Saturday, February 27, 2021

"Going Back to Cali" by LL Cool J

Gold Record Alert!
Song#:  3418
Date:  02/20/1988
Debut:  87
Peak:  31
Weeks:  14
Genre:  Rap, Soundtrack

Pop Bits:  The Rick Rubin-produced soundtrack to the film Less Than Zero was on its way to being a gold seller thanks to its first single, "Hazy Shade of Winter" by the Bangles, reaching #2. The album would get a second boost with this next single from rapper LL Cool J. It was good timing as LL had just had his biggest single on the Pop chart, "I Need Love" (#14), and he was in the process of recording his third album Walking with a Panther, so this song could be used as the LP's first single as well as promoting the soundtrack. The track would almost break into the Pop Top 30 while getting to #12 at R&B. While it wasn't a major hit when first released, the single kept selling over the next couple of years and in 1991 it would be certified gold. Digital sales would later boost its status to platinum in 2017.

ReduxReview:  I can't help but think that Rubin's inspiration for this track came from Tom Waits. It was just a couple years prior that Waits had released his experimental classic Rain Dogs and the production of this track was right in line with what Waits was doing. If that was what Rubin had in mind when doing this track, then it was a good choice. Right from the opening, you knew this was a different style of rap song. The bluesy trumpet set the tone and even LL's delivery was more subtle and soulful. The addition of the horns along with the sax solo further set this track apart from other rap tracks. It was unusual and very cool. It was another new direction for rap at the time and it still sounds great.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  This rap track was a bit unusual in that it used a real horn section. It would be more common to use samples as enhancements, but for this song producer Rick Rubin brought in an actual horn section and basically told them to come up with their own arrangement, which ended up including a sax solo. It seems Rubin also gave LL the concept for the song. Rubin had been toying on whether to make the move from NYC to LA since he had been traveling to the West Coast quite a bit. LL took Rubin's waffling and applied it to the track's chorus, which basically says he's going back to Cali (short for California), but then quickly backtracks and says, "I don't think so." While the track has remained one of LL's most popular in his catalog, he wasn't a fan of it to being with. In an article in Entertainment Weekly where LL was asked about some of his songs, he said that this one took him out of his comfort zone and it took him a long while to finally appreciate the track.

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