Friday Five: California Towns

Ken Morton, Jr. | January 20th, 2012

From the deserts of the Mojave Desert to the redwoods of Eureka, California has some of the most diverse geography in the country. Whether it’s the coastline of Big Sur to the towering skyscrapers dotting the City of San Francisco, there’s no shortage of inspiration. It’s no wonder that California towns have made it into a number of songs over the years.  Even before it was named the 31st state of the Union way back in 1850, California towns have been the topic of many a song by singers too many to count. Here’s a few of our favorites. What are yours?

5. Avett Brothers – “Pretty Girl from San Diego”

This little tune by the Avett Brothers doesn’t actually mention the city of San Diego anywhere in the lyrics. “They say just do what your heart tells you to/ But sometimes you cannot feel it/ Sometimes you cannot hear it.” Sounds like an EKG is in order.


4. Charlie Walker – “San Diego”

Charlie’s protagonist longs to be under the star-studded skies of San Diego, and “his shoes are homesick for her streets.”


3. Hank Snow and Anita Carter – “Rose of Old Monterey”

This romantic number highlights California’s first city.


2. Waylon Jennings – “San Francisco Mabel Joy”

John Denver, David Allen Coe, Kenny Rogers and Joan Baez are among those that have covered the famous Mickey Newbury song. But for this Friday Five, we’ll go with Waylon Jennings’ version that was on his near-perfect Lonesome. On’ry and Mean album.


1. Dwight Yoakam and Buck Owens – “Streets of Bakersfield”

Written way back in 1973 by Homer Joy and performed by Owens over the years, it wasn’t until it was released as a single 15 years later–Yoakam’s Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room album–that it hit #1.

  1. timeo
    January 20, 2012 at 3:04 pm

    “L.A. International Airport” (Susan Raye”)
    “L.A. Freeway” (Guy Clark, etc.)
    “Tulare Dust” (Merle Haggard)
    “Marina Del Rey” (George Strait)
    “Talk to Me of Mendocino” (Ronstadt, etc.)
    “Ventura” (Lucinda Williams)
    “If Hollywood Don’t Need You (Honey I Still Do)” (Don Williams)
    “Santa Barbara” (Ronnie Milsap)
    “Coming into Los Angeles” (Arlo Guthrie)

  2. Rick
    January 20, 2012 at 8:56 pm

    Wow, LA really got short changed in this list! Hater! (lol)

    I’d go all the way back to the Spanish / Mexican era of California history (pre 1849 gold rush) with Ramblin Jack Elliott’s “The South Coast”, based upon a short story. Cowboy singer Dave Stamey also recorded an excellent version of this song.

    Wylie Gustafson and the Wild West recorded a song “To The Sidewalks of LA” which contains the line “from the dirt roads of Kern County to the sidewalks of LA”. A nice description of the journey taken by both Buck and Merle (and many other) from Bakersfield to the Capitol label studios in Hollywood.

    As for pretty girls from San Diego, as far as Americana acts go that would include Sarah Watkins, Sara Petite, and Elana James of the Hot Club of Cowtown (as the band originally formed there). I wouldn’t mind seeing those gals share a stage some day…

  3. Paul W Dennis
    January 20, 2012 at 10:33 pm

    “San Diego” by Charlie Walker should have been much bigger than was actually the case (#31). Strangely enough it was a top five record on all the stations in the vicinity of Norfolk, VA – probably because so many US Navy had served in San Diego

    Buddy Alan (Owens) – “Lodi”

  4. luckyoldsun
    January 20, 2012 at 11:46 pm

    Never heard of the Avett Brothers–but if that rock song belongs on this list, then surely the entire Beach Boys catalog does, as well.

  5. timeo
    January 21, 2012 at 10:19 am

    The Avett Brothers song sounds like Rock to you? How many banjos and acoustic guitars do you need?

  6. Barry Mazor
    January 21, 2012 at 1:30 pm

    The Avett Brothers are currently one of the most successful and lauded acts in the end of Americana, and since this is a roots music site and not solely, strictly chart country, that’s a perfectly good call.

    If you haven’t heard them, you may be unlucky, son.

  7. Joe Roberts
    January 21, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    What? No “Lodi”? C’mon guys…

    “If I only had a dollar for every song I’ve sung and every time I had to play while people sat there drunk, you know I’d catch the next train back to where I live. Oh Lord, stuck in Lodi again…”

  8. nm
    January 23, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    Yeah, you really do need “Lodi.”

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