A few months ago, a friend told me about an article that said people generally stop discovering new music at the age of 30. The study said that between the ages of 12 and 22, our brains go through so much change and we’re more receptive to the songs we hear; hence why we are more open to new music. Additionally, the article states that after 30, we gravitate to the same songs over and over again because of musical nostalgia. Since music has a powerful effect on the mind to evoke memories, conjuring up the past is our way of assuring the endorphins keep flowing, if you will.
This makes sense and I understand the premise. While I’ve never been a big Top 40/pop fan, I certainly have a fondness for the music that accompanied me in my formative years. Yet at the same time, I remember where I was in life at age 30 and what I was listening to, and it’s strange to think that my catalog of music choices would have essentially stopped 13 years ago.
For me, music is about self-discovery. Songs can express exactly how we feel in a way our own words cannot, giving voice to sadness, happiness, confusion, anxiety, anger, disappointment, and love.
And just like I cannot imagine not discovering new music since age 30, I can’t fathom not having new life experiences or meeting new people that helped me discover those songs. It’s all about changing the perspective and gaining so much in return.
The majority of what I listen to now are artists I’ve discovered in the last several years. At the risk of sounding dramatic, I don’t know what my life would be like (and what it would be missing) if I didn’t have this music to accompany me. This is not limited to contemporary artists either. I’ve discovered so many great singers and songs from the 1960s and 70s that I would not have known about.
One of my favorite music genres is the Laurel Canyon sound. When I was recently in San Diego, I gathered with my sister (Sari) and brother-in-law (Steve) – both HUGE music aficionados – for a night of Canyon music. We all picked 25 of our favorite Canyon or Canyon-inspired contemporary albums, and over the course of the evening, we shared those choices and music from the records. Music night for nerds, I know, but we had the best time! Because music brings people together and creates a bond in ways other things cannot.
What does Laurel Canyon music night have to do with this post and discovering new music, you ask? I realized when I compiled my list of 25 albums, that at least ten of them are ones I’ve discovered in the last several years (including older classics I hadn’t heard before). If I simply stopped listening to new music at age 30, Canyon night and my playlist would look considerably different.
Because I’m sure you’re now all dying to see the Canyon albums, here is Steve’s list in a fantastic blog post, and Sari’s list is equally epic. My top album choices and descriptions are below. And because we all need some good music in our lives, at the end of this post is a Spotify playlist that includes all 73 of our featured songs (73 because Sari and I chose two of the same songs).
So keep listening to new music, experience new things, learn more about yourself, and spend time with good people who help you discover these musical gems.
Leah’s Laurel Canyon Top 25 Collection (in no particular order)
Eagles ~ “One of These Nights” (1975)
It’s hard to pick an Eagles album because they all represent the Canyon so well. But “One of These Nights” is really when the Henley-Frey songwriting magic gels. I think this is one of their most collaborative albums, including songs written and sang by band-mates Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner (both hailing from Canyon bands the Flying Burrito Brothers and Poco, respectively). For me, it doesn’t get better than the harmonies in “Lyin’ Eyes,” which I could (and have) listen to on repeat. But I’m also partial to “Hollywood Waltz,” “After the Thrill is Gone,” “One of These Nights,” and of course, “Take It to the Limit.”
Itasca ~ “Open to Chance” (2016)
Kayla Cohen (who plays under the name Itasca) is a singer, songwriter and guitarist who lives in Los Angeles. Her folk sound is reminiscent of the Laurel Canyon female vibe. I find myself getting lost in her earthy voice and guitar sound, reminiscent of Joni Mitchell or Joan Baez. “Open to Chance” is her first full album release. Her voice often accompanies me when the house is asleep and I’m working late in the evening.
Dawes ~ “North Hills” (2009)
I can’t think of a more contemporary band that captures the Laurel Canyon vibe more than Dawes. Taylor Goldsmith, lead singer/songwriter, credits musicians like Warren Zevon and Jackson Browne as heavy influences to his songwriting and the sounds of their Los Angeles-based band. “North Hills” is not my favorite Dawes album. But it’s their first release and the one, I believe, most captures the Canyon vibe. It was really tough to choose the featured song; but I think “Love is All I Am” is the most Canyon-esque, with harmonies reminiscent of an America or Crosby, Stills and Nash tune.
James Taylor ~ “Sweet Baby James” (1970)
You really can’t discuss Canyon without James Taylor. I think “Sweet Baby James” is one of his best albums and very representative of Laurel Canyon. You can’t get much better than “Fire and Rain.” But “Country Road,” “Blossom,” and “Sweet Baby James” can’t be ignored either. Taylor is often cited as one of the first to be included in the 1970s singer-songwriter movement. I think this album is emblematic of that depiction of Taylor and Laurel Canyon. And he looks good on the album cover.
Warren Zevon ~ “Warren Zevon” (1976)
Warren Zevon is an interesting character who clearly influenced the Laurel Canyon sound, even though I doubt he wanted credit for that. A recent article about Zevon included a comment that a musician’s best song cannot be your favorite song. The best song belongs to everyone where the favorite belongs just to you, said the writer. Most agree “Desperados Under the Eaves” is Zevon’s best song. I’m breaking the rule and listing it as my featured song because it’s just so damn good.
Neil Young ~ “Harvest” (1972)
I firmly believe there are musicians, books and movies that don’t resonate with you until you need to hear them. Neil Young is an example of that musician for me. For most of my life, Young was not a singer I gravitated to; but over the years, his sound and words have grown on me and I’m partial to songs with a harmonica sound. While I’ve been listening to “Harvest Moon” (1992) lately, I believe it’s Young’s “Harvest” album that really establishes him musically and is emblematic of the Canyon sound.
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young ~ “Déjà Vu” (1970)
I would have preferred to include a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young greatest hits album on this Canyon list, but I know greatest hits compilations are kind of cheating. I went with “Déjà Vu” because I consider it one of the earliest forays into the Canyon sound; almost a pre-curser to the movement. It’s also a heck of a good album with songs like “Carry On,” “Teach Your Children,” “Our House,” and I’m a big fan of the dog on the album cover.
Carole King ~ “Tapestry” (1971)
Carole King’s “Tapestry” album is truly a masterpiece, and it’s almost too good to believe it’s one album. It’s incredible to think all these songs are on one album, and not a greatest hits collection. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like King does not get the credit she deserves for being such a strong female Canyon artist. Perhaps because she was more of a songwriter for other singers before a singer. You hear more about Joni Mitchell or Linda Ronstadt as Canyon leading ladies. Both incredible in their own right; but King deserves her fair share of respect.
Jackson Browne ~ “Late for the Sky” (1974)
Jackson Browne is another epitome of the Laurel Canyon scene. His music and songwriting is certainly in the Canyon vein. But his presence in the Canyon is also a huge part of his identity. After all, he shared a duplex with Glenn Frey and Don Henley before the Eagles were the band they became. He wrote half of “Take It Easy” and persuaded David Geffen to sign the Eagles to Asylum Records. “Late for the Sky” includes the most of my favorite Browne songs. It was tough to chose one to feature. “Fountain of Sorrow” and “For a Dancer” are two of my favorites. But I have to give the listen to, what I think, is his most powerful songwriting with “Before the Deluge.”
Linda Ronstadt ~ “Heart Like a Wheel” (1974)
You can’t pick a bad Linda Ronstadt album or song because her voice is absolute perfection and pure magic. I went with “Heart Like a Wheel” because of my fondness for “You’re No Good,” “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore,” “Dark End of the Street,” “When Will I Be Loved,” and “You Can Close Your Eyes.”
Fleetwood Mac ~ “Rumours” (1977)
Fleetwood Mac is one of those bands that is at its best when all five members are playing together and have a hand in each song. To me, “Rumours” is emblematic of that ensemble production. In fact, they should have titled the album “The Chain” since that song is so indicative of this band’s theme. I like many of the songs on their debut album and subsequent recordings. But “Rumours” seems to be their best work together, which is evident from the abundance of hits on this record.
Tom Petty ~ “Wildflowers” (1994)
One can debate whether Tom Petty is true Laurel Canyon or whether he belongs in a hybrid category of southern/California rock. Certainly his work with The Heartbreakers would fall into the later category. I find his solo work, the “Wildflowers” album in particular, the closest he comes to the Canyon vibe. He also spent quite a bit of time in that Southern California area, with the likes of Stevie Nicks and Canyon performers. So to me, Petty is an honorary Canyon member.
America ~ “Homecoming” (1972)
America represents that quintessential Canyon style and sound. Ironically the band was formed in England while the band members were living in London while their fathers were U.S. Air Force personnel. I love so many of their songs that are on other albums (“Sister Golden Hair,” “Horse With No Name,” and “Lonely People”). But “Ventura Highway” is classic Southern California. It was on every mix tape that went with me as I drove Highway 101 to Santa Barbara.
Israel Nash ~ “Lifted” (2018)
Israel Nash is a singer/songwriter who lives in Texas, originally hailing form the Ozarks of Missouri. But you may think you’re listening to Neil Young, and “Lifted” is described as a modern day hippie-spiritual collection. The sound, songs and Nash’s voice put him squarely in the Canyon vibe for me.
The Mamas and The Papas ~ “If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears” (1966)
The Mamas and the Papas are such an interesting group of people, and they all have such incredible voices in their own right. But together, the harmonies are incredible and produce a unique and distinctly California style. Since “California Dreamin’” is a favorite of mine, I went with their debut album.
Judee Sill ~ “Heart Food” (1973)
I was only recently introduced to Judee Sill, but after one listen to “Heart Food” and researching her background, it’s clear she belongs in the top Canyon collection (she was the first artist signed to David Geffen’s Asylum Records). She has such a troubled background, which adds an interesting element to her calming voice and music; it’s really too bad she was not more recognized with success. “The Phoenix” has been on repeat as of late, and it has soothed my soul in a way I desperately needed.
Traveling Wilburys ~ “The Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1” (1988)
The Traveling Wilburys may be a controversial pick for the Canyon collection. With the exception of maybe Tom Petty, the individual artists themselves do not hail from Canyon roots. However, put them together as Wilburys and I feel like their songs have that inclusive Canyon vibe, especially as collaboration is very much a Canyon trait. The Traveling Wilburys are the ultimate collaboration. It’s too bad that Roy Orbison passed away so soon into this venture, as I think they would have had a long run.
Lowen and Navarro ~ “Pendulum” (1995)
David Eric Lowen and Dan Navarro met in the 1980s as songwriters. Little known fact: the two wrote Pat Benatar’s hit, “We Belong.” In an NPR story, they talked about how they didn’t like each other at all. But when they wrote songs and performed together, they were stronger than being apart. So they made a pact to stick together despite differences. They were active creating their own indie rock music in Los Angeles in the 1990s. I discovered this album in 1998 and it’s always stuck with me (I still have the CD). Sadly their twosome career was cut short when Lowen died of ALS in 2012.
Don Henley ~ “The End of the Innocence” (1989)
Whereas Glenn Frey’s solo career pivoted more toward 1980s rock, much of Don Henley’s post-Eagles work stayed within the Canyon sound. “The End of the Innocence” is still one of my favorites. But you also can’t overlook songs of the storytelling nature like “New York Minute” and the compelling “The Heart of the Matter.” Henley’s strength is his songwriting, and his best works are ones that stay within the Canyon themes (hence why you’ll never find “Dirty Laundry” on a playlist of mine).
Gregory Page ~ “The Romantic Adventures of Harry” (1998)
Gregory Page was well known in the San Diego music scene from playing alongside Jewel, Steve Poltz, and The Rugburns. He was a Saturday night performing regular at Java Joe’s in Ocean Beach, where I saw him many times in my formative post-college/single life year of 1998. I listened to it again recently, after a very long hiatus and I still think it’s as good as you’d find coming out of Laurel Canyon. His songwriting and singing talent is the type who would do really well today, where mediums like YouTube and Spotify could give him more exposure and popularity.
Farewell Milwaukee ~ “Autumn Rest Easy” (2009)
Can we really consider a band that hails from Wisconsin in a Laurel Canyon Top 25 list? Some may say no. But Farewell Milwaukee has such a great sound that reminds me of anything that was out of the Canyon. Their folk/indie rock sound comes through in spades with ”Autumn Rest Easy.”
The Byrds ~ “Turn! Turn! Turn!” (1965)
I’ve come to the conclusion that The Byrds can really be two bands with two distinctly different styles. The first Byrds would be in the early to late 1960s with David Crosby and hits like “Turn! Turn! Turn!” and “Mr. Tambourine Man.” The second Byrds band is in the country folk-rock vein, influenced by Gram Parsons. I almost chose two Byrds albums to reflect this distinction (“Sweetheart of the Rodeo” being the other pick), but opted against it because I didn’t want to duplicate artists. I’m partial to early Byrds; hence my choice of album here.
Counting Crows ~ “August and Everything After” (1993)
When I heard Sari included Counting Crows in her top Canyon list, there was no question they needed to be in mine too. This 90s folk/indie rock band is one of my favorites and every track on “August and Everything After” is a story and gem onto itself. Each song conjures up a memory and the album is still in heavy rotation today.
Cowboy Junkies ~ “Trinity Sessions” (1988)
I’ve loved the Cowboy Junkies since first hearing “Me and the Devil Blues” in “Pump Up the Volume” back in 1990. I wasn’t sure if they were Canyon-inspired necessarily, but Margo Timmins’ mesmerizing voice feels like it could have grown out of the Canyon roots of Joni Mitchell and the like. And clearly I’m not alone in my thoughts because Sari and Steve both included Cowboy Junkies in their lists.
Michael Nau ~ “Michael Nau and the Mighty Thread” (2018)
If I’m being honest, Michael Nau is probably considered more indie rock than true Canyon. But his songwriting yields songs that are simple and no frills, yet complex at the same time. I think the Canyon crowd would appreciate the work, and how else was I going to share these tunes with Sari and Steve?
Thanks for hanging with this post. I know it was a long one. Hopefully it was worth it!