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Los Angeles Basin | © Anthony Kernich/Flickr
Los Angeles Basin | © Anthony Kernich/Flickr

The Greatest Bands to Come out of Los Angeles

Picture of Charlie Clissitt
Updated: 29 December 2017

The Port of Los Angeles deals with $1 billion worth of cargo each day, but perhaps the city’s most valuable global export has been its music. LA’s uniquely conflicted culture – one of sunshine and wildfires, celebrities and riots, wealth and poverty – has long been a rich source of musical inspiration. Here’s our rundown of the top bands to emerge from the City of Angels.


Toto

The band that have essentially become a meme. Their song ‘Africa’, which was a no. 1 hit in America, has been adopted by millennials on social media and is ironically revered as ‘the greatest song ever’. Toto formed in Los Angeles in 1976 when a pair of session musicians, David Paich and Jeff Porcaro, decided that they wanted to start their own band. There are many rumours about how the band got their name, with the most popular being that they named themselves after the dog in The Wizard of Oz.

Guns N’ Roses

The band that came to epitomise the ‘classic rock’ genre with their air guitar songs for dads. The key members came together in LA to form the band in 1985, but most of them in fact hailed from elsewhere. Axl Rose was from a working-class family in Indiana and Slash was born in England. The band’s first single, ‘Welcome to the Jungle’, was about Los Angeles, although, with lines like, ‘Welcome to the jungle/It gets worse here every day’, it was hardly complimentary .

Red Hot Chili Peppers

If you caught this band in their early days, you’d have seen Tony Flow and the Miraculously Majestic Masters of Mayhem. Sadly, they soon gave up on this mouthful. The band was formed in 1983 by four classmates in Fairfax High School, near the border of West Hollywood. The careers of Anthony Kiedis and company got off to a pretty swift start, securing a seven-album deal only a few months after they had formed. Kiedis sealed his place in his schoolmates’ band after performing an improvised rap called ‘Out in LA’.

The Black Eyed Peas

Another band to have emerged from the hip 1980s LA school scene. In 1988, eighth-graders William James Adams and Allen Pineda met and started performing rap songs as a duo around Los Angeles – this was before they’d adopted their silly names like will.i.am and apl.de.ap. The hip-hop group were originally called Atban Klann, before they changed their name to The Black Eyed Pods in 1995.  

Rage Against the Machine

Probably the most well-educated of the bands in this list. Guitarist Tom Morello graduated from Harvard with a degree in social studies before moving to LA. There, he met Zack de la Rocha and they formed a band in 1991. Their first public performance took place at The Quad of California State University. Memorably, the leftist group scored a Christmas no. 1 in 2009 with their early ’90s song ‘Killing In The Name’. Jon Morter had launched a successful Facebook campaign in an attempt to stop The X-Factor sealing yet another top spot in the Christmas charts.

Buffalo Springfield

In the most country rock move of all time, Buffalo Springfield took their name from a brand of steamroller. The line-up in fact began to form in Ontario, Canada, when Neil Young met Bruce Palmer, but it wasn’t until both had moved to Los Angeles that they joined up with Stephen Stills. After an audition, Buffalo Springfield became the house band at LA’s legendary club Whisky a Go-Go for seven weeks in 1966. However, Neil Young would soon go on to outgrow his first group.

The Byrds

Unsurprisingly, this folk rock band came together in an LA folk club called The Troubadour. Jim McGuinn got talking to Gene Clark and so began The Byrds. Although a less successful name than many of the other bands on this list, most people have probably heard their jingle-jangle cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Mr Tambourine Man’. When Dylan first heard it, he reportedly said: ‘Wow, man! You can dance to that!’ The Byrds pretty much made a career out of covering Mr Dylan.

Metallica

No casual conversations started this one off; Lars Ulrich did things properly. In 1981, drummer Ulrich placed an advertisement in LA.newspaper, The Recycler, ‘looking for other metal musicians to jam with’. It actually took two ads and a visit to Whisky a Go-Go before Metallica were fully assembled. However, the ferocious, thrash metal outfit left LA for San Francisco before their career properly began.

The Doors

With over 100 million records sold worldwide, The Doors are one of the best-selling bands of all time. This is quite an impressive feat when you consider that they disbanded in 1973, two years after Jim Morrison’s death. The band started with a conversation between schoolmates Morrison and Ray Manzarek on Venice Beach in July 1965. By 1966, a four-piece called The Doors were the house band at Whisky a Go-Go.

The Beach Boys

This one’s cheating a little bit, but they’re too important to exclude. The Beach Boys actually formed in Hawthorne, which is in Los Angeles County, not the city itself. The three Wilson brothers (plus cousin, Mike Love) formed the band’s original line-up, which is perhaps why their harmonies were so good. No band will ever be so inextricably linked with surf culture and California life as The Beach Boys.

This is just the tip of one very large musical iceberg. Great bands have poured out of L. for decades and the city’s music scene is thriving right now. You can’t move for buzzing live music venues and the legendary Whisky a Go-Go is still a go-going. If the sunshine and the beaches weren’t tempting enough, music is another strong reason to move to LA.