BBC Documentary – From Byrds to The Eagles – Music in L.A.

I have been quite in the mood to praise BBC Four music documentaries recently. This one, available on Youtube in 7 parts, was extremely entertaining and informative. The story is about how Los Angeles became the musical capital of the world and characters behind it. The story has a monumental arc, starting from humble folk-rockers at very end of the 1960’s and finishing at the birth of corporate rock of the late 1970s. There is great historical footage, interviews and even the narration is top notch, by the great Mark Strong.

Some highlights:

  • Context: Culture Wars, the clash of Midwestern puritanism and Los Angeles ‘sinful’ vocation
  • The Laurel Canyon ambiance and sense of community and Sunset Strip seedy clubs
  • Business was in New York (Tin Pan Alley, Brill Building). Artists were less respected. LA invented self-publishing, local labels were more prepared to deal with singer-songwriters. Warner Reprise emerges as the premier label.
  • James Taylor leaves Apple Records for Warner
  • Carole King comes from NY/Brill B. world
  • David Geffen secretary liked Jackson Browne demo, which lead to founding of Asylum.
  • Troubadour: Country Influence, Graham Parsons
  • “Commercial” music was derided, seen as a Monkees thing/stunt
  • The connections: Joni Mitchell, Geffen, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, The Eagles, Irving Azoff…
  • People talking: Jac Holzmann, Stan Cornwyn, David Geffen, Graham Nash, David Crosby, Lenny Waronker, Andrew Gold, the Turtles guy, Pamela des Barres
  • Things get dark in the end. Steve Ross’ Warner buys Asylum. New exclusive clubs (like Roxy) go in tandem with  a lot of drugs. The cynicism of CSNY ‘74 tour, with fights, drugs, money. Hotel California: greed, anger, darkness. In the end, corporate rock, stadium rock.

Unfortunately, the doc stops with Hotel California. It would be great to see a film following up from there: Arena rock, Yacht Rock, Hair metal. A lot of interesting things continued to happen in L.A.

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