Much like you, dear reader, I was shocked and astounded that Randy Newman’s delightful 1983 pop gem “I Love L.A.” was left off of our “20 Best Songs Ever Written About L.A.” list. Imagine my dismay when our new editor, Andy Hermann, informed me that it hadn’t been left out of the hearts and minds of our writers; no, it was a deliberate omission on his part, because he hates the song.
And what Angeleno could blame him, really? Newman’s built the last 30 years of his career on playing this song. A song that, by the way, is about how L.A. kind of sucks.
Oh you didn’t know? You’re obviously not a Newman fan. You see, that’s kind of his thing: Pick a character, write a song from their perspective, mock both the first-person character and others like him. Other examples of this trope include “Sail Away,” written from the perspective of a slaver, and “Rednecks,” written from the perspective of… well, a redneck.
But though Newman often tempers his caustic profiles with a touch of sympathy, Angelenos are afforded no such courtesy.
Newman begins his paean to the moral weakness and intellectual vapidity of our fair city by comparing it others: The protagonist can’t deal with the weather or fashion in the Big Apple. He can’t deal with the weather or the roughness of the Windy City. So instead, he comes to a place where it never rains and shallowness is celebrated as a way of life.
I’m sorry — am I hitting a little too close to home here?
Our tale begins in earnest with Newman’s protagonist coming down the Imperial Highway with a “big nasty redhead” next to him, with Santa Ana winds blowing. Not a cool ocean breeze, mind you. The Santa Anas are one of the few weather phenomena we experience in Los Angeles that deviates from the constant and frankly unbearable torrent of sunshine. And it’s not even a moderately enjoyable one. It’s the one that leaves palm tree leaves all over the place and would blow your patio furniture into the street, if indeed you had any.
Hey look! We’ve got mountains! Hey look! We’ve got palm trees! Hey look! Cookie-cutter blonde bimbos! Hey look! A homeless person!
Don’t believe me yet? Look at the list of streets Newman name-checks toward the end of the song: It’s a litany of the top “to avoid” streets of 1983 Los Angeles, paired with mindless cheerleading. Century Boulevard? We love it! Victory Boulevard? We love it! Santa Monica Boulevard? We love it! Sixth Street? We love it!
Pair it with a catchy melody that fit in perfectly with the pop charts of its time and you’ve got a recipe for both commercial and artistic gold. And while Newman looks like he’d rather die than plow through that shit once more whenever the Lakers or Kings trot him out during the playoffs, you know that he's still cashing his royalty checks and having a good laugh at how painfully clueless you all are.
That’s why, though X are close to my aging punk rock heart, Randy Newman’s slam at a city I can now barely tolerate made a close second on the list I submitted to my editor two weeks ago.
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For what it’s worth, Newman admires L.A.’s aggressive lack of substance: “"There's some kind of ignorance L.A. has that I'm proud of. The open car and the redhead, the Beach Boys... that sounds really good to me."
Meh. Maybe for a couple years.