For bands and music video directors, L.A. is a seemingly limitless visual playground. Mountains and beaches; grimy urban landscapes and tranquil parks; ornate, historic theaters and sleazy strip clubs — our sprawling city contains multitudes, and from the classic days of early MTV to the YouTube era, recording artists and their visual collaborators have taken full advantage.
Hundreds of videos filmed on location in Los Angeles have since achieved iconic status, so narrowing those down to a list of just 20 is the sort of fool's errand we couldn't resist. In compiling our picks, we considered not just the quality of each video and the song it accompanies, but also how much L.A. itself plays a role in the final product.
If you'd like to learn more about these 20 videos and where they were filmed, check out the slideshow in which photographer Jared Cowan tracked down many of the most recognizable (and in some cases, unrecognizable) locations. And if we left out your favorite L.A. video, let us know in the comments.
20. YG, “I’m Good”
“I’m Good,” like the best rap videos, succeeds in spite of its nonlinearity. First, the police (of course) chase YG from a liquor store. In subsequent frames, when he’s not rapping on the Compton Creek bike path, he’s back in front of said store and still wearing a Kevin Durant jersey. From the constant motion to the quick cuts between frames, the energy is undeniable. “I’m Good” marked the birth of the ratchet sound, and its video offers a glimpse of the city that rallied around it. Shots of Compton High School, the Compton Courthouse, and the now shuttered Compton Fashion Center temper scenes at the home where Mustard and YG probably recorded their earliest work. The original “Mustard on the beat ho” arrives at the end. – Max Bell
19. OK Go, “End Love”
OK Go filmed the colorful, time-lapse music video of their song “End Love” at Echo Park Lake during one continuous day-to-night-to-day take over an 18-hour period, plus a week-long shot of the lake that concludes the video. The effect produces a frenetic portrait of the L.A.-based band gliding through the park while singing about falling sky, hiding in the dark and swimming for the boat. The directors of “End Love,” Jeff Lieberman and Eric Gunther, credit OK Go for the lake's use as a location in the video. Gunther tells us, “Our original idea for the video included transitions between multiple sets, but of course the OK Go guys wanted to do a single continuous cut. Once we decided to go that way we knew we needed a nice big open space.” – Jared Cowan
18. Aphex Twin, “Windowlicker”
When director Chris Cunningham and electronic music mind-bender Aphex Twin (Richard D. James) joined forces in the late '90s to create two music videos, 1997's genuinely terrifying “Come to Daddy” and 1999's repulsive yet mesmerizing “Windowlicker,” no one had ever seen anything quite like them. “Windowlicker” took viewers on surreal ride through the streets of Los Angeles — first over the East 1st Street bridge between downtown and Boyle Heights, where two comically foul-mouthed men in a convertible try to pick up two unimpressed women, then through Koreatown in the back of Aphex Twin's impossibly long limo, winding up in a dance sequence on the beach in Santa Monica. Through it all, the video vixens sport increasingly grotesque Richard D. James masks. “It is sexist,” Cunningham later admitted of the controversial video in an interview with NME, “but it's a piss-take of R&B videos, which are all sexist.” – Andy Hermann
17. Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Under the Bridge”
Director Gus Van Sant originally wanted to shoot all of the video for the Chilis' 1992 breakthrough single in a studio, but lead singer Anthony Kiedis convinced him that the clip needed some L.A. street shots to accompany the song's lyrics, which were both a love letter to the band's home city (“Sometimes I feel like my only friend/Is the city I live in, the city of angels”) and a grim depiction of Kiedis' struggles with heroin addiction. In the end, Van Sant mixed his studio footage with shots of Kiedis walking down Broadway between 5th and 6th Streets in downtown. There are also a few fleeting shots in which Kiedis and bassist Flea can be seen standing in front of the graffiti-covered Belmont Tunnel, which formerly connected downtown and Westlake via a trolley line, leading many to speculate (wrongly, we think) that it's the “under the bridge” locale where Kiedis used to go to shoot up. – Andy Hermann
16. Murs, “L.A.”
Rappers offer in-depth reporting as much as they codify the cliche. Murs’ “L.A.” places the specific between broad brush strokes, and its video follows suit. Shots of palm trees and low-riders serve as touchstones for out-of-towners. For L.A. natives, shoutouts to places like Earlez Grille, which has since closed to make way for the Metro line, accompany shots of Magic Johnson’s 24-Hour Fitness in Ladera Heights and the Slauson Super Mall. Though the song is called “L.A.”, the video truly serves as a to tribute to Mid-City. Everyone in the video even has the neighborhood written on his or her shirt. – Max Bell
15. N.W.A, “Express Yourself”
Unlike their video for “Straight Outta Compton,” which features plenty of footage shot in Compton and South Central, most of “Express Yourself” — the group’s most accessible song, thanks to a lack of profanity and a sample of Charlie Wright’s 1970 hit of the same name — was filmed 20 miles north on Santa Monica Blvd. just east of Vine St. The video’s street party and a loose recreation of JFK’s assassination were filmed across the street from Paramount Recording Studios (6245 Santa Monica Boulevard), where N.W.A and individual members of the group — including Ice Cube and, with some of his last material, Eazy-E — recorded many of their tracks. – Jared Cowan
14. Beck, “Girl”
Fans of Mad magazine immediately recognized the “fold-in” trick employed throughout Beck's video for “Girl”: a pharmacy wall collapses to reveal the words “Side effects: Death”; a child's sidewalk drawing folds in to become a police chalk outline of a body. The song itself, a deceptively breezy tune from Beck's 2005 album Guero, also conceals a darker tale beneath its laid-back, summery vibe, once you pay attention to the lyrics: “I know I'm gonna make her die,” he croons at one point. Most of the video's Eastside street and park scenes were filmed along Cesar Chavez Avenue and at Hollenbeck Park in Boyle Heights, but there's also a brief shot of the Westlake Theatre Swap Meet in MacArthur Park, probably inserted as a nod to the neighborhood where Beck grew up. – Andy Hermann
13. Against Me, “I Was a Teenage Anarchist”
This video is a reality check, as a punk kid, in one continuous shot, attempts to evade the LAPD as they swing batons to slow his rebellious gallop across Venice’s boardwalk. There’s a message to be heard in the words of singer Laura Jane Grace: that the anarcho-punk movement had given way to the authoritarian rule of conformity. Agree or disagree, it’s a song that became an anthem for aging punks, hiding the truth in its message under a catchy chorus, the way “Born in the U.S.A.” makes clueless right-wingers orgasm on patriotism. This is a visual crash-and-burn, not a nostalgia trip; a cry for freedom in one punk-lives-matter tracking shot. – Art Tavana
12. Michael Jackson, “Thriller”
The first music video ever inducted into the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, the John Landis-directed clip for “Thriller” was groundbreaking in its day — a short film with a (mostly) coherent storyline, at a time when music videos were typically just a random assemblage of intercut shots of rock bands and pop stars driving around in convertibles and dancing in front of wind machines. Its two most-recognizable L.A. locations are the Palace Theatre in downtown (though the interior shots were done at the Rialto in South Pasadena) and the Sanders House, a Victorian mansion at 1345 Carroll Avenue in Angelino Heights. Griffith Park provided the spooky woods for the opening werewolf scene, and the iconic zombie dance was filmed along an industrial stretch of Union Pacific Avenue in Boyle Heights. – Andy Hermann
11. Motley Crue, “Girls, Girls, Girls”
The Crue's paean to the ladies with “long legs and burgundy lips” name-checks strip clubs all over the world, but the video made one in particular famous: the Seventh Veil on Sunset, a popular '80s hangout for local rock bands and still going strong today. Shot at the Veil in 1987, the original clip was banned by MTV and had to be recut with all the dancers keeping their tops on. Today, the Seventh Veil is still at 7180 Sunset Boulevard, but has been extensively remodeled, and you can no longer park your motorcycle in the lot next door. The former site of the parking lot is now occupied by a health clinic. – Andy Hermann
10. Fatboy Slim “Praise You”
Posing as Richard Koufey, leader and choreographer of the fictitious Torrance Community Dance Group, director Spike Jonze and his motley troupe of dancers first filmed their performance to Fatboy Slim’s infectious dance hit on the Third Street Promenade. However, when the crowds didn’t materialize in Santa Monica, the crew moved over Westwood Village. There, in front of the Bruin Theatre, lines of moviegoers waiting to see Pleasantville were completely puzzled by one of the most insane interpretive dance routines ever performed — captured in the first and only take. – Jared Cowan
9. The Go-Go’s, “Our Lips Are Sealed”
To shoot one of the classic L.A. driving videos, the then-unknown and broke Go-Go's rented a cheap 1960 Buick convertible (using leftover money from their labelmates The Police's video budget, according to Jane Wiedlin in the oral history book I Want My MTV) and romped through the streets of West Hollywood, Beverly Grove and Beverly Hills. After stopping by Trashy Lingerie on La Cienega, where Wiedlin sang the bridge, the whole band concluded the video by jumping into the fountain at the corner of Santa Monica and Wilshire in Beverly Hills. “I remember thinking, the cops are gonna come any minute, this is gonna be so cool,” Wiedlin remembered in I Want My MTV. (Alas, no one was arrested.) – Andy Hermann
8. U2, “Where the Streets Have No Name”
As anyone who struggled to get an unwanted copy of Songs of Innocence off their iPod knows, U2 love a good publicity stunt. So in March 1987, shortly after the release of their blockbuster album The Joshua Tree, the Irish rockers staged a free concert on the roof of a liquor store in downtown Los Angeles, and used it as the video to their single “Where the Streets Have No Name.” Filmed at the corner of 7th and Main — then “not one of your more fun neighborhoods,” as a radio DJ in the video delicately phrases it — the clip shows the band arguing with police, who keep threatening to shut down the shoot, which goes ahead anyway as a group of about 1,000 fans cluster around the intersection below. The whole thing, of course, was not as spontaneous as it appears; the roof had to be reinforced days in advance to support film equipment and backup generators, and U2 manager Paul McGuinness later admitted that some of the confrontations with cops were exaggerated for dramatic effect. – Andy Hermann
7. Snoop Dogg, “Who Am I (What’s My Name)?”
If you ever wanted to take a virtual tour of gritty Eastside Long Beach circa 1993 (or see some early human-to-animal CGI), just watch Snoop Dogg’s first music video, which opens with the then-young rapper waking up inside one of the ‘hood’s ‘30s-era craftsman bungalows, where he quickly morphs into a Doberman and jumps out the window to avoid his girlfriend’s angry father. Soon, Snoop (as dog) is galloping down the (now developed) dusty river trail with his “dogg pound” (other Dobermans and Rottweilers) and grooving in human form on the rooftop of the now-iconic VIP Records building. It’s the video that told the world that Long Beach was not the same as Compton (or anywhere else in L.A., for that matter) and made VIP Records an international rap landmark. – Sarah Bennett
6. Randy Newman, “I Love L.A.”
At first glance, the video for L.A. native Randy Newman's 1983 ode to our city plays out like a postcard cliché of Los Angeles, full of palm trees, girls in bikinis and white people frolicking in hot tubs. But like the song itself, the video is both homage and sly satire. Shots of familiar L.A. iconography fly past in a nonsensical, quick-cut jumble: a girl drizzling suntan oil over herself, an oil derrick, a beach, some close-ups of sports cars and Art Deco architecture, Randy's Donuts. Just as Newman's lyrics shout out many of L.A.'s least remarkable streets (“Victory Boulevard! We love it!”), the video, directed by his cousin Tim Newman, celebrates our city's splendor, squalor and banality in equal measure — and calls attention to the fact that, as when he drives past the gorgeous Million Dollar Theatre along then-decrepit Broadway, they often exist here side by side – Andy Hermann
5. Beastie Boys, “Sabotage”
When the Beastie Boys paid tribute to action-packed '70s police dramas with the video for “Sabotage,” they captured L.A. in all its smoggy, seedy glory. The clip plays exactly like a cop show that aired before the birth of MTV, with dingy cars racing through streets you recognize but can't quite pinpoint, cops hopping from building tops that (hopefully) have long since been washed of their CHiPs-era grime. Director Spike Jonze does a fantastic job of capturing the semi-anonymity of a city that is forever a backlot. From certain angles, L.A. could be anywhere, but the locals will still feel déjà vu, especially during that fight on the 7th Street bridge. – Liz Ohanesian
4. Guns N’ Roses, “November Rain”
A lot of people think this video was a grabby attempt by Guns N' Roses to win an MTV award for “Most Offensively Dramatic Video Ever.” But when it premiered in 1992, it was masterpiece theater by a rock band that turned a 9-minute ballad into the Godfather of music videos. There's a goddamn helicopter shot of a guitar solo, in the desert, during a rock star wedding at a Catholic church in L.A.'s Windsor Square. The whole time we see Axl Rose, who looks like Kiefer Sutherland aping a French noblemen aping Elton John, behind a grand piano at L.A.'s Orpheum Theatre; missing his dead wife's burial at Hollywood Forever; and getting sloshed at the Rainbow Bar & Grill. This video was so impossible to top that it probably destroyed MTV. – Art Tavana
3. 2Pac, “To Live and Die in L.A.”
In September, we mourned 2Pac’s death for the 20th year. “To Live & Die in L.A.” was one of the last music videos he recorded, and watching it ranks among the best ways to remember the man whose music is forever inextricably linked to his adopted home. The Pacific and palm trees, the freeways and the Forum, the Slauson Swap Meet (today, the Slauson Super Mall) and Lueders Park — you see them all in just the first minute. As the video continues, nary a city landmark is missed. Pac understood the value of inclusion, giving shout-outs to L.A.’s Mexican population and local radio stations. Though he spends most of the video cruising in an Impala and flexing at the Crenshaw Mall and Fatburger, he begins it by selling oranges on the street; and throughout, shots of mortuaries and the scorched aftermath of the city’s riots undercut all the celebration. Even when 2Pac was on top, he acknowledged and validated the struggles of the lowest listener, and his music still soundtracks our triumphs and travails every day. – Max Bell
2. Massive Attack, “Unfinished Sympathy”
It took a British dance group to capture the Los Angeles that locals know and tourists don't see. In the 1991 video for “Unfinished Sympathy,” a single shot rolls through Pico-Union as singer Shara Nelson walks the sidewalk between tagged walls and metered parking. Sunlight flares in the corner of the screen so brightly that it could make you reach for a pair of sunglasses. The street scene unfolds like so many others do in this city; random stores filled with children's clothing and home furnishings are signs of life next to barred-windowed storefronts that may or may not be open for business. A lady passes out fliers, a long-haired dude busts out a boom box and a couple makes out. But Nelson minds her own business, as you do in L.A. – Liz Ohanesian
1. Tom Petty, “Free Fallin'”
It was Greek philosopher Hereclites who said there is nothing permanent except change, and it was Tom Petty who sang “I'm a bad boy, 'cause I don't even miss her,” the wistful lamentation from his enduring 1989 hit “Free Fallin'.” The lead track on Petty's debut solo LP Full Moon Fever, “Free Fallin'” was co-written by ELO frontman (and Petty's fellow Traveling Wilbury) Jeff Lynne and still looms large in the classic rock canon.
The song's video is centered around a trio of montages portraying girls, and one girl in particular (perhaps the one Petty didn't even miss), coming of age in the San Fernando Valley of the 1960s, '70s and '80s, as Petty floats above it all like a flaxen-haired father time. Filmed primarily at West L.A.'s Westside Pavilion mall and the intersection of Ventura and Beverly Glen in Sherman Oaks, the clip captures the optimism and safety of suburban Valley life alongside the undercurrent of unease and social change happening throughout the late 20th century. There was also skateboarding! The clip ends with kids triumphantly carving against the golden backdrop of the San Gabriel Mountains.
A primary video location was the pink hot dog stand, which in '89 was called Future Dogs. This spot went through three more meat-slinging incarnations before being razed in 2015, along with the car wash, auto body shop, and flower store that surrounded it. Also playing prominently is the 1949-built Casa de Cadillac, which was across the street from Future Dogs in '89. A prime example of the futuristic Googie architecture of the 1940s and '50s, the Caddie dealership still stands, a nostalgic version of the future greeting all of us who glide down over Mulholland when taking Beverly Glen to the Valley. Ventura Boulevard also makes a cameo.
On the other side of the hIll, the Westside Pavilion shots are pure '80s mall culture, with Petty playing his guitar while rising and (free) falling on the elevator and escalators. In March, it was announced that the 31-year-old shopping center will soon undergo a major renovation, a reminder of the relentless passage of time captured in the video. – Katie Bain