Documentary Review: The Sublime ‘Linda Ronstadt, The Sound Of My Voice’

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I’m on record here at B&V as being someone who hates the holidays. Well, “hate” is too strong a word for how I feel about the holidays. Perhaps I’m best paraphrasing that classic movie, Barfly when describing my feelings about the holidays, “I just sorta feel better when they’re not around.” Since I met the Rock Chick, I will admit, things have gotten at least a little better for me at the holidays, Confessions of an Ex-Grinch: My Christmas Epiphany. Now that we’ve all gutted it out through the Yule cheer and have made it safely through New Years Eve (aka, Amateur Night) we can settle nicely into the New Year, right?

Sadly, as much as I hate the holidays, January has quickly become the worst time of year in my estimation. Winter starts in earnest and you don’t have all the decorations and Xmas lights to distract you from the weather. I’m beginning to understand why Shakespeare used the words, “Now is the winter of our discontent.” Back in the old days, all my coupled friends would go into hibernation after the holidays until about St Patrick’s Day. I get that strategy now. It’s cold outside, there’s no new rock and roll music and nothing is going on, everybody is paying off that holiday debt. Frankly, it’s what the Rock Chick and I do now in January – pull up the drawbridge and hibernate. I must admit this year’s January is infinitely worse as I’m participating in what is known as “Dry January,” where you eschew alcohol. It’s not been difficult to quit booze, except for the excruciating boredom of nothing else to do. I will admit, early on I did find myself wrestling for my sanity (wild mood swings for $1000, Alex), but that quickly passed. And contrary to rumor, I did not suffer the delirium tremens. Oddly I feel and sleep better without bourbon, and my weight has dropped precipitously but don’t tell my wife, I don’t want her getting any ideas about reevaluating my sobriety.

Luckily, since we’re barricaded in our home for winter, I can catch up on some of the backlogged viewing I’d intended to do… DVR and chill as the kids say… although I’m still under the impression that means something other than watching recorded videos and falling asleep on the couch. This will require further study. Anyway, last night was a nice example of catching up on my viewing. I watched a great Austin City Limits that featured Jack White’s band The Raconteurs and they played a lot from their last album that I loved, LP Review: The Raconteurs’ (Jack White) ‘Help Us Stranger’. They were followed by a groovy R&B/Soul act, the Black Pumas who are nominated for a “Best New Artist” Grammy. I dug the Pumas, although I might not rush out and buy their album. Although I plan on returning to that slow groove music. “Colors” is a great track you should check out…

The highlight of last night’s viewing is a CNN documentary about Linda Ronstadt, entitled creatively, Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice. I’ve been looking forward to checking this thing out. In the interest of full disclosure, I was never a big Linda Ronstadt fan but I’ve got to tell you, her music was ubiquitous in the middle and late 70s when I was growing up. She was monstrously huge. And yet, I never really paid attention, I feared she was too mellow. I do remember my friend Steve (and oddly more than half of my friends were named Steve, so I feel there is some anonymity preserved here), and he had a poster of her on his wall. I don’t think Linda ever wore a bra and well, we were all big fans of nipples – we’d never seen one up close. Juvenile, perhaps…but more evolutionary if you think about it. Regardless, that poster of Linda on Steve’s wall was about the extent of my knowledge about her. As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned to appreciate her much, much more and was really looking forward to learning about her in this documentary. I will say this, the documentary was aptly titled – her voice is the absolute star here, as it should be. I was blown away by her.

The documentary is mostly chronological in nature and narrated in large part by Linda herself. It quickly frames her more than ten year battle with Parkinson’s disease (diagnosed in 2009) which has robbed her of her ability to sing. Silencing that voice is one of the most tragic things I can think of. While the movie is chronological, my one complaint here is they don’t frame any of the events in time other than when she left Arizona and moved to California with a big “1964” on the screen. So when they talk about a specific album or event, it left me scrambling to the Google to figure out when that event happened. I’m nit picking but it’s a problem for those of us with musical OCD. Other than that this was a fascinating, entertaining look at one of Rock N Roll’s most important artists – folk, country, country rock, rock and roll, ballads, light opera (operetta), standards and Mexican folk – the woman could sing the phone booth. She was Norah Jones before there was such a thing. The Rock Chick said to me, “I’m surprised you’re going to write about her…” Rock and roll is a big tent, let’s include everybody whose talented.

Besides Linda narrating this thing, there’s a who’s who of Southern California rock giving commentary as well. Jackson Browne, songwriter J.D. Souther (who dated Linda in the 70s), Ry Cooder, Bonnie Raitt, Emmy Lou Harris, Dolly, David Geffen, filmmaker Cameron Crowe all show up to talk about Linda. Karla Bonoff, who I’d forgotten about shows up. Of all people, the prickly Don Henley shows up. Linda hired him as her drummer (and later hired Glen Frey and they went on to form the Eagles) and Henley is downright reverent about Ronstadt. He’s kind of a dick most the time but not here – his loyalty and devotion to Linda is unwavering. He’s so complimentary, it’s nice to see. He says, “the record company didn’t know what to do with “Desperado,” and then Linda recorded a perfect version of it.” High praise from a man who doesn’t give praise.

Born in Arizona, Ronstadt’s grandfather was an inventor. The music came from her father’s side, he was the singer. Although her mother sang and played piano as well. She had Mexican heritage on her father’s side, which with a name like Ronstadt, we never knew about, but heritage she was justifiably proud of. She started off singing folk music, like many in that generation. After moving to L.A., the Byrds hit and suddenly it was folk rock for her. She formed a country rock band, the Stone Ponys and had a hit before the record company wisely said, uh, we want the chick singer not the band. When she went solo she hired Henley as a drummer and Frey as a guitarist inadvertently creating the Eagles. She eventually hired former Beatles associate Peter Asher as her producer, signed with David Geffen on the Asylum label and her career took off. This is the period of her career we at B&V are most familiar with.

From 1974’s Heart Like a Wheel onward she kind of owned that soft rock crown for the next decade. She had 5 multiple platinum albums in a row. That’s a hot streak comparable to Elton John’s in the early 70s. She was a woman in a male dominated industry and I love how she nurtured and helped other female artists. Emmy Lou Harris, despairing and lost after Gram Parsons OD’d on heroin, was in what she describes as a “very dark period” and Ronstadt started singing with her and promoting her. She saved her. I mean in a five minute period in the documentary they sum up what an important vortex Ronstadt was to country rock and southern California rock. Everybody from the Eagles to Gram Parsons gets a mention. She was at the center of it all. While Ronstadt never wrote her own material she had impeccable taste in what she was going to cover. Either early rock classics by Chuck Berry or Smokey Robinson, a man people fear to cover, or country classics by Dolly, the woman could pick them. She recorded contemporary songwriters as well, helping their career – Neil Young (who didn’t need the help and who she opened and sang back up for), Warren Zevon (my fav, “Carmelita” and “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” about Jackson Browne), Jackson Browne, Little Feat’s Lowell George (“Willin'”) all had songs covered by Ronstadt. Hell, she even does a great version of the Stones’ “Tumblin’ Dice,” perhaps her greatest rocking moment.

She had grown tired of the road and hanging out with all the dudes you encounter in a rock band so she turned to Broadway and joined the production of The Pirates of Penzance, which I’d forgotten about. She crushes the operetta stuff. Again, that voice. After that, inspired by her mother’s passing, she did an album of standards with Nelson Riddle, the first artist I remember making that leap. The record company didn’t want her to do any of this – and yet both were enormously successful. She went back to her country roots following that to record the huge Trio LP with Dolly and Emmy Lou Harris, another smash success. Then she turned to traditional Mexican songs on Canciones De Mi Padre which remains the highest selling Spanish-language LP in history. Everything this woman touched turned to gold. Why, you may ask? The sound of her voice.

As you can tell, I was really taken by this documentary. Other than giving no time of reference in terms of what year certain events happened, this is a thorough, loving look at the career of one of rock and roll’s greatest singers. Her induction into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in 2014 was long overdue. I just wish they’d inducted her prior to Parkinson’s taking away her voice – I’d love to have seen all the people who would have showed up to perform with her. While mellow is usually outside our wheel house here at B&V, watching the warm hearted, generous artistry of this woman warmed the frozen heart of a Dry January sober, winter blues, B&V music fan. And that says a lot.

Cheers! Enjoy this documentary!

 

 

RIP Neil Peart: B&V Mourns The Passing Of Rush’s Virtuoso Drummer

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*Photo taken by your intrepid blogger, from the 2112 album

I was stunned and saddened to learn yesterday, like everyone else, that the world had lost Rush lyricist/drummer extraordinaire Neil Peart to brain cancer. I don’t think anybody outside his tight inner circle knew he was even ill. I certainly hadn’t heard anything. In today’s share everything/voyeuristic society, kudos to Peart and his erstwhile fellow bandmates Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson for keeping it a secret. Everyone deserves to die with dignity and privacy. Neil and his loved ones are all in our thoughts here at B&V. I had wondered why Rush had retired when all of them were still in fighting form as players. Perhaps this was part of it. I loved the joint statement issued from Lee/Lifeson, I recommend Rush fans seek it out for solace.

Despite having three virtuoso’s in the band, Rush never seemed to get the respect they so richly deserved. Dismissed by critics and ignored by radio they had to make it the old fashioned way – touring, including a stint opening for Kiss. Rush was considered a Prog-Rock band because of the long, multi-suite songs but they could equally be considered hard rock. For me, if a Rush song didn’t have numbered subtitles, like say, 2112, I wasn’t interested. I wanted to hear a 13 minute song with all the different chord changes – give me “Xanadu” every day. “2112” was basically one song that lasted the entire side of an album. The bedrock of their sound was Peart’s drumming. He was perhaps rock’s greatest drummer. Some may argue Bonham or Moon, but I’m on the Peart band wagon. I had never seen a drum kit with that many drums. Unlike most drum solos – which is usually when I head to the bathroom and then the beer line (rinse/repeat) – Peart’s drum solos were often the highlight of a Rush concert. I wasn’t going anywhere when Lee and Lifeson left the stage. It was like Mozart with sticks in his hands instead of a baton.

Rush may have never gotten the love of the critics or radio (at least early on), but for us males of a certain age, Rush was one of THE bands. I can’t count the number of text messages I’ve got from friends mourning Peart’s passing. It’s virtually impossible to relate how much this band meant to us. From 1976’s 2112 to 1981’s Moving Pictures we were obsessed with this band. All The World’s A Stage from that time period remains one of my favorite live albums. The guitar, Geddy Lee’s high pitched vocals, the drums, Peart’s lyrics… although I will say he went a little heavy into the failed philosophy of Ayn Rand. The amount of “air-guitaring” and “air-drumming” that accompanied these guys is incalculable.

While I was always vaguely aware of Rush, it wasn’t until I was a sophomore in high school that I actually heard an entire Rush LP. This guy I knew, I’ll call him Bobby (name changed to protect the guilty), was an “oops baby” considerably younger than his siblings. His parents were older and had basically given up. He had a bedroom and living room of his own upstairs. It was almost like he was a boarder and not a son. At one point he had a ladder pushed up against the back of his house and we’d bypass his “parental units” and just climb the ladder up to his apartment. His folks left town and he had a group of us over… he put on 2112 and I’m not sure, but I think it’s the first time I played air-guitar. I was so into it I partially tore off my thumbnail, proof that playing air-guitar is never a good idea… especially if Liam Gallagher can see you, but that’s another post.

I went out and bought 2112 immediately. Through high school my friend Matthew turned me onto a ton of Rush, he was a big fan. It was through him that I discovered the overlooked Caress of Steel. There’s an epic track on that album, “The Necromancer” that may be my favorite song of their’s. It’s the story of three fierce warriors, “Men of Willowdale” who go and fight the bad guy, the titular Necromancer. Men feel a need to quote songs and movies and for me, “The Necromancer” is one of those highly quotable songs. I’ve used the phrase “weakening the body and saddening the mind” since I was in high school. I love that phase of Neil Peart’s lyric writing.

I had a disparate crowd of misfits I hung out with and later in high school I was hanging out with a guy I’ll call Mike (name changed to protect the guilty) who had a mint condition older Mustang. He’d really put a lot into this car. The stereo was no exception in his spending and it was literally mind blowing. He had two small speakers mounted on the frame, on the arms that hold the roof up, and we’d blast the album Moving Pictures at top volume. I probably suffered most my hearing loss in that car… Alas, Mike was too big a fan of the hookah and treble for my tastes… bass, Mike, turn up the bass…but because of him I bought that album and it remains a favorite.

I went on to see Rush six times in concert. There were two levels to the Rush experience for me. First, you had to hear them on the headphones. The second was in concert. The first show I saw them at in 1981 was on the Moving Pictures tour and I was really disappointed. I saw them again in 1983 and they were awesome. Every time I saw them afterwards they, in the words of my friend Stormin, “brought down the sky.” I remember crashing to the floor, right up by the stage in 1983 right before they launched into “Temples of Syrinx” for the encore. Lee and Lifeson stood nose to nose in front of Peart’s drum kit. Peart scowled down from up there… they paused for a moment and then tore the roof off of Kemper Arena.

As I sit here today and think about Rush and Neil Peart’s massive contributions to rock and roll I can’t help but realize most of the stories occurring to me involve hanging out with friends. Maybe that’s why we “men of a certain age” are so fond of Rush. They were the sound track to that communal “dude” period of our lives, when we were surrounded by like minded miscreants, with our future’s entirely open in front of us. Rush’s lyrics conjured fantasy worlds and Sci-Fi that spoke to us, that said, anything can happen. The music rocked and will be a part of my make up for the rest of my life.

When it comes to drummers like Neil Peart and a band like Rush, they just don’t make ’em like that anymore. I feel, like most people, that the world of Rock N Roll has suffered a deep and tragic loss. I can say the news that he’d passed yesterday certainly had the effect of “weakening the body and saddening the mind” for me. While Peart had retired, he will still be missed. I know I’ve been cranking Rush for about 24 hours now and somehow, it’s making me feel a little better. Devil horns up to all of you out there in Rush-land today!

Its a long dark ride out there folks. To quote Brad Pitt, “if you have the chance to be kind to someone, take it.”

Cheers!

 

 

How The Biggest Bands In the World Reacted Musically to Punk Rock in the 70s

Punk.jpg*Image from the internet and probably copyrighted

I don’t know why, but I’ve been thinking a lot about that whole Grunge era in the 90s lately. I think the whole Grunge thing was the last musical movement that I actually got caught up in. On my first date with the Rock Chick, back in my swashbuckling bachelor days, we actually talked about music and she said, “I hate that Kurt Cobain destroyed everything that came before him.” That was sadly a very true statement. When Cobain came along – and lets face it, it wasn’t just him, there was an army of bands who came with him & Nirvana, like Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, the Smashing Pumpkins and Soundgarden (to name a few of my favorites) – he laid waste to everything that came prior.

The Rock Chick went on to say that day, “I liked some of those hard rock, hair-metal bands like Motley Crue, Van Halen and Cinderella. You just don’t hear that kind of music any more.” Talk about love at first conversation. This was our first date! My heart throbbed, but enough of that mushy stuff. It wasn’t only those “hair bands” who bit the dust in the wake of Grunge, everybody went down. Billy Joel crawled off to write symphonies. Bruce Springsteen decided he was John Steinbeck with a guitar. Grunge shook rock and roll to its foundation. Grunge was rock and roll stripped of its artifice, more primal and visceral in nature. Gone were drum machines and synths… enter guitar, drums and a whole lot of angst. No hair spray or frankly, bathing needed.  The Rock Chick, ever adaptable, did morph into a huge “alternative” rock fan, the offspring of Grunge if you will. One door closes, another opens as the saying goes.

Of course, this isn’t the first musical wave to rise up and challenge the established order. Punk rock, which one could describe as the pierced, demented grandfather of Grunge, was just as primal and visceral, if not way more so. Both punk and Grunge, to my uneducated ears at least, seem to strip away layers of polish that had accumulated on rock and roll and get it back to that four or five guys (or gals) in a garage bashing out tunes kinda vibe. Punk, rather than express the angst of Grunge, had more of a social protest angle to it. Punk bands, especially out of England were protesting the economic and social conditions they found themselves in and it challenged the somewhat complacent rock establishment. There was an almost nihilistic bent to it that made it dangerous. Of course, I was really, really late getting on the punk bandwagon…

Here in the middle of America, we didn’t hear a lot of punk music on the radio… Not even American punk from New York like the Ramones made it on the radio here. I can remember in the late/mid-70s sitting on the couch at the house one Sunday night and my dad was watching 60 Minutes. They did a segment on the English punk movement. They showed a bunch of young kids, a little older than I was, with safety pins piercing their nose or cheeks. They had Mohawk hair cuts and wore a lot of leather. They were all slamming violently into each other on the dance floor, not unlike a rugby scrum. My father, whose sensibilities on everything are firmly rooted in the 50s, looked over at my brother and I with a look that I now realize can only be described as… fear. I felt that he had the strong urge to jump up and cover my brother’s ears and perhaps backhand me… Looking at me, in his mind’s eye, he probably saw my hair morphing into a Mohawk… a safety pin springing magically out of my cheek. He knew how drawn I was to rebellion.

For my part, I was just as terrified. The 60 Minutes crew shot the live footage at the punk concert – a Sex Pistols’ show – and didn’t do anything to mix the sound. It sounded like harsh, frightening noise with a crazed singer screaming at people. They didn’t play any studio stuff. The old farts on that show just marveled at Johnny Rotten singing “God Save the Queen.” They actually had subtitles to highlight what I’m sure they considered subversive lyrics. This was a sign of the coming apocalypse… To me, it just sounded awful. I need a little melody. It took me years – like 20 years – to finally buy a Clash album. It was a revelation. I quickly picked up the Ramones and the Stooges. Those are some of my favorite punk rock bands. At last, I finally picked up Never Mind the Bollocks, from the once scary (to me) Sex Pistols only about 10 years ago and it’s awesome. Very simple, straight forward guitar rock. As Lou Reed said, “One chord is fine. Two chords is pushing it. Three chords and you’re into jazz.” But as my friend Doug told me once, “Every punk rocker knows Lou Reed is an asshole.”

Punk rockers challenged the established rock acts that were already ensconced on the top of the world, the Rock Stars. Rock n roll had gotten bloated. There were Art Rock bands doing 15-minute, multi suite tracks like Rush or Yes, that almost had more in common with classical music than rock and roll. There were strings and overly polished production. Rock had gotten fat and comfortable. Along came punk to shake things up, and thank God it did. Instead of destroying everything that came before it like Grunge, a curious thing happened… the established rock bands, for lack of a better word, absorbed the energy and vibe. Although I’ll admit some of the artists ignored punk: Dylan had found Jesus, Bowie was over in Berlin doing his thing, Steely Dan’s jazz-influenced bubble never burst and hard rockers like Black Sabbath and AC/DC didn’t change a thing. But so many rockers were influenced by punk.

I’ve compiled the following list of some of my favorite band/artist reactions to the punk movement. At the time I’d have hardly known the stylistic change in music came from punk rock, but you live and learn.

  1. Queen, News Of The World – Queen was just coming off two albums of long, complicated music (A Day At the Races, Night On the Town) and were already considering a shift to shorter, more stripped down tracks. While recording News, the Sex Pistols were in the next studio… Freddie Mercury ran into Sid Vicious (who he had been calling Sid Ferocious) and Sid asked, “Have you succeeded in bringing ballet to the masses yet?” Queen, and Freddie especially had been the target of the punk’s ire, and he replied, “We’re doing our best, dear.” Queen went into the studio and delivered a stylistically adventurous LP with tighter, shorter tracks. Sure, “It’s Late” was six and a half minutes long, but what a guitar riff. The crowning glory was Freddie and Brian May’s double-single response to the punks – “We Will Rock You” (their statement of purpose) and “We Are the Champions” (Freddie’s fuck you to them). The lyrics, “no time for losers, ’cause we are the champions” were pretty clear.
  2. The Rolling Stones, Some Girls – The Stones totally absorbed the punk ethos on this album. Of course on tracks like “Miss You” they also absorbed the disco thing too. Mick always picked up on what was now, and Keith keeps them centered and connected to their roots. Songs like “Lies,” and especially “Shattered” were stripped down with rocking guitar. No strings, no fat, just awesome. On “Respectable,” they even mocked the punk’s criticism, “Well now we’re respected in society, We don’t worry about the things that we used to be.”
  3. The Who, Who Are You – No one was more disturbed by the punk’s criticism than Pete Townshend, who saw a lot of the early Who in the punks. Who Are You was seen as a return to form for them, with loud guitars and bombastic drums. Townshend’s title track was directly addressed to the punks, “who the fuck are you?”
  4. Pete Townshend, Empty Glass – So obsessed with the punks was Pete, he continued to write songs about them on his first “proper” solo album. “Rough Boys” sounds like he wants to be friends with them. On “Jools and Jim” he complains, “they don’t give a shit Keith Moon is dead.” From his interviews lately, it sounds like Pete doesn’t care either…
  5. Neil Young, Rust Never Sleeps – Nobody dug the punks as much as Neil Young did. The punks seemed to wake Neil from the torpor he was under at the time. The first half of this album was acoustic but the second half is a bunch of blistering guitar workouts. He revamped a heavily bootlegged “Sedan Delivery” and speeded it up so it was very punk. Both the opening and closing, variations of the same song, “Hey Hey, My My” were addressed to Johnny Rotten.
  6. Iggy Pop, New Values – Iggy’s first band, the Stooges was highly influential on the punks… not as much as the Ramones as I understand it but even now hard rock guys from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Guns N Roses cite Raw Power as an influence. I didn’t hear it until a few years ago and yes its great. I wouldn’t have understood it at 13. With all that adulation how could Iggy not jump on the punk bandwagon and release this album, collaborating with old Stooge, James Williamson and Scott Thurston who believe it or not ended up in the Heartbreakers. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em Iggy.
  7. Bruce Springsteen, Darkness On the Edge of Town – Springsteen had been locked in a legal battle with his first manager since Born To Run. He was already pissed off so the punk ethos probably fit the songs he was writing. If you listen to The Promise, the box set for Darkness, many of the tunes sound like the natural progression from Born To Run, but Springsteen opted to only include dark, guitar-centric tracks here. Sonically it’s miles away from his breakthrough album and remains one of my favorites… well, it remains amongst almost every Springsteen fan’s favorites.
  8. Billy Joel, Glass Houses – Like Springsteen, Joel coopted the punk energy and took a stylistic left turn from his previous album, the E-Street-ish 52nd Street. Punchy, guitar-driven tracks like “You May Be Right” and “Sleeping With the Televison On” dominate the album. Like Iggy, if you can’t beat them, absorb them!
  9. Fleetwood Mac, Tusk – Lindsey Buckingham was so afraid of repeating himself after Rumors, and so enamored with the “fuck it” attitude of the punks he decided to take Fleetwood Mac in a totally different direction. I love Tusk, although it was seen as a failure at the time. I’m sure the band struggled as Stevie was delivering songs like “Sara” and Christine McVie with “Over and Over” and Lindsey countering with the punky “It’s Not That Funny,” or “What Makes You Think You’re the One.” Buckingham took a lot of liberties with the record and it makes it all the more interesting.
  10. Paul McCartney & Wings, Back To the Egg – McCartney is the most confounding entry here. I really liked Back To the Egg, McCartney’s attempt at doing more upbeat rock and roll again. I think he really wanted to absorb some of that punk energy but he just couldn’t commit to it through an entire album. I thought “Old Siam Sir” was rocking. But Macca just can’t help himself, he’s gotta go with soft, gauzy ballads like “Arrow Through Me.” I look at this one as a lost opportunity. But hey, it’s McCartney, he can do what he wants.

As I sit here, only 1/3 of the way through the annual “Dry January” I can’t help but think I need a little punk energy to get me going… If you feel that way during the doldrums of winter, put one of these albums on and see where it takes you.

Cheers!

B&V Playlist: Songs About Los Angeles, California…Tinseltown USA

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*Image taken from the internet, likely subject to copyright

As I a child I don’t recall a deep desire to travel. I always hear people say, with moist eyes staring off into the horizon, “I always wanted to travel.” How did they know that as children? My mother was never a big fan of travel. Despite that, she’s been quite the trooper in her golden years, following my father around the globe on cruises. Most of our trips were to see our grandparents, who lived a two hour car ride from here. I can remember driving back on Sunday nights, my mom would always make us stop at the store to buy “fresh milk.” I’m not sure how the milk all went bad in just forty-eight hours, but it made me suspicious about dairy for a long time. As a kid I seem to recall driving down to southern Missouri (hillbilly country) to go to the Silver Dollar City amusement park every summer. That’s just what you did back in the day – you loaded your spouse and your 2.5 kids into the car and drove somewhere. In the midwest, there aren’t a ton of vacation spots. “Welcome to Silver Dollar City.”

It’s not that my parents didn’t travel at all. I know my parents took trips together. I’ve been hearing about a certain journey to Puerto Vallarta my whole life. I do remember, when I was in grade school, my first ever airplane flight, my parents took us out to Los Angeles to go to Disneyland. My dad’s aunt Gemma lived out there and I remember she had an orange tree in her back yard and I thought that was pretty fucking awesome. Her husband had a nudie calendar hung in the garage. Fresh oranges and topless women…needless to say, I spent a lot of time on that visit outside…enjoying the sunshine. That’s always sort of summed up L.A. for me… fresh fruit and chicks.

Despite that wonderful introduction, Disneyland was cool to a 4th grader, I’ve never really been back there. And indeed, despite never having a burning desire to travel as a kid, I love to travel now. It’s one of my favorite things to do. In fact, I chose the career of the Traveling Salesman if I’m being honest (Thoughts From The Traveling Salesman And A B&V Playlist: Hanging On The Telephone). I’ve been a ton of places…granted I’m not Johnny Cash who sang, “I’ve Been Everywhere.” I can’t make that claim, but I’ve been all over, just never really in Los Angeles. I’ve been to Costa Mesa for work, but does that count? I’ve braved the horror of John Wayne Airport’s security line. I did fly out of LAX once… it was like being transported to the 70s and into an episode of ‘The Rockford Files.’ It was in midsummer and the air-conditioning was off. It was like being in a third world airport… I think there was a woman trying to board the plane with a live chicken or some other livestock.

It’s odd that I’ve never spent time in L.A. It has quite a bit of import for my family. My dad’s aunt and uncle (and probably numerous cousins) live out there. In the Great Depression my grandparents were part of that wave of “Okies” who migrated to California for work (although let me state for the record they were from Kansas, not Oklahoma). My grandfather got a job at a plant and really started his family there. My father and my uncle were born there. If my grandparents hadn’t moved back to Kansas when the war was over, I’d probably have ended up growing up out there and despite having no musical talent I just know I would have ended up in the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I was offered a job out there right out of college… what might have been?

As a music lover, it’s astounding I’ve never been out there. I’ve never seen Hollywood. I’ve never been to the Sunset strip where hair metal was born. There’s so much great music to come out of that town. From classic rock like the Doors or the Byrds to seminal punk bands like X to the entire hair-metal thing with Motley Crue. This was the birthplace of Van Halen for fuck’s sake. I’m not forgetting all the great country music that came out of Bakersfield, which was just down the road. Orange County was the home of No Doubt and Social Distortion. If I’d taken that job out of college god knows how much more music I’d own today.

While I was in New York, I started to think about the recent playlist I did for that city, B&V Playlist: Songs For New York City. It’s usually a slow time for music after the holidays so I was quietly strolling around the city putting playlists together in my head… I would never want to get accused of a Tupac/Biggie kind of feud so I began to think about songs for Los Angeles. I have no idea why… travel to New York, think about L.A., that’s about right for me. I was just amazed at how compact New York was…I hadn’t been there in a while. I couldn’t help but contrast it with how spread out LA is. I mean, it’s true, “Nobody walks in L.A.” I think of cars racing by on the freeway, big 8-lane highways. There’s also the allure of Hollywood and the movie star making machinery. While I did see DJ Khalid outside the Hermes store in New York, one has to wonder how many stars I’d see in LA.

So, as is my habit, I put together the following playlist of songs about L.A. I extend it to some of the more famous neighborhoods and areas… Hollywood, Laguna, Bel Air etc. I didn’t discriminate. I’m not sure it’s not a complete list, but it contains some of my favorites. Hopefully you’ll hear something you haven’t before. We’re all about turning you onto new music here at B&V. And, while there are certain songs I know are about L.A., they don’t contain any reference to the city so I omitted them: “Welcome to the Jungle” is Axl’s harrowing view of arriving in Los Angeles, or Tom Petty’s “California” is great, but it doesn’t mention the city. As always this playlist is on Spotify under the same title as the post. My thoughts below.

  1. The Doors, “L.A. Woman” – One of my early favorite songs about the city of the angels.
  2. Motley Crue, “Saints of Los Angeles” – Oh, to have been on the strip during the Crue’s heyday.
  3. Eagles, “King of Hollywood” – This could be the Harvey Weinstein theme song.
  4. James Taylor, “Honey Don’t Leave L.A.” – Oddly this was the first track I thought of when forming this thing.
  5. Eddie Money, “Another Nice Day In L.A.” – Just a great, great track by the Money-man, RIP.
  6. Bob Seger, “Hollywood Nights” – Epic, epic song with fabulous drumming. Seger took a tape of this song and put it in his car when driving home from the studio the night they recorded it… he said he looked down and he was going 90. Indeed.
  7. The Kinks, “Celluloid Heroes” – A song about movie stars.
  8. Pete Townshend, “Exquisitely Bored” – Only Townshend could take his trip to rehab in L.A. and turn it into a song… “there are good times walking in Laguna, but it rains my heart.” So true, Pete, so true.
  9. The Runaways, “Hollywood” – Joan Jett, Lita Ford, the Runaways should have been huge!
  10. Social Distortion, “Highway 101” – This is my favorite song by Social D. “I believe in love again…with all of its joys and pain.” And I think the 101 goes through L.A.
  11. “The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man” – Early Stones taking the piss out of an L.A. hipster who works for the record company.
  12. Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Out In L.A.” – A little blast from the debut album.
  13. Neil Young, “L.A.” – “L.A., city in the smog.”
  14. Steely Dan, “Bad Sneakers” – A song about a New Yorker in L.A., home sick for the “frozen rain.”
  15. Lindsey Buckingham, “Bel Air Rain” – A beautiful, cascading acoustic guitar fuels this track.
  16. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “Century City” – Another great Petty deep track.
  17. X, “Los Angeles” – Title track from their seminal debut produced by the Doors’ Ray Manzarek.
  18. Warren Zevon, “Carmelita” – One of the greatest songs about Los Angeles ever written.
  19. Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Californication” – You can’t do an L.A. list without a bunch of RHCPs. “Hollywood sells Californication.”
  20. Tom Petty, “Peace In L.A.” – Great track recorded to calm people down after the Rodney King riots. Hard to find, Spotify didn’t have it…
  21. Randy Newman, “I Love L.A.” – A big cheesy anthem.
  22. Eagles, “Hollywood Waltz” – Could the Eagles have been more disillusioned with Hollywood?
  23. Lyle Lovett, “L.A. County” – A song of violence and love gone wrong.
  24. Ozzy Osbourne, “Old L.A. Tonight” – This song should be to L.A. what Sinatra’s “New York, New York” is to the that town. Ozzy sings his ass off.
  25. Grateful Dead, “West L.A. Fadeway” – A funky little favorite of mine.
  26. Mudcrutch, “Topanga Cowgirl” – I loved both the Mudcrutch LPs that Petty and the gang did.
  27. Steely Dan, “Glamour Profession” – More complaints about the “L.A. concession.”
  28. Hole, “Pacific Coast Highway” – From the overlooked Nobody’s Daughter. 
  29. Missing Persons, “Walking In L.A.” – I had a roommate in college who loved this album… I guess it rubbed off.
  30. Journey, “City of the Angels” – At their Steve Perry-led majestic best.
  31. Paul McCartney, “Mamunia” – I couldn’t tell you what the title means to save my life… there’s a lot about the “L.A. rain” in this song.
  32. Motley Crue, “Down At the Whisky” – I’ve never been the Whisky and I think it’s criminal.
  33. Warren Zevon, “Desperados Under the Eaves” – Another great track from his self titled LP. The reference to the Hollywood Hawiian Hotel is priceless.
  34. 311, “Champagne” – From the “dark side of Hollywood.”
  35. Wang Chung, “To Live And Die In L.A.” – From the movie of the same name. Their best track,
  36. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “Into the Great Wide Open” – Classic show business track.
  37. Hole, “Malibu” – Another great Hole track.
  38. Bush, “Everything Zen” – With lines my brother could have written about me had I lived in L.A…. “I’ll go find my asshole brother in Los Angeles.”
  39. Warren Zevon, “Meet Me In L.A.” – Yes, yes, I’m pounding the Zevon. He needs to been the Rock Hall of Fame.
  40. Tom Waits, “A Sweet Little Bullet From A Pretty Little Blue Gun” – The seedier side of Hollywood and Vine.
  41. Billy Joel, “Los Angelenos” – I prefer the live version.
  42. Tom Petty, “Free Fallin'” – Quintessential L.A. track.
  43. Starcrawler, “I Love L.A.” – Love this band.
  44. Billy Gibbons, “Hollywood 151” – Dirty blues rock.
  45. Billy Joel, “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” – Almost our fitting ending here…
  46. Don Henley, “Sunset Grill” – The epic synth ending was arranged by Randy Newman… A good way to end things, down on Sunset Blvd.

Enjoy!! If you have adds, please put them in the comments and I’ll add them out on Spotify. Happy New Year everybody!