San Francisco is an eclectic city. Proof of this concept is the breadth of differnt songs written about it. How can writing about the same thing spur such diverse output? In no particular order here are four songs about San Francisco.
Lights – Journey
The song is a ballad about Journey’s city of origin, San Francisco, although it was actually written in and originally intended to be about Los Angeles. It was one of Steve Perry’s first Journey songs, and was recorded soon after his joining the band. In an interview, Perry said, “I had the song written in Los Angeles almost completely except for the bridge and it was written about Los Angeles. It was ‘when the lights go down in the city and the sun shines on LA.’ I didn’t like the way it sounded at the time. And so I just had it sitting back in the corner. Then life changed my plans once again, and I was now facing joining Journey. I love San Francisco, the bay and the whole thing. ‘The bay’ fit so nice, ‘When the lights go down in the city and the sun shines on the bay.’ It was one of those early morning going across the bridge things when the sun was coming up and the lights were going down. It was perfect.”
Sitting on the Dock of the Bay – Otis Redding
In August 1967, while sitting on a rented houseboat in Sausalito, Redding started writing the lyrics to the song. He completed the writing with the help of Stax producer Steve Cropper, who was also guitarist in Booker T and the M.G.’s. The song incorporates mimicked seagull whistles and sounds of the waves crashing on the shore. Tragically, just three days after Redding and band mates finished the final refinements of the song, Redding, five band mates (James Alexander, Carl Cunningham, Jimmy Lee King, Phalon Jones, Ronnie Caldwell, and Matthew Kelly) and pilot Richard “Dick” Fraser died in a plane crash that landed in Lake Monona, Wisconsin. “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” became the first posthumous album to reach number one on the Billboard Music Charts.
We Built This City – Jefferson Starship
The lyrics describe a city built on rock n’ roll music. The lyrics explicitly mention the Golden Gate Bridge and refer to “the City by the Bay”, a common moniker for Starship’s hometown of San Francisco, California. However, the lyrics also refer to “the City That Never Sleeps”, a reference to New York City, and “The City That Rocks”, a reference to Cleveland, Ohio. Capitalizing on the ambiguity, several radio stations added descriptions of their own local areas when they broadcast the song, or even simply added their own ident in its place.
San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)
The Bee Gees wrote their song “Massachusetts” as a reaction to this song. The Bee Gees’ song is about someone who has been to San Francisco but is now homesick for Massachusetts.