Why L.A. Guns reigns supreme among Sunset Strip bands Of The ’80s

I was in a friend’s car in the summer of 1988. We were talking about all the great music that was happening around that time, including Guns N’ Roses, who, even by this time, were quickly shedding their cult status–especially with their monster MTV performance at The Ritz earlier in the year. As we continued our conversation, he slipped in a cassette copy of the self-titled L.A. Guns album, which came out a month before GNR’s televised mainstream breakthrough.

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It took less than ten seconds of the first song, No Mercy, to have me nodding my head and having deep resonance with my street/punk sensibilities. Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely loved all things GNR and did so enthusiastically, like millions of others–for the next few years.

But, something that day was implanted in my musical heart, whose true currency would not be fully valued and recognized for more than thirty years.

That L.A. Guns were, in my opinion, the best band of that era from the whole Sunset Strip scene.

They had street cred with their sound and look, just oozing more of a cohesive grit and grime of rock and roll badass attitude. They also had the hot, British vocals of Phil Lewis. There wasn’t a singer close to that perfect combination of screaming banshee and seductive/soothing delivery. Simply put, he had not only the sexiest voice but also one that sounded wise and ready for battle.

Then there is Tracii Guns. We all have our favourite guitarists for many reasons. He’s in my top ten because of his talent, style, and attitude. The fact that his three favourite guitarists are Jimmy Page, Johnny Thunders, and Randy Rhoads lets you know his domain of influences is not only masterclass in nature but also integral in shaping the unique and lasting sound of L.A. Guns.

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Do you want to know what the best ballad from that era is?

And technically, while it’s a slower song, it is about a serious issue of heroin addiction. It is One Way Ticket. It hasn’t aged one bit because of Phil Lewis’s vocals and Tracii Gun’s sweet, sad guitar. That is easily some of the best stuff you will ever hear. In that decade, or any other.

So, it didn’t surprise that L.A. Guns kept putting out great albums, with some of their best work just coming in recent years. Their 2017 album, The Missing Piece, sounds perfectly urgent and needed. Most bands of that era have either broken up or stopped putting out new music. And the idea of a band from that era putting out an album that sounds contemporary and believable is totally unheard of.

No offence, but L.A. Guns have lapped their contemporaries many times over in terms of putting out new music and stretching themselves within their own enviable coolness.

The first time I heard Speed, I had the same feeling as when I heard No Mercy. What amazing validation to know that your favourite band from that era could now officially have that distinction forever. As many of you know, almost all my reviews and listening are in the space of stoner/desert/doom rock. But the ‘Gunners have had a special place in my heart that is beyond nostalgic. It is a story of survival, musicianship, friendship, and credibility that transcends time for me.

2021’s Checkered Past was equally stellar, with Get Along easily being one of my favourites. It’s a breezy lovesong of separation and reconciliation, much like some of the history of the band.

So, there was great anticipation for their latest album, Black Diamonds. Damn. The band has just grown stronger, wiser, and more valuable over time. Again, the band historically delivers with a first song. Diamonds is a soulful number that sings to a band that might be battle-weary but not even close to exiting gracefully or quietly.

If you have never fully explored this band, now is the perfect time to listen to their massive body of work. Let me help you get started with my top 20 songs from them.

L.A. Guns – Top 20 Songs

  1. One More Reason
  2. Malaria
  3. One Way Ticket
  4. Hollywood Tease
  5. No Mercy
  6. Speed
  7. Electric Gypsy
  8. Get Along
  9. Ballad of Jayne
  10. Diamonds
  11. Sex Action
  12. You Betray
  13. Never Enough
  14. Cannonball
  15. Shoot for Thrills
  16. Shattered Glass
  17. Crystal Eyes
  18. Magdalaine
  19. Rip and Tear
  20. Gave It All Away

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Comments

  1. Cool article; their catalog of songs is very long / diverse and impressive. My top song from LA Guns is “OVER THE EDGE” a big song for many a skydiver/thrill seeker …. made the movie Point Break and skydiving even better. It didn’t even crack your top 20.

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