Los Angeles is one of the world’s largest and most important cities. As the center of entertainment in the Western world, it’s no surprise that it’s become both a muse and Mecca for many recording artists. Plenty of people have gone out to California to make a name for themselves in the history of the United States. But not everyone finds the fame and fortune they desire there, making Los Angeles a city with two faces.
In this article, we’ll look at 25 of the best songs ever produced about the city of Los Angeles and its true nature.
1. L.A. Woman – The Doors
It’s been argued that L.A. Woman by The Doors is the best song ever written about the city of Los Angeles. It’s an insane jam that plays both sides of a relationship, the same way the narrator has no idea of knowing which way it will end up going. The song’s best part is that it was recorded in the studio bathroom, as Jim Morrison loved the natural reverb the room had.
2. Straight Outta Compton – N.W.A.
It would be a complete shame not to include anything from N.W.A. on this list. Straight Outta Compton has a potential claim to the title of being the best rap song in history, and it gave the world a blunt description of what life was like in the group’s area of Los Angeles. It isn’t all Hollywood and stars out there, and this was one of the songs that brought that reality to the public in a way that absolutely couldn’t be avoided or shrugged off.
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3. California Love – 2Pac
We also can’t leave Tupac off this list. The leader of the West Coast side of the East Coast vs. West Coast rap beef penned several songs about California and Los Angeles in particular. California Love was one of the best and is one of the man’s most famous songs, easily deserving a spot on our list of the best songs about Los Angeles in history.
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4. California Dreamin’ – The Mamas & the Papas
California, or Los Angeles, in particular, has had a special place in the history of the United States. It’s always been a place to start over, find a new path, or make it big. That’s sort of the same thing The Mamas and The Papas were going for with this song, dreaming of being in a better place like California at the height of the social instability of the 1960s.
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5. Santa Monica – Everclear
On the surface, Everclear brought us a breezy song about swimming out to sea to escape the insanity that goes on in society. Unfortunately, the song is actually a tribute to Art Alexakis’ girlfriend, who committed suicide, something he would later try to emulate by jumping off the Santa Monica Pier. That knowledge makes you view the song differently, as the escapism is coming from a much darker place than just watching society burn the world down.
6. Beverly Hills – Weezer
Even if you’ve never wanted to go to Los Angeles, Beverly Hills by Weezer will have you yearning for the city. This is doubly true if you’re sick of some dead-end or manual job, with the lifestyles of the rich and famous sounding much better than mopping floors. Thankfully for Weezer, they’ve sold enough albums to actually make it out there despite the ridiculous prices on everything.
7. Tiny Dancer – Elton John
Tiny Dancer by Elton John is an all-time great song, but the subject is a woman from the city of Los Angeles. It was in Los Angeles that John found his footing, introducing this start at the Greek, one of the best outdoor venues in the country. Elton John is forever tied to L.A., and this classic is set on Sunset Boulevard and the beach that runs along it.
8. Celluloid Heroes – The Kinks
Celluloid Heroes really dives into the duality of L.A. Careers are made and lost in the span of a day or two, becoming the biggest thing out there one day and being completely obsolete the next. The Kinks were no strangers to how L.A. operates, and they put the poetically tragic city at the center of one of their best songs. I guess the best way to look at it is the Hollywood Stars. You can see every big star right there in one place, but you’re still walking over them like they aren’t there.
9. Sin City – The Flying Burrito Brothers
Sin City from the Flying Burrito Brothers is meant as more of a warning about the city of Los Angeles than a celebration of it. Hillman and Parsons wrote it for newcomers to the city expecting big things for themselves, telling them that the city often swallows those people alive. The odd part is that one of the best songs about the city of Los Angeles is one of the few not singing its praises.
10. I Love L.A. – Randy Newman
Randy Newman is inexorably tied to a few different cities that had a huge impact on his life, and Los Angeles is one of those lucky ones. I Love L.A. was his love letter to the city. It talks about how perfect life can seem in L.A. and how almost everyone that lives there wakes up and loves the place they find themselves in.
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11. Hollywood Nights – Bob Seger
The Hollywood Hills above Los Angeles are one of the most beautiful places in the country. Hundreds of miles of winding roads climb up the mountains and overlook the beautiful California beaches. That setting and a very particularly beautiful woman are the subject of Hollywood Nights by Bob Seger, inspired by his own time driving up into Hollywood Heights.
12. Babylon Sisters – Steely Dan
Steely Dan wrote many amazing songs with their particular version of wit and sardonic lines in them. Babylon Sisters is another one of those, describing the shallow nature of certain women and the city of Los Angeles itself. They refer to it as Babylon, a biblical city known for its self-destructive behavior and indulgent lifestyles, easily likening it to Hollywood.
13. Free Fallin’ – Tom Petty
Free Fallin’ is one of those iconic songs that everybody and their brother has heard at least once or twice in their lifetime. Tom Petty really nailed it with this one, but it might be surprising to find out the song is about Los Angeles. It sees him splitting with his lover because he wants to head out there to make a name for himself, an incredibly difficult decision that left him feeling like he was in free fall.
14. All I Wanna Do – Sheryl Crow
Sheryl Crow had always found love among critics, but All I Wanna Do made her a famous artist to the public. Her whole aesthetic of just wanting to have a good time is a great match for the setting of Los Angeles in the song, taking time away from her job for a beer in the middle of the day and partying it up west coast style.
15. Los Angeles, I’m Yours – The Decemberists
Los Angeles, I’m Yours is another song showing the vaunted city’s dark side. From the smell of burnt cocaine to the shallow nature of the city itself, The Decemberists put everything on full blast to out the city for not being the dream situation many people believed it to be.
16. Hollywood Freaks – Beck
Hollywood Freaks sees Beck get to his most experimental point to tell the tale of Los Angeles-specific debauchery. Hollywood parties like nowhere else, and he put all of it on display in this song. While it’s definitely a pretty weird song, the funky tune is still one of the best songs written about the city of Los Angeles.
17. Los Angeles Blues – Peggy Lee
Los Angeles Blues isn’t your typical blues song, especially considering it isn’t a particularly sad one. It sees Peggy Lee describe the new life she found in L.A. that was mostly meant to convince people to move out there. From finding fame to enjoying life outside in the sunshine, it’s not only a love letter to the city that made her. It’s an invitation for others to do the same.
18. California Stars – Wilco
Woody Guthrie was the one who wrote California Stars in the 1930s, but he never released the song. Wilco picked it up and recorded it in 1998, producing one of the best songs to sing along to when it comes to dreaming of a better life in California and L.A. in particular.
19. Back In L.A. – B.B. King
B.B. King started his illustrious music career in L.A. One of the best blues artists of all time with a career to match, he returned to Los Angeles and his roots with his 1991 album There Is Always One More Time with this song about the city’s duality. It can eat you up if you let it, but it’s also one of the best places in the world.
20. Going Back To Cali – LL Cool J
LL Cool J released Going Back to Cali in 1988 to pay tribute to his youth in New York. While it sounds counterintuitive for this article, this song was all about his journey to the West Coast during the intense beef between East Coast and West Coast rappers. LL Cool J found himself caught in the middle of that standoff, but moving to Los Angeles was the biggest reason he became an international star, so he chose his side of it at the end of the day.
21. It Was A Good Day – Ice Cube
Like his work with N.W.A., Ice Cube pays tribute to his California neighborhood in It Was A Good Day. Generally, this song is among the best hip hop singles in history, describing a typical day in the hood. This particular day isn’t as stressful as it usually is, but it laid bare the plight of many inside inner cities. As if this was a good day, what are the bad days like?
22. Los Angeles Is Burning – Bad Religion
California is known for wildfires. They’re so common every year that they’ve even named the Santa Ana winds the “murder winds.” While Los Angeles hasn’t been burned up recently, Bad Religion used that imagery in their song Los Angeles Is Burning. The fires in the songs are metaphors for how easily the media we consume can make us afraid or paranoid. They ironically released an animated version of the song right after a 2003 firestorm that almost set L.A. on fire.
23. 99 Miles From L.A. – Art Garfunkel
There are a lot of songs about trying to get to Los Angeles and people traveling there, but 99 Miles From L.A. by Art Garfunkel is one of the few to become almost synonymous with the city. Overall it’s a pretty chill song, but it’s listened to best when cruising down the highway on the way to the best city in the world.
24. Girls, Girls, Girls – Mötley Crüe
Girls, Girls, Girls is one of Mötley Crüe’s most memorable songs. The rock legends were all about the women in those days, but it was Sunset Boulevard they were cruising down in this song. If you’re into classic rock, there’s no better song to blast as you cruise down the highway in a convertible and hunt for chicks.
25. Surfin Safari – The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys are all things California and Los Angeles, but Surfin’ Safari was one of the songs that made their careers possible. It was all about a surfing adventure at the beach over there, and it eventually helped the band secure a deal for their first album after it found chart success by reaching number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100.
As a contributing writer for Music Grotto, Dakotah writes and produces professional music/media content. He works closely with editorial staff to meet editorial standards and create
quality content for the Music Grotto website. Dakotah is passionate about music in a wide variety of genres, from hip-hop to country and lo-fi to metal, and he enjoys creating music pieces for Music Grotto.