From the Sunset Strip to the beach to the streets of South Central, L.A. has for decades created one mythology after another in its music. Whether these images are embraced – or, say, shattered by South Bay punk rock – the dichotomy of a struggling inner city and bikini-clad rich kids in the hills gives L.A. a unique sound, a texture of noise that exists in different ways on the great records born in its neighborhoods.

Surveying that landscape and digging into the contributions of our musical pioneers, we've selected the 20 most quintessentially L.A. records. -Art Tavana

20. Beck

Mellow Gold (1994)

Beck, where have you gone? On his major label debut Mellow Gold, the sarcastic folkie epitomized everything that was glorious about slacker-era Los Angeles. He was our young Bob Dylan, a fearless, whimsical innovator who didn't take bullshit; Mellow Gold came before he perfected his craft (and seemingly got in touch with his inner Thetan). It's thus a hilarious, somehow cohesive mish-mosh of styles and gutter ramblings. Perhaps most entertaining are the cast of Angeleno characters, everyone from the jerk behind the KFC counter to the hippie girl eating salad for breakfast. -Ben Westhoff 

19. Best Coast
Crazy For You (2010)

One could hear Crazy For You in the dead of a Chicago winter and still feel the Southern California sunshine. Best Coast's debut captures the quintessential L.A. aura: bright and beachy. Its lo-fi, reverb drenched tracks are a throwback to classic surf pop – sweet and simple, like a popsicle on the Santa Monica Pier. -Artemis Thomas-Hansard

18. The Runaways
The Runaways (1976)

Angsty teen Valley girls The Runaways were looking to explore the loud and lewd life they saw beckoning in nearby Hollywood, and their debut captured a hunger for rock n' roll debauchery. The Runaways is a coming of age in L.A. fantasy – well, with Cherie Currie's crooning on songs like “Cherry Bomb” and “You Drive Me Wild,” it sure gave their guy fans something to fantasize about, anyway. Written by Joan Jett and Kim Fowley, the raw, tough cuts on the work convey the city of angels through the eyes of the not exactly angelic. -Lina Lecaro

17. Mötley Crüe
Too Fast for Love (1981)

Mötley Crüe's 1981 debut album Too Fast For Love is the sound of the Sunset Strip right before it fell in love with its own cocaine-dusted reflection. From opening snakeskin boot stomper “Live Wire,” to the awkwardly tender “Starry Eyes” (“She'll hold you like a man is supposed to be held”), Mötley Crüe embraced Hollywood's transition from the archetypal image of the American dream to the city's seedy underbelly. 1983's Shout at the Devil was the Crüe's mainstream breakthrough, but it also foreshadowed the formulaic genre conventions that turned glam metal into a parody of itself. Slick, decadent, and dangerous, Too Fast For Love retains the original sleazy punk rock fuel that, in the '80s, made Hollywood a den of sin. -Theis Duelund

16. Dam-Funk
Toeachizown (2009)

Let's say aliens crash landed on Earth – in Delaware – and wanted to experience our planet's epicenter of cool. That would be L.A., of course, but since their space ship was broken the best plan would be to play them Dam-Funk's Toeachizown, which captures the essence of our city as much as any book, film, or painting. A sprawling, complex, infinitely-layered work, it's nonetheless at its core chillaxed, to borrow the local parlance; the sound of new funk filtered through that which came before it. At this point the aliens would want to experience L.A. first hand, but unfortunately hitchhiking to the West Coast would be a problem. -Ben Westhoff

15. Van Halen
Van Halen (1978)

Van Halen's debut is Hollywood excess on a fretboard – beautifully artificial and so damn fast it creates a plume of smoke during rewind. Listen to Eddie Van Halen's solo on “Eruption;” it's '80s before the '80s, guitar porn for neon-bikini clad groupies at the Rainbow Bar. Its release in 1978 transported the Sunset Strip right into the next decade on a Learjet, with brown M&Ms and spandex for everyone. -Art Tavana

14. The Go-Go's
Beauty and the Beat (1981)

Leaving their L.A. punk roots behind, the Go-Go's ushered-in a bouncy new wave sound on Beauty and the Beat that have influenced countless other L.A. acts since. Dum Dum Girls, Bleached, and others drew inspiration from “We Got the Beat” and “Out Lips Are Sealed,” and the bouncing bass lines and torn stockings continue to inspire. -Art Tavana

13. Rage Against the Machine
Battle of Los Angeles (1999)

The last studio album from pioneering rap-rock quintet Rage Against the Machine, The Battle of Los Angeles, doesn't reference an actual battle, but rather the conspiracy theorized enemy attack and anti-aircraft fight in our skies in February 1942. Like the (actual) loud sirens throughout the county on that night, Zack De La Rocha, Tom Morello, Brad Wilk and Tim Commerford made themselves heard, even as they were on the verge of splitting up. Influenced by George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, songs like “Guerilla Radio,” “Sleep Now in the Fire” and “Testify” captured the band's trademark raw intensity and overall displeasure with Bill Clinton's America. -Daniel Kohn

12. Love
Forever Changes (1967)

From the elegant ode to solitude “Alone Again Or” to the Sunset Strip portrait “Maybe the People Would Be the Times or Between Clark and Hilldale,” Love's 1967 psychedelic magnum opus Forever Changes presents an expansive, ever-changing musical landscape. It's light but manic, dark but tender, harmonious but discombobulating, mirroring the city that produced it. Where else would a line like “The news today will be the movies for tomorrow” make sense? -Theis Duelund

11. Kendrick Lamar
good kid, mA.A.d city (2012)

Good kid, m.A.A.d city is an ode to Compton and its loving (yet sometimes harsh) streets. Though its lyrics can be brutal, m.A.A.d city's smooth sound and hint of innocence helped it redefine the boundaries of L.A. gangsta rap. It became a soundtrack not just for South Central, but of all of Los Angeles, as heard from cars and house parties bumping it all the way into the Valley. -Mary Grace Cerni

The rest of this list will be published tomorrow. 

Like us on Facebook at LAWeeklyMusic

The 20 Worst Hipster Bands
The 20 Worst Bands of All Time
10 Reasons the Door Guy at the Club Hates You

Advertising disclosure: We may receive compensation for some of the links in our stories. Thank you for supporting LA Weekly and our advertisers.