KUSC's Top Los Angeles Songs

Submitted by Jamie Paisley, Music Director of Classical KUSC, a non-profit, listener-supported broadcast service of the University of Southern California, broadcasting commercial-free classical music for over 60 years. This list is part of KCET.org's "Top Los Angeles Songs."


"City Noir"
John Adams

Premiered just last year for the much-lauded Gustavo Dudamel's Disney Concert Hall debut as Los Angeles Philharmonic's Music Director, John Adams' emo-love letter to L.A. showed how much he's moved from his (forgive me, John) minimalist upbringings. With a genesis firmly planted in the 1940s and 50s, Adams infused the well-trod gritty archetype by heavily borrowing from jazz, going so far as to invite the rare orchestral saxophone into the mix for a solo. But that's all part of the evolution of the classical genre, inviting the new into the old to create hybrids. After all, who knows where we'd be if Mozart didn't embrace writing for the clarinet?

"La Fanciulla del West" (The Golden Girl of the West)
Giacomo Puccini

Forget Sergio Leone, the first Spaghetti Western was written for the stage. After Giacomo Puccini wrote four smash hits back-to-back (Manon Lescaut, La Boheme, Tosca and Madama Butterfly), he specifically targeted the American audiences by choosing to dramatize the California Gold Rush, including a setting just a bit north of Los Angeles in the Sierra Madre mountains. Though not the immediate hit of his previous efforts, La Fanciulla del West has held up considerably well since its premiere at the Metropolitan Opera in 1910.

It's still performed with some regularity and has the great hallmarks associated with opera: Overly dramatic singing - check. Oddly-named characters like 'Billy Jackrabbit' or 'Dick Johnson' - check. Unabashed lyricism and well-orchestrated accompaniment - check and check. In fact, there are opera buffs that say it's among his best technically written scores, but lacked the hits to make it first-tier Puccini.

"Why You'd Want To Live Here"
Death Cab For Cutie

I confess. I am an east-coast transplant who, until moving here, never needed to go any further west than Erie, Pennsylvania in my then 27 years of living. The horrors I'd heard... you mean, you can go months without any rain? But there are so many freeways, they can't ALWAYS be at a crawl, can they? And then I came upon this track that summed up my fears and it had a nifty borrowed rhythm in the chorus that appealed to my music nerd. But I've been here some time now and realize many things about the east don't make sense anymore. You mean they DON'T put avocado on everything? I suppose it's true: The grass is always browner on the other side.

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