List of the Day - Archives

The Top 10 Southern California Singer-Songwriters

List Of The Day

Jackson Browne has a new album. He's been writing songs since he was something like twelve years old, when he was already dating exotic models like Nico. Good thing he has actual talent, since it's stuff like that that makes other people really jealous and resentful. You can't listen to Mr. Browne without feeling that sunshine hitting your shoulder, without feeling the Pacific Ocean calling you to join it, without thinking solar power is likely a lot safer than that nuclear stuff. But both can make you glow!

Southern California songwriters often get a bad rap for being too laid back. But that's because they're usually being criticized by angry critics who are just cranky because their backs hurt from shoveling all that snow. Southern California is also a destination where many of its favorite sons and daughters aren't natives but opportunists who noticed that there was a lot more showbiz going on there than in, say, Denton, Texas and, therefore, moved there to make a go at it. And while the people who live in Southern California are provably better looking than people who live in other parts of the United States, it's still not forgiven for allowing those Real Housewives Of Orange County to continue to live. What is society if we don't have rules?

Anyhow, Arthur Lee was left off this list for no good reason. Andrew Gold was left off this list because he was number 12. Tom Waits and Captain Beefheart belong to another planet. And where's Tim Buckley? To paraphrase, Joseph Conrad, "Mr. Buckley, he dead." Which, come to think of it, so are three of the people who made this list. So much for consistency. (It's overrated anyhow.) And how could I leave off Frank Zappa? Because Zappa's music doesn't ever make me think of California. Now, of course, I should've included a guy named Randy California for obvious reasons.

Aw, heck, let's just get down to it...

10) The Doors (Jim Morrison): Jim Morrison grew up in Alexandria, Virginia, but he headed to Los Angeles where he fell in with the "dark side" and began writing about a city under television skies, where he could live on Love Street and hang out with girls in their Hollywood bungalows back when slackers could afford such things. Oddly, Morrison was a purist when it came to boating, he defiantly declared that true sailing was dead even back then. The man was a visionary.

9) Snoop Dogg: Most rappers of his era made places like Compton sound like dangerous spots, best observed from a very safe distance. But Snoop always made everyone feel at home. Don't worry about the gunshots outside the window, just have another toke of this fine herbal medicine and we'll watch a little television, perhaps. You can just hand over your wallet if you'd like. I'm not really a gangsta, but I can play one if you'd like.

8) Beck: People from other parts of the country like to portray Californians as airheads. But if these people are really so dumb, why are they the ones living in paradise? Sure, you get your occasional serial killer and mudslide, but the low humidity alone is worth a few random highway shootings, don't you think? Beck could be the poster child for random non sequiturs substituting for profound thinking. Then again, maybe it is profound and we're just too stupid to understand.

7) Minutemen (D. Boon): "Organizing the boy scouts for murder is wrong," sang D. Boon. Would you disagree? Punk rockers were always celebrated for allowing people with no talent to succeed. In many cases, it made music much worse. But not everyone who participated in this anarchic movement was without ideas or talent. And that, boys and girls, is why D. Boon had to be removed from the scene. He was volatile and dangerous and he exposed truths that they didn't want you to learn about.

6) Randy Newman: Next time you wonder how a guy with a voice like Randy Newman's could ever get a recording contract, keep in mind that he grew up next door to the guy who eventually ran Warner Brothers Records. For years, Randy recorded for Warner Brothers. Pure coincidence. Just like how I got this swell job overseeing a janitorial supply company. Well, actually, it's not anything alike. But Randy did write a song called "I Love L.A." and I once wrote one called "C'mon, Mr. President, Give Us Some Food" and, uh, forget it, it's all politics man.

5) Eagles (Don Henley, Glenn Frey): Frey is from Michigan, Henley from Texas, but the two took to Southern California like laboratory rats to cocaine. They couldn't get enough of the sunshine or the women and they decided to cast themselves as outlaws, bad hombres out to live the American Dream. These days, if you can secure a second mortgage on your home, you can see them perform in concert. Or if your credit is screwed like most of us, you can buy a DVD and pretend to be part of the experience.

4) Warren Zevon: Warren Zevon even made his death a showbiz move. Not bad, considering Zevon had always been a bit of an outsider, a hardboiled cynic in a land full of shiny, happy people. And death isn't something people who are baking in the sun want to think about. They want to think about getting tattoos from Kat Von D and maybe punching that realtor kid from Million Dollar Listing in the nose. I know I do!

3) Fleetwood Mac (Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks): Once an English blues band, Fleetwood Mac decided the "retirement package" that came with such territory wasn't going to be sufficient, since a regular diet of cat food was not considered "desirable" by the members of the band who still had their sanity. So, the group enlisted the help of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, a couple of purebred popsters who were just waiting to sell millions of records. And then when the time was right, they did just that. But they still spelled "Rumours" the English way, just to pay homage to something.

2) Jackson Browne: With those seductive good looks and easy listening melodies that beg to be hummed, Jackson Browne practically defined the 1970s. So, then he turned political and got involved in issues and alienated his audience who wanted to make money, spray up their hair and wear shoulder pads. You can see how Browne's a natural for that Ed Begley show, but not such a great fit for, say, Designing Women.

1) Brian Wilson (The Beach Boys): Yes, who better to define Southern California singer-songwriters than the man who single-handedly invented surfing. Funny, but kids in England really took to this and many of them who grew up to be rich rock stars eventually moved to California just to see and surf for themselves. It was almost too good to be true. Wilson himself decided to put a sandbox in his own living room to cut down on commuting costs. And now he's back! And he still sounds like he's living in a Southern California that we all wish existed--where we could all afford to be there and never grow old trying.

View Comments