Innocent Words Monthly Blog Series Presents: Cities of Rock – Los Angeles
The Sunset Strip of Los Angeles has venues just as famous as the bands that played there. The Rainbow Bar and Grill; The Roxy Theatre; The Starwood; The Troubadour; The Viper Room; and Whisky A Go Go are just a few of the famous clubs that supported rock bands since the 1960s.
Not only do actors flock to Los Angeles, but musicians, record labels and press companies do too. Los Angeles has been a major hub in music for nearly a century and the city keeps on attracting musicians. Some get spit out like yesterday’s news and some achieve rock & roll stardom. The list of bands and musicians to come out of L.A. is arguably longer than any other city in American making it a tall task to just name ten of my favorites.
Founded by Johnette Napolitano (bass, vocals) and Jim Mankey (guitars) under the name Dream 6, Concrete Blonde were a big hit in the LA post-punk scene, but due to their insistence on complete artistic control it took them extended time to land a record deal. In 1987, the band signed to I.R.S. Records and it wasn’t until their second album ‘Free’ that the band had a small college hit with “God Is a Bullet.”
As Napolitano’s became stronger, the band landed a huge hit with their single “Joey” off the masterpiece ‘Bloodletting.’ Concrete Blonde never achieved the commercial success after that. Napolitano and Mankey have broken up the band on more than one occasion but keep coming back and releasing solid albums.
The fact that Concrete Blonde had a vast pallet of influences including gothic, Mexican culture, and the macabre seemed to be their downfall when it came to mainstream success, but it was also what drove Concrete Blonde to be underground heroes.
Key Albums: Free (1989); Bloodletting (1990); Walking in London (1992); Mexican Moon (1993); Mojave (2004).
Formed 1971 by Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Bernie Leadon, and Randy Meisner, the Eagles has become the quintessential American rock band. The numbers don’t’ lie, the band has earned six number one albums, seven number-one singles, six Grammys and five American Music Awards.
Frey and Henley were a hit making machine as the band owned 1970s radio with a string of singles like “Take It Easy;” “Witchy Woman;” “Desperado;” “Take It to the Limit;” and their biggest hit “Hotel California.” The singles propelled the Eagles to sell over 150 million records (100 million in the U.S. alone) since their inception.
Along with Fry and Henley, the Eagles has had a who’s who in rock royalty in the band including Don Felder, Joe Walsh, and Timothy B. Schmit. Despite a band breakup, lawsuits, and legendary band fights, The Eagles regrouped and still remain one of the biggest bands in music.
Key Albums: Eagles (1972); Desperado (1973); One of These Nights (1975); Hotel California (1976); the Long Run (1979)
Guns n’ Roses is a lot like Motley Crue in that the band itself was a powerhouse that had the promise of becoming one of the biggest bands in the world. However, out front, the lead singer was an egomaniacal douchebag who believed his own hype.
Lead singer’s disease aside, there is something special about hearing “Welcome to the Jungle,” Paradise City,” or any song of the ‘Use Your Illusion’ collection which makes you notice how great Axl Rose; Izzy Stradlin; Slash; and Duff McKagan were. For four short years, Guns n’ Roses were the biggest band in the world at one point before ego’s clashed, drugs and booze took over and band members started leaving the band one by one. Sad as it may seem Guns n’ Roses is Axl Rose, it was pretty evident from the beginning, and it’s somewhat unfortunate his life on and off the stage took over Guns n’ Roses.
Now the band is a shell of what it used to be, everyone moved on to better things with new bands or solo projects and Axl has become the punch line to many jokes. However, the music (pre 1992) still holds up as being legendary.
Key Albums: Appetite for Destruction (1987); G N’ R Lies (1988); Use Your Illusion I (1991); Use Your Illusion II (1991).
Mixing rock, metal and jazz, Jane’s Addiction was an enigma which came out of Los Angeles in the mid-1980s, right at the height of the hair metal revolution.
Colorful and artistically driven front man Perry Farrell, along with bassist Eric Avery, drummer Stephen Perkins, and guitarist Dave Navarro, had the charm and the belligerent attitude which fans flocked too, but left the record companies scratching their heads.
The majority of the controversy came due to Farrell’s art work on the album covers often depicting nudes. Conservatives be damned, the artwork was the vibe of Jane’s Addictions sound. They came out in your face, somewhat abrasive, making the listener not only thing about the art but the music.
Key Albums: Jane’s Addiction (1987); Nothing’s Shocking (1988); Ritual de lo habitual (1990); Strays (2003)
Growing up in the 1980s guitar was king and at the age of 12 I got bit by the six-string bug. While others were worshipping the guitar wizardry of Eddie Van Halen, I was at the guitar alter of Mr. Scary himself, George Lynch.
The two-tone, guitar painted shredder blew me away the first time I saw Dokken’s “Breaking the Chains” video on MTV. Not only did George have the string shredding skills on the solos, but he has the rhythm crunch that would carry not only the songs, but the band to stardom.
Over the 1980s, Dokken the dysfunctional band of the decade, but George rose to the top of the bullshit building a massive following thanks in part to his many side bands, his solo releases and his frenetic playing style. In the latter years, Mr. Lynch built upon his empire by designing his own guitars, aptly title Mr. Scary, in which he carved and sculpted the word into piece of art which would rock that house. This was just an extension of his already impressive guitar designed he has had over the years with ESP and John ‘J. Frog’ Garcia.
Now, coming up on age 60, Lynch is still releasing acclaimed records, recently putting his signature sounds on the new project KXM, featuring dUg Pinnick from King’s X and Ray Luzier from Korn, and the future only holds more guitar shredding rock & roll.
Key Albums: w/ Dokken: Breaking the Chains (1983); Tooth and Nail (1984); Under Lock and Key (1985); Back for the Attack (1987); w/ Lynch Mob: Wicked Sensation (1990); Self-Titled (1992); Smoke and Mirrors (2009); w/ KXM: Self-Titled 2014; Solo: Sacred Groove (1993)
Love them or hate them, there is no denying Motley Crue was the biggest band to emerge from the dirty streets of the Sunset Strip in the 1980s.
Front man Vince Neil was arguably the worst vocalist to front a band in that time period, but together with the power house rhythm section of Nikki Sixx (bass) and Tommy Lee (drums) and the blistering rhythms of Mick Mars (guitar), the band just nailed it.
Motley Crus was sex, drugs and rock & roll, hell Nikki Sixx literally died at one point. Despite the booze and drugs the band played ischemic rock & roll that was dirty, edgy and could get an arena full of fans singing in unison.
Motley Crue had a variation of styles of the years, starting out at a metal act ‘Too Fast for Love’ and ‘Shout at the Devil,’ then paid homage to their glam roots with ‘Theatre of Pain’ then went back to the alley and darkened street corners with ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’ and ‘Dr. Feelgood.’ Styles be damned, Motley made it work and came out on the other side bigger and badder than ever.
Key Albums: Too Fast for Love (1981); Shout at the Devil (1983);
Theatre of Pain (1985); Girls, Girls, Girls (1987); Dr. Feelgood (1989).
There isn’t a band who has stood strong against corporate America, political oppression and social injustice quite like Rage Against the Machine.
Formed in 1991, the band – vocalist Zack de la Rocha; guitarist Tom Morello; drummer Brad Wilk; bassist Tim Commerford – stood strong, fist in the air preaching for the rights of others. Backed by a hybrid blend of metal, punk and hip hop, RATM was powerful in song and verse taking no prisoners along the way.
With early hits “Killing in the Name” and “Bombtrack” it was clear this quartet had revolutionary integrity winning praises from peers, critics and more importantly the fans. After years of touring and the constant battling for their beliefs took its toll on Rage Against the Machine they broke up in the early 2000s. Rumors persist that the band is getting back together, but as of now, nothing is set in stone.
Key Albums: Rage Against the Machine (1992); Evil Empire (1996); the Battle of Los Angeles (1999); Renegades (2000).
The story of the Runaways is legendary. Lead singer Cherie Currie, guitarists Lita Ford, and Joan Jett, drummer, Sandy West and a myriad of bass players (Micki Steele, Jackie Fox, Vicki Blue, Laurie McAllister) were the pioneering all-female rock band of the 1970s to hold their own in a male-dominated business.
Although short-lived, The Runaways released four studio and one live album in the latter half of the 1970s. They never achieved much mainstream success while they were together but as years past and the solo careers of Jett and Ford grew, The Runaways were regarded as groundbreaking.
Formed in late 1975 by drummer Sandy West and rhythm guitarist Joan Jett, the band took some controversial steps when producer Kim Fowley became their manager and played up the role of their youthful good looks. Despite the shady back alley deals of Fowley, the band stood on its own recording the hard rock, punk tinged singles “Queens of Noise;” “Neon Angels On the Road to Ruin;” “Dead End Justice;” and, of course, their biggest hit “Cherry Bomb.”
Key Albums: The Runaways (1976); Queens of Noise (1977); Waitin’ for the Night (1977); And Now… The Runaways (1978).
Embracing their dark and heavy sound with the visual arts, Tool has simply defied the mainstream in favor of pushing the boundaries of music. Blurring the lines or prog rock, heavy metal and alt rock, Tool’s sound is…well Tool.
As important as Tool is musically, they are equally important artistically. Guitarist Adam Jones doubles as the band’s art director and director of their music videos. Jones’ videos for the band are like mini movies featuring stop motion animation and CGI. The band itself has only appeared in two of their own videos declaring it is to prevent people from “latching onto the personalities involved rather than listening to the music.”
Everything about Tool (Danny Carey, Justin Chancellor, Adam Jones, and Maynard James Keenan) is unique and refreshing in a music world so watered down by disposable music. The only downfall for these guys is they take a long time in between records, but, but they are never forgotten in their absence.
Key Albums; Opiate (1992); Undertow (1993); Ænima (1996); Lateralus (2001)
Egos and in-fighting aside, Van Halen was one of the biggest rock bands to come out of the L.A. area in the 1970s. Behind the revolutionary guitar player of Eddie Van Halen and the showmanship of front man David Lee Roth, the quartet was the premier rock act in America.
From the release of their debut album in 1978, Van Halen had a string of hit singles with “Runnin’ with the Devil,” “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love,” and “Jamie’s Cryin.'” Van Halen was also known as a glorified cover band by reworking original songs from The Kinks (“You Really Got Me” “Where Have All the Good Times Gone!”); Roy Orbison “(Oh Pretty Woman”; Marvin Gaye (“Dancing in the Street”); and Dale Evans (“Happy Trails”) just to name a few.
At the height of their career, Roth took off on his own to pursue a solo career and the band Van Halen really didn’t miss a beat when they brought in iconic and former Montrose front man Sammy Hagar to fill Roth’s shoes. Hagar never really tried to fill the shoes of Roth though, that’s what made the switch a success. The band became more pop rock than hard rock writing several songs with “love” in the title. People still argued Roth versus Hagar, but the matter of the fact is Van Halen as a group only got more popular through the 1990s.
After a failed attempt at a third singer, Extreme’s Gary Cherone when Hagar left, Van Halen was missing in action for well over a decade. The Van Halen fans rejoiced when Roth and the Van Halen brothers came back together and released ‘A Different Kind of Truth’ in 2012.
The future is always uncertain with Van Halen, but their past is etched in stone as one of the greatest American rock bands of all time.
Key Albums: Van Halen (1978); Van Halen II (1979); Fair Warning (1981); 1984 (1984); 5150 (1986); OU812 (1988).