Marshall Fish is a remote trivia writer for Hasbro and Screenlife Games. He also enjoys writing music reviews.
The Best Songs That Mention Los Angeles
"My Kind of Town" (Chicago Is), "New York, New York," and "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" are all iconic songs associated with major U.S. cities. But what about the nation's second-largest metro area, Los Angeles? The City of Angels has been saluted in song for decades. Here are eight of the best:
- "I Love L.A." by Randy Newman (1983)
- "Free Fallin'" by Tom Petty (1989)
- "Hollywood Nights" by Bob Seger (1978)
- "Beverly Hills" by Weezer (2005)
- "Walking in L.A." by Missing Persons (1982)
- "Celluloid Heroes" by The Kinks (1972)
- "Hooray for Hollywood" (1937)
- "Valley Girl" by Frank and Moon Unit Zappa (1982)
1. “I Love L.A." by Randy Newman (1983)
The song that’s played after every L.A. Dodgers and Lakers victory, and when a goal is scored by the Kings hockey squad. The lyrics might not be totally full of glee, with lines like “Look at that bum over there, man/He’s down on his knees”. But, who wouldn’t want to be in a city in which as Newman writes, “The sun is shining all the time” and “It looks like another perfect day”. The tune makes you want to head out to the PCH in a convertible with the top down and crank up the Beach Boys or your favorite music on the car stereo. Plus, Newman name checks such locations as Century Boulevard in South L.A., Victory Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley,and Sixth Street downtown. Taken from Newman’s 1983 album, “Trouble In Paradise".
2. “Free Fallin’” by Tom Petty (1989)
The opening track to Petty’s “Full Moon Fever” solo album reached number seven on the U.S. Billboard singles chart. The song was composed by Petty and fellow Traveling Wilbury and ex-ELO leader Jeff Lynne.
Petty sang about living in “Century City” a decade earlier on the “Damn the Torpedoes” album. This time, he focused on the San Fernando Valley. While the song’s protagonist contemplates being a bad boy for dumping his girlfriend, Petty weaves lyrical images of different places in the Valley.
“It’s a long day living in Reseda/There’s a freeway runnin’ through the yard” (the 101 Freeway) Petty sings. He later adds, “All the vampires walkin ‘ through the valley/Move west down Ventura Boulevard”.
The music video worked well with the song, and featured interesting images including the Casa De Cadillac dealership and the defunct Future Dogs Hot Dog Stand in Sherman Oaks; a half pipe ramp set up in Laurel Canyon, just off of Mulholland Drive, with skater/skateboarder Mark “Gator” Rogowski; and while not in the valley, the outside of the Westside Pavilion shopping mall on Pico in West L.A.
3. “Hollywood Nights” by Bob Seger (1978)
The Motor City rocker wrote the song while renting a house in the Hollywood Hills during the recording of his “Stranger In Town” album. Seger told the Detroit Free Press in 1994 that 1970’s supermodel Cheryl Tiegs provided inspiration for the song.
“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” Seger explained to the paper’s rock writer Gary Graff.
“Hollywood Nights” features mentions of “that golden beach” and driving “for miles and miles up those twisting turning roads”.
The song was the album's opening track, and reached number 12 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. Like “I Love L.A.”, it's a great driving tune, especially on the Sunset Strip as you motor past The Roxy, The Whisky, and Viper Room nightclubs as well as the billboards advertising movies, music, and more.
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4. “Beverly” Hills by Weezer (2005)
With a rousing chorus of “Beverly Hills-that’s where I want to be (gimme, gimme)”, Weezer’s frontman and songwriter Rivers Cuomo makes his case in song for wanting to live like a king and be “the next big thing” in the 90210. With the video filmed at the Playboy Mansion, who could blame him? But Cuomo’s character in the song realizes that he doesn’t stand a chance in that world. As as he writes in the tune, who wouldn’t want to “roll like a celebrity” amongst the movie stars “so beautiful and clean”. In real life, Cuomo lives in Malibu, which isn’t a shabby place to dwell, either. A catchy song that makes you want to be a neighbor of Kyle Richards and the other “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills”.
5. “Walking in L.A.” by Missing Persons (1982)
The single reached just number 70 in the U.S. in 1983, but number 12 on the Mainstream Rock chart. Taken from the group’s debut album, “Spring Session M” (the band’s name scrambled), the track definitely has that 1980’s synth pop sound. But it also has a jaunty beat, and singer Dale Bozzio’s vocals work well on the tune, as they did on the group’s other early MTV era singles “Destination Unknown” and “Words”. In fact, Bozzio was perfect for MTV at the time, with her pink hair and fish bowl bras. You could say that Gwen Stefani’s singing style might have been inspired a bit by Bozzio, too.
The song tries to emphasize the fact, that L.A’s known for driving, whether it’s cops on the beat or parents taking their kids to school. When the narrator thinks she has spotted someone indeed walking in L.A., she believes it’s her imagination playing tricks on her:
“Could it be that the smog's playing tricks on my eyes/
or is it a rollerskater in some kind of headphone disguise/
Maybe somebody who just ran out of gas,
Making his way back to the pumps the best way he can.”
The song was penned by Dale's ex-husband, Missing Persons drummer Terry Bozzio.
6. “Celluloid Heroes” by The Kinks (1972)
Written by the band’s Ray Davies and included on the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers 1972 album “Everybody’s in Show-Biz”. “Celluloid Heroes” is a great tribute to legendary Hollywood stars like Greta Garbo, Rudolph Valentino, and Bette Davis.
The lyrics touch on the narrator’s thoughts as he strolls down Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame. He recognizes the names of some of the stars feted, and some he’s never heard of. They “worked and suffered and struggled for fame/Some who succeeded and some who suffered in vain” he says. On the other hand, he also declares “Celluloid Heroes never feel any pain and “Celluloid Heroes never really die”.
He also notes that you shouldn’t walk on Marilyn (Monroe)’s star “cos she’s not very tough, She should have been made of iron or steel, But she was only made of flesh and blood”. This was a year before Elton John’s tribute to Monroe,“Candle in the Wind”, had been released.
“Celluloid Heroes” features an understated lead vocal from Davies, with nice lyrics.
7. “Hooray for Hollywood” (1937)
Now for a song that actually dates back to the golden age of Hollywood. The tune made its debut as the opening number in the 1937 film, “Hollywood Hotel”, featuring The Benny Goodman Band. Johnnie "Scat" Davis and Frances Langford performed the song, written by Dick Whiting and Johnny Mercer, in the movie. Doris Day later recorded “Hooray For Hollywood” as the title track of her 1958 Columbia Records compilation album. “The Tonight Show” band also played a bit of the song during Jay Leno’s tenure as host, in which he would tell a series of rapid fire jokes. After each punch line, a tiny bit of the tune was played. It's also played annually during the Academy Awards broadcast.
8. "Valley Girl" by Frank and Moon Unit Zappa (1982)
The only top 40 hit from Zappa, with help from his then 14-year-old daughter Moon Unit. The track reached number 32 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, and number 12 on the Mainstream Rock chart. Valley Girl speak like “Gag me with a spoon,” “Grody to the max,” and “I’m sure” ended up becoming part of American slang following the song’s success.
The “Valley Girl” song was a track off Zappa’s album, “Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch.” Released as a single in July 1982, the tune ended up receiving radio airplay at the same time a comedy movie about the Valley, “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” with Sean Penn as Jeff Spicoli, was playing in theaters. The Nicolas Cage film “Valley Girl” followed the next year. The song was first played by L.A.'s KROQ –FM as an acetate test recording.
Moon Zappa had no idea the song would be a hit. She wanted to spend more time with her dad, who was busy in the recording studio. She told People magazine she would attend bar mitzvahs and return home speaking “Valley lingo.” Moon improvised her part over tracks her father had already recorded. Included are references to the Sherman Oaks Galleria mall, Ventura Blvd. (as in “Free Fallin’”), and Encino.
Frank Zappa felt he was poking fun at Valley Girls, who he thought were “disgusting.” Interesting, too, that he told Billboard magazine’s Roman Kozak in its August 28, 1982 issue that “People think that “Valley Girl” is a happy kind of song, but it isn’t. I’ve always hated the (San Fernando) Valley. It’s a most depressing place.” Yet, he continued to live there.
“Valley Girl” was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Rock Performance By a Duo or Group category. Zappa never performed the song live in concert.
© 2014 Marshall Fish