As well as being one of the most important cities in the world in the film industry, Los Angeles, California is also one of the most important places in the world for the recorded music industry. We’ve seen the world’s biggest acts come to this magnificent city to record their work and put it out for the world to hear. We’ll be discussing some of our historic favorite scenes that have come through this city, and who in our mind left their mark on the music industry forever.
It comes as no surprise that Southern California was a flourishing and prime location for young surfers. Perfect weather conditions, the beach at your side and an emerging music culture. It was here where the global music movement, surf music, originated.
Surf Music was especially popular from 1962 to 1964 in two major forms. The first is instrumental surf music, distinguished by reverb-drenched electric guitars played to evoke the sound of crashing waves, largely pioneered by Dick Dale and the Del-Tones. The Second is “vocal surf”, which took the original surf sound and added vocal harmonies backed by Chuck Berry like rhythm guitars, a movement led by the Beach Boys.
By the early 1960’s instrumental rock had been pioneered successfully by performers such as Link Wray, The Ventures, and Duane Eddy. This trend was developed by Dick Dale, who added Middle Eastern, Mexican influences and the rapid alternate picking characteristics of the genre. We, of course, know him from his hits “Let’s Go Trippin”, which launched a surf music craze in the summer of 1961, and “Misirlou”, which was later synched to the popular Quintin Tarintino Movie, Pulp Fiction.
This Southern California movement inspired musicians around the globe to jump on the surfer music wave. These groups include acts like The Astronauts, from Boulder, Colorado; The Trashmen, from Minneapolis, Minnesota and the Riveras, from Southbend, Indiana. Even musicians from Australia contributed to this movement, as the Atlantics from Sydney, reached number one in the surfer charts in 1963, with their hit “Bombora”.
The second wave of surf music was led by the Beach Boys, who had their first chart hit in 1961, with “Surfin”, which peaked at number 75 on the Billboard Hot 100. They followed this up by the popular “Surfin’ in the USA” in 1963 and “Surfer Girl” also in 1963. The Beach Boys were the core of the nationwide phenomenon that was Surf Rock and Iconic to the Los Angeles area.
The success of the Beach Boys’ 11th studio album, Pet Sounds (1966), was unlike anything the music industry had seen before. In the United Kingdom, the album was hailed by the music press and was an immediate commercial success, peaking at number 2 in the UK Top 40 Album Charts and remaining among the top ten positions for six months. “Pet Sounds” has subsequently gathered worldwide acclaim from critics and musicians alike and is widely considered to be one of the most influential albums in music history.
The album was produced and arranged by Brian Wilson, who also wrote and composed almost all of its music. Wilson is considered a major innovator in the field of music production and the principal originator of the “California Sound”. At only 21 years old he received the freedom to produce his own records with total creative autonomy. He ignited an explosion of like-minded California producers and became the first rock producer to use the studio as its own instrument.
Laurel Canyon wasn’t much to look at – a few modest bungalows and log cabins crammed between an occasional faded mansion that had been left over from the days when it was a secluded, semi-rural retreat for Hollywood’s silent-movie stars. And yet from the quiet of the densely wooded canyon came a music revolution that would change popular culture.
The likes of David Crosby and Graham Nash worked on their music – or in some cases created new genres like folk-rock and country-rock. This took place in anonymity during the 1960s and 1970s, in a place where no one bothered to go in those days unless they lived there. While the nation was focussed on the folk music renaissance led by Bob Dylan and the psychedelic scene that sprung from San Francisco, they discovered a few years later. Musicians who took up residence by the score in Laurel Canyon were actually doing much more. They quickly launched several new music genres, including the laid-back, Los Angeles-centric singer-songwriter movement that came to flower with the emergence of Browne, Mitchell, James Taylor and others.
Although the canyon’s dirty brown hills rise up above Hollywood’s Sunset Strip and the neighborhood had many music clubs and recording studios, many of the canyon’s streets were unpaved then, giving the place a rural, backwoods feel. To this day the place only has one store and roads are so narrow that on some of them two cars can’t pass unless one backs up. Thus the Byrds were free to experiment pretty much uninterrupted and unbothered until they created music’s first true folk-rock album. By merging electric-guitar chords with lyrics by Dylan and others they created “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Nearby, Jim Morrison was creating the ethereal sounds that would make the music of the Doors everlasting, while Zappa was putting together his neo-classical arrangements from a faded mansion that silent-era movie star Tom Mix had once owned. It is safe to say that this neighborhood in Los Angeles has had its place in musical history.
If any band truly embodies the Sunset Strip in the Eighties, it’s the one that started it all, Mötley Crüe. Fittingly, the band finished out the decade as its conquering heroes. Their fifth album, “Dr. Feelgood”, was released on September 1, 1989, and debuted on the Billboard 200 Albums at Number One. For the video to the album’s second single, “Kickstart My Heart,” the Crüe ditched the venues they had been calling home for years to film an intimate performance at the Whisky A-Go-Go, right down the street from the one-time Mötley House. As the band cruised down the Strip to the screams of adoring fans at the beginning of the “Kickstart” video, Vince Neil turned to the camera and he said: “This is where it all began”.
Of course, Eighties metal men were far from the first rockers to run wild in West Hollywood. The Doors functioned as the house band at the Whisky A-Go-Go in the late Sixties, and their lead singer, Jim Morrison, balanced on a railing on the roof of a 16-story building on the Strip as if it were a tightrope. Led Zeppelin, in the following decade, would rent out up to six floors of the Hyatt on Sunset and initiate a groupie-shagging, television-smashing, motorcycle-down-the-hallway-driving den of debauchery.
It’s a lot to live up to, perhaps, but it was a challenge that Mötley Crüe, Guns N’ Roses, Ratt, W.A.S.P., Poison, L.A. Guns, Faster Pussycat and the rest of the Eighties glam lot were more than happy to take on. “You had to be able to put up not 100 percent, but 1,000 percent”, says Poison singer Bret Michaels. Or, as Crüe frontman Vince Neil put it in the band’s gloriously degenerate 2001 autobiography The Dirt, “We’d get drunk, do crazy amounts of cocaine and walk the circuit in stiletto heels, stumbling all over the place. The Sunset Strip was a cesspool of depravity”.
There would be no way to cover the vast and diverse history of west coast rap in one blog post. With so many artists influenced by a movement, it’s hard to say where it really started and who started it. However, we can discuss some major players in the early days of West Coast Rap and how it evolved into the LA hip-hop scene we know today.
Let’s start with the biggest one, N.W.A. In 1988, N.W.A’s landmark album “Straight Outta Compton” was released. Focusing on life and adversities in LA’s notoriously rough neighborhood, Compton. As well as establishing a basis for the popularity of gangsta rap, the album drew much attention to West Coast hip hop, especially the Los Angeles scene. In particular, the controversial “Fuck tha Police” and the ensuing censorship attracted substantial media coverage and public attention. Following the dissolution of N.W.A. due to in-fighting, the group’s members Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and MC Ren would later become platinum-selling solo artists in the 90’s. Their story would later be made into a movie in 2015, called “Straight Outta Compton”. Fun fact, they shot a big portion of the studio scenes in NRG’s Studio A. They replaced the old credenza with the now iconic flashy red credenza.
The west coast hip-hop position in mainstream music dwindled greatly in the late 1990’s to 2000’s with a few notable exceptions such as G-Funk, Snoop Dogg, and 2pac. However, the tide soon changed. Although gangsta rap was still popular on the West Coast in the 2000’s, the West Coast sound become more designed for nightclubs with the rise of the Bay Area’s hyphy scene. A key artist in this genre was E-40, who found a substantial audience with his song, “Tell Me When To Go” in 2006.
Artists from the 1990’s such as Ice Cube and groups such as Tha Dogg Pound and West Side Connection continued to release albums throughout the 2000’s but did not garner to the same level of fame as they experienced back in the 90’s. Throughout the 2000’s, a number of peripheral West Coast hip-hop artists, such as Ya Boy, Glasses Malone, Juice, Crooked I, 40 Glocc, Slim the Mobster, Bishop Lamont, and Mistah F.A.B. collaborated with a number of big artists such as Dr.Dre, Kurupt, Daz Dillinger, The Game, and E-40.
Nu Metal is a form of alternative metal that combines elements of heavy metal music with elements of other music genres such as hip-hop, alternative rock, funk, and grunge. NRG Recording Studios really took off in the age of nu-metal. It was the home to new artists and inexperienced artists to express their artistic vision that had no home anywhere else. NRG Recording Studios‘ President, Jay Baumgardner, says that being at home and in a safe environment is the most important thing to the writing process.
Nu metal began to rise in popularity when Korn’s 1996 album Life Is Peachy peaked at number 3 on the Billboard 200 and sold 106,000 copies in its first week of release. In 1998, Korn’s third album Follow the Leader (recorded at NRG Recording) peaked at number 1 on the Billboard 200 Albums, was certified 5× platinum, and paved the way for other nu metal bands. At this point, many nu metal bands were signed to major record labels and were playing combinations of heavy metal, hip hop, industrial, grunge and hardcore punk styles. Hip hop artists like Vanilla Ice and Cypress Hill, along with heavy metal bands Sepultura, Primus, Fear Factory, Machine Head, and Slayer released albums that draw from the nu metal genre.
The Woodstock 1999 festival featured multiple nu metal artists and bands such as Korn, Kid Rock, Godsmack, Limp Bizkit and Sevendust. During and after Limp Bizkit’s performance at the festival, violence occurred and people tore plywood from the walls during the performance of the band’s song “Break Stuff”. Limp Bizkit’s popularity and the sales of their then-recent album “Significant Other” (recorded at NRG Recording Studios), was record breaking. The album peaked at number 1 on the Billboard 200 albums, selling 643,874 copies in its first week of release, topping over one million sold in two weeks, and eventually being certified 7x platinum in 2001. Significant Other sold at least 7,237,123 copies in the United States.
Late in 2000, Linkin Park released their debut album Hybrid Theory, (recorded at NRG Recording Studios), which was the best-selling debut album by any artist of any genre in the 21st century. The album was also the best-selling album of 2001. Linkin Park earned a Grammy Award for their second single “Crawling”. Their fourth single, “In the End”, was released late in 2001 and peaked at number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in March 2002. In 2001, Linkin Park’s album Hybrid Theory sold 4,800,000 copies in the United States, making it the highest-selling album of the year. Linkin Park’s album Hybrid Theory was certified diamond by the RIAA and sold at least 10,222,000 copies in the United States.
Anyone who’s been to a club lately is very aware of the current rave craze that been dominating the globe for several years now. The rave scene and electronic music scene have become extremely popular in Los Angeles in the late 2000’s and 2010’s. Particularly house music, dubstep, and trap, which have all developed into very strong scenes in Los Angeles. House music which originated from Detroit, Chicago and several places in Europe back in the 80’s has found it’s home in many nightclubs. The simple four the floor beat is instinctively easy to move to and is a foundation for many raves. Dubstep has been around for decades but didn’t really see the light until 2010. The music genre makes use of heavy bass lines and aggressive breakbeat rhythms that fans headbang to. While Trap is a sub-genre in the hip-hop scene, it’s also a genre within the electronic music scene. It is described as a hybrid melting pot of the deeply rooted hip-hop culture, dubstep and many other genres within the electronic music scene.
Many say a young man by the name of Sonny Moore, a.k.a. Skrillex started this craze back in 2010 with this second EP Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites. Skrillex, former lead singer of the emo band From First To Last, is now widely known as one of the biggest DJs on the planet. His signature label OWSLA has been a voice for the underground movement in Los Angeles, throwing local underground raves and giving artists a platform to showcase their music.
Because of the Electronic Dance Music hype, it’s no surprise that Los Angeles has developed incredibly strong scenes for large electronic music festivals. One of them being The Electric Daisy Carnival, a festival which has an attendance of over 185,000 people over a two-day weekend. Making it the largest dance music festival in North America and one of the largest in the world. Other festivals such as Together As One, Monster Massive, Nocturnal, and Hard Fest have had attendees of 50,000 people to 125,000 people, which undoubtedly makes Los Angeles the rave capital of North America
Los Angeles, California, has been one of the most important places in the world for the recorded music industry. We’ve seen the world’s biggest acts come to this magnificent city to record their work and put it out for the world to hear. It’s safe to say that many large music movements that have started here, took over the music industry. Having gone through the major music history events this city has seen has been exciting and our gut feeling says that it’s far from over. It is and will always be the home for revolutionary music.