Amoeba Music's Top Los Angeles Songs

Submitted by Daniel Tures, manager at Amoeba Music . After dropping out of graduate school at UC Berkeley, he joined Amoeba to help open the San Francisco store in 1997, and moved to Los Angeles to help open the Hollywood store in 2001. He performs his own compositions as the White Widow, emerging in white helmet and unitard from within a silver pyramid to recite gothic poetry and sing glam-trash tunes while the lowest of low-budget light shows dazzles in the background. Loves old books, choodles and public television. This list is part of KCET.org's Top Los Angeles Songs.


"That Is Why I Came To California"
Leon Ware and Janis Siegel

This 1982 slice of smooth disco-jazz by Motown songwriter Leon Ware is a perfect evocation of the joys of California and will fill any listener's heart with California pride. And it's funny too, like much L.A. boosterism in song. You will recognize the many places our narrator visits. They need to resurrect this song for state and city functions, maybe play it at the beginning of every city council meeting -- it would just put everyone in a great mood and remind them of why we love it here! And then maybe they could balance the budget after that.


"Cruisin'"
Michael Nesmith

Sometime after leaving the Monkees, and then creating some of the first-ever country-rock with his First National Band (on an excellent series of albums that predate anything by the Burrito Brothers, Poco, etc.), Mike Nesmith wrote this amazing funk-rap song about roller skating down Hollywood Boulevard, with a glorious accompanying video that will make you cry tears of L.A. joy.

Lucy and Ramona go roller skating down Hollywood Boulevard, in a mind-blowing boogie montage with many well-known locations and fabulous late 1970s street freaks grooving in the background. They are looking for a disco and "trying to make connections, with their blemish-free complexions." They meet their match in Sunset Sam, an incredible golden Hulk Hogan-lookalike who is striding down the Walk of Stars in shades, a crimson thong, and nothing else! He is also carrying a briefcase full of cheap watches, which he proceeds to vend while flexing his giant biceps!

If you have never actually been to Hollywood Boulevard (any out of state readers, perhaps), watch this music video from the pre-MTV era, and it pretty much gives you the complete experience. There's even a roller skating weirdo in a turban playing electric guitar a la Venice's own Harry Perry. This song is due for a major comeback any day now. You'll be rockin' it in your car as you cruise along!


"Join Me In L.A."
Warren Zevon

A typically dark, mysterious rocker from ex-private eye Zevon, capturing the ominous side of the Big Orange (not unlike the better-known "L.A. Woman," another favorite). "It was midnight in Topanga," the narrator intones, "and I heard the DJ say, there's a full moon rising, join me in L.A." All you Angelenos out there know you love it when they name-check L.A. locations! It always gives me a tingle. Now whenever I drive through Topanga Canyon I always have to sing this one out loud.

"California Love"
Tupac Shakur

Not only is this THE best California party song since the Beach Boys' "California Girls," it marks a high point in the careers of the three legendary musicians who united to make it happen -- Tupac, Dr. Dre and Roger Troutman of Zapp, who sings the talkbox hook throughout. Tupac and Roger would both be shot to death in separate incidents shortly thereafter. The "Wild Wild West" indeed.

This is a truly stompin' song that will lift every California partier's soul high on the wings of West Coast love. The unstoppable hook is sampled from Joe Cocker's "Woman to Woman" (it was illuminating for me to discover, years ago, that some of the best rap samples were not from James Brown or Parliament but from guys like Joe Cocker!) and the "California knows how to party" motif is adapted from Ronnie Hudson's "West Coast Pop Lock."

The rest is pure Tupac, belting out his admiration for the bling, bud, bullets, babes and beats of the Golden State, "where ya never find a dance floor empty." It's also a rare example of NoCal-SoCal solidarity (unlike the usual sniping about hippies vs. airheads): "it's all good from Diego to the Bay, your city is the bomb if your city makin' pay." G-Funk at its finest, with an all-inclusive celebration of our sovereign land, that you can crunk to all night long.


"Born In East L.A."
Cheech Marin

To anyone who was put off by the apparent in-your-face patriotism of Bruce Springsteen's omnipresent hit in the mid-1980s, this was a perfect comeback. It mirrors the ridiculously soaring hook of the original, but dripping with smoggy L.A. sarcasm. I love it when Cheech grabs the mike and yells out one of his rock songs like this.

Cheech goes down to the corner store to buy "a box of s'mores" and gets halted by La Migra, who ask him to name the president to prove he's not a Mexican national. "John Wayne?" he guesses and is instantly deported to Tijuana. Now all he wants to do is get back, for which he must crawl under barbed wire, swim across a stream, and ride in six different trucks "packed like a sardine."

"Now I know what it's like to be born to run" -- take that, the Boss! He finally makes his way back to the shining promised land. Arriving at the golden door, he looks up to see the words, "Five Billion Sold." Although no Angeleno would really go to McDonald's if there were an In-And-Out somewhere nearby.


"Life In L.A."
Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti

History may look back and judge Ariel Pink's albums to be some of the finest of our crappy modern era. Though there's not much competition, I do think it's some of the best stuff you can find today.

He is a bit of an acquired taste -- they're mostly very lo-fi home-taping projects that involve lots of squodgy, echoey low-budget psychedelic effects. But shining through the haze are his voice and his unbelievably tuneful compositions, which have been likened to the distant sound of a 1970s AM radio station from another galaxy. "Life In L.A." is one of those great hilarious songs that capture the ennui of hedonistically frying under the sun while endlessly waiting for that big break. "Life in L.A.... well, what can I say? It's a treasure to find... so many ways to unwind."

Life in L.A. is "so lonely," he choruses, echoing the sentiment of many a Midwest transplant lost in a sprawling, labyrinthine metropolis with no center. Become a yuppie: "make your babies and money, move in together, take out that loan, honey, it's now or never." Finally, Pink manages to escape, finding himself in a car "halfway to Fresno at dawn." His processed scatting wails the eerie jazz-funk hook in the background. This is the L.A. you love and loathe.


"L.A. Is My Lady"
Frank Sinatra

Now THIS is an L.A. song. I always use this to wrap up my DJ sets, for a shamelessly silly disco-lounge moment of L.A. pride and joy, with an anthemic climax recalling his better known "New York, New York." L.A. is his lady: "the music she moves to, is music that makes me a dancer," with percolating drum machine samba and chirpy synths that will get the whole nursing home dancin'. She knows how to care for Frank, the city that is: "She's good to me, and that's why: L.A. is my lady, and you're lookin' at a man who doesn't ever plan to kiss his lady goodbye." The showstopping finale will have you high-stepping all the way to Pink's for a guacamole chili dog!


Honorable mentions:
"It Never Rains in Southern California" - Albert Hammond
"Celluloid Heroes" - The Kinks
"Whittier Boulevard" - Thee Midnighters
"Institutionalized" - Suicidal Tendencies
"Surf's Up" - Beach Boys
"L.A. Blues" - The Stooges
"Hollywood Nights" - Bob Seger
"West L.A. Fadeaway" - Grateful Dead
and of course,
"L.A." by The Fall!

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LEAVE A COMMENT Leave Comment  

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Thanks for including Zevon! What about X's "Los Angeles" ("she bought a clock on Hollywood Blvd the day she left" is one of my favorite lyrics ever) and the Doors' "LA Woman"?

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I can't believe the following song was left out, which I've always thought has definitely been one of best, most nostalgic songs about L.A: California Dreaming - The Mamas & The Papas.
Cheers.