Ever since Bing Crosby famously crooned in 1944 that he would "make the San Fernando Valley my home," Los Angeles has had a prominent role in popular music, whether it be rock (Led Zeppelin's "Going to California"), surf (Beach Boys' "Surfin' USA," which name-checks Pacific Palisades and Redondo Beach, among other spots), swing (Frank Sinatra's "LA Is My Lady") funk (Kool & the Gang's "Hollywood Swingin'"), alternative (Tom Waits' "Heart Attack and Vine"), soul (War's "Low Rider"), punk (X's "Los Angeles") or hip-hop (NWA's "Straight Outta Compton"). Here are a few places to check out which convey a musical diversity that mirrors the area's culture.
Filmmakers may have long gone outside the borders of Hollywood for both inspiration and production, but when it comes to local music, the Hollywood area remains the best starting point. From the folk-rock explosion of the late '60s to the '80s hair-metal band domination, the Sunset Strip seems to give birth to a new pop-music movement every couple decades or so, and always hops. Sunset Boulevard's Viper Room, Whisky A Go Go and House of Blues Sunset Strip have shows almost nightly, and the clubs are within staggering distance of the modern-looking hotel at the corner of Sunset and Kings Road, which, in its former life, served as the legendary Hyatt House (i.e. "Riot House") that was thrashed by countless musicians back in the day.
In more central Hollywood, the Music Box and Hotel Café are always worth checking out. And on West Hollywood's Santa Monica Boulevard, the Troubadour continues to host compelling acts four decades after helping launch the careers of such superstars as Elton John and James Taylor, while the Largo at the Coronet on La Cienega picks up where the old Fairfax Avenue Largo and its nightly singer-songwriter acts left off. The Hollywood Palladium, where luminaries such as Richard Pryor and the Grateful Dead played live, underwent a multimillion dollar renovation before reopening for top-line shows in 2008. And further south on Wilshire Boulevard, both the El Rey Theatre and the Wiltern regularly secure sought-after musical acts to play the Art Deco venues.
Go a couple miles east on Sunset, and the Silver Lake and Echo Park clubs like the Silverlake Lounge, Satellite (formerly Spaceland) and the Echo/Echoplex continue the tradition of alternative acts once led by locally-bred musicians like Beck, Eels and Elliot Smith.
Meanwhile, the Downtown music scene has rebounded to include a heady mix of clubs that offer a mix of alternative music and dance. The Edison, a converted power plant that enjoyed a cameo in "The Social Network," features live music, top DJs and burlesque acts, while the Belasco Theatre combines the touches of a century old theatre with a state-of-the-art sound system. And for those looking for that elusive pirate-themed club, the Redwood Bar & Grill regularly features punk and alternative music.
And just because the sun's out doesn't mean you can't take in a little extra music history. Sunset Boulevard's Guitar Center's Hollywood Rockwalk has thousands of axes to check out while its entry includes handprints of luminaries ranging from Dick Dale to James Brown to the Ramones. And the Hollywood Walk of Fame's terrazzo stars let you pay tribute to musicians such as the Beatles, Chuck Berry and Hank Williams while providing a first-hand look at the iconic Capitol Records building on Vine Street.
All of the walking and rocking will probably make you hungry, but the rock tour doesn't have to end there. Canter's Deli on Fairfax has long been a hangout for bands like Guns n' Roses, while its Kibitz Room helped launch the careers of acts such as the Wallflowers and Fiona Apple. Barney's Beanery, which has been at its current West Hollywood location since 1927, was a favorite of the Doors and Janis Joplin, among other '60s rock icons. Both Rolling Stone Los Angeles Restaurant and Lounge and the Hard Rock Café Hollywood at Hollywood & Highland let music fans feed their hunger for both rock history and all-American grub. If you want to combine your meal with local music royalty, you could do far worse than going to the Dresden Room in Los Feliz, where Marty and Elayne of "Swingers" fame continue to perform five nights a week. Finally, there's always the opportunity to join the late-night throngs in line for chili dogs at Pink's. After all, what's more rock-n-roll than that?
Between STAPLES Center, the NOKIA Theatre, Club NOKIA and the Conga Room, the $2.5 billion entertainment district L.A. LIVE is worth the Downtown trip alone for the music junkie, but the true aficionado has one more reason to make the visit an extended one: the GRAMMY Museum®. The museum, which opened in late 2008, includes four floors and more than 30,000 square feet of interactive exhibits that give a full history of rock, R&B, country, and hip-hop music, among other genres, and regularly hosts music acts for intimate shows and discussions in its Clive Davis Theater.
Finally, for those looking to pay tribute to their music heroes in a more spiritual sense, many of rock, pop, jazz and punk music's most influential figures are buried in the LA area. Here's a short list of final resting places, where a little gospel may be in order:
- Forest Lawn Glendale: Nat "King" Cole, Michael Jackson
- Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills: Marvin Gaye, Liberace, Ricky Nelson, Lou Rawls
- Hillside Memorial: Al Jolson
- Hollywood Forever: Dee Dee Ramone, Johnny Ramone
- Inglewood Park: Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald
- Pierce Bros. Westwood Village Memorial Park: Roy Orbison (unmarked), Buddy Rich, Mel Tormé, Frank Zappa (unmarked)
- San Fernando Mission Cemetery: Ritchie Valens