Los Angeles is a city widely loved and widely hated. These extremes are a testament to the many things that bring folks to the City of Angels. With this much attention in media and pop culture, it’s no surprise that there are many songs written about Los Angeles.
Some of these musical numbers wax poetic about the city’s lush nature and beautiful climate. Others point out the shallowness rampant in a town that can make or break the career of a young entertainer.
In this post, we’ve cultivated a list of some of the best songs about Los Angeles, some of which are tributes, and others poke fun. So what are the two common denominators amongst these songs? They’re all about Los Angeles, and they’re all excellent tunes!
1. “99 Miles From LA” by Art Garfunkel
“99 Miles From LA” is a single that took off in 1975 and is one of the quintessential songs associated with Los Angles.
The lyrics describe a trip to LA, which has made this track popular amongst drivers. It is closer stylistically to Easy Listening than other songs by Garfunkel, but this is appropriate given the song’s chill subject matter.
In LA? Visiting soon? Or just curious about the city’s vibe? Play this hit on your car stereo to instantly mellow out on your commute.
2. “Los Angeles Is Burning” by Bad Religion
“Los Angeles is Burning” is a popular punk number released in 1990. The song is the fourth track on Bad Religion’s album Suffer. The subject matter includes race and protest, as it was written in the wake of the LA riots in 1992.
Rodney King was brutally beaten by the Los Angeles Police Department, which spurred ample criticism from the black community and their white allies.
As a result, protests erupted throughout the city, and this song is written in solidarity with the protesters who demanded an end to systemic racism and police brutality.
3. “Santa Monica” by Everclear
Santa Monica is an oceanside neighborhood in Los Angeles. Everclear’s tribute to the area is catchy and easy to listen to, but it has a dark underside.
The band’s lead singer Art Alexakis lost his childhood sweetheart to suicide and personally attempted suicide later by throwing himself into the Pacific near Santa Monica.
Is the song a tribute to lost love or a catchy number with a dark side? Have a listen and decide for yourself.
4. “Back in LA” by BB King
“From Hollywood and Vine to the Sunset Strip,” BB King’s “Back in LA” wastes no time telling listeners what it’s all about.
King’s tasteful and unique guitar playing surrounds the lyrics of this song, which are cynical but not negative.
The main theme of “Back in LA” seems to be the available opportunities in this California metropolis that only come to those who hustle and work hard.
5. “California Stars” by Wilco
“California Stars” was initially penned by Woody Guthrie, but Guthrie never released his epic love note to Los Angeles. So American alternative rockers Wilco decided to take this song on and make it their own. The results are an uplifting tribute to a city that many get cynical about!
This song’s lyrics describe a dreamy getaway to California and are LA-specific because Guthrie was in Long Beach at the time. Wilco has maintained this dreamy energy alongside a slightly modernized arrangement.
6. “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang” by Dr. Dr
“Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang” is the first single to appear on rapper Dr. Dre’s debut album, The Chronic. The song was a huge hit, appearing on the iconic Death Row record label.
“Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang” features Snoop Dogg, another influential and famous rapper. This is quintessential west coast hip hop and will promptly transport listeners to Los Angeles.
Unlike some more romantic songs about LA, this 1992 hit is all about working the hustle and grinding in style.
7. “All I Wanna Do” by Sheryl Crow
Many people know Sheryl Crow’s “All I Wanna Do,” which makes sense since it was her breakthrough hit!
While some numbers on our list describe the gritty hustle of living in LA, this song is essentially the opposite. Crow describes having a beer at noon in a local bar, taking time away from her 9 to 5 job.
The man next to her at the bar says he wants to “have a little fun before he dies,” which Crow spins into an epic tale of partying. You only live once!
8. “Hollywood Freaks” by Beck
Beck is an Angelino through and through and truly gets into the nitty-gritty parts of Los Angeles in this quirky, funky number. “Hollywood Freaks” is a timepiece about this wild neighborhood and the adventures that have occurred there and across the city.
Beck’s album “Midnite Vultures” from 1999 is more experimental than many of his others, and “Hollywood Freaks” is a track that is no exception. Some say it’s inspired by the treats and predictions of Y2K and the looming year 2000, while others think it’s just an LA song that doesn’t hold back. So have a listen and see what you think!
9. “Going Back to Cali” by LL Cool J
“Going Back to Cali” is a classic LL Cool J song. Released in 1988, the tune pays tribute to the singer and rapper’s New York upbringing. Sounding like an R&B/hip-hop crossover, the song describes Cool J’s move from NYC to Los Angeles.
The song was released at a time when tensions were high between east and west coast rappers and makes note of Cool J’s own experience living in both worlds.
While the rapper may be a New Yorker through and through, it’s worth noting that his move to the City of Angels was one of the catalysts that brought him into international stardom.
10. “Born in East LA” by Cheech & Chong
Many people either love or hate the sprawling metropolis that is Los Angeles, and this song is catchy enough to appeal to both types of people!
The lyrics curate nostalgia for the city while simultaneously poking fun at some things that make it a complicated place to live.
Cheech and Chong are famous for representing marijuana culture and possessing a quirky yet chill sense of humor. They are also an iconic Los Angelean duo and are right at home singing about the traffic, Hispanic culture, and neighborhoods of their home city.
11. “Valley Girl” by Frank Zappa
The term “valley girl” is used worldwide to describe a certain manner of behaving and talking. It’s become such a ubiquitous slang that many people don’t even think of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley when throwing the term into casual conversation.
Frank Zappa’s song “Valley Girl” is partly responsible for the popularization of the term, and the song pokes fun at the more shallow and materialistic residents of the valley.
Compared to other works by Zappa, this song was relatively tame in its satire and absurdity, but Zappa’s daughter Moon Unit released an edgier version years after her father’s.
12. “It Was a Good Day” by Ice Cube
“It Was a Good Day” is one of rapper Ice Cube’s most popular songs, and it describes a day spent trying to get by as a young black man in LA.
As the title suggests, hustling, gambling, and driving around the city are all part of this day in the life, which is going smoother than others.
The catchy sample under Ice Cube’s verses is from a ballad by The Isley Brothers. It provides a melancholy harmony to the song and a link to the groovy R&B/Motown sounds that were instrumental in the evolution of hip hop.
13. “Free Fallin’” by Tom Petty
“Free Fallin” is a classic song that describes a romantic affair that Tom Petty left behind in Florida when he made his cross country move to Los Angeles.
Sandwiched between mountains and the ocean, LA is a city that demands commitment from those who choose to call it home. Petty’s lyrics describe what this feels like, pursuing great opportunities but far from home.
Leaving love and familiarity might feel like a free fall, but the sky is the limit if you land on your feet as Petty did!
14. “Straight Outta Compton” by NWA
Compton is an area of Los Angeles where many west coast rappers started. “Straight Outta Compton” describes what it was like growing up in this neighborhood and put it on the map to many listeners after the song became a hit.
Compton has mellowed in the years since 1988 when NWA released this song, but it’s still a place that comes up in countless references to west coast rap.
This song uses a groove from high-hat cymbals under gritty and raw verses to take us to a unique place and time while sounding as relevant as ever in modern times.
15. “Hollywood Nights” by Bob Seger
The allure of Los Angeles, and for many folks, Hollywood in particular, makes the massive city a popular place for “transplants” from across the United States and abroad.
The kid described in Bob Seger’s “Hollywood Nights” isn’t headed to Tinseltown in search of fame or work; he’s in love!
The 1978 track describes the Midwestern boy’s journey and how he may not quite be ready for the big city. However, this narrative is achieved without making the song too sad or bittersweet.
Instead, this is a catchy tune above all else, and the listener is left with the feeling that they’d do it all again!
16. “LA” by Elliott Smith
Los Angeles is best described as a city of extremes, and this sentiment is captured in many of the songs on this list. The late Elliott Smith penned “LA” to echo exactly this, painting a scene of beautiful California weather alongside loneliness and despair.
Featured on Smith’s final album, Figure 8“LA” describes a laid-back atmosphere and sunny skies.
This is contrasted with the extreme hustle that many young people must go through when attempting to find success or fame.
17. “LA Woman” by the Doors
While recording Jim Morrison’s final album with Doors, the famous rocker chose the bathroom of their Hollywood studio to record his vocals, claiming to love the natural reverb produced by the room’s geometry.
This reverb is an excellent complement to the song’s “jam band” aesthetic, which manages to be simultaneously upbeat and melancholy.
The scene that’s set is of a romantic entanglement that could go either way. Is this a fun and frivolous date night or a far more complex situation?
18. “Los Angeles Blues” by Peggy Lee
Peggy Lee became an ambassador for the kind of fame and success that awaits certain lucky and talented artists who move to Los Angeles. Her own story is an uplifting one, and this is a perfect song to represent this.
Lee made the move to Los Angeles when she was 17 years old and developed her unique vocal style to captivate rowdy audiences in Palm Springs. This softer style became her signature and propelled her to fame.
“Los Angeles Blues” describes a life of surfing, hiking, and sunshine in the metropolis of LA. While not a traditional “blues” song, its message is that one would be hard-pressed to have the blues in California!
Summing Up Our List Of Los Angeles Songs
Los Angeles is a city that represents so many things to different people. Given its substantial urban sprawl and diverse neighborhoods, we can say that the city is different for everyone who lives there or visits. These songs all sum up this diversity.
From West Hollywood parties to aspirations of fame in the movies to the struggles and wildness of Compton, these songs talk about every aspect of Los Angeles and the unique folks who call the city home!