“Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves; vanity to what we would have others think of us.”
The induction into the Rock Hall is an indicator of many things, including an artist or band’s lasting impact on the world of rock and roll. Many (including myself) would cite The Cars’ obvious role in opening the window for innovation during the late 70s when rock music was nearly at a standstill, but it was more than that: the band’s influence continued to weave it’s way through the music of the generations that followed.
In this episode of the NiGHT THOUGHTS podcast, Dave and Donna highlight musical acts that have definitively pointed a finger at The Cars and said, “Yes! You influenced me!” They also throw in some notables that really exude the spirit and sound of The Cars.
Bands and songs from as early as 1981, all the way up to the end of 2017 are featured. The discussion includes: 38 Special, Collective Soul, Slash, Fountains of Wayne, Dante Tomaselli, Deathray, The Smashing Pumpkins, Sunset Valley, The Mylars, and several more.
Other elements of The Cars’ influence are unearthed as Dave reveals his own original Cars-inspired children’s album from back in the day… and also confesses to buying a One Direction song “for the sake of research” (yeah, right!).
Of course, no episode of this podcast would be complete without touching on such subjects as the RRHOF tickets, whether Paulina makes meatloaf, and the unpleasantness of Axl Rose’s gout. Dave and Donna wrap up the show with the second installment of “You’re A Flick Fandango Phony” where Dave calls out the Cars-related absurdities found around the web, and they celebrate two weeks in a row of legitimate content for The Midnight Scroll (well, except for the enticing offer from Abib). Thank you SO much for your REAL emails, Carol and Elizabeth!
And now for the interactive part of this article: those all-important links! Click away, my friends.
The other day I was standing in a department store when I heard the unmistakable “aaah-ah, aaah-ahhh-ahhh” of “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” coming over the speaker in the sky. It made me even giddier than I usually get when I hear The Cars out and about because that song is not one that plays often in my neck of the woods. I looked at the people around me like, “Right???” but of course, no one connected. (My sweet kiddo gave me a ‘thumbs up’ though. Haha!)
“You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” is the sixth track on The Cars’ (perfect) debut album, and definitely one of the rockin-est! It was, of course, written by Ric Ocasek and produced by Roy Thomas Baker. Not nearly as arcane as many of his lyrics, Ric described the meaning of the song in this way: “When things get too quiet, and you’re willing to put up with any company, or you’re not willing to accept the prospect of being alone, you might find yourself needing what you’ve got.” (EA News, May, 1978)
Before you read any further in this article I just want you to grab some headphones and listen to this. I know, I know… you’ve heard it a zillion times… but please, I urge you, just take a few minutes and close your eyes and soak this in.
Those drums absolutely make my adrenaline take flight. And then you hear the first fuzzy guitar riffs, paired with Ric’s voice slicing into the music with those wonderfully apathetic lyrics… Everything about this song is huge and dark and pulsing. Well, until Greg joins in with his bright, sparkly strobe of synth notes that take the edge off just in time. And the background vocals are stunning — ah, Roy Thomas Baker! You’re a genius!
From what I understand, the only time this track was officially sent out into the world on a 45 was as the B side to “All Mixed Up” — in the Netherlands! But no matter. Both rock and mainstream radio station deejays and listeners loved it then and still do today; it continues to receive more than its fair share of ‘spinnage.’ (Hmm, surely I didn’t just make that word up?)
Now let’s take a quick step back in time and trace the history of this bad boy. YAIGT was around before The Cars were “The Cars.” According to Toby Goldstein in her book Frozen Fire: The Story of The Cars, Cap’n Swing was playing it in Boston in 1976. Having heard the interesting metamorphoses of other CS-to-The-Cars songs, I sure wish I could hear the Cap’n tackle this tune!
I don’t have an audio from back that far but fortunately for us, an early Cars’ demo was included on Rhino’s 1999 deluxe edition of the debut album. It was laid down during The Cars’ first-ever recording session in April of 1977, at Northern Recording Studio in Maynard, MA. In the liner notes Greg says, “As with ‘Just What I Needed,’ this particular recording also received considerable airplay prior to the first album coming out.” In other words, IT was a hit before THEY were a hit.
You hear the subtle differences right off the bat: you have Dave and Elliot entering with straight sounds, no technological manipulations. Then there’s the heavy bass, the raw (and a little sparse) backing vocals; a different spin on the synth at times. Filling in toward the end you hear the unique vocal mutterings of Ric and those various “woo!” exclamations that clearly testify to the high energy of the band. As always with their early stuff, you just know they *knew* they were killing it. Take a listen:
(It’s funny… my internal stereo always plays the beginning of “Bye Bye Love” after that last “tonight!”)
YAIGT became a concert staple. “We do that [song] all the time. I like that song. It’s just about ending up with somebody you don’t necessarily care to be ending up with, but something’s better than nothing,” Ric explains on the 1979 SuperGroups in Concert series. Indeed, according to setlist.fm (grain of salt, I know), The Cars performed this song 65 times beginning in April of 1977; it is their fifth most-played title. More often than not, it was played as the last one of the regular set or as part of the encore.
As you may recall, the band closed the televised portion of their performance on Rock Goes to College with it, and they nailed it. I love how Ric takes advantage of the live show to get a little naughty with the lyrics… and of course, the added slo-mo effects as the credits roll add the mint to this sweet tea. Check it out:
According to 98.5 WNCX Radio, Elliot enjoyed it, too. “’You’re All I’ve Got Tonight’ was a favorite of mine, if for no other reason than it was my chance to stretch out live. I usually used the solo at the end as a launching point and would take off until the other guys in the band sort of looked at me like ‘Okay already, enough,’ and then I’d give them their cue that we would go back into the song. But that was a fun one for me to play, because I always got to stretch on it.”
This performance from 2011 is a perfect example of that ‘stretching.’ The whole song is so stunning I can hardly keep from standing up and cheering at the end. Elliot blazes through those guitar parts like a freight train — check him out at about 3:00, where he kicks off just over a minute and a half of pure six-string badassery. And the crowd just eats it up! I watch this again and again and I just can’t help but internally beg the stars to align so that The Cars will tour one more time.
A search on Youtube will turn up a whole variety of folks doing covers of this song, with equally diverse success. I do have a few favorites among those efforts.
The one I like best sounds the most different to my ears, and I confess I didn’t really care for it on the first listen. It’s by an artist named David Raymer. It’s a little softer; the vocals are more melodic and kind of jazzy; he’s got kind of an Edwyn Collins vibe going on. I gave it another chance, liked it, wanted to hear it again… and then I kept coming back to it. There’s just something so unique about it; can’t really put my finger on it. What do you think?
Probably the most notable remake of YAIGT was done by The Smashing Pumpkins. A long-time fan of The Cars, lead singer/songwriter Billy Corgan added his metallic sawblade vocals and alternative-punk distortion, and then monkeyed with elements of the arrangement enough to add a definite (but not unpleasant) twist to this classic. The Smashing Pumpkins released their version on their 1996 box set called The Aeroplane Flies High. I’m not a big SP fan, but I am a little addicted to this! Take a listen here (you have to do some jimmy-jog with the settings but it works, I promise):
This cover also shows up in a snippet of the film The Saint, a successful 1997 thriller starring Val Kilmer and Elisabeth Shue. It’s just a tiny blip, to be sure (which is probably why it didn’t warrant a spot on the official soundtrack), but there it is. And the movie itself isn’t too bad, either.
I know I’ve mentioned the 2005 tribute compilation Substitution Mass Confusion in other articles… YAIGT was one of the songs included on that CD. It was covered by an alternative pop/rock band out of Chicago called The Millions. I still don’t have my own copy of it (it’s on the way!), but I did find a partial performance of the track on Youtube. It’s pretty rocking:
Just a couple of months ago I came across this one. Now, I am a big believer in passing music down to the next generation, so it’s very gratifying when I come across young people devoting their time and talents to learning The Cars’ catalog. This talented girl (can’t tell how old she is but she looks like a teenager) does a stellar job with EE’s solo:
Then there’s this one — and she is YOUNG. Watching this little gal gave me an education on what all Benjamin does in this song. For me, a lot of the bass is masked by the heavy guitars and I have a hard time picking it out. So many nuances I had never caught before! And I’m curious… how long did this girl practice this thing??? (She does a video of the lead guitar, too.)
I’ll tell you, for a song that never showed up on the Billboard charts, this heavy number sure has made its mark…. so much so that it’s still being played, forty years later, in a department store in a little town in the woods of Podunk, Idaho. And THAT, my friends, is why The Cars are being inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 😉
“Ric and I have always gotten along, especially musically. We’re good friends as well, but probably the reason why we kept playing together so long is strictly because of the music. Not ‘strictly because of the music…’ just because the music and the friendship were wonderful through all these years and it’s continuing on.” — Retro Rock interview, date unknown
2018 promises to be an exciting year for The Cars and for the Fanorama! Dave and Donna touch on some of the cool things known to be on the horizon (RRHOF, expanded issues), and speculate about other realistic prospects (new music, a tour?). Dave introduces a new segment called “You’re A Flick Fandango Phony,” and is (thankfully) relieved of having to make stuff up for The Midnight Scroll. BUT in the middle of all of that… things turn serious!
Donna helps Dave go into ‘trivia training’ in anticipation of a possible face-off with Stephen Colbert. Up for grabs? Ric Ocasek’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame award! Okay… well, technically it might not be on the table… Ric did promise to give it to Stephen Colbert if he ever received one… and if he does pass it on, will Stephen put it on the line? I guess we’ll see if Mr. Colbert is man enough to accept the challenge!
Dave is put through his paces with a 50 question quiz all about the band. The hilarious fallout from the exercise includes an unexpected cameo appearance from Alberto Vargas, some alternate ideas for Benjamin’s solo album, The Lace, and a shaky confirmation of how many fingers Elliot Easton-Steinberg-Shapiro REALLY has. A few frustrations with the test seem to jangle up the results a little… Stay tuned for Dave and Donna’s own Cars’ Trivia quiz down the road.
“One night at a Voices show in Greensboro, North Carolina, Ben walked through the hotel lobby and bellied up to the bar. He sat down beside the Starship boys and ordered a round of tequila. It was like he was always there, like he belonged. He just fit right in. And he brought all that talent of his with him, too. The cool, the class, the big hits, and the voice. He was so great on stage. Every time.
“But I could never talk him into coming out on the golf course with us. And I tried hard. I know he would have liked hitting the ball. He was a pretty good athlete. And I know he liked hanging out with all the guys. I think he just couldn’t get used to the clothes, especially in Hawaii. You know, it’s all those khaki shorts and stuff. Not enough black leather. Maybe it would have been different if the golf cars had Harley Davidson logos painted on them!” — John Cafferty, Voices of Classic Rock, 1999 (retrieved from the “Benjamin Orr Remembered” Facebook group; used with permission)