Replica for a Heavyweight

Will EMI's remastering of 11 classic albums with the original packaging on CD and 180-gram vinyl make you buy your favorite records one more (last?) time?

In case you dispute that the "classic rock" demographic cared way more about the music of their youth than any generation before or since, consider this:

No one ever replicated 78s.

C'mon, if you dug Bing Crosby that much, wouldn't you demand reissues of those clunky albums with the lousy three-color artwork that housed a half-dozen easily breakable 10-inch records? Wouldn't you want to get up out of your easy chair a dozen times to crank up the Victrola for a half-hour's worth of Dinah Shore? Isn't a little minor back pain worth it, just to get that ol'-time feeling? Of course not, ya rhubarb!

Between the buttons, behind the zipper: EMI's reissue of the Stones' Sticky Fingers offers a brief encounter with Andy Warhol's legendary cover art.
Between the buttons, behind the zipper: EMI's reissue of the Stones' Sticky Fingers offers a brief encounter with Andy Warhol's legendary cover art.

People from the distant past weren't anywhere near as nostalgic as we are now. That's why they cultivated long-term memories -- so they could regale us with agonizing stories about how they suffered so much when they were young. Punctuated, of course, with this favorite turn o' phrase -- "You little shits, you have it too good!"

I don't know about your ongoing prosperity, but thanks to the generous Catalog Marketing Group at EMI and classic rock fans' predilection for buying multiple configurations of the same damned music, I'm now on my third and fourth copies of Sticky Fingers, the first Stones record I ever owned, and my second copy of Avalon, the last Roxy Music album I ever bought. I've even acquired a vinyl replica of R.E.M.'s Documentin the bargain. Even so, I'm positively spooked by EMI's choices. Short of spying on me like an extraterrestrial for the past 25 years and taking tissue samples from my butt cheek, they've managed to come up with 11 albums I once owned, but which have long since vanished from my shelves.

If you believe you can tell a person's whole life story by perusing his music collection, then the holes in that collection will tell an equally compelling story, one about the secrets he keeps, the wild nights he can't quite remember and the people who were once a part of his life. Since part of the love of music involves sharing it with people you cherish, you have to figure losing about five to 10 records every time love fades to nothing and friendships go south. The records are a snap to replace, but the reasons for owning them aren't so easy to replicate.

So let's rifle through all these reissues in an effort to divine where our original copies wound up. We'll spill some personal beans, you and I, so there'll never be any secrets between us ever again.

The Rolling Stones
Sticky Fingers (1971)

Truly the most universally acknowledged classics in this series belong to the Rolling Stones, whose early '70s output will always remind me of my first girlfriend. Her name was Josie. I called her my girlfriend, but actually she just let me hang around her like fuzzy dice around a rearview mirror. She was an older woman (10th grade) and usually never went anywhere without her ersatz Glimmer Twin, a girl named Stephanie. Both girls were way too worldly for high school, having once allegedly hung out with Ron Wood and Keith Richards at the Carlyle Hotel during the Stones' 1975 Tour of the Americas. They were especially thorough Keith emulators who'd come to school wearing Moroccan scarves, purple velvet pants and snakeskin boots just like the kind Keith's sporting on Sticky Fingers' inner sleeve (further proof of the important iconography that is lost when you reduce album art to the size of a beer coaster). Josie and Stephanie even cultivated terrible dental hygiene in an effort to look more like their then-toothless hero.

We struck up a friendship one day when Josie noticed I was wearing orange corduroys and a black sweater like Brian Jones on the cover of High Tide and Green Grass. Although I regret it now, I used to stay up late at night watching Twilight Zone reruns to get bags under my eyes in a pathetic effort to create that Jonesian optical sag. That's the trouble with emulating rock stars with destructive lifestyles, you either fail miserably or succeed all too well.

The last time I saw Josie, I lent her my copy of Sticky Fingers with the fully functioning zipper and she lent me her copy of Between the Buttons, appropriately enough. By the end of 10th grade, she and Stephanie dropped out and no one at our school ever saw them again. Years later, I got the courage to call her house, and when I asked for her, her mother just went silent for about 10 seconds and cryptically hung up the phone. Guess that demon life got Josie in its sway.

The Rolling Stones
Exile on Main Street (1972)

I avoided buying this album for years on account of a grade school Beatles vs. Stones debate I got into with a hairy-knuckled brute named Joseph Navotney, who took the position that the Stones were the superior musical combo. A crowd quickly gathered around us, and I scored some early points with an informed "Sgt. Pepper rules over Satanic Majesties" salvo. Eventually, our debate just degenerated into name-calling and shoving when Navotney got in my face and said, "What's better, Exile on Main Street or 'Mary Had a Little Lamb?'" -- Wings' current single. Ouch! Although it was a cheap shot, comparing a Stones double album to one sucky Wings single, he was right. At that time, none of the Beatles' solo careers was anything to brag about. I got laughed at pretty hard that day and as a result didn't buy Exile until the mid-'80s, after Rolling Stone magazine named it the third-greatest album of all time and Joseph Navotney was doing time at Rikers Island.

When the earliest Stones CDs came out, I gave my vinyl copy of Exile to my friend Bill, one of the first and most stubborn of the world's CD holdouts. He finally caved and bought a player in 1993, after the lure of actor Ted Knight's atrocious Hi Guy! album coming out on disc proved too irresistible.

Grand Funk
We're an American Band(1973)

Being a chronic record-club joiner and quitter, I remember owning We're an American Band for a short while before trading it to a friend. The record-club versions were usually cheaper reproductions pressed on pop-and-click vinyl and without bonuses like the cool stickers offered in this reissue. This album marks the crucial point in Grand Funk's career when the guys added a keyboard player and started having Top 40 hits, which pissed off their hard-core fans. Even the cover scared 'em off.

Check out that Lynn Goldsmith nude centerfold of the boys romping in the hay. It made their more macho fans long for the days of Survivaltwo years before, when Mark, Don and Mel at least had the decency to wear loincloths and look like carnivores. Like Exile, We're an American Bandcame in one of those "Unipack" covers, where the record slides out of the center of the opened gatefold sleeve. While cheaper to make, these covers fell out of favor because it was hard to roll a joint on them. Quite a difference from Grand Funk's 1970 "red album," where the image of Don Brewer's creased face in the center of that sleeve saw more pot resin than any other figure in rock history.

Paul McCartney and Wings
Band on the Run(1973)

My vinyl copy of Band on the Run was a party casualty, its cover having been fatally hurled upon by a casual school chum, Tommy Lichetti, who promised to replace it, and, of course, never did. I kept the record and its poster inside another Wings album, the not nearly as good Wings at the Speed of Sound.

If you wonder why Paul loved Linda so much, look no further than the album's poster collage of band Polaroids. Linda received photography credit for it and yet it contains the single most horrible photograph of her ever reproduced, the kind most people would've destroyed before it could oxidize any further. She probably included it in a bid to be "just one of the guys." Sure, it grossed out some fellas, but I seem to remember it was always girls like my friend Marcie Kleban, who really loved Paul, that always brought up Linda's unshaved armpits. "They're the same length as Denny Laine's," she cried. I'm sure that poster was many a young lad's first introduction to the strange and catty world of the fairer sex.

Heart
Dreamboat Annie (1976)

I once loved a girl named Sara Pace, and in the short while we were together, I had to listen to a lot of Heart. Not that I minded. They were easy on the eyes and ears back in the day, not as awful as they would become in the power ballad years when Ann Wilson would be humbled into screeching Diane Warren lyrics. Even so, I always thought Heart was ripping off Led Zeppelin. I even said it to Sara once, which had an adverse effect on the number of times she would let me in her house when her mother wasn't around. If I'd been thinking straight, I would've admitted to her that Robert Plant was ripping off all of womankind with his dainty waist-tied blouses and dramatic hair tosses. Such was the "do you want your ass kicked" aura surrounding Led Zeppelin that it was unthinkable to ever call him a poseur. When I lost Sara to another guy, I was inconsolable and no longer wanted to hear women sing cock rock. So I traded it to a sympathetic pal for a real pussy of an album -- Queen II!

The Steve Miller Band
Fly Like an Eagle (1976)

There's a space in my collection between Will Success Spoil Mrs. Miller?and The Best of the Mills Brothers, and that's where Steve Miller would've resided had I not given my copy of Fly Like an Eagle to Sara. We only got to go to one stadium concert together, and even though it was pretty boring whenever Steve strayed away from the hits, we got to hold hands and kiss under the moon and stars during his dull blues jams like "Sweet Marie," so I was always grateful to him for that. I think it was also noteworthy for being the first time I thought of leaving a concert before the encores to beat the traffic coming out. Sometimes when I hear "Fly Like an Eagle" today, I still think of Sara. But mostly, I just think of Express Mail.

Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band
Live Bullet (1976)
Night Moves (1976)

I never bought either of these Bob Seger albums for the simple reason that I never liked his music or his band all that much. Even back in the '70s, when he was still a relatively young guy, he'd always be reminiscing about his puberty like it had happened sometime during the Paleozoic era. In two years' time, he'd be writing songs Kenny Rogers could cover. In 10 years' time, he'd start looking like Kenny Rogers.

My only experience listening to his records was with a girl named Alicia, whom I dated off and on for a good year and a half. Since I'd always been involved with girls who were really passionate about music like me, I decided to go with a girl who didn't get all worked up about records. That way, when we did break up, it wouldn't ruin a huge chunk of great music for me. The only records I could remember Alicia owning and occasionally playing were really dull things like Ambrosia, Gentle Giant, the Little River Band, and Bob Seger. This was perfect! Whenever we'd get together, we'd play her dull records.

Eventually, I got curious and borrowed Live Bullet, which seemed like the biggest collection of Chuck Berry perversions all gathered in one place, discounting Berry Park. Bullet also contained the song that's been every working musician's misfortune to hear when he's loading out gear after a show -- the thoroughly depressing "Turn the Page." Seger actually plops that downer five songs into the set, and it's like trying to get over the Kennedy assassination for the remainder of the record.

I always regretted not being nicer to Alicia. We used to fight a lot, and when she stormed out for good, I remember making sure to throw her rotten albums out after her. Not being nuts about them in the first place, she never returned to collect them. It was a week before I finally brought them back inside, and by then, Night Moves, which had been left to bake outside without a sleeve, had melted into an attractive beveled bowl shape. One of the neighbors must've helped himself to Live Bullet,but I've been trying to unload the Gentle Giant and Ambrosia records at secondhand stores ever since.

The Rolling Stones
Some Girls (1978)

As for Some Girls, it's still at my parents' house in New York with a bunch of other quasi-valuable records I left there for safekeeping. I recall rushing out to buy Some Girls when I heard the cover had been withdrawn and people were saying the original cover was gonna be as rare as the Beatles' "Butcher" cover. Or at least it would have been if a million people and their uncles hadn't already rushed out to buy it. All this fuss because celebrities like Joey Heatherton and Raquel Welch, whose careers could really use the exposure now, objected to being pictured on the inside sleeve. And what was the deal with deleting Marilyn Monroe's face? It's plastered everywhere anyway. Why couldn't the "Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band in the World" secure her used-to-death likeness? They just didn't care. Instead, they plastered "Pardon Our Appearance" graphics over every pictured celebrity, even "Some Guys" like Lee Majors and Henry Fonda. The only celebrity whose face wasn't removed to be on the safe side was George Harrison. No third revised cover ever appeared, which really burned the collectors who snapped up all eight color variations of the "Cover Under Construction" cover in the hopes that this interim façade would be the most valuable. Nowadays, either original vinyl version in the best condition will only garner you a mere 10 bucks. Not even enough to buy a copy of Lynyrd Skynyrd's flaming Street Survivors.

Roxy Music
Avalon (1982)

I purposely filed my Diana Ross and the Supremes anthology under "R" because I suspected Bryan Ferry was still carrying a torch for Jerri Hall, and I wanted to keep "Roxy" and "Rolling Stones" separated out of respect. The press release calls this album one of the great "soundtracks to seduction," but to me it's always been an album about missing a girl. It's no coincidence that it's probably the only Roxy cover not to feature a gorgeous babe on the front, just some old soldier holding his bird. "The Space Between" and "The Main Thing" are great songs for practicing detached looks and avoiding eye contact at parties. "More Than This" just makes me mope over whatever relationship I just screwed up -- for days on end. I got rid of my copy because my mother heard me play it once and said it was pretty and nice, two adjectives she never reserved for any girl I ever brought home.

R.E.M.
Document(1987)

As fine as it is, Document really doesn't belong in this series since it came out in 1987, two years after the compact disc was introduced. Although vinyl was still widely available, crummy prerecorded cassettes were outselling it. If you really want to blame someone for the end of the LP as we knew it, blame those Walkman enthusiasts who were too lazy to tape their own albums. EMI should've punished them by reissuing Documenton cassette only, with all the tape hiss they probably enjoyed remastered back in. And as for "original packaging," how about those infinite folding J-cards that required a degree in engineering to stuff back into the shell case? My original copy? Ha! I taped it off a friend, proving that home piracy really was killing music!

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