Top 11 Los Angeles Songs

Frank MastropoloCategories:Featured ArticlesTop 11

Rock Cellar Magazine

los angeles postcard

I don’t want to live in a city where the only cultural advantage

is that you can make a right turn on a red light.

– Woody Allen

Despite its earthquakes, traffic, smog and pretentiousness, Los Angeles has inspired great tunes like those on our list of Top 11 L.A. Songs. Know any more? Take off those Ray-Bans – you’re indoors – and tell us in the Comments section below.

  1. Hotel California by the Eagles

Hotel California has become the Eagles‘ best-known song, an exploration of the dark underbelly of Los Angeles that ends with two minutes of dueling guitar solos by Joe Walsh and Don Felder. “I had just leased this house out on the beach at Malibu,” Felder told Guitar World. “I had this acoustic 12-string and started tinkling around with it, and those Hotel California chords just kind of oozed out. I had a TEAC four-track set up in one of the back bedrooms and I ran back there to put this idea down before I forgot it.”
Felder’s tape inspired Glenn Frey and Don Henley to write the lyrics for the 1977 hit. “On just about every album we made, there was some kind of commentary on the music business, and on American culture in general,” Henley explained in the documentary History of the Eagles. “The hotel itself could be taken as a metaphor not only for the myth-making of Southern California, but for the myth-making that is the American Dream, because it is a fine line between the American Dream, and the American nightmare.”
The guitar solos at the end have been called the most famous in rock. “We had an empty page, the song was sung and we had spaces to figure out what to do,” Walsh told the Telegraph. “Don and I agreed that we would make individual statements in the body of the song and team up at the end. So we sat down in the control room, pretty intense, and went at it: ‘OK, you do this.’ ‘No, no, no, I gotta do this.’ Don and I were competitive, we always tried to one-up each other, and we did that in Hotel California, except at the end we decided to team up, ’cause that way nobody would win.”
Hotel California by the Eagles

  1. Hollywood Nights by Bob Seger

Bob Seger moved from the Midwest to Los Angeles in the late ’70s after the success of his Night Moves LP. “The loneliest two years of my life, I lived in LA.,” Seger told Uncut. “Everybody was always working, and you never see anybody.”
That sense of isolation inspired Seger to write Hollywood Nights, a No. 12 hit in 1978, during the period that he was recording the Stranger in Town album. “The chorus just came into my head,” Seger recalled in the Detroit Free Press. “I was driving around in the Hollywood Hills, and I started singing ‘Hollywood nights, Hollywood Hills / Above all the lights, Hollywood nights.’ I went back to my rented house, and there was a Time magazine with Cheryl Tiegs on the cover … I said ‘Let’s write a song about a guy from the Midwest who runs into someone like this and gets caught up in the whole bizarro thing.'”
Hollywood Nights by Bob Seger

  1. All I Wanna Do by Sheryl Crow

The world discovered Sheryl Crow when her breakout hit, All I Wanna Do, reached No. 2 on the Billboard chart in 1993. The lyrics are based on the poem Fun by Wyn Cooper. “We were jamming in the studio, and I picked up this poem in a book – the first line was ‘All I wanna do is have some fun.’ It encapsulated what was going on in L.A., a real extreme feeling of apathy and defeat. It’s masked in this light pop ditty, but it’s about somebody down and out, sitting in a bar watching their life go by. I contacted the poet, Wyn Cooper, and he was really pleased. And the song was easy for me to sell because it was a character I could easily slip into. There was a lot of drinking going on in my life then, a lot of late-night bars.”
“That was the last song to be put on the record. We went back and forth, we were going to put it on, we’re not going to put it on,” Crow told the Academy of Achievement. “I still felt like it was a bit of a throwaway. My little brother, who still lives in my hometown, he kept saying, ‘That’s the hit, that’s the hit,’ and I kept saying, ‘That’s never going to be a hit,’ and literally it was the fourth single. We had already toured for about a year and a half, and I was already thinking of a new record, and then we had a hit.”
All I Wanna Do by Sheryl Crow

 It Never Rains in Southern California by Albert Hammond
Albert Hammond was a struggling British singer-songwriter when he and Mike Hazlewood wrote It Never Rains in Southern California. “The funny thing is that I wrote that song in England before I came here,” Hammond told Penny Black Music. “I was over at Mike’s in Fulham at his apartment one morning. I was messing around with the guitar and I looked up and there was a library on the wall, and I saw this book The Railways of Southern California, and suddenly this tune popped up and instead of ‘it never rains’ I sang, ‘on the railways of Southern California,’ and he just said, ‘What’s that?’ and I said, ‘I don’t know. I was looking at this book and this thing came up,’ and he said, ‘Did you say, “it never rains?”‘ and I said, ‘no, the railways’ and so that’s how the song was born.”
Although It Never Rains became a Top 10 hit in 1972, Hammond says that at first, everyone who heard it hated it. “I played that song for quite a few people in England in 1969. I played it for the Seekers, Glen Campbell and a few other people and they told me it was the worst thing they had ever heard. They weren’t interested.”
It Never Rains in Southern California by Albert Hammond

  1. Hollywood Swinging by Kool & the Gang

When African saxophonist Manu Dibango scored a 1972 hit with Soul Makossa, De-Lite Records decided that R&B/funk band Kool & the Gang should cover it. “At the time, the record company needed a hit,” Ronald “Khalis” Bell told Songwriter Universe. “We had just come off the Good Times album which was a creative record – it didn’t really have any commercial value to it … very little. So we were almost forced into doing a remake of Soul Makossa. The label wanted to bring back our original producer, Mr. Gene Redd, and he suggested that if we recorded Soul Makossa, it would have been a hit. But we decided we were not going to record Soul Makossa – we’ll come up with our own ‘jungle music’ – not to be derogatory. We also decided that we were going to go commercial … full steam. We were going into the studio to make some commercial music.”
One of the three songs to come out of the session was Hollywood Swinging, a No. 6 hit in 1974. Claydes Charles Smith kicked off the track with its guitar riff. “I came up with the bass line,” continued Bell, “and then we started singing ‘Hey, Hey, Hey.’ At the time, DJ Frankie Crocker was hot on the radio. He called himself  ‘Chief Rocker Hollywood Swinging.’ The hook just came, ‘Hey Hey Hey, Whatcha Got To Say … Hollywood … Hollywood Swinging!’
Ricky Westfield, who sang lead, composed the verses that told the true story of when he saw Kool & the Gang perform in Hollywood. He was inspired to write, “I always wanted / To fit into a band / To sing my songs / And become a bad piano-playing man.”
Hollywood Swinging by Kool & the Gang

  1. Say Goodbye to Hollywood by Billy Joel

Although it was first recorded for his 1976 LP Turnstiles, a live version of Billy Joel‘s Say Goodbye to Hollywood was released as a single in 1981. Joel had moved to Los Angeles in 1972 and wrote the song after his return to New York in 1975. Joel was inspired by the singing style of the ’60s girl group the Ronettes, who were produced by Phil Spector. Lead singer Ronnie Spector would record her version of the song in 1977.
“That was a celebration song,” Joel related in the book In Their Own Words: Songwriters Talk about the Creative Process. “I was moving back to New York, and I was really happy to be getting out of L.A. I didn’t like living in Los Angeles. The first year I was there, I was kind of seduced by the nice weather, the palm trees and the views from the Hollywood Hills, the Pacific Coast Highway and all that stuff. That wore off after about a year. Then I realized there were a lot of phony people there. I didn’t make many friends. The sense I got was that people wanted to get to know you because of what you could do for them. I wanted to get back to New York. It wasn’t meant to be a taunting song. It was just a celebration, like, ‘Okay, thank you, Hollywood.’ I did it in a Phil Spector style. I was thinking of Ronnie Spector and the Ronettes when I did it. And she actually ended up doing it.”
Say Goodbye to Hollywood by Billy Joel

  1. Coming Into Los Angeles by Arlo Guthrie

As Arlo Guthrie returned on a flight home to Los Angeles from London in the mid-’60s, he discovered that his friends had slipped a small amount of drugs into his gifts. Guthrie’s fear of getting busted by Customs inspired the song Coming Into Los Angeles. Guthrie admits that his lyric “Coming into Los Angeles / Bringing in a couple of keys” exaggerated the size of his stash.
Guthrie performed the song at the 1969 Woodstock festival. The film of the event used Guthie’s song over a montage of pot-smoking hippies. “I know I did Coming Into Los Angeles, but the one on the record, the one that you see in the movie, is not the Coming Into Los Angeles that we did,” Guthrie revealed in Back to the Garden: The Story of Woodstock. “That’s the one that they took from another recording somewhere and snuck it on there – which is why you never see us playing in Woodstock ’cause they couldn’t synch it up. They always have pictures of people smoking dope or something like that, you know. That was a shame too, because they took the worst possible recording of some terrible night we did somewhere in the city, and stuck it on there, and I was always horrified at that.”
Guthrie told the Los Angeles Times that in 2003 he attracted the attention of two federal agents at Boston’s Logan Airport. “Now, people like me, we have a chemical reaction to people like that. One of them walks over and says, ‘You Guthrie?’ I said, ‘Yeah,’ and he looks at my bag and goes, ‘You got, uh, a couple keys in there?’ Then he just smiled and asked for an autograph. Hah! The times have changed, haven’t they?”
Coming Into Los Angeles by Arlo Guthrie (album version)

Coming Into Los Angeles by Arlo Guthrie (Woodstock version)

  1. I Love L.A. by Randy Newman

Randy Newman‘s 1983 ode to Los Angeles celebrates the city’s charms but every once in a while reminds us that there’s a dark side too: “Look at that bum over there / man, he’s down on his knees.” When Newman sings, “I Love L.A.,” Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac answer, “We love it!”
“Yeah, it‘s so chamber of commerce – Imperial Highway! – it’s just funny,” Newman explained in L.A. Weekly. “There‘s some kind of ignorance L.A. has that I’m proud of. The open car and the redhead and the Beach Boys, the night just cooling off after a hot day, you got your arm around somebody. That sounds really good to me. I can‘t think of anything a hell of a lot better than that.”
“I like it here,” Newman told a UCLA audience. “I could go to another place, but I wouldn’t know where.”
I Love L.A. by Randy Newman

  1. California Dreamin’ by the Mamas & the Papas

A stop at New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral helped inspire John and Michelle Phillips to write California Dreamin’, the 1966 Top 10 hit for the Mamas & the Papas. “We were at the Earle Hotel in New York and Michelle was asleep,” Phillips told filmmaker Larry “L.A.” Johnson.  “I was playing the guitar. We’d been out for a walk that day and she’d just come from California and all she had was California clothing. And it snowed overnight and in the morning she didn’t know what the white stuff coming out of the sky was, because it never snowed in Southern L.A., you know, Southern California.
“So we went for a walk and the song is mostly a narrative of what happened that day, stopped into a church to get her warm, and so on and so on. And so as I was thinking about it later that night, I was playing and singing and I thought California Dreamin’ was what we were doing, actually, that day. So I tried to wake Michelle up to write the lyrics down that I was doing. And she said, ‘Leave me alone. I want to sleep. I want to sleep.’ ‘Wake up. Write this down. You’ll never regret it. I promise you, Michelle.’ ‘Okay.’ Then she wrote it down and went back to sleep. [Laughs] And she told me up to this day, she’s never regretted getting up and [laughs] writing it down. Since she gets half of the writing of the song for it.”
California Dreamin’ by the Mamas & the Papas

  1. California Girls by the Beach Boys

A Top 10 hit for the Beach Boys in 1965, California Girls was conceived by Brian Wilson during his first acid trip. “I was thinking about the music from cowboy movies.” Wilson told the Los Angeles Times.  “And I sat down and started playing it, bum-buhdeeda, bum-buhdeeda. I did that for about an hour. I got these chords going. Then I got this melody, it came pretty fast after that. And the rest was history, right?”
Not so fast, said vocalist Mike Love. “I wrote every last syllable of the words to California Girls, and when the record came out, it said, ‘Brian Wilson’ – there was no ‘Mike Love.’ The only thing I didn’t write was ‘I wish they all could be California girls,'” Love insisted in Rolling Stone. “And nowhere was my name mentioned on the record. Thank you, Brian.”
Love won a lawsuit in 1994 for songwriting credits. “I wrote a lot of those lyrics too,” countered Wilson. “It was line for line, back and forth between us. That’s what happened.”
Wilson considers California Girls to be the Beach Boys’ best record. “It was special, I knew that would become the theme song of the Beach Boys. It’s an anthem. That song went to No. 3 in the country. I think if anything, that song speaks louder than ever. Everyone knows about California girls, and that song is the reason.”
California Girls by the Beach Boys

  1. L.A. Woman by the Doors

L.A. Woman is the title track of the Doors‘ 1971 album, the last recorded before Jim Morrison‘s death that July. “L.A. Woman was recorded in a state of high excitement,” keyboardist Ray Manzarek told Classic Rock.  “The Doors jumped in. We dug our teeth into that song. It was all about passion and hauling ass. It felt like we were on Route 101, on the road from Bakersfield to San Francisco. You can hear our enthusiasm. Welcome to Los Angeles!”
Morrison’s lyrics were inspired by novelist John Rechy, author of City of Night, and John Fante, who wrote about the gritty side of Los Angeles. Manzarek explained the song’s meaning in L.A. Weekly. “You arrive looking for a little girl in a Hollywood bungalow. Then it goes to half-time. Motels, money, murder, madness. Film noir L.A. You go through the back alleys of Hollywood, looking for drugs, witnessing a crime. Someone pulls out a roscoe and is blasting right between the eyes. They fall hard and fast, blood splashing everywhere. Then they shoulder the gun and get the fuck out of there. That’s L.A. Woman.”
L.A. Woman by the Doors


  • Dumbasses! Where’s X?

  • Neil Cole says:

    Pretty good list but I think Neil Young’s “LA” should be there.

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