While working with the kind and talented Dante Tomaselli on our Fanorama article, I couldn’t help but immerse myself in this song for a bit. As you know, Panorama is my favorite Cars album, and “You Wear Those Eyes” is one of the reasons why. It was written by Ric Ocasek, produced by Roy Thomas Baker, and recorded at Cherokee Studios in 1980. It wasn’t released as a single, and because it is on an album that was generally shunned by the critics, I feel like this song never really gets the credit it deserves.
Much to my amazement, many people don’t know that Ric and Benjamin actually share the vocals on this song. Benjamin sings all of the verses, but Ric takes the bridge with “Just take your time, it’s not too late. I’ll be your mirror, you won’t hesitate.” To me it’s so obvious, but you know I’m obsessed with Benjamin’s voice.
And speaking of his voice, I love the way he performs this: that low tone, speaking the words rather than singing them. It adds the perfect mood for this sensual, pulsing song. The swaying bass melody punctured by Greg’s sci-fi sounds and riffs… and then Greg weaves that beautiful orchestral violin right behind Benjamin singing, “I’m easy to be found whenever you come down…” and later behind Ric’s vocals. Gorgeous.
So here are some tidbits I found that you may or may not know about this song…
According to setlist.com (grain of salt, I know), “You Wear Those Eyes” was only played in concert twice: once at Festival Hall in Osaka, Japan, on November 4th, 1980. Fortunately for us the audio from that is available and it is pretty great. Take a listen:
The other performance noted is from Madison Square Garden on December 4th, 1980. There is a tiny teaser of footage on The Cars’ Unlocked DVD… just a snippet (see it at 1:12 just below) where Ric is singing “just take your time” during what is obviously a Panorama concert — I wonder if it’s MSG? It makes me a little crazy to know that that footage exists but has not been released (thanks for pointing it out, Jen!). Keeping my fingers crossed for good things to come in 2017 — seeing a full Panorama concert would be ‘grand delight.’
Now here’s an obscure one you might not know… I came across a reference to “You Wear Those Eyes” in a recent novel! It is mentioned in John Shirley’s 2015 horror thriller (such a coincidence since I was working on my Dante article) Wetbones: The Authorized Edition. Now I confess, I didn’t read the book myself (a little too grisly for me), but I discovered it through Google Books. Here’s a screenshot of it:
Of course, I’m a little annoyed that the author implies that Ric actually sings the whole song; it appears to me that someone didn’t know what they were talking about when they chose the title. But I can get over that fairly easily because, heck, The Cars were mentioned in a modern novel by a strong, relevant, award-winning author! And with a song from Panorama! Pretty cool, overall.
The liner notes for Just What I Needed: The Cars Anthology tells us that the lyric “I’ll be your mirror” is a tribute to the Velvet Underground, who had a song with that title. Nice!
I’ll go ahead and post a link to the album version of this song; if at all possible, turn off the lights and put your headphones on. Oh, and if you need lyrics, click here. Enjoy!
It is 1978. The scene opens with an eight year old boy roaming through a record store in a mall. He is drawn to the face of a beautiful woman, laughing openly and gripping a steering wheel. He recognizes this image; he has seen it before in his siblings’ album collection. He has spent a lot of time examining it front and back, inside and out. He finds it wild, mysterious, a little menacing… He buys the 8-track (his first musical purchase ever) and takes it home. It is, of course, The Cars’ self-titled debut album.
In the darkness of his room, he lies on his bed and listens to “Moving In Stereo.” The composition takes him on a “very mystical, space-like journey.” The sounds, the lyrics, the vocals, all stimulate his imagination. He is electrified… he is hooked. He can’t get enough of the intricate, melodic music; he plays the album over and over. He can’t know that those addictive sounds will blend with other strong influences in his life and set him on a course that will define his career and his ability to release his energy into the world… but they do.
February, 2017. Meet Dante Tomaselli: filmmaker, electronic music composer, and soundscape artist. After studying at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute and the New York School of Visual Arts, Dante went on to produce four feature films, all of which he wrote, directed, and scored on his own. He has also composed three dark ambient albums, with a fourth due to be released in 2017. (See his project list below.) Dante feels the influence of The Cars in all he creates.
“The band has a painterly style. The lyrics and sounds are usually a touch surreal, dreamlike. There is something bright and cheerful on the surface yet the core is often moody and dark. The effect is intoxicating… That’s what I try to do with all of my films and music.”
In Dante’s field, this is particularly important. He works in the realm of horror surrealism. This is not the same category as the traditional scary movie genre like “The Shining” or “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” though he was heavily influenced by such classics as a child. Instead, Dante’s films and music are more representative of the chaos and lack of logic found in one’s own nightmares; the images and emotions that overwhelm the mind in such a state of dark fear.
Because Dante has sound-color synesthesia, certain sounds produce colors and patterns that are projected right out in front of him, like a slide projector. For example, when he hears rain, he’ll see little fiber optic dots, floating specks of colored light, even if he’s indoors. When it comes to The Cars, Dante says listening to them in the dark creates different colors and shapes depending on the song. “I’m triggered by certain kinds of baritone sounds and Moog-like synthesizers. Low-toned and crispy glacial sounds… they glow. Synths are yellow, gold or white. Ric Ocasek’s voice is always dark purple and Ben Orr, royal blue.”
Most of the time, Dante is swirling in a whirlpool of pictures and sounds, which he channels into his work. “Everyone who loves music knows that pleasurable feeling of being completely swept away in a song. The Cars opened that door for me time and time again.”
Dante recalls his first exposure to the Panorama album. “I was 10 and it was 1980. I was in my sister’s room… I remember staring at the cover and back and inner sleeve, reading the bizarre lyrics in a daze. I was in love with their first two albums and was foaming at the mouth to experience Panorama. Soon it was playing on her excellent stereo and I was one of those people that never needed to warm up to Panorama… for me, everything just clicked.”
“You Wear Those Eyes” was one song that immediately jumped out at Dante.
“When I first heard it, I was shocked. ‘You Wear Those Eyes’ didn’t sound like a normal song in any way. I couldn’t believe that the beat – the electronic crashing sound – kept repeating itself over and over. It never stopped. I thought it was very bleak and cold. Yet there was an underlying warmth in Ben Orr’s rich vocal bass sounds and deep hypnotic voice. I enjoyed Elliot Easton’s churning, flickering guitar; the hallucinogenic lyrics. Greg Hawkes’ 3-D-like electronic soundscapes trapped me in a synth pop dungeon.”
For a man who is so visual, it is no surprise that “You Wear Those Eyes” would encapsulate him in such a strong, unusual visual atmosphere: “I imagine what it would look like to see eyes that never blink. I visualize a missing link. Something that’s never been seen or discovered. Very weird, disconnected imagery, no doubt.”
And yet, in spite of the strangeness of these internal images, Dante is not uncomfortable with what he sees. “Ric Ocasek’s trancelike lyrics command me to just take my time. He sings, ‘it’s not too late.’ Buried deep underneath the unconventional and intoxicating atmosphere, there’s a hopeful, reassuring message.” For Dante, “You Wear Those Eyes” evokes a feeling of safety.
Dante also appreciates how Ric and the band leave it up to the listener to decipher the meaning of a song. They set up a mood… a vision… and release it into the world, much like Dante himself does.
Because his films and soundscapes are so specifically in the horror realm, you won’t find a piece in his catalogue that screams out “The Cars!” However, on his most recent project, an ambient soundscape called Witches, there is a song titled “Kundalini Serpent”. It is an instrumental but Dante says, “it does have that galloping, percolating Cars’ vibe.” Witches is set to be released this spring.
In the meantime, Dante has two horror films in development. He is working closely with a terrific seasoned writer, Michael Gingold, on the screenplays. While he enjoys all aspects of the creation process, Dante is looking forward to focusing more exclusively on the music side. “Music will always be with me, no matter what. I can be all alone. I don’t need a crew and $500,000. I created all my albums in my home recording studio.”
He also enjoys recharging his creative energy by watching horror films, playing with his dog, visiting the beach or the woods near his home in New Jersey, and listening to great music, including The Cars (of course), Depeche Mode, Laurie Anderson, Coil, Vince Clarke, Wendy Carlos, Jean Michel Jarre, and John Carpenter.
Dante credits The Cars on everything that he creates for himself. “I want to say thank you to The Cars over and over. It’s a humble feeling of appreciation and giving back.”
Be sure to say hello to Dante if you see him around the various Cars Facebook fan groups, and keep up with his latest projects by visiting his website here. You can also listen to his music on his Pandora channel.
DESECRATION (1999) Image Entertainment
HORROR (2002) Elite Entertainment
SATAN’S PLAYGROUND (2006) Anchor Bay Entertainment
TORTURE CHAMBER (2013) Cinedigm
SCREAM IN THE DARK (2014) Elite Entertainment & MVD Audio
THE DOLL (2014) Elite Entertainment & MVD Audio
NIGHTMARE (2015) Elite Entertainment & MVD Audio
“I was never confident in my own voice but I was always confident in his. I always felt relieved when he was singing, and I was always proud of him when he sang.” — Ric Ocasek, A History and Retrospective on the Life of Benjamin Orr by John Colapinto
I can’t recall exactly how I first learned that Cap’n Swing was the precursor to The Cars, but I distinctly remember the first time I heard a Cap’n Swing song. I was sitting in my home office, obsessing on Benjamin, when I clicked on this video (link below)… and I was blown away.
The initial music was kind of rollicking; a happy little tune, almost ‘young,’ with that peppy keyboard riff. Then Benjamin’s voice came in all seductive and lush, singing that chorus, and I was captivated. I couldn’t wait to hear what he would say next. And he started to tell a story that transported me back… back to those days of my budding awareness of the opposite sex; those early days of exploration. I felt like he was describing that one time in the sixth grade with Robert Tranberg, on the trail in the woods behind the house: those first tentative touches, clumsy attempts at figuring out what our hormones were calling us to, but everything still so innocent and confusing. It brought on that ache of longing and nostalgia and beautiful pain of those early teenage days…
And all of it was couched in this sunshiny music, his evocative vocals. I had to listen again. Now that guitar grabbed me, those simple but pushing notes that accentuated the sensuality of the song. I loved the part behind “stabbed into the thick black air…” and on to the chorus; it was so perfect. Then I got into the keyboard solo, playful and light, and it blended so perfectly into the guitar solo, which told of the heights of those confusing emotions… until Elliot brought me back down again and handed me over to Benjamin and his “yeah, yeah, yeah.” And the next lines captured the internal struggle of me as a young teen: “like a hypnotized baby… out there, trying to feel it all somehow… out there, well they really don’t care at all.”
I was hooked. HOOKED. And as you can guess I had to go on to listen to as much CS as possible and devour all of it, but “Come Back Down” will always hold a special spot inside my heart, will always speak to that young girl in me.
(I posted those wonderfully impetuous lyrics by Ric Ocasek separately; click here to read them.)
Released on June 13, 1979, The Cars’ sophomore effort, Candy-O, would be certified platinum in less than two months, and would soar as high as #3 on the Billboard 200 chart and #4 on RPM Canada. Its first single, “Let’s Go,” would jump to #14 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and the follow up release, “It’s All I Can Do,” would peak at #41. Candy-O‘s iconic album cover, painted by Alberto Vargas, would be talked about for years. And all this while The Cars’ self-titled debut album, released almost exactly one year prior, was still riding high: Billboard Magazine’s chart for the “Top Pop Albums of 1979” lists The Cars at #4 and Candy-O at #82. Needless to say, this band was on fire.
But this Candy-O story begins at the very beginning, and doesn’t end until more than three decades later…
(Quick disclaimer: I am fairly confident that these next four photos I am including of Cherokee Studios and the mixing equipment are indeed of Cherokee, but are likely NOT how the studio looked when The Cars recorded there in 1979.)
In February of 1979, The Cars packed up their gear and headed to Cherokee Studios in Los Angeles, California, to record their second album. Originally started as the venture of three brothers on a ranch, by 1979 Cherokee Studios had moved to Fairfax Avenue and was a hot spot for many of the world’s top recording artists. By the time The Cars arrived, Cherokee had already turned out albums for Steely Dan, David Bowie, Art Garfunkel, ELO, Jeff Beck, Olivia Newton-John, Rod Stewart, Hall & Oates, Alice Cooper, Bob Seger, Journey, Neil Diamond, The Jacksons… the list goes on and on.
Cherokee was an unusual studio at the time because it operated independently of any record label. Additionally, the years the Robb brothers had spent as struggling musicians prior to opening their studio made them keenly aware of the importance of an ‘artist-friendly atmosphere.’ They also outfitted their Fairfax location with state-of-the-art equipment and acoustics. It’s no wonder that in his autobiography, Beatles producer Sir George Martin dubbed Cherokee Studios the best studio in America.
Generally when a band gets ready to record an album the first thing they do is create a monitor mix. I do not know what The Cars’ actual setup was at Cherokee, or which of the three studios the band worked in, but it’s likely that their work day looked something like this: the band goes into the big room and sets up their instruments. A series of microphones are positioned all around the studio to capture the sounds from each individual band member. David’s drums (which might be enclosed in some kind of clear paneling to avoid sound from the other instruments “bleeding” into his mics) would have 6 to 8 mics around his kit at each of the various drum pieces (kick, snare, high hat, etc). Each of the other guys would have a mic for their instrument and a mic for their vocals.
At one end of the studio there is another little room (the control room) separated from the band by a big window, and in that little room sit the producer and sound engineer. In front of them is a huge board with all sorts of slider switches and dials and lights — this is called a monitor console, or a mixing table. Each microphone near the band feeds the sounds it captures into a specialized channel where it is recorded in isolation from the other sounds. Those channels are then accessed and arranged by the producer and sound engineer on the monitor console. Nerd fact: at Cherokee Studios they used the legendary Trident A-Range 24-channel monitor (only 13 of the original models were ever manufactured), and they were the first studio in America to do so. BUT Greg Hawkes indicates that this album was recorded on Roy Thomas Baker’s personal 40-track machine, which was an unusual recorder in the industry at the time.
Once everything is set up and ready to record, the band plays their song and the music is captured as described above. The producer and sound engineer adjust levels on the console to get the desired balance from the mics and to construct the basic foundation of the song, listening to the music through the large monitor speakers in the control room (pictured above, on top of the console). The resulting track is called a ‘monitor mix.’ This recorded mix is then used by the band to perfect the production of the individual parts of the song. Wearing headphones and listening to a customized playback of the monitor mix, each band member can re-record their part, locking into the pieces of the composition they need to hear to bring out the best in their own performance.
For example, in order to really nail his guitar solo, Elliot may need to zero in on the drums and bass parts. The sound engineer can fiddle with the sliders on his console and make it so that what Elliot hears in his headphones is largely the rhythm section, while the synth and vocals are toned way down or not audible. This gives him the reference points he needs to play to. At the same time, maybe Benjamin needs to hear David’s kick drum pumped up a bit to keep his tempo on track, and the rhythm of Greg’s riffs to sing along to. The sound engineer can make that happen.While the band plays on, the guys in the control room continue to finesse and adjust the mix on the console, moving closer to the final product.
So The Cars spent February of 1979 at Cherokee, recording, mixing and preparing the entire Candy-O album; getting it just how they liked it. When it was finally ‘in the can’ they packed up and headed back to Boston with their completed master tapes, leaving the monitor mix tapes stored in the Cherokee tape vault.
Fast forward to sometime in 2001. A listing shows up on ebay for two reel-to-reel tapes of “The Cars’ Candy-O Demos” for auction. It appears that a former employee of Cherokee Studios, now residing in California, has some authentic vintage recordings to offer. (Interesting side note: the same seller had also listed similar items from Led Zeppelin and Elvis). A longtime Cars fan — we’ll call him Phil — triumphantly wins the auction and, thrilled to have these alternate recordings of some of his favorite songs, has a local recording studio transfer the tracks to CDs. He shares a few copies with his trusted friends. He sees nothing wrong with this since he owns the sound recordings now.
Fast forward again, this time to 2014. By now these alternate recordings have been out for over ten years. They have been shared and shared again among the Fanorama, and eventually uploaded onto youtube. Toward the end of the year, our very own David Curry (the genius behind @Night_Spots) decides to feature one of the songs on his tumblr page. Low and behold, Les Steinberg (Elliot Easton’s brother), comes across Dave’s post and hears this version of “It’s All I Can Do” that he’s never heard before.
Since he already had a working relationship with Dave, Les contacts him and asked him where the recording came from. Dave, surprised that Les has no idea about the mix tapes, explains their history. Les enthusiastically encourages Dave to contact his friend from whom he originally received the recordings to see if the tapes are still around. He indicates that he is sure The Cars’ management would be thrilled to buy back the tapes for their own collection. Dave agrees to contact Phil, and in the meantime, Dave mails his personal CD copy of the mixes to Les for the Steinberg family to keep.
It is the end of November, 2014, when Dave contacts Phil. As fate would have it, after holding on to the tapes for 13 years, Phil finally had a need to sell them and had just completed an ebay transaction less than a month prior to Dave’s message, sending them off to the next happy owner. Though he would have very eagerly just GIVEN the tapes to The Cars, they are out of his hands.
Unfortunately, now that the word is out that the original reel-to-reels have surfaced, it becomes important to The Cars’ camp to track them down. It turns out that those mixes had been stolen from Cherokee’s tape vault and sold illegally (unbeknownst to any of the Fanorama). This makes Phil understandably nervous — to be somehow connected to stolen intellectual property (even though he is innocent of any wrongdoing) — and so Dave offers to act as a mediator between Phil and The Cars; a natural role since he is already openly connected to both parties.
Now the task falls on Dave to facilitate the tracking down of the reels. Luckily the new owner (who is also eager to avoid a legal hassle) agrees to let them be repurchased. A flurry of emails zips back and forth across the country over the early weeks of December as arrangements are made to have them shipped to Dave’s place of work. After he signs for them he is a little stunned, realizing that he is holding a piece of precious Cars history. “When I got the tapes home, I told my wife about their significance and snapped a few photos. I was in Cars heaven! That lasted about 20 minutes… It suddenly occurred to me that I was now responsible for their care. At that point, I wanted them out of my house as soon as possible.”
After a couple of back and forth emails from Cars management, David is told that Jeff Kramer, the owner of OK Management, will be giving him a call on a specified date. The working hours come and go without a call. An email at the end of the day explains that Kramer was “meeting all day with Dylan.” Dave is asked to contact Brian Higgins. On December 18th Brian arranges for FedEx to pick up the reels and expedite them to their rightful owners, where they are received in California on December 19, 2014.
[Dave’s involvement in this was truly motivated by kindness and his love for The Cars, and he expected nothing in return. It is still pretty cool, though, that he received a copy of Move Like This, signed by all of the band members, as a ‘thank you.’]
Wow, what a history! How exciting for the Cars group to get those original recordings back! And wouldn’t it be great if Rhino Records compiled them along with the Candy-O album and made a deluxe version, like they did with the debut? We can only keep our fingers crossed… In the meantime, you can hear the monitor mix tracks for yourself by exploring this playlist on youtube. Enjoy!
“Ben had a calmness about him that I related to. He wasn’t ostentatious like you’d expect a rock star to be. He was gentle and kind, and loved family.” — Julie Snider, Benjamin’s fiancee at the time of his death; A History and Retrospective on the Life of Benjamin Orr, by John Colapinto
“I like the road a lot. It’s nice to go out once every couple years and shake off the dust, as it were. It’s nice. Performing on a stage makes the day worthwhile, actually, ‘cause you have an outlet. At least it is for me. A lot of young guys want to go out on the road and see what it’s like so we got a chance in great detail the first few years.” — Moving In Stereo: A History of Cars, The Source radio program, April 1982