While flipping XM Radio channels on the way home today I caught the tail end of LL Cool J’s song Going Back to Cali. If you haven’t heard this twenty-five-year-old song by now I can’t imagine you wanting to start today, but here it is nonetheless:
I first heard Going Back to Cali on the radio (KJ-103, I think) in the spring of 1988. For the longest time, the only copy I owned of the song was on a home made recording of the song that I had dubbed off the radio.
I spent a lot of time that spring riding around town on my motorcycle (I wouldn’t turn sixteen for another year) trying to track down a copy of Going Back to Cali on cassette. All the small town local music store could tell me was that it hadn’t been released as a single. I even bought LL Cool J’s latest album at the time (1987’s Bigger and Deffer) and was disappointed that it wasn’t there.
Eventually one of the Norman record shops I used to frequent with Justin (Shadowplay Records, probably) told me that the song appeared on the Less than Zero soundtrack. The soundtrack had a few good songs (The Bangles’ Hazy Shade of Winter and Slayer’s cover of In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida) and a few not-so-good ones (Poison’s cover of Rock and Roll All Night …), but it did have Going Back to Cali which was definitely worth dropping $10 for.
Sometimes back then, knowing who performed a song (or in this case, where to obtain it!) was like knowing a secret. There were no phone apps to tell you who performed a song. There was no Internet to assist you in ordering an album. Now, of course, no such boundaries exist. The Going Back to Cali video is available for free via YouTube. The song is available everywhere. The days and weeks I spent driving from store to store have been replaced by a five-second Google search.
But it’s a different kind of searching today’s and tomorrow’s music afficianados are facing and will continue to face. The new challenge isn’t finding any one particular song; it’s about finding the music floating within an ocean of static.
Somewhere out there is a great band making great music that my kids will never discover because MTV is airing reruns of 16 and Pregnant. That’s sad on multiple levels.
(According to Wikipedia, the Less than Zero soundtrack was released on November 6, 1987. The Going Back to Cali single was not released for another year. It was released on December 27, 1988. LL Cool J’s album Walking with a Panther, the LL album that eventually did contain the song, was released on June 9, 1989.)