Tag Archives: songs about los angeles

Songs About Los Angeles: “L.A. Woman” by the Doors


In the culture explosion of the 1960s, the Doors were the first LA band to matter. As it has turned out, no LA band has mattered as much. Since then, there have been other LA bands, but none have had the impact of Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore and  Robby Krieger.

Every other group fronted by a charismatic male singer that sprang forth as an LA band– Van Halen, Guns N’ Roses, X, Black Flag, whatever– all owe a debt to the group of UCLA film students who decided to form a band in 1965. By 1971, six studio albums later, Morrison was dead, in Paris, from the bloat and excess of  success and it was all over. Continue reading Songs About Los Angeles: “L.A. Woman” by the Doors

Songs About Los Angeles: “Blue Jay Way” by The Beatles


So even the Beatles encountered the flakey ways of Los Angeles no-shows always holding out for a better offer. Damn, bitches– standing up a Beatle?!

Blue Jay Way, a cul-de-sac in the hills of West Hollywood, was where George Harrison was holed up on a visit to Los Angeles in 1967. Jet-lagged and fogged in, he was waiting on a friend to show up and amused himself by playing around on a small Hammond organ at the house. The song “Blue Jay Way” was born and ended up on the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour album and in their BBC television special of the same name.

As an OCD Beatles fan, of course I knew all of this long before I came to Los Angeles, so I also know the friend he was awaiting was not an Angeleno but a fellow Brit and employ of the band, so I take back that little slap at the top– but only because I hate mis-assigning blame for the lack of social graces in this town. But don’t get me started.

Songs About Los Angeles: “MacArthur Park” by Donna Summer


Certainly one of the loopiest, most infectious, most brilliant songs (and only marginally about Los Angeles,) “MacArthur Park” is a tale of private madness born out of unrequited love, written by one of the master pop songwriters of the 20th century, Jimmy Webb. It was first recorded by Richard Harris in 1968.

Webb was born in Oklahoma, attended college in San Bernardino and moved to Los Angeles in 1965 to pursue a career as a songwriter. He connected with Glen Campbell, then a young session guitarist and singer, and wrote three of the songs that made him a star; “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Witchita Lineman” and “Galveston.”

I remember the first time a friend drove me by MacArthur Park, not long after I moved to Los Angeles. It was mythic to me for two pop culture-influenced reasons: first and foremost, the song; and second, it was a location used in a harrowing episode of Six Feet Under, the HBO series about a family that runs a Los Angeles funeral home. (In the episode, the character David gets car-jacked and forced to drive to the park to buy crack.)

Today being May Day, it bears mentioning that on May 1, 2007, MacArthur Park was the site of a large immigration rights demonstration that led to a violent confrontation between demonstrators and police that drew international attention.

And then there’s this karaoke video of disco queen Donna Summer, who had a huge hit with it in 1978, and it’s probably the best known version of the song about how “someone left the cake out in the rain.” Extra points if you can follow the choreography.

Songs About Los Angeles: “Electrolite” by R.E.M.

It was somewhere between 1983 and 1984 that I discovered R.E.M. I was about 13 years old and in my bedroom near Houston. Surrounded by walls plastered with posters of Duran Duran and The Police, I discovered a college radio station in nearby Pasadena. I don’t remember exactly what song I heard first, but I loved this sound, which was different from other music I listened to at the time. I soon got to meet the college going niece of a family friend. She was so cool and trendy and I was in awe. She had several albums with her for her visit and helped me copy her R.E.M. albums onto cassette tapes. Awesome! I carried R.E.M. with me through high school and onto college, where I got my roommate into them. I have many memories tied to the band and consider them one of my very favorites to this day.

By the time R.E.M.’s tenth studio album, New Adventures in Hi-Fi, was released in 1996, I’d been living in L.A. for a couple of years. At the time, I thought the album was just okay. I was still pretty stuck on their first four albums and didn’t love the newer songs as much. As is often the case, the work has grown on me and I like many of the tracks a lot, especially “Electrolite,” which is to my ears, sort of a love song.

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Songs About Los Angeles: “Sunset People” by Donna Summer


People in Los Angeles often talk of the city having no center. “Sunset People” ignores that opinion. A simple song about a cultural Gordian knot of a place, almost cartoon-like in its depiction of the fabled Sunset Strip, “Sunset People” (written by Peter Bellotte, Harold Faltermyer and Keith Forsey; produced by Giorgio Moroder) was the last track on Donna Summer’s smash hit album Bad Girls, a dark collection of songs released in 1979 that was an inescapable part of the pop culture landscape as one decade gave way to another.

“Hot Stuff” and the title song were chart-topping hits and “Dim All the Lights” went to number two, but “Sunset People” remained an album track. That didn’t stop it from becoming one of Summer’s most popular songs, owing to it’s (re-)embrace of electronic dance music that had already been good to her and Moroder, giving them a huge international hit two years earlier with “I Feel Love”– the song that practically invented  electronica, trance and techno in one fell, Kraftwerk-fueled swoop.

Today, “Sunset People” sounds cheesy at first, but the urgency of the thumping music rubbing against  Summer’s deadpan delivery of lyrics about a type of life above, below and on The Strip somehow makes it work.

Summer sings, “Foreign cars full of stars, tinted glass to hide the scars from Sunset;” exposing the tacky, shattered dreams and starry-eyed fantasies of its denizens that may read like a list of clichés to some, but anyone familiar with the  legendary boulevard’s ’70s and ’80s heyday may recognize glimmers of truth poking through.

I first heard “Sunset People” during my early days in NYC, when it was a sometimes dangerous,  thorny-to-navigate and relentlessly exciting place– not the soul-less corporate-retail bazaar it’s been reduced to today. Long before I lived in Los Angeles and so doubted its capacity for duality, “Sunset People” made me think again, as it hinted at a fast, dark domain lurking in the shadows of a languid, sunny world.

Songs About Los Angeles: “Can’t Take This Town” by Colin Hay

Photo of Colin Hay by Chris Hemmerly under a CC License
Photo of Colin Hay by Chris Hemmerly under a CC License

In “Can’t Take This Town,” Colin Hay explores a few of the more unpleasant aspects of life in Los Angeles. It’s a good companion piece to “In California,”  which Lucinda Michele reviewed last week. Hay’s song is perhaps a bit less poetic, but it gets the point across while exploring things such as vanity, parking, and schmoozing. He also delves into the more serious issue of violence.

There’s a woman in the mirror, fixing her lips
There’s a man in the bathroom, looking for tips
I park the car, and no one to pay
And one pizza later, it’s towed away

I’m not a fan of restroom attendants and am perfectly happy to get my own paper towel. Likewise, I’m not big on the car towing thing. Luckily, I’ve only had that experience once and now read parking signs much more carefully. It’s an expensive mistake to make. Parking in L.A. seems to be a common frustration. The lack of free parking, the overabundance of overpriced lots, and the frequently changing rules and fees for street parking can all be irritating.

Read on for more reasons why Colin Hay can’t take this town