It’s All I Can Do

AllICanDoSingleI’m not sure that anyone would say that The Cars were known for their ballads… surely “Drive” stands out from the overall catalog, but most general listeners zero in on the band’s unique “new wave rock” sound, Ric’s quirky vocals, or Greg’s poppish synth hooks. And yet, tucked away on their second album hides a lovely little gem that deserves full attention.

On September 25, 1979, “It’s All I Can Do” was released as a single from the Candy-O album as the follow-up to “Let’s Go.” Written by Ric Ocasek, produced by Roy Thomas Baker, and backed by “Got A Lot On My Head” (or with “Candy-O” on the B side, if you were in Britain), the track reached as high #41 on the Billboard Hot 100. It hit #17 on the Canadian Singles chart.

This song is so beautiful, so gentle. Indeed, from the first tender notes, you know it’s going to be different from the band’s other offerings up to that point. David’s delayed beat adds a feeling of anticipation, of waiting and watching. While Elliot’s guitar is still rocking and edgy, it is perfectly contained. But the element that really controls the mood from the start is the interaction between Ben’s bass and Greg’s lilting piano sounds. They bounce so perfectly off one another and create a soft, safe place for Benjamin’s vocals, which ease in, so clear and sweet.

A lot of critics characterize Ric Ocasek’s lyric writing as being either cold, oblique, or obsessed with love — but not good love; usually scratchy, painful, and a bit sardonic love. This song really seems different (read the lyrics here). Rather than bitterness, there is hope. Instead of disgust, there is confusion. I get the feeling that far from being done with his girl, he wants to understand her.

To my ears, this song is almost the complete opposite of the ballad from their debut album. While “All Mixed Up” pours out pain and the finality of heartbreak, “It’s All I Can Do” seems to keep that little flame of optimism burning, holding out hope, like “fingers crossed!” A large part of that feeling comes from the difference in the lyrics themselves, but I really think the combination of Benjamin’s wistful tones and Greg’s wonderful melodic textures keep me from feeling like all is lost in this love story.

My favorite part is during the third verse. Benjamin glides into the lyrics easily, continuing to voice his confusion, when all of a sudden… you hear it. Slowly building, Greg creates this gorgeous, soaring ribbon of violin-like sound that takes my breath away. It took me a while to notice it, but one early morning I was running with my headphones on and all of a sudden it stood out to me, caught my ears by surprise, and I replayed it about 10 times. I’m not sure why… but I truly feel like it may be the most romantic music I have heard on any Cars record.

The one tragedy of this song is the lack of availability of any kind of live performance. The single was released while the band was touring for Candy-O and it was getting air time on the radio, but from what I understand they played it in concert very sparingly, in spite of urgings by the promoters. Fans have speculated over the years as to why it wasn’t part of the regular set, and no definitive answers have been given. This tweet from Elliot Easton may be the closest we’ll ever come to any insight:


So… maybe a few things you hadn’t heard yet?

With no live audio for variety, the studio version was the only one available to the public for many years. Then sometime in about 2001 the monitor mix tapes for the Candy-O album were released to the public (inadvertently — read that story here) and fans had a new treat for their ears. Listed on the mixes under the title, “One Too Many Times,” this recording is fun to listen to, though Benjamin’s different vocal inflections and subdued emotions don’t quite have the same effect on me.

In 2005, Not Lame Recordings released a set of twenty-one Cars’ covers by various artists. Not only was the album, titled Substitution Mass Confusion: A Tribute to The Cars, intended to honor the band, but it was also a way to pay respects to Benjamin Orr after his death: part of the proceeds from the project were donated to the American Cancer Society in his name. Appearing on that compilation was a cover of “It’s All I Can Do” by a band from New York called The Bravery. It has a more defined New Wave sound to it; much more a dance tune and less of a ballad. Because I have such an attachment to the original, I’m not a huge fan of this cover, but repeated listenings might change that (if I were, in fact, willing to listen to it again… which I’m not right now). Here’s the link to it: I do encourage you to give it a whirl for yourself.

“It’s All I Can Do” also shows up in the 1998 movie The Wedding Singer. It’s a nice addition to a film that makes every attempt to cram as much iconic 80s culture onto the screen; I’m glad The Cars were included. Sneak a peek here:

As time marches on, I’m holding out hope for good things. The Cars camp announced (and Elliot confirmed) that 2017 would see some new stuff released, and I am rubbing all of the lucky rabbit feet and genie lamps I can find to ensure that those offerings would include a live performance of this elusive gem. I can’t stand the suspense and I’m not good at waiting, but at this point… well, you know…  “it’s all I can doooooooooo….”

20 thoughts on “It’s All I Can Do

    1. Hi, Carol! I’ve heard that, too, about Benjamin not liking it. There are some people who believe it was played a handful of times when the album and single first came out, but at this point I can’t find anything that definitively confirms it. Keeping my eyes out for more information. Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Nice write up of a very lovely song. I’ve been listening to this a lot myself lately.

    Just a side note: I recently discovered your blog while I was home sick for several days with a respiratory bug. I spent a LOT of time watching YouTube videos and fell in love with the Cars’ music — and Ben– all over again. I like how you write with so much affection and enthusiasm. Thanks!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. This song is one of my absolute favorites. I love the lyrics and Benjamin’s voice just makes it perfection. The melodies are incredible. I agree with your take that this is a hopeful love song. I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to see video of this performed live and would love to hear Benjamin explain why he didn’t like the song.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. spj,
    You have a talent for music reviews and what you wrote here is testament. That, what I call, “soaring Elliot solo” seems to be one of the major high-points in an all around beautifully executed Cars song. That and Benjamin’s earnest vocal delivery. David’s drumming is always, always always just what the song needed. Many talk about Ben or Elliot being under-rated or appreciated. I think David Robinson is the unsung hero of the Cars. Aesthetically he was extremely appealing; handsome GQ sometimes and sweet, ruffled others, and perfect sweaty rock-n-roll drummer-looking other times. But his drumming was so essential, just as essential and original as Greg’s or Elliot’s mark on the music of the Cars. I loved watching him, every time a cameraman got him in his view! Boy, as far as Elliot’s answer re: why it wasn’t played, that was as short and evasive an answer one could ever get. We want to the the story or band opinions behind it not being a song played much. Without a good reason, we are left dreaming up all kinds of things: it was torturous to lay down in the studio, as Ric cracked the whip over them to get it just the way he wanted it? Something bad happened in Ben’s life at that time and triggered bad or sad memories i.e., the death of a loved one, or even his own romantical experience in relation to the song. It wasn’t difficult to sing or play. It DID chart high and WAS a favorite of listeners, so what gives? tee-hee We Cars fans always want the where, what, why, and when about every little thing, eh? Actually, it is no different for any hard-core fan following the history of any favorite band or artist, is it?
    “It’s All I Can Do” is, pretty much universally, a beloved Cars song gem!
    Thanks for this write-up.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi

      I wasn’t sure where to reply so I hop this is ok.

      This is my favorite cars song, To me there is a timeless almost haunting quality to it. Its smooth, and deep, and the keyboard at the end are amazing, actually the keyboard part in the choruses is perfect for this. Everything about this song works. The drums are perfect, the rhythm guitar crunch, the lead, and Ben’s vocals especially.

      I have always loved the lyrics and the harmonies to.

      It does sadden me there is no live performance to be found, I think it would have killed. I to have read Ben did not like this song, but have never seen where this was said except in a youtube comment, where someone said they actually asked him about it and he said he did not like the song. I would love to know why he didn’t like it. Was it really just the song? I find that hard to believe, or did it also remind him of someone or something ? In an odd way I have wondered if some of the lyrics weren’t to Ben from Rik? was that a reason he didn’t like it?

      I listen to this song still to this day, a lot. It moves me and makes me think of times long since past and younger days. It particularly reminds me of an old love. More than all that it reminds me of the passage of time and makes me think of Ben.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. I cannot for the life of me understand why they didn’t rate this song. It is without doubt my favourite Cars song. It is superb and should have done better in the charts when it was released as a single. It even had the superb Candy-O as a B side (in the UK)!!!! It is a s good today as it was back in 1979. Excellent page by the way. I do hope a live version of this superb song is found one day…

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Hi SPJ! I don’t know where I was when you first published this particular blog, but I’m glad I caught it now. I love “It’s All I Can Do”. Ben sang many GREAT vocal performances for The Cars, but this is my favorite. When I listen to the song, Ben’s voice sounds so sweet and Vulnerable! There is such a gentleness to his voice here, and it’s enhanced by Greg Hawkes’ keyboard playing. In some way, the song reminds me of Ben himself, his sweetness, his gentle, quiet way of being. I love the song. I can also remember relating to the song years ago when it was first released; having that feeling of unrequited love and angst that I feel comes through. It hurts my heart a little to think that Ben didn’t like this song. It’s hard for me to believe, because it’s so beautiful. I too, have heard that The Cars may have performed this live, although rarely. I truly hope someday that a live version will surface. That would be so wonderful.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Been enjoying The Cars music as a result of Ric’s passing. Enjoyed your write up on this. It’s All I can Do was my absolute favorite song of theirs and they had some awesome ones. I can honestly listen to this song over and over again (and actually have).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, Gary. I’m glad you found me. Ric’s death is a heartbreaking loss and I appreciate that we fans can immerse ourselves in his music and grieve together. Peace to you.


  7. I too love this song.
    When I want to listen to it, I head to your page and play the mix version of it. I love the clear inflections in Ben’s words as he sings and how Elliot’s chords sound more raw than the original-
    Thank you for posting. ❤️

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Another favorite of mine as well. I do love his voice and this song just beautiful! And I too have heard that he just didn’t care for the song for whatever reason might’ve been a personal thing maybe it reminded him of somebody or a situation.

    Liked by 1 person

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