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

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16 thoughts on “Thank God it’s free! (Rock Goes to College)

  1. Awwww it makes me so sad that they had such a bad experience over here. I’m disgusted by the way the crowd reacted to them. Unfortunately at that time I was only 12 and busy fangirling over Duran Duran. Thankfully over the years I think my taste in music has matured and improved and I would like to apologise on behalf of the asshole crowd back in 1979. Some of us Brits love The Cars ❤️❤️❤️

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  2. Thank you for posting this and for the heads up on the Bye Bye Love drink throwing part. I watched it and you have described it perfectly. He is INTENSE after that. Although I’m sorry for him and the band that happened, the silver lining is we get to see him pissed off (which is I think the only time I’ve ever seen him like that- usually so mellow or happy) and a pissed off Ben is an incredible performer and mind blowingly HOT. I will probably watch this 100 more times. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I join the rest in saying thank you! The Cars were essentially my “life sound” in the summers of 1979, and I still love them today. I am completely perplexed by the behavior you described-but perhaps I shouldn’t be, having become a college student myself shortly after this show aired, and, sorry to say, acting the part of the ass at times as well. Such good memories you spark!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I shall look at your other posts, SPJ, and have shared a link to your site with a fellow Cars friend. I am a choir and pop band singer of many years experience, and appreciate just how excellent the band was, how challenging the songs were to perform – talent that just leaps out of the screen! Your fine commentary helped bring back the thrill, feeling 16, 17 again, !

        Liked by 1 person

  4. WOW….Never saw these before! Thanks ever so for posting!!!! Yes, I, too, am SOOOOO SAD gorgeous, sexy, hot Ben has passed on añd no longer making videos. I sure do miss him! Rock god for sure!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wonderfully evocative commentary, sweetpurplejune. I admire your writing style; especially your ability to interpret and explain what was going on on-stage, off-stage and in Ben’s mind. He was SUCH a beautiful man! The Cars were heavily played in the soundtrack of my youth and what an alive, emotional time it was! They were tight and terrific throughout this gig, despite an unappreciative audience. We are lucky to have the film archive for posterity. I was so in love with Ben. What girl wasn’t? Who could resist him? He had it all! I so hope he had a happy, full, and enriched life up until his premature demise from pancreatic cancer. Another rock n’ roll angel, another beautiful soul traveling on.
    Thank you and keep writing, girlfriend!
    Pamela

    Liked by 1 person

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