The Camaro sat in our back yard for a month before I was old enough to drive it, parked right next to the functioning septic tank (one of the last in Granada Hills!), surrounded by a garden of weeds turned golden from neglect. The car, a white ‘68, was my revved-up monument to Valleyness, a dick on wheels to slink down Balboa, Plummer, Nordhoff and Roscoe too late at night in hot pursuit of chili cheeseburgers and liquor stores that would sell stupid, thirsty boys a case of Michelob to soothe our throats, parched from the ingestion of too much cheap pot.
Almost as important as the vehicle itself, of course, were the tunes emanating from it, sonic nitro fuel for the muscle car. Really, only one rule of thumb applied: If it sounded good on headphones turned up to 11, it would surely kick righteous ass screaming from a pair of rad Pioneer car speakers, flying toward a No Possible Bust kegger up in Bouquet Canyon. That meant stocking up with tapes of perennials like Fly Like an Eagle, Dark Side of the Moon and The Cars. My first purchase was Heart’s Dreamboat Annie. Already owning a vinyl copy, I knew it passed the test: Ann Wilson‘s lemon-squeezin’ banshee shrieks, the Val-friendly riffing of ”Magic Man“ and ”Crazy on You.“ And, you know, ”White Lightning and Wine“ sounded bitchen hitting those speed bumps while rolling into the James Monroe High School parking lot at 8 in the morning. Whoo-ya, dude.
Who could have known that it would all come crashing down a mere half-decade later, when shiny little discs called CDs reared their ugly little heads, depriving us of the many quirks and pleasures of vinyl — its pops and grooves, its analog warmth, its size and its smell, especially that slightly musty, damp odor that wafted through record shops like Slipped Disc and Adam‘s Apple. While CDs certainly had sonic advantages, they cheesed out on packaging. Dreamboat Annie, for example, was totally castrated. Where was the almighty gatefold, printed on slick, thick cardboard, with all those hot pix of those foxy Wilson sisters? ’Twas a pity: Whole books had been devoted to album-cover graphics, but with the advent of CDs, the art became an afterthought in miniature.
EMI feels our pain, and has recently released a collection of vinyl and CD reissues. Combing through its back catalog, the label has unleashed an uneven collection of mostly ‘70s-era stoner faves, lovingly restored to their original state. You get the usual bells and whistles: All the music is remastered, and the vinyl editions are of the ”virgin“ variety, a snazzy description known only to those who bought Nautilus Superdiscs, Mobil Fidelity Master Recordings and Japanese imports in the ’70s. Original artwork has been restored — which means a functional zipper for the Stones‘ Sticky Fingers on both vinyl and CD; ditto for the post cards on Exile on Main Street. But where’s the withdrawn original Judy Garland–Marilyn Monroe Some Girls cover? Certainly the estates of these dead divas could be paid off in the name of art.
Some of this stuff is pretty cool, but is there anyone out there clamoring for a restored copy of Grand Funk‘s We’re an American Band, arguably one of the worst platinum-selling records of all time? Oh, all right, there is some guilty pleasure in beholding the new vinyl copy, cradling the yellow wax, and opening the shiny, minimalist gold album cover to behold Mark Farner and the boys sitting in the buff, amid a forest of American flags. Some albums are meant to be seen, not heard.
However, others are good for neither. Unfortunately, Capitol Records‘ meal ticket Bob Seger is reissued anyway — both Live Bullet and Night Moves are trotted out in restored form. Well, it’ll make my parents happy. Most of EMI‘s selections, though, are worthy soundtracks for cruising Van Nuys Boulevard: Dreamboat Annie (in both vinyl and gatefold CD); Paul McCartney and Wings’ Band on the Run (a vinyl replica of the 25th-anniversary CD package released last year); and, of course, Steve Miller‘s hesher classic Fly Like an Eagle, though it’s odd that it would be included as a CD-album replica when its original packaging was Spartan to begin with (no gatefold, plain white inner sleeve). For no explicable reason other than exploiting its newer catalog, R.E.M.‘s Document and Roxy Music’s Avalon are included, but they‘re the obvious odd ducks here. Nevertheless, Avalon remains the best soundtrack for seduction this side of Barry White.
The Valley’s now almost two decades away in my rear view mirror. I no longer cradle open bottles of Mickey‘s Big Mouth in my lap while I steer, and the Camaro’s long gone, replaced by a more sensible Volvo. But, thanks to EMI‘s reissues, I can get a comforting, loud-ass blast from the past on the car CD player as I cruise over the Shakespeare Bridge and remember a time when life was as simple as cars, cannibis and KMET. Maybe Bob Seger wasn’t so stupid after all — rock & roll never does forget.