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Jack Smith

He lacks rhyme but not reasons to sing the city's praises . . . L.A. is still his kind of town

February 06, 1986|JACK SMITH

Henry Tobias, the prolific and perennial Hollywood songwriter, writes to give me his professional opinion why Los Angeles has never produced an "official" song.

I have considered this question several times over the years, and always come up with a blank, though numerous songwriters have sent me their Los Angeles songs, either in sheet music or on tape.

None of them seem to have made it into the public consciousness.

Los Angeles still has no song that touches the nostalgic heart strings like "New York, New York,' "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" and "Chicago."

One obvious reason, as I have pointed out, is that Los Angeles doesn't have a good meter for music. You can't sing "Los Angeles, Los Angeles."

Like orange , it doesn't rhyme with anything, either; but then neither do San Francisco, New York or Chicago. (Well, York rhymes with pork .)

Maybe Los Angeles doesn't inspire a great song for the same reason it doesn't inspire a great novel. It's just too debilitating out there by the pool in the sun. No one has the energy to write a great song.

Tobias thinks it's because the city tried sponsoring a contest for a Los Angeles song, hoping to produce one that could become the city's official song by proclamation.

That contest ended quietly some years ago when the city, deluged by tons of unsingable songs, bored by poetic invocations of palm trees, sunsets, snow-covered mountains, surf, moonlight, suntanned girls, orange trees and even freeways, decided to abandon the project and let nature take its course.

What causes Tobias to raise the subject again is an invitation he has received from Nashville, Tenn., to submit a song in a contest for an official Nashville song.

The letter comes from Maggie Cavender, executive director of the Nashville Songwriters Assn. International, and Kathy Hyland, regional director of the Nashville Songwriters Guild, at the request of Nashville Mayor Richard Fulton.

"The mayor has asked us to let you know that Nashville is looking for a song!" it says. "New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and many other cities are highly visible through the songs they have adopted as official themes. . . ." (I don't know what Los Angeles song she's talking about.)

It adds that the song "should be adaptable to all musical styles," and that it will be performed by the Nashville Symphony Orchestra at the Summer Lights Festival June 1.

That implies that the mayor and his people have no doubt that an official song will be forthcoming. (The deadline was Feb. 1.)

The contest is limited to writers who have had a Top-10 song in a recognized national trade publication, which would eliminate the kind of amateurs who cluttered the Los Angeles competition.

Tobias says he is gratified to be invited to compete, and certainly he and his brothers, Harry and Charles, have had many hits, including "Miss You," "Sweet and Lovely," "Sail Along, Silv'ry Moon," "I'm Sorry Dear," and "If I Knew Then."

Then why is Henry Tobias rejecting this invitation?

"I think you are wasting your time," he wrote to Nashville, "asking any writer not from Nashville to compete.

"I wouldn't even try to compete in writing an L.A. song, which I was asked to do, for the following reason: I believe that official songs should be decided by the public , and not by competition or publicity or political connections.

"Take any well-known official city song. New York had 'East Side, West Side' for many years because the public wanted it. Then when Frank Sinatra came along with his 'New York, New York' the public loved it and it became an unofficial New York City song. . . ."

He noted that Los Angeles had asked many well-known writers to write a city song, without success. "Then Randy Newman came along with some political connections at City Hall and got an official blessing from the Olympics to use his song, which incidentally . . . was very bad and instead of praising L.A. it knocked it and was not accepted by the public.

"You can take a horse to the well but you can't make him drink," Tobias concludes.

I don't recall that Randy Newman's song had any friends at City Hall or Olympics blessing, but it was a big hit during the Olympic Games because of its repetition on television. I predicted at the time, though, that it would not last, because it was unsingable and unmemorable. I don't think I have ever heard anyone humming it, and as far as I know it is quite forgotten.

Meanwhile, since I last mentioned this problem, I have received numerous original songs such as "They Call It L.A.," words and music by Douglas Simmonds, a fragment of which goes like this:

They call it L.A., Los Angeles, the City of the Angels, The only place I want to stay.... It's where you see the movie stars, the beautiful girls, the fancy cars. It's a show place, a get up and go place, and people greet you with a smile, the city dazzles you with style, a fun place, a play in the sun place, they call it L.A. . . .

Here's a bit of "You Can't Stay Away From L.A." words and music by Jack Quigley:

It's a pot full of promise filled with sunshine and wine

Spotlights and Hollywood and Vine, Palm trees and light breezes, Freeways and tight squeezes ... Angel, you're all mine!

Bring me my sunglasses, please, and a beer. . . .

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