It's no secret that the fair state of California has been the inspiration for a ridiculous number of classic tunes, from The Mamas & the Papas' sublime “California Dreaming” to the Dead Kennedys' fiercely political “California Uber Alles.” Hell, some bands seem to have made entire careers out of singing about California (we're looking at you, Chili Peppers).
But California, as you're doubtless aware, is a big place — 163,696 square miles, to be precise — ranging from deserts to forests, beaches to urban jungles, and all points in between. So today we're looking for something a little more tangible, a little more specific. Los Angeles itself has spawned enough tunes to last a lifetime, but while the aforementioned Mamas & the Papas wished they were in L.A., they failed to mention where exactly. Burbank? Glendale? Watts? Who knows?
Here are 10 songs that are rather more precise about their locations. Places you can actually go to…
1. Motörhead, “Stone Deaf in the USA”
The first time Motörhead frontman/bassist/legend Lemmy Kilmister went to the Rainbow Bar &Grill on Sunset was way back in 1973, and it's fair to say that it was love at first sight. So much so that, when Lemmy moved to L.A. in the early ’90s, he got himself an apartment walking distance from the place. And then, in later life, when he became ill, he moved a few blocks closer so he didn't have to walk so far. In “Stone Deaf in the USA,” we find him “table-hopping at the Rainbow, babe,” something he continued to do until his death in 2015. Fittingly, his favorite spot now is known as Lemmy's Lounge.
2. Bran Van 3000, “Drinking in L.A.”
Canadian alt-rock/hip-hop collective Bran Van 3000 probably are best known for this gloriously laid-back tune from 1997, about the joys of sinking a few suds in the sunshine. Oh, who are we kidding? They're probably only known for this tune! And it makes our list today on a technicality (and because it's a great song). Trader Vic's, the bar referenced in the song, closed its Beverly Hilton location in 2007, but the hotel is still standing at the intersection of Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards, so technically you can still go there and have a beverage or three.
3. Jan and Dean, “Dead Man's Curve”
While there seems to be some debate about the location of Dead Man's Curve — possibly on Sunset just past North Whittier Drive – there are numerous locations name-checked in this 1964 tale of a drag race gone wrong. The race, between a Corvette Stingray and a Jaguar XKE, begins at Sunset and Vine, heading west past North Le Brea, Crescent Heights and Doheny before ending in disaster at the aforementioned bend. Ironically, Jan Berry was himself involved in a near-fatal accident in 1966. At almost the same place. In a Stingray. Creepy, huh?
4. Frank Zappa, “Valley Girl”
Opened in 1976, the Glendale Galleria is the fourth largest mall in Los Angeles and, apparently, one of the top-grossing shopping malls in the United States. Quite why you'd want to go there is anyone's guess, but it gets a mention in Frank Zappa's Grammy-nominated hit of 1982, “Valley Girl,” in which he satirizes “Valley Girl talk,” with his then–14-year-old daughter Moon Unit delivering a monologue of “Valspeak” behind the music. Zappa attributed the success of the song to the fact that people thought it was “cute” but, never one to sit on the fence, he also stated that the San Fernando Valley was “one of the most disgusting places on earth.”
5. L.A. Guns, “Vine Street Shimmy”
While it's never made entirely clear what the Vine Street Shimmy is, the lyrics here are descriptive enough for listeners to get the general idea. Or you could head to Vine Street around midnight and see for yourself. Drunks, crazies, party girls, drug deals, street fights … just your average Monday night.
6. Mötley Crüe, “Girls, Girls, Girls”
Taking its name from the sign outside Crazy Girls on North La Brea, Mötley Crüe's ode to the ladies of the pole references strip clubs everywhere from Paris to Fort Lauderdale but saves most of its crumpled bills for those located in L.A., specifically the Body Shop and Seventh Veil. Both of which are probably open as you read this, and may well have a girl or two dancing to this very song. Perhaps not surprisingly, Crüe frontman and DUI aficionado Vince Neil is now on his fourth marriage. Or possibly fifth, by the time you read this.
7. System of a Down, “Lost in Hollywood”
From their Mezmerize masterpiece of 2005, System of a Down's “Lost in Hollywood” paints a rather bleak and lonely picture, depicting, as it does, the less “touristy” parts of Hollywood. “These vicious streets are filled with strays,” they warn, before naming those streets as Hollywood, Santa Monica and Sunset boulevards. Beautifully melancholic, the song is a reminder to those who might move there that some of the less glamorous streets are not paved with gold so much as cigarette ends and dog poop.
8. Leftfield, “Open Up”
Speaking of Hollywood, do you have any idea just how many songs have “Hollywood” in their title? Nope, us neither, but it's a lot! We stopped counting around the 600 mark! Public Enemy, U.K. Subs, Snoop Dog, Ry Cooder, Bing Crosby, The Misfits, The Runaways … the list is endless! Hooray for Hollywood, indeed. Except that the majority of these tunes seem to express either disappointment or outright contempt for the place. None more so than ol' Johnny Rotten (né Lydon) in his 1993 collaboration with dance-music geniuses Leftfield. Admittedly, it's arguably the last decent thing he recorded, but there's no beating the gleefully vitriolic “Burn, Hollywood, burn!” refrain or, indeed, the insanely danceable beats.
9. Fear, “I Don't Care About You”
The more observant reader will have noticed that we've omitted The Eagles’ “Hotel California” from our list. Aside from the fact that we'd rather not hear it again, this is mostly because no one seems to know where it is; some even suggest that it refers to Camarillo State Mental Hospital. There is another establishment, however, that is easier to find and, some might argue, easier to check in to. As referenced by punk legends Fear, the “Wilcox motel” is in fact the police station at Wilcox and Sunset. Granted, room service isn't much but hey, at least we're not sending you on a wild goose chase.
10. N.W.A, “Straight Outta Compton”
There are, as you're no doubt aware, a great many songs about Compton, but perhaps none is better known than N.W.A's album title track of 1988. A common theme in gangsta rap appears to be putting places on maps, bragging about how one owns the streets, and then moving as far as possible from the place as soon as you can afford it. Indeed, in 2014 Ice Cube appeared as a guest with Elmo on Sesame Street, presumably because Elmo is unlikely to put a cap in his ass.