The other day in the car I found myself answering this question from my 11-year-old: “What the heck is he saying???”
We were at the end of rocking out to Night Spots, and it was where Greg is repeating, “It’s just an automatic line…” I told my son what the words were, and then explained my take on the lyric choice: In a lot of songs the singer repeats a line over and over at the end, and I think it was The Cars’ quirky sense of humor that led them to use those lyrics in kind of a teasing way; maybe poking fun at that habit of singers/songwriters (including themselves). Of course, as I’m telling him this, my own speculation makes me love the song and the band more than ever.
Whether my explanation is accurate or not, there is no denying that Night Spots is a damn fine song, with a heavy, pulsing bass line, a fantastic Elliot guitar solo, and bad-ass lyrics. And of course, Greg’s masterful synthesizer work! The song was written by Ric Ocasek (of course!) for The Cars’ first album, but ended up being used as the seventh track on Candy-O instead. It became a staple of their live sets in 1978 and was played in concerts all the way through 1987.
There are two studio versions published and both seem to exude power, though in different ways. The first one released, of course, is the track on Candy-O. It starts out with a little introduction of the synthesizer melody that hooks you for the entire song, and then the other boys are all in, churning away on that rocking beat. Every instrument is so present in this recording. Put on some headphones and get away by yourself for a few minutes — SO many audio delights here! Ric sings the lyrics perfectly; in fact this is one in a handful of songs where I would say I LOVE his vocals. His unconventional style is exactly what this song demands. Another favorite little tidbit about this tune is that in the live recordings Ric sometimes changes up the description of the woman’s hair: long blonde, blonde long, kinky, curly…
The demo version was recorded in 1978 while the band was in London working on their debut album. Produced by Roy Thomas Baker, this unfinished take was apparently set aside at that time, and it wasn’t released to the world until it came out as part of 1995’s Just What I Needed: The Cars’ Anthology. Again, grab your headphones. This time we start out with an addictive beat, and then the layering begins: guitar, bass, guitar; building until the vocal jumps in, but with an almost entirely different set of lyrics. And here again, Ric’s singing is spot-on. In this version he comes across as rather amused and mocking of the woman in the song; as opposed to the bit of desperation, the awe for her that he portrays in the Candy-O cut. The biggest difference between the two tracks? There is no keyboard part in this early demo, and no blazing EE solo. Where the vinyl is poppish and danceable, this version is very bass-driven and very slinky… sexy. Quite a contrast.
It should be no surprise that I love both recordings. Each one conveys its own mood and message; I easily think of them as two individual songs, rather than one being an early version of the other. I’m going to post links to both of them here. I’ve decided not to use fan vids, mostly because I want to encourage you to close your eyes and focus on this incredible music. Enjoy!