Thank God it’s free! (Rock Goes to College)

rgtc-1If you’ve found this blog on your own it’s probably because you did a search. And if you did a search it’s probably because you are crazy about The Cars, and if you are crazy about The Cars you have, in all likelihood, seen their iconic performance on Rock Goes to College. If somehow you missed it, get ready for the best rock-and-roll half hour of your life!

“Rock Goes to College (RGTC) was a BBC series that ran between 1978 and 1981 on British television. A variety of up-coming rock oriented bands were showcased live from small venues and broadcast simultaneously on television and radio during a 40-50 minute live performance. The venues were mall university, polytechnic or college halls holding a few thousand people; often tickets were given to the Students’ Union to distribute for free. The bands chosen were also, in some cases, bands which did not have a mainstream following at that time although many went on to be very successful. A BBC DJ would also be present to introduce the band for the television audience.” (Wikipedia)

On November 22, 1978, in the throes of promoting their self-titled debut album, The Cars played at the University of Sussex in Brighton, England. The episode was aired on RGTC on January 13, 1979.

The Cars did not have a good experience in the UK. Apparently there was some controversy about the promotion of The Cars’ picture disc for “My Best Friend’s Girl” which took a hit on the band’s potential popularity. Music critics slammed them, and Ric had a shoulder bag (including a lyrics/poetry book) stolen during their visit. Ironically, the single MyBFG  peaked at number 3 on the UK charts, so at least they had that to soothe them. The Cars did not play in England again, though they did do record signings and promotional appearances from time to time, and later recorded their album, Heartbeat City, in London.*

In spite of being ‘officially’ less than two years old, the seasoned professionalism of this band is evident all throughout the video. Though the reception from the English audience was lukewarm at best, and some of their behavior was downright rude, The Cars rocked on and did what they were created to do: deliver a blistering show purely for the love of it.

Let me detail some of the garbage they had to put up with:

During the first verse of “Bye Bye Love,” some putz in the audience throws what appears to be a drink onto the stage. Benjamin’s face turns to stone, and the increased intensity of his vocals gives away the instant anger he feels. You are left with no doubt of his emotions when he mouths the words, “I’m going to get you” after the first verse. And through all that drama, our darling Benjamin doesn’t miss a note; in fact if anything his performance gets even hotter as he channels all that justified frustration into the song. You can see his demeanor change during the bridge to the third chorus and he flashes a smug little smile… Personally, I like to speculate that the jackass was removed from the audience at that point as you can see (what I interpret to be) triumph in Benjamin’s beautiful eyes as he follows him out.

Unfortunately all the jerks in the audience aren’t gone, because just before the beginning of “Don’t Cha Stop” you can hear an idiot in the crowd shout out, “Thank God it’s free!” (a sentiment I agree with, but for different reasons!). And still, the band is not deterred. Elliot lays into his smoking intro like nobody’s business, and he and Benjamin spend most of the song playing off each other’s rock and roll energy. It’s fabulous.

Elliot’s shirt is clearly wet in more than the ‘sweaty’ way – more drinks being thrown? Speculation, of course. The crowd is slow to respond between songs, wide camera sweeps show general inattention and milling around, and the chattering during the emcee’s intro reflects obvious disinterest. There are a few audio and camera issues that might leave you shaking your head, too. And yet, in spite of all this, The Cars play such a tight and exciting set; it leaves my heart pounding with the thrill. They rise above it all and it’s ALL about THEM. Glorious.

I am so grateful to be able to have access to this piece of Cars history — so yes, “thank God it’s free!” I’ve watched it a zillion times. I have SO much gushing to do about Benjamin; his charisma and appeal in this concert are off.the.chain. For the sake of time, however, I’m going to save all of those observations for later posts… So yeah, you’ve got that to look forward to. Hahaha! (You’re welcome!)

Okay, enough details, right? Are you ready to indulge? First off here is the official set list:

  1.  Just What I Needed
  2. Good Times Roll
  3. I’m in Touch with Your World
  4. My Best Friend’s Girl
  5. Moving In Stereo
  6. All Mixed Up
  7. Night Spots
  8. Bye Bye Love
  9. Don’t Cha Stop
  10. You’re All I’ve Got Tonight

And here we go; here’s the link to the video:

 

In addition to the set list above, there is footage of two more songs The Cars played during the show as an encore that didn’t air on the broadcast: “Candy-O” and “Hotel Queenie.” I’m adding links to those, too. Enjoy!

 

*Sources: the final interview included on The Cars Live — Musikladen 1979 DVD, released 10/2000; the article “The Cars Spin Home,” The Globe, December 1978; and Wikipedia

Quoting Benjamin

“I always knew what I wanted to do, and I never worried about it. I knew I would always be able to make some dollars; I knew I would always have a good time doing it, ‘cause I never had a bad time doing it. You do what you do at the spur of the moment. If you think it’s silly later on, you either keep  making the same mistakes, or you move on and try to get a little better. Not that anything in any band I’ve ever been in has felt funny. It’s always credible.” — Elektra Bio, The Lace press kit, 1986

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Never forget…

Look what came in the mail today! I was fortunate enough to get an order in on this limited edition Benjamin Orr memorial t-shirt. It was created as a labor of love by graphic artist Kurt Gaber, and with the blessing of Philip Kamin, who is the photographer of the original image. It is so beautiful! I am grateful to both of these men for having hearts willing to keep Benjamin’s memory and legacy alive.

I am thrilled to have another way to honor the life of such a kind, humble, talented, and respected man.

Moving In Stereo

I’ve said it before (and I’m sure I’ll say it again!), that Benjamin is the perfect person to sing Ric’s lyrics. That man could belt out any string of nonsense and you’d be convinced that it was your life’s motto. I’m not exactly sure what I’m supposed to be connecting with when I sing, “Life’s the same, I’m moving in stereo; life’s the same, except for my shoes…” but if Benjamin believes it then so do I, and I warble along with intensity. (Yeah, I’m not a very good singer.)

Showing up as the 8th track on the 1978 debut album The Cars, ‘Moving In Stereo’ is right up there on my list of the most forceful and effective rock numbers the band ever recorded, and listening to it can be a surreal experience. I highly encourage headphones, and if you can manage it, find a dark place away from distractions. Better yet, head out for a late night or early morning run (before the sun comes up) with this playing in your ears (but be safe about it); it is a powerful experience.

The song starts out with that futuristic synth lead-in, carrying  you off toward the heavens, and then the rhythm guitar snags your ankle and anchors you in the sky. You become cloaked in Benjamin’s beautiful voice, flowing from ear to ear, as Greg continues to beguile you with his gentle notes.

All of a sudden the drums, bass, and lead guitar jump in with a hard, pulsating beat that you cannot resist. All six elements are working together to encapsulate you… You are surrounded, invaded, immersed in this swirling twirl of dense, hypnotic sounds that seem to carry you higher and higher, and you feel like you could actually lose yourself forever in this musical continuum… until Benjamin’s incredible bass run hauls you back into the atmosphere and his seductive vocals attempt to soften your return to the ground.

Somehow it still comes as a shock, though, when the song ends and you find that, well, life’s the same… you were just moving in stereo.

As an aside, I have a feeling that the producer, Roy Thomas Baker, knew what a hard landing it could be at the end of this song, and that’s probably why he chose to have it blend perfectly into the beginning of track 9, ‘All Mixed Up’… a stunning ballad that warrants its own write-up at a later date.

Another noteworthy tidbit is that this song is one of only four for which Greg Hawkes received a writing credit (the others being “This Could Be Love,” “It’s Not the Night,” and “Go Away.”); all other songs written solely by Ric, of course.

And now, for your viewing pleasure… a 1978 performance of ‘Moving In Stereo’ that was included on the 2006 Unlocked DVD.

As you know, I can never get enough of Benjamin and he is over-the-top-hot in this video (the blonde hair and the black leather; the way he works that bass at 3:38 makes me crazy), but when Elliot takes center stage about half way through I get a little ga-ga. That teasing smile as he plays with Ric at 2:35 — delicious! Of course, the poor guy gets caught up in his cord there for a minute afterward, but it was worth it to see him up front. As they always do when playing live, the band locks into each other and delivers a terrific performance.

Quoting Benjamin

“I hated Paris. Most people knew how to speak English but they’d fall back on their French and it was really hard to communicate. Now I’m looking for my first Frenchman over here so I can get back at them.” – returning home from Europe; The Globe, December, 1978.

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