Still more lazy thoughts from this one…

Los Angeles: Recommended Listening

Previous: Recommended Reading

As I continue my look at the wonderful gift my bride of 23 years gave me for our recent wedding anniversary, this is the next entry that looks at the particularly intriguing addendum titled “Selected Los Angeles Viewing/Listening/Reading” that lies within the publication. The photographic Taschen book, Los Angeles, Portrait of a City is a marvelous work written by Harvard PhD. and USC Professor Kevin Starr and David L. Ulin, books editor for the L.A. Times.

Edited by Jim Heimann, it incorporates some gorgeous history-laden photographs for the City of the Angels, the place my family and I call home. It is its own highlight and worth discussion. For this second entry, I’ll showcase their listening collection, one that has what it is to be L.A. firmly in its sights (and ears). I’ve included links to the songs on YouTube when available. For my faves on their list, I’ve included the authors thoughts on those below on their list entries. What are your thoughts regarding this list? And what would you add, if you could?

For those who are interested, here’s their listening breakdown by calendar period:

  • San Fernando Valley, Bing Crosby (1944)
  • Pico & Sepulveda, Felix Figueroa His Orchestra (1947)
  • 26 Miles (Santa Catalina), Four Preps (1956) – “Alluding to a tropical paradise off the Los Angeles coast, the pop tune was part of a folk music craze and placed number two on the U.S. music charts.” [trivia goof: Santa Catalina Island is really only 22 miles off the coast… oops]
  • California Dreamin’, The Mamas and the Papas (1965) – “A chart topper that expressed singer Michelle Phillips’ yearning to return to her in Los Angeles.” [probably one of the most played songs on our oldies station, KRTH]
  • California Girls, The Beach Boys (1965)
  • The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man, The Rolling Stones (1965)
  • Whittier Blvd., Three Midniters (1965)
  • Blue Jay Way, The Beatles (1967) – “A transcendental tale about waiting for friends who have lost their way trying to find the house and street above the Sunset Strip, where the Beatles were staying.”
  • For What It’s Worth, Buffalo Springfield (1967) – “Group member Stephen Stills wrote this song in response to the Sunset Strip riots of 1966 by teenagers suppressed by the police.” [my son loves this song, as do I since the late 60s]
  • MacArthur Park, Jimmy Webb (1968) – “Richard Harris sang the enigmatic lyrics to this song, which centered on a popular park on Wilshire Boulevard west of downtown Los Angeles.”
  • Coming into Los Angeles, Arlo Guthrie (1969)
  • Ladies of the Canyon, Joni Mitchell (1970)
  • L.A. Woman, The Doors (1971) – “A biographical slice of life of lead singer Jim Morrison in L.A. includes topless bars, cops, and rootless females in “Hollywood bungalows” in its lyrics.”
  • Celluloid Heroes, The Kinks (1972)
  • It Never Rains in Southern California, Albert Hammond (1972) – “The ongoing theme of moving to Hollywood to seek fame and fortune and ultimately finding failure is the basis for this song.” [still played decades later over radio airwaves on a regular basis]
  • The Pretender, Jackson Browne (1976) – “Browne’s lyrics were an introspective look at the mundane and repetitive life of an Everyman living in “the shade of the freeway.”
  • Hotel California, The Eagles (1977) – “Pictured on the album cover, the Beverly Hills Hotel alludes to the decadence inherent in the Hollywood rock scene in this mysterious mini novella.”
  • Los Angeles, X (1980)
  • This Town, Go-Go’s (1981)
  • Valley Girl, Frank Zappa (1981)
  • Walking in L.A., Missing Persons (1982)
  • I Love L.A., Randy Newman (1983) – “An underlying sense of irony is evident in a song that became L.A.’s unofficial ballad for the 1984 Olympics.” [it remains the unofficial ‘official’ song for the city, especially after city leaders lamely attempted to hoist ‘L.A. Is My Lady‘ by Frank Sinatra on Angelenos back then]
  • Born in East L.A., Cheech and Chong (1985) – “A parody of Bruce Springsteen’s hit “Born in the U.S.A.,” this song was in reality a commentary of the lack of visibility of America’s Hispanic population.”
  • Straight Outa Compton, N.W.A. (1988) – “Uncensored and profane lyrics spell out the raw and brutal “gangsta lifestyle” on the streets of South-Central L.A., helping to launch West Coast rap and redefining hip-hop music.”
  • All I Wanna Do, Sheryl Crow (1994) – “The banal existence of down-and-out patrons plays out day after day at a bar on Santa Monica Boulevard.”

Note: Some obvious selections on the authors’ part, and one heavily influenced by the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Not that I’m complaining mind you since they represent me and my time, as well. There really are a huge horde of song that use L.A. as musical inspiration to choose from (thank God, no one choose a Celine Dion tune). And the Rock, Folk, and Pop categories seem to dominate this selection. As they did before, no more than one selection from the same artist, so I guess that’s why Twelve Thirty (Young Girls are Coming to the Canyon) by The Mama’s and The Papas was left off. I would have gone with Wouldn’t It Be Nice by The Beach Boys, instead (mainly because of the film Shampoo).

How about Bob Seger’s Hollywood Nights (1978) then? Seems like they forgot entirely about Neil Diamond’s I Am I Said. My younger friends tell me that Under the Bridge by The Red Hot Chili Peppers (1992) and the infectious rhythm of L.A. by The Fall (1985) were MIA. So too with To Live and Die in L.A. by Wang Chung (others argue for TuPac’s song of the same title). 99 Miles From L.A. by Art Garfunkel had that distinct ethereal aspect, which their list missed here. Whether or not it’s the journey west, the destination was still Los Angeles with Route 66 (any will do, but I’ll chose the Manhattan Transfer version in this instance). Don’t forget about it’s lesser known sibling instrumental tune by Herb Alpert, Route 101.

Finally, I’ll argue that the R&B, jazz, offbeat, and (egad) Disco contingent was robbed in this. I’ll always lobby for Love Land by Charles Wright and The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band. Hollywood by Rufus and Chaka Khan and Hollywood Swingin’ by Kool and the Gang hold up that section of town quite nicely. I’d also argue that Donna Summer’s disco version of MacArthur Park, while not as memorable as the original, was a lot more fun (can I get a A-ha! at the 1:50 mark?!?). If you can’t go with that, then I’d include, again from Ms. Summer, Sunset People. Let’s not forget Low Rider by War, or Michael Nesbit’s Cruisin’. What? No Love Portion Number 9 by The Searchers for the 60s bubble-gummers? And of course, Leon Ware’s jazzy Why I Came to California is not to be forgotten. Lastly, what about the city’s unofficial hard rock anthem, Welcome to the Jungle by Guns ‘N Roses?

Next up: Recommended Viewing

4 Responses to “Los Angeles: Recommended Listening”

  1. Naomi Johnson

    I’ll add Lyle Lovett’s LA COUNTY to the list. Love that song. The only one that I’d remove, just because I personally can’t stand it and not because it doesn’t fit, is IT NEVER RAINS IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA. That’s a song that always made me flip the dial when it came on.


    • le0pard13

      I need to play this tune. I know I’ve heard it, but I just can’t place it at the moment. I think there are a number of folk who join you regarding ‘It Never Rains in Southern California’, Naomi. 😉

      Thanks for adding to this.



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