Last night, morbid curiosity compelled us to check out the debut episode of Platinum Hit, a song that has Jewel and Kara DioGuardi searching for America’s next top songwriter. Allow us to save you some time: it’s terrible. We’re not sure whether the problem is the hyper-styled yet uninspired contestants or the show’s tight time constraints, but we feel confident in saying that it’s no Top Chef. The first challenge had the musicians composing odes to Los Angeles — and, despite being New Yorkers, the songs were so nauseating that we couldn’t help but feel for our friends to the west. That has inspired us to help heal their pain by rounding up ten of our favorite songs about L.A. They aren’t all happy, but at least they’re listenable.
“Free Fallin’” — Tom Petty
There are a million epic ’70s soft-rock songs about Southern California, but one of our humble goals in life is never to sit through “Hotel California” ever again, so accept that as our bias going in. We much prefer “Free Fallin’,” the biggest hit of Tom Petty’s career and a track whose airy feel and jangly guitars reference but don’t rip off their decade-old forebears. It’s the classic tale of the “good girl” and the “bad boy,” with a video that oscillates between ’80s L.A. (malls, skate parks, goths) and the city’s ’50s golden age (big circle skirts, vinyl LPs, Sweet 16 parties). The lyrics reference everywhere from Mulholland Drive to suburban Reseda, but what really makes “Free Fallin’” an essential Los Angeles song is its sense of pioneer freedom — which Petty understands is about both exhilarating possibilities and terrifying isolation. That last verse (“Gonna free fall out into nothin’/ Gonna leave this world for a while”) gets us every time.