California Dreamin’: Prayer and Chords

mp1“California Dreamin’” is one great pop song. It was written by John and Michelle Phillips while living in New York City in 1963. Their version of the song was released in December, 1965, and, well, the rest is history. “California Dreamin’” is, in my opinion, the signature song of the Mamas and the Papas. It remains an evergreen song, and is a boatload of fun to play on acoustic guitar.

I listen to, and examine the lyrics of songs. In Phillips’ song, as a priest, of interest to me is the lyrical phrase, “Oh, I got down on my knees and I pretend to pray.” Apparently, John Phillips had some faith instruction as a youth in Catholic schools, but it never took root. He was a stranger to faith and prayer. It was an abstraction for him, as with many, even the majority, in our secular culture. Pretense was the best he could do. Sometimes, in all honesty, it’s what we all do in prayer.  We all must be guided to the act of prayer.

First, we are to be wise in our prayer. The Divine Liturgy instructs us, “Fulfill now, O Lord, the petitions of Thy servants as may be expedient for them: granting us in this world the knowledge of Thy truth, and in the world to come, life everlasting.” Further, St. Paul instructs us to “pray without ceasing.” This must be done by establishing our prayer in the structure given by the Hours and Services of the Church as can be adapted in the person’s life at home and work. This structure is filled by personal prayer that springs from the Church’s prayers and our faith. Prayer then can fill our day. Prayer is to become our life. Thus, we pray without ceasing. But even for the faithful, prayer can be difficult and seem ineffective. Prayer is ultimately meaningless apart from relationship with God to whom we pray. St. Paul instructions us of the need for union with God the Holy Spirit to be truly praying, in fact this union with God is demanded. Further, it is ultimately the Holy Spirit’s prayer that is effective:

Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8: 26 – 27).

Phillips was honest. We need to be honest with ourselves. So, on to the song.

The opening riff essentially works around Aadd9, Asus4, and Am, with a triplet of e, f, e on the first string, then a brief walk down of d, c on the second string.  The riff completes on the chord of B/E7sus4.

The following chords put the song in A minor. To play along with the original recording (in C# minor), capo at the fourth fret. The following chords were recently worked up by my friend and guitar/composition instructor Ann Herring and I (mostly by Ann). It’s close enough and recognizable in its simplicity. I like it. And, by the way, I’m not John Phillips.

B/E7sus4              Am       G          F             G             B/E7sus4    F                         C        Am7

All the leaves are brown (echo), and the sky is gray (echo)       I’ve been for a walk (echo)

Dm7            E    E7                                  Am   G       F           G                B/E7sus4   E7

on a winter’s day (echo).   I’d be safe and warm (echo), if I was in L. A. (echo)

E7               Am          G       F      G                         B/E7sus4   E7

California dreamin’ (echo) on such a winter’s day…….

E7                       Am    G  F                G            B/E7sus4   E7     F                            C          Dm7

Stopped into a church   I passed along the way.            Oh, I got down on my knees (echo),

F                 E                   E7                                                      Am  G       F                         G

and I pretend to pray (echo).     You know the preacher likes the cold (echo).  He knows I’m gonna

B/E7sus4   E7                         Am        G     F          G                         B/E7sus4

stay (echo).         California dreamin’ (echo) on such a winter’s day (echo)

INSTRUMENTAL ‘S CHORDS: |Am7 | Am7 | Am7 | Dm7 | Am7 | Am7 | Am7 | Dm7 | C | C | Em7 |

Am7 | F | E7 | E7 | E7 | E7 | Am7 | G | Am7 | G | B/E7sus4 | E7 | E7 | Am7 | G | Am7 | G | E7 | E7 |

E7 | E7 | B/E7sus4, (and move to…)

B/E7sus4              Am         G         F            G                 B/E7sus4       F                        C       Am

All the leaves are brown (echo), and the sky is gray (echo).            I’ve been for a walk (echo)

Dm7             E         E7                       Am       G          F           G                 B/E7sus4    E7

on a winter’s day (echo).       If I didn’t tell her (echo) I could leave today (echo).

E7               Am       G      F          G                           Am         G           F      G                         Am

California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.  California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.

G         F                     G                        Fmaj7   Am

California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day….(fade to end).

Keep on playing!

Fr. Irenaeus

Here’s a 1966 video of their song:,d.cGw

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