The City of Angels. After listening to "Los Angeles, I’m Yours" by The Decemberists (see radio.blog) I was struck by how a song can strike at the heart of a city, or any place, for that matter. So start thinking now, I’m about to ask you to share what song or songs best capture the essence of where you live, or where you have lived, or even a place you’ve only visited.
I agree with the Decemberists. L.A. has often "left me wretched, retching on all fours," but that’s only half the story. I believe most people have a love/hate relationship with L.A. and any decent L.A. song captures that duality. This means Randy Newman’s "I Love L.A." is not on my list. Worst L.A. Song ever.
However, I must warn you, it’s not as if my picks for Best L.A. Songs are that original.
I believe "L.A. Woman" by The Doors is not a song about a woman living in L.A.. The city is the woman. The lyrics "If they say I never loved you / You know they are a liar" express the ambivalence I feel about L.A. perfectly. I’ve heard it said you only really know a city on the day you arrive and on the day you leave and that’s why I like "L.A. Woman." It zips you in off a freeway exit to "Take a look around, see which way the wind blows" and it zips you back out of town after light has turned to night. The Doors make good use of light/night and other dualities in their lyrics as they explore both sides of L.A.. The turning point is in the middle of the song where Jim Morrison sings, "Motel, money, murder, madness / Let’s change the the mood from glad to sadness." I also like the line "Never saw a woman so alone." I believe it touches on one of the most common emotions that Angelenos feel–loneliness.
"Under the Bridge" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers illustrates this point perfectly. It also portrays L.A. as a woman–the singer’s only friend. "At least I have her love / The city she loves me / Lonely as I am / Together we cry." This song also connects L.A. with addiction, a theme even more prevalent than loneliness in songs about L.A..
For example, drug addiction is what most people feel "Hotel California" is about, (that is if they don’t feel it’s about a Satanic cult) but I see it as a song about the entertainment industry. For The Eagles themselves it was probably specifically about the music industry, but both industries lure people to L.A. and often trap them here because before long there’s no other city where you can find work. Like the song says, "We are all just prisoners here of our own device." You may find this shocking, but people actually long to leave Los Angeles, "To find the passage back to the place I was before." And we know what The Eagles say about the chance of leaving or checking out.
Where would I go? Straight back to Colorado. I still haven’t found the quintessential song about Colorado yet, although, I suppose "Rocky Mountain High" by John Denver and "Rocky Mountain Way" by former Eagle Joe Walsh come close. As Walsh points out, "The rocky mountain way is better than the way we had."
Okay, my turn is over. What songs about what places are meaningful to you and why?