A San Fernando Valley Playist

So the bad news is that I missed out on CicLAvia — The Valley. Cream Soda (my bicycle) was in the shop (nothing serious) and I was dog-sitting on the Eastside. I thought about bringing and walking the dog there but they’re not allowed on Metro buses or trains and there were further complications too that I won’t get into… so I ended up having breakfast at Din Tai Fung and exploring the trails of Ascot Hills Park.

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's water color map of the San Fernando Valley
Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography‘s water color and oil paint map of the Valley

I am glad that so many people went and enjoyed it (hopefully getting some use out of my guide to the event) and that so many people seem to have discovered that the Valley, like everywhere else, is much more enjoyable when not seen from behind the wheel of a car. I also decided to capitalize on Valley Fever by making a Valley playlist.

Postcard of the Valley in the 1970s
Postcard of the San Fernando Valley in the 1970s

The songs on this playlist cover the 1940s to the 1980s, which are good bookends for the Valley’s period when it was a largely Anglo collection of suburbs and Cold War industry. The Valley today is much more urban and much more (predominantly even) Latino. It’s also diverse, with large populations of residents with ancestral origins in Armenia, China, El Salvador, England, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Korea, Mexico,Palestine, Persia, the Philippines, Russia, Taiwan, Thailand, and elsewhere. I welcome any suggestions but it would be especially great to have some that reflect the Valley identity of the last 25 years. Let me have them in the comments!

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Gordon Jenkins – “The San Fernando Valley”

Gordon Jenkins was from Webster Groves, Missouri but his first big hit was also the first big hit about the Valley, 1944’s “The San Fernando Valley.”

Ritchie Valens – “Donna”

Ritchie Valens was born in Pacoima in 1941. His song “Donna” was written about his real life girlfriend,Donna Ludwig (now Donna Fox), who along with Valens attended San Fernando Senior High School. It’s languid love haze probably made it an ideal soundtrack for a cruise back when the streets were less congested.

Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band – “Frownland”

Captain Beefheart‘s definitive album, Trout Mask Replica, was composed and rehearsed in a communal house (or cult compound) in Woodland Hills from 1968 to 1969. I’m not sure what the subject of “Frownland” is but it strikes me as appropriate.

Jimmy Webb – “Campo de Encino”

Jimmy Webb‘s most famous nominally-Los Angeles related song is surely “Mac Arthur Park,” which was a hit for Richard Harris in 1968. Although best known for writing most of Glenn Campbell‘s material, Jimmy Webb’s solo recording career also began in 1968. “Campo de Encino” was a track on his fourth record,Letters (1972).

Frank & Moon Zappa – “Valley Girl”

Although Frank Zappa is more associated with the Antelope Valley than the San Fernando, he and his daughter wrote this parody of early 1980s Valley Girl subculture. It was not included in Martha Coolidge’s film of the same name, released in 1983, which made the Valley Girl an archetype although one no longer much in evidence.

Joe “Bean” Esposito – “You’re The Best”

Karate Kid (1984) is the story of a troubled high schooler named Daniel LaRusso who moves from New Jersey to the Valley suburb of Reseda where he’s harassed by local karate abusers, Cobra Kai. Joe “Bean” Esposito‘s “You’re The Best” perfectly captures the spirit of the film,

Southside Johnny – “Tuff Turf”

Tuff Turf (1985) is the story of a troubled high schooler named Morgan who moves from Connecticut to the Valley suburb of Reseda where he’s harassed by local automobile abusers who run over his bicycle.Southside Johnny‘s “Tuff Turf” perfectly captures the spirit of the film.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Free Fallin’

In 1989 Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (a band name which had already been used by a late ‘40s rhythm & blues group from DC, a doo-wop group, a soul group, a Boyle Heights duo, Johnny Thunders‘s punk group, and a group from New Zealand) had a hit with “Free Fallin’,” which was infused with about as much Valley specificity as you’d typically find in a Paul Thomas Anderson film.

Total Chaos – “DUI”

Total Chaos is a hardcore band from Pomona, but the 2001 song “DUI” is all about spending the night in a “Van Nuys Jail.” I don’t think that they thought much of it.

Los Abandoned – “Van Nuys (es Very Nice)”

Although Total Chaos’s experience in Van Nuys was less-than-pleasant, for Los Abandoned, the largely Mexican (with substantial Armenian and Salvadoran minorities) neighborhood “es very nice,” although the lyrics of the song, from 2004’s Los Abandoned EP strike me as rather ironic.

Special thanks to Daniel Ortega, Glen CreasonEzra Horne, and Kim Cooper for their contributions.

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Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County StoreSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistEastsider LABoing Boing,Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

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