Track of the Day: 'I Love L.A.'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

A reader circles back to our songs of complicated patriotism:

Almost everything the great, sardonic songwriter Randy Newman has ever written has been misconstrued, from the scathing “Rednecks” to the sly “I Love L.A.” to this fairly recent song on the absolute greatness of the U.S.A., “A Few Words in the Defense of Our Country.”

On the meaning of “I Love L.A.”:

This song is an example of Newman’s ambivalence toward the American Dream, as it celebrates living the dream (“look at that mountain, look at those trees”), while giving a nod to those who have been unable to fulfill the dream (“look at that bum over there; man, he’s down on his knees”).

Newman also presents this dichotomy by incorporating the names of L.A.’s Century Boulevard, Victory Boulevard, Santa Monica Boulevard, Imperial Highway and 6th Street into the lyrics of the song. Traversing any one of these roadways from end to end will reveal some of the wealthiest and some of the poorest areas of the city.

Speaking of Newman, here’s another reader:

It’s not a patriotic song, but it is a song (metaphorically) about America’s perpetual national shame, racism. And that song is Randy Newman’s “Short People.” When it came out in the late ‘70s, everyone thought was merely insulting to short people (it was, of course).