What’s in a song

California Love

I woke up this morning and put my tunes on shuffle. “Sweet Home Alabama” comes up and I ponder to myself, what is the equivalent of that song but for L.A. Cheech and Chong have “Born in East L.A.” a great jam. I was always partial to the Red Hot Chilli Peppers “Under the Bridge” and La Cindy says that Randy Newmans “I Love L.A.” is also a good choice. Hmm… I’m curious. I want to know what are some of the best songs that when you hear them, you think L.A. Any suggestions ?

24 thoughts on “What’s in a song

  1. “Fourth of July” by X. Wonderful evocative lyrics that give a “slice of life” in LA.

    Also, “Jane Says” by Jane’s Addiction.

    Ditto re. Under the Bridge, Born in East LA

  2. As Julio said somewhere else, I think L.A. is diverse/separated enough that no one song can define L.A., like “New York, New York” has been marketed defining N.Y. Personally, anything Chalino/Saúl Viera/Las Voces del Rancho reminds me of L.A. because they are L.A.’s music.

    I nominate las Voces del Rancho’s “Corrido de la Pacific.”

  3. I grew up one block from Brooklyn Ave.

    So, to me, “No Sleep Til Brooklyn”, by the Beastie Boys always brings back memories and visions of L.A.

  4. Someone on another message board once said, “The World Is a Ghetto” by War best defines LA. He claimed to be a 60 year old, lifelong SGV resident.

    Randy Newman’s famous jingle makes me think of Hollywood, the Lakers, Jack Nicholson, the Playboy Mansion, the Santa Monica pier…Pretty much ’80s tourist LA.

    I’ve always liked Under the Bridge by the peppers. The band said it was about heroin. Hence, the ending chorus, “Under the bridge…where I drew some blood”. To be honest, though, every time I hear that song, for the rest of my life pretty much, I’ll think of the riots, because it came out around that time. In fact, that would be my song that represents LA the most, even if it wasn’t its intention.

  5. Sheesh Thomas. Weren’t you in Sac like 384 miles from the riots? The Chili’s song was about ummmm chiva I’m purdy shur. But don’t let me stop you from waxing nostalgic about the riots, better’n a drug habit I spose.

  6. L.A. Girl by The Adolescents! It represents my teenage years but I wouldn’t say it defines Los Angeles. I’m with Julio on the “no one song can do the city justice” idea.

  7. yup LA is too big and bad ass for one song, here’s a few that come to my mind:

    Los Angeles, X

    I Love Livin in the City, FEAR (even though I think its about NYC)

    El Lay, Los Illegals

    California Girls, David Lee Roth version and video (come on they are only like in LA)

    Valley Girl, Moon Unit Zappa

    Paradise City, Guns n Roses (what other city could they be singing about?)

    I can think of more but I’m heading out into this big bad ass city

  8. Riot by Sublime and Summer Nights by Lil Rob come to mind.

    Damn, I want a Corona now.

  9. I think we can all agree that there are certain songs that represent our experience growing up which differs from generation to generation. Yet “Banned in DC” by Bad Brains and “Merchandise” by Fugazi are songs that I would jam on a regular basis on my walkman. Throw some Chente in the mix as well.

  10. These are some sweet recomendations. Specially X since it’s before my time.

  11. In defense, I brought up Randy Newman because it’s a cheesy song white people like. It also goes well at a sporting event, like (I assume) Sweet Home Alabama does.

    Personally, my favorite LA songs are Murs’ “L.A.” and “I Love L.A.” by Rilo Kiley (it’s NOT a cover of Randy Newman).

  12. Oh, I actually like the Randy Newman song Cindylu. It just represents the LA that they want everyone to see. In fact, I’d say Newman’s song truly does represent the hills, Santa Monica, etc. I mentioned the guy at another message board saying that “world is a ghetto” by War represents LA more than any song. I’d say that maybe “I love LA” represents the parts everyone fantasizes about, Hollywood, front row seats at the Lakers.., where “the world is a ghetto” pretty much represents the rest of LA. The chili peppers’ under the bridge just makes me think of LA, personally. That Randy Newman jam is actually a must mention in any discussion about LA songs. Glad you brought it up. A lot of the Doors’ stuff makes me think of LA, too. Pretty much all of their songs, as a matter of fact. Especially light my fire. Just that sound. A lot of early ’80s new wave, too.

  13. Ice Cube’s Today Was a Good Day. That seems so LA to me. It’s all of these thing that should be good, but they are not.

    “Today I didn’t even have to use my A.K.
    I got to say it was a good day.”

    I didn’t appreciate the song when it first came out, but now I am obsessed with critiquing that song. It is such the anti-good day song. It’s a good day, because no one tried to kill you and you didn’t have to kill anyone and no one got killed in the neighborhood, at least today and you get to watch MTV and a good video was on….it’s just an insane song about how horrible this city is for some people, actually quite a few people.

    To me the best songs about LA, in regards to how it truly was the genre of music that everyone hated, gangster rap. Those songs in retrospect seemed to on accident be more political and more telling of future problems than any genre of music, at least in the late 80s and 90s.

    I also like How To Survive in South Central.


  14. Browne, “Today Was a Good Day” is a great and evocative song to many who enjoy the rap music genre. I was introduced to the music first by my Son, and then dug it with my Grandson, besides TWAGD, the LA vibe was captured by Snoop Dogg with “Gin and Juice” and Ice Cube cracked me up (I,relating to the story like many others do), with his true to life adventure in
    A very familiar tale to many in LA, the real deal by the great Ice Cube.


    BTW Browne, what happened to Rap Music? Like almost all other music forms today, there’s nothing new or fresh, it is tired and cliche ridden, no passion,no originality, nothing but bad replays IMHO.
    Jazz,Rock,Latin,Heavy Metal,Country, even Musica Mexicana, it all sucks nowadays IMO of course.

    We need a renaissance now but the “Man” with the money and power gives us what he can maximize profit on.

  15. I think what happened to rap music is that it got co-opted.

    It’s pretty easy to buy music (or take the elements make them yourself and then sell it back to the people who could maybe make a future record) made by poor people who talk about the issues of poverty, because not having money is a big part of that. That genre and many genres are easy to co-op once they start getting airplay, because I don’t think the majority of the people in many of these undeground genres even realize that they are political.

    It’s political, to me because it isn’t corporate slick, is cartoonish in some ways, but its also more true in many ways.

    In general everyone had a real issue with gangster rap that talked about how LA worked in a real way, so people decided to make it “gangster” in a more commerically viable way. Making it more commercially viable and talking about brandnames makes it something that you could sell to kids in Idaho.

    There were kids in Idaho listening to gangster rap, but they were getting a little too hip to what was going on for real in some people’s lives, so the machine couldn’t have that.

    People being discriminated against because they are poor. The police bothering people because they are POC doesn’t really lend itself to selling tennis shoes.

    I have to say I know about music more in regards to how it relates in a social and historical way than how it is in regards to just enjoying it for the beat or sound of it.

    When I was younger I did not listen to gangster rap. I didn’t like angry music. I liked alternative poppy songs that they played on KROQ, I only truly started dissecting the lyrics of gangster rap, hardcore and punk in the last three years or so.

    Though there are musicians out there that are still talking about harder to deal with issues that the mainstream doesn’t want to touch. A person who just pops into my head is Immortal Technique. I listed to one of his songs and in my head I was like god damn, that’s just insane, it was called Dance with the Devil, now that is a controversial song.

    In my head I don’t even know if the underground music scene has gotten less political, but the corporate machine is just alot better at suppressing those people and flashing the crap in your face.


  16. Yasuko Agawa/L.A. Night – a deep in the crate track that makes me remember the bowing alley on Crenshaw just south of Rodeo that is now long gone…

    All the Tom Waits stuff when he was living in SROs on skid-row.

    Sterling Harrison, a late, great LA soul singer who recorded an album called “South of the Snooty Fox.” Can’t get more LA than that…

    Finally, Billy Stewart’s version of “Sitting in the Park” makes me think of East LA and hanging out with my older cousin and his lowrider buddies in the late 70’s. It was always in his cassette deck.

  17. So many of my favorite “Los” songs have already been mentioned. Under the bridge reminds me of being a homeless teen and certain troubled period of my life. Of course randy newman, I even like that new “we run LA” hip hop version out right now, the song will always be the back 2 back Lakers and Olympic Sam.

    Of course Cube and the 90s gangsta rap i became a man with warped ideas about everything to always remind me of LA; NWA, DJ Quik, Hi-C, King T, Cypress Hill, the Chronic. i think “bird in the hand” and ” how to survive in SC” were very influential to me in my formative years. At the time, I generally hated on gangsta rap, to my eastside arse it was mainstream and I clowned it as a way of rebelling against eastlos confomity. Power 106 and the whole chingada, I couldnt stand Pac and Snoop for a few years because that’s all you heard on the radio. Now I look back with fond memories when i hear those songs, specifically when “it aint no fun if the homies cant have none” would come on at house parties and they’d stop the song for you to hear all the girls sing “and you even licked my balls” (sorry, for the foulness, but that is a classic).

    Let’s see:

    -West Coast Pop Lockin by ronnie hudson, reminds me of when broadway had breakdancers and the street scene (and the hook ‘in the city… city of compton’ is from) , and it’s offspring ‘more bounce to the ounce’ by the zapp and roger
    -Hand on the Pump and Stoned is the Way of the Walk by Cypress Hill (a pillar of eastside chicano culture in the 90s)
    -All Day Music
    – To Live and Die in LA, Raza will always love 2pac for showing the VNE projectos in the video and his famous line “it wouldnt be LA without mexicans”, theat part give me chills of hometown pride.
    -Angel Baby for the vetes in my family
    – Mentirosa by mellow man Ace
    – pistol grip pump by volume 10
    – county line by coolio and fantastic voyage(im in that video on the beach, cmoing out of the car trunk, i was 14)
    – supersonic, jj fadd is from watts
    And a genre of rap i loved, LA conscious underground rap from the 90s. freestyle fellowship, project blowed, etc all the way to tumex and bus driver. My favorite is “section 8” by the project blowed all stars, a song about taking the bus thru southcentralthat captures LA busculture in the hood quite well

    oh man, memoreez:)

  18. I would have to say the 4 Tops “L.A.(My Town)” It’s an obscure song for sure, not as well known as other favorites!! As a music historian, music consultant, songwriter, who is also a classic soul freak it’s gotta be an R&B Group for me!!

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