way to San Jose”
19. Palo Alto - Radiohead, “Palo Alto”
20. San Francisco - Girls, “Life in San Francisco”
21. Oakland - Too Short, “Oakland”
22. Sacramento - Death Grips, “It Goes Guillotine”
23. Marin Country - Dead Kennedys, “Moon Over Marin”
24. Eureka - Mr. Bungle, “Sweet Chastity”
25. Outro - Joni Mitchell, “California”