Thinking of adding some L.A. inspired songs to your music rotation?
Below I’ve compiled a list that’ll fit the bill, but please note that “I Love LA” by Randy Newman, “Los Angeles” by X, “Under The Bridge” by The Red Hot Chili Peppers and similar songs have purposefully been omitted.
I wanted to dig juuuuuuust a bit deeper than that, looking for some gems that once may have been popular but have since faded from public memory. Or maybe a few songs folks have ever heard of in the first place.
Also, if you’re a Spotify user, check out the playlist already constructed for you on their, and go ahead and follow our Spotify profile for more L.A. inspired tunes.
Enjoy the music!
“405” by Death Cab For Cutie
The 405 freeway. A running joke, a nightmare, a vital thoroughfare, an unofficial landmark amongst westsiders. Even urging a band from Washington to use it as the perfect backdrop for their song about being in a relationship with someone who isn’t clear about their intentions : “you keep twisting the truth, that keeps throwing me askew..” Much like a lot of our freeways, the 405 is supposed to run in a particular direction (north and south) but doesn’t. It veers northwest and southeast, at certain points actually runs east and west (not for a very far distance, but still!), and hardly any of it actually runs north and south. Kind of deceptive there, 405. Too poetic for a freeway? You must have never missed an exit during rush hour. Oh, the pain….
“Los Angeles Is Burning” by Bad Religion
When it gets hot and dry, there are outbreaks of fires in and around the hills of the greater Los Angeles area. They’re an absolute nightmare for everyone: throngs of people evacuating, causing gridlock on freeways and surface streets, which sometimes need to be completely blocked off; the tragic loss of homes and businesses; and the air quality sometimes becoming dangerous. “Los Angeles Is Burning” is Bad Religion’s response to the media’s sensationalism of the the devastating 2003 Cedar fire. They believe the media fans the flames so to speak for the sake of ratings, viewership, and gaining more sponsors, and ultimately heightening the sense of fear and panic across the southland.
“Police Story” by Black Flag
There are a lot of songs about the police brutality dished out by the LAPD, but Black Flag sums it up for the youths of the South Bay area: a never-ending, losing war, with no end in sight. But instead of lying down and taking it Black Flag vow to keep getting back up and fighting on.
“This Is L.A.” by The Briggs
“This is L. A.
Our city our home.
We never walk alone.
Forever true we’ll stay
In tribute to our city,
No matter where we go
This is our home.”
“We Are Los Angeles” by The Goon Squad
Los Angeles is proudly called home by many, and both of these songs can inspire such pride, especially at the Staples Center where either are chanted during L.A. King’s games. The Goon Squad’s “We Are Los Angeles” is more of a straight forward and spirited fight song. Like The Goon Squad, The Briggs are proud to live in L.A., and “This Is L.A.” serves as a love letter to a place they are proud to call home and couldn’t imagine leaving. To live here you may have to pay to a price (like anything worth having), but the reward of getting to be here is worth a million times more than whatever that price is. With a LA-positive message, and being fun to sing along with, it’s no surprise it’s not only an anthem for the King’s, but for the L.A. Galaxy as well.
“Reggae Hit L.A.” by The Aggrolites
There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about the lyrics of “Reggae Hit L.A.” as a song about Los Angeles, although it’s celebratory and there are a few shout out to some hip local neighborhoods. But the song as a whole, and its very existence is. It’s a reminder that L.A.’s musical landscape is vast, varied, and goes well beyond mainstream radio. The Aggrolites have carved themselves a nice little niche in the L.A., and international reggae, music scenes by making music inspired by 1960’s Jamaican reggae that’s heavily influenced by Los Angeles (brown-eyed soul, and Chicano rock and oldies of Los Angeles). They call it “Dirty Reggae”, a self-created a sub genre of LA style reggae, and “Reggae Hit LA” fits the perfectly.
“Hoover Street” by Rancid
Centered around of LA’s toughest neighborhoods, notorious for gang violence, especially Salvadorian gang MS 13, Rancid’s “Hoover St.” tells a story that’s bleak but common in the neighborhood surrounding Hoover Street. It’s centered around two characters, brother and sister, caught in a place where “you either get out, die or go to jail”. Between the palm trees, and the beaches and the Hollywood sign, Rancid reminds us that there places like Hoover Street that are misunderstood, underrepresented, and too often ignored.
“April 29, 1992” by Sublime
Looking back on the verdict of the trial surrounding the beating of Rodney King by the LAPD, and the riots that resulted, Sublime’s story about a looter became part of the dialogue on the verdict and police brutality. According to the media, either you believed the police were just doing their jobs and the rioters were merely criminals using the verdict as an excuse to loot and destroy property, or the riots were an explosion of anger and frustration pointed at police brutality, and a loss of faith in the justice system. But there were other ways to look at the verdict and the resulting riots, and Sublime’s perspective was of someone who happens to be in the middle of the chaos.
The main character lives in a neighborhood in Long Beach where a lot of people are distrustful and suspicious of police, and struggling to make ends meet. He and his friends see looting not as a political statement, but as a self-serving chance to grab things they need or want but can’t afford otherwise, and then tries to rationalize it by mentioning a mother looting for baby diapers. Whether this song made an excuse for the anarchy, or was in solidarity with those affected by police brutality, this inevitably became a political statement because it brought attention to the condition of neighborhoods like Sublime’s Long Beach.
“City of Angels” by 30 Seconds To Mars
Following your dreams to Hollywood-it’s nothing new, yet it never gets old. Jared Leto won his dream as a critically acclaimed actor, a rockstar, and having the prettiest hair in Hollywood. But he too was once a mere mortal, one of millions among the vastness of La La Land all trying to win the same game. When you’re in a big city, and surrounded by people dreaming the same dream, it can be overwhelming and scary, and make you feel like you’re drowning in insignificance. But “City of Angels” reassures us that feeling lonely amongst millions of people in this big city to fight for your dream is more comforting and exhilarating than being anywhere else.
“S.C. Drunx” by South Central Riot Squad
When punk became a fashion statement again, it spun out of control, landing in the wrong hands. When a suburban toddler is wearing a Ramones T shirt, something isn’t right in Punkville. Luckily, the disenfranchised youth of LA (especially in South and East LA) have yet again made their mark in punk history by putting it back on the right track, by keeping it on the wrong side of the tracks where it belongs. Loud, fast, and clocking in at just over a minute, SCRS breathed new life into the spirit of rebellion with “S.C. Drunx”. With shout outs to neighborhoods that are hotbeds of punk activity, “S.C. Drunx” describes gigs are DIY, and under the radar (meaning backyards and warehouses without permits-gasp!), BYOB (quite possibly underage drinking is involved-gasp again!), and lots of good old fashioned debauchery. Best of all, mom would not approve, much less send her 3 year old to daycare in a South Central Riot Squad T shirt.
“Santa Monica” by Everclear
In Everclear’s “Santa Monica”, a man wants to go back to two former loves, an old flame and Santa Monica, and escape whatever hell-pit he wandered off to (because seriously, most places are hell-pits after being in Santa Monica). He can’t wait to be back under the sunshine and in the comfort the Pacific Ocean. Oh yeah, and get back together with his ex, but probably wants to get back together with Santa Monica more. And you can’t even blame him, because the west coast is the best coast.
“How To Survive In South Central” by Ice Cube
Usually where we hear L.A. song by Ice Cube we are immediately drawn to “Today Was A Good Day”, but “How To Survive In South Central” is a more detailed look at life in 1990’s South L.A. As part of the “Boyz In The Hood” soundtrack, it depicts the violence and survivalism in a part of Los Angeles that was rarely seen. While the rest of the country was equating “Baywatch” with life in southern california, Ice Cube described an entirely different world. A world where your life is at risk everyday, and a specific unwritten code must be followed in order to survive.
“Angel City” by Motorhead
This one is a throwback to a time not that long ago when the Sunset Strip was a legendary haven for good old fashioned sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll. The perfect place for a rockstar’s Saturday night (you know the kind that starts Thursday night and crashes Monday morning?). Nothing a little penicillin and rehab couldn’t fix. Back when rock ‘n roll was still dangerous, when Motorhead and Guns N Roses and Motley Crue and such would hold court at the Rainbow, trash hotel rooms, and participate in the backstage antics that were illicit, rumored, and the stuff of legends.
“Whittier Blvd” by Thee Midniters
Escept for a few maniacal laughs, and shouts and yells, “Whittier Blvd.” is an instrumental. A bright and frenzied blend of surf, soul, and rock n’ roll, it captures a time in 1960’s when cruising the main drag of Whittier Boulevard was popular.
What are your favorite L.A. inspired songs that you’d add to a list such as this? Let us know in the comments below and so we can add them to the Spotify playlist!