From the Sunset Strip to the beach to the streets of South Central, L.A. has created one mythology after another in its music. Whether these images are embraced –  or shattered, as 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

See also: The 20 Worst Hipster Bands

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)

You 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

10. The Germs
GI (1979)

On GI, the voice of Germs singer Darby Crash sounds like mint jelly smeared over chunks of grey matter. Produced by Joan Jett, GI is the most primal cut of L.A. hardcore. It's Darby's self-sacrifice to make his city punker and more dangerous than New York, baptizing the gutter punks between Hollywood and Orange County. The scar tissue from the circular burn of GI remains deeply a part of L.A, where Darby's punk ghost (he committed suicide in 1980) remains stuck in purgatory. -Art Tavana

9. Red Hot Chili Pepper
Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991)

Blood Sugar Sex Magik defined the The Red Hot Chili Peppers as L.A.'s bratty alt-rock prodigies. Recorded in Harry Houdini's former Laurel Canyon mansion, the work captures our city's grimy, sexy weirdness. “Under The Bridge,” was the Chili Peppers' first top 10 song, and all of these years later it still sounds, to many, like what we're all about. -Mary Grace Cerni


8. Black Flag
Damaged (1981)

When Damaged's opening track “Rise Above” first hits your eardrums, the hot, jumbled mess of post-Carter-era Los Angeles is shoved boot-first into your cranial cavity. Damaged is still a torrent that sandblasts away all the shine, all the tinsel, and anything else affixed by the image-conscious, sunbaked brains of the beach-to-Hollywood set. Even with the rage in Rollins' voice and the savagery of Ginn, Cadena, Dukowski and Robo's sonic commotion, the album leaves behind a wake of wit, and a wink of irony, lest you think that L.A. hardcore ever took itself too seriously.
-Paul T. Bradley

See also: Henry Rollins' Column

7. The Beach Boys
Pet Sounds (1966)

Pet Sounds took the Beach Boys from the beaches of California into the tortured canals of Brian Wilson's brain –  a record with a consistent stream of consciousness. Sure, “Surfin' USA” has more sunshine, but the ethereal guitar intro on “Wouldn't it Be Nice” captures the breezy California surfboard aesthetic better than anything, well, ever recorded. It's L.A. dipped into a vat of acid, and it connected with most everyone who heard it; to many people this is the sound of L.A., whether they've been here or not. -Art Tavana

6. N.W.A.
Straight Outta Compton (1988)

N.W.A.'s Straight Outta Compton helped expose swaths of L.A. as war zones, at a time when tanks literally rammed South Central houses. The gang violence, police brutality, crack epidemic – N.W.A. brought it all into vivid focus. Backed by Dr. Dre and DJ Yella's banging, funky production, N.W.A. couched militant, socio-political rhymes in L.A. slang and style (all black, gold chains, and jheri curls) and shocked America, from the cities to the suburbs. -Max Bell

5. X
Los Angeles (1980)

Produced by Ray Manzarek of the Doors, X's debut Los Angeles is a seething portrayal of the glad-handing, sleazy side of L.A. It tells the L.A. punk story in melodic, blistering, and nauseating snapshots that deal with racism, classism, and gentrification. X's documentary-style songwriting became the foundation of gangsta rap's style in the '90s. On Los Angeles, they summoned anarchy as well as anyone else. -Art Tavana

4. 2pac
All Eyez on Me (1996)

All Eyez On Me was Tupac's first album for Death Row, after Suge Knight and Jimmy Iovine sprung him from jail. Tupac comes storming out of the gate, abandoning most traces of his once “conscious” persona. Lowriders, weed, tricks, danger, ambition, riches, and payback; it's two albums worth of thug life ambition on the West side. Though he didn't spend much of his existence in L.A., his portrayal of our city is more memorable than most others who did. Picturing him rolling is not hard to do, even 17 years after his death. -Artemis Thomas-Hansard

3. The Doors
The Doors (1967)

LCD-tripping between UCLA and Venice Beach in the summer of 1965, Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek decided to start a band, man. The result became the first Doors album: an ode to the “Soul Kitchen” at Olivia's in Venice, a live Whiskey a Go Go performance turned into an 11-minute epic (“The End”), and the first Doors song about an L.A. Woman, “Twentieth Century Fox.” It's their breakthrough, and, if you ask a lot of people who would know, a pioneering L.A. punk masterpiece. -Art Tavana

2. Dr. Dre
The Chronic (1992)

The Chronic popularized and defined G-funk, brought gangsta rap to the pop charts, and gave Zig-Zag free promotion. It's a Los Angeles where the lucky ones light up, put the top back, and ride as the sun goes down. Dr. Dre's rhymes, and those of his protege Snoop Doggy Dogg, offer journalistic reports of South Central and Long Beach, with Hollywood blockbuster levels of hedonism. On The Chronic, Compton and Sunset Blvd. met for the first time. Everyone got stoned. -Max Bell 

See also: The Making of The Chronic

1. Guns N' Roses
Appetite for Destruction (1987)

In the '80s seemingly every heartland wunderkind hot-footed it out to the City of Angels, hoping to be the next David Lee Roth. Most of them just ended up with dope habits, herpes and stories, but one of them was W. Axl Rose. Appetite For Destruction, perhaps the last great rock and roll record (fuck Nevermind) is an oral history, an epic about small-town dreams meeting big-city realities.

“Welcome to the Jungle” is the L.A. star chase experience; “It's So Easy” details what happens when punk kids from Indiana have A&R men fawning over their every move; “Nightrain” is a diary entry of debauch; “Paradise City” is as L.A. as the sun breaking through the clouds on a January afternoon. Then there were the women Axl and the boys encountered while making Appetite: The Rocket Queens, the Michelles, the crazy ones and the sweet ones Axl muses on throughout the entire second side. All in all, Appetite is as L.A. as albums get, and we're all lucky we lived to hear the tale. -Nicholas Pell

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