I would guess that 1985 was a crazy year for The Cars.
They spent the last half of 1983 living in England while recording Heartbeat City. They toured pretty much from April through September of 1984 behind that album, and spent time shooting four videos and playing for MTV’s “A Private Affair.” On the surface, it might appear that The Cars had taken a well-justified break in 1985, only publicly performing at Live Aid in July of that year, but that was certainly not the case.
Closer inspection reveals that the members of the band were going gangbusters, creatively. Elliot had released his solo album and was touring behind it; surely Benjamin was writing and working on his; and Ric was definitely spending time in the studio with his second solo effort, This Side of Paradise (which Greg, Benjamin and Elliot all appear on!). And it was during this time that the decision was made to release a ‘greatest hits’ album.
Makes sense: the band’s popularity was riding high with five American Top 40 singles from Heartbeat City, the exposure from Live Aid (where “Drive” was used as the background music to an iconic video montage of images depicting the famine in Ethiopia), and claiming the honor of “Video of the Year” from MTV’s inaugural music awards. It was a perfect time to expose this 80s generation to the full scope of The Cars’ creative history.
On October 25, 1985, Elektra released The Cars Greatest Hits. It contained twelve songs (a nice sampling from across the band’s first five albums) including a remixed version of “I’m Not The One” from the Shake It Up album. Along with those, a previously unrecorded track was offered: an entirely new song, “Tonight She Comes.” Ric tells how it came about:
“The record company wanted a new track for the greatest hits album, and I was in the middle of recording my solo album, and it was one of the songs that I didn’t use in the solo album at that point, and we just did that single… Actually, I was in the studio upstairs doing the one record and then we had another one going downstairs at the same time. That was like a one-off single that we just all came together and did and it was quite fun to just go in and do it like that. And I like the video for that one because it was crazy.” – Up Close radio interview, August 26, 1987
Listening to Ric’s description, I envisioned the guys all showing up and jamming the song out in short order, like in the old days. I was surprised to find out that it was actually a four-week project. The song was recorded at Electric Lady studios in New York, and was produced with the help of Mike Shipley (who would later work with Benjamin on his solo album, The Lace). It was released as a single on October 14, 1985, with “Just What I Needed” on the B-side.
It turns out that it was extremely appropriate to put the song on a ‘greatest hits’ CD, as “Tonight She Comes” would end up being one of the band’s highest charting singles. It hit #1 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock charts, and went as high as #7 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Elektra also released the song on a limited edition picture disc. The album itself was a commercial success as well, reaching #12 on the Billboard Hot 200 and eventually being certified six times platinum.
Strangely, this doesn’t seem to be a track that you hear about often. Maybe because it wasn’t on a regular album? It’s a shame, because it’s a terrific song. The music is fun — very bright and poppy — and I love Benjamin’s deep background vocals. The lyrics are happy and loving, upbeat; less cynical than many of their other songs. It definitely holds up well with repeated listening.
In the spotlight, though? Elliot’s guitar solo is amazing! And while it has a spontaneous feel to it, it turns out he spent a lot of time crafting it. Elliot told Guitar Player magazine in February of 1986, “I happened to have worked on “Tonight She Comes,” mostly because I had such a long wait in a hotel room in New York. At night, I would sit around watching the tube with my guitar by my side. I had a little micro-cassette recorder, and I would add another lick to the solo. With this approach, you end up with a mathematically cool solo. Then you’ve got to learn it and make it sound like it’s coming off the top of your head, which is an art.”
And then of course there is the small ruckus over the song title. Does Ric mean what most people assume he means? Some people don’t care; some think it’s raunchy… I’ve not heard Ric address the issue (and I wouldn’t really expect him to, given that he likes the listener to draw their own connection to his writing) but Elliot is quoted in the Anthology booklet as saying, “It doesn’t actually say that she reaches orgasm. It could mean that tonight she’s coming over to make popcorn.” So there you have it! Haha!
A couple of other little notables:
Benjamin plays his Guild Pilot bass in the official video (link below), which also happens to be the beauty he was playing at Live Aid that summer.
The woman who stars in the video is Tara Shannon, a well-known model who, at the time, had not starred in any previous videos or movie projects. She says she was shot separately from the band so she didn’t get to meet most of them, but she had a great time filming her part. She also won an award for “Best Performance by a Fashion Model in a Music Video” for her work in “Tonight She Comes.” You can read her thoughts on her experience here.
And my last note. I love the lyrics; they don’t phase me. My favorite line is, “She jangles me up, she does it with ease. Sometimes she passes through me just like a breeze.” Yeah… I know that feeling… but about a guy. LOL
Enjoy the official video below, and click here if you want the lyrics to sing along to.