Review: Shake It Up Expanded Edition

As Rhino Records continued to release The Cars’ catalog with bonus material, so continued my little writing series for Standing Room Only. Here is part four of six: my review of The Cars’ Shake It Up Expanded Edition. (I actually wrote the majority of this review on the plane to Cleveland, on my way to see The Cars get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! 🤓🤘)


Rhino Records has done it again. Coinciding with The Cars’ 2018 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and paving the way for the celebration of the 40th anniversary of their debut album, Rhino has released expanded editions of Shake it Up (1981) and Heartbeat City (1984), The Cars’ fourth and fifth albums, respectively. Of course, you may recall that expanded editions of Candy-O and Panorama were released last summer, causing quite a stir in the “Fanorama,” and these March 30, 2018, offerings have generated their own buzz, as well.

Do you remember how in my review of Panorama I used the illustration of a capital letter Y to show the progression of The Cars’ sound? And how I said that Panorama represented a veering off into the left fork of the letter? Well, with Shake it Up (SIU) we definitely hear the band heading back to center and then taking a U turn up in the opposite direction. No more snarky jabs and swaggering strut; SIU sounds more like a dance set at the junior high… which is where it may have been played most often.

This album was produced by Roy Thomas Baker (his fourth and last collaboration with The Cars), and it was recorded in The Cars’ own studio in Boston, Syncro Sound. Critics and fans alike loved it, and the album hit number nine on the Billboard Pop Albums chart, while the title track became the first of the band’s singles to break the top ten on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number four. Clearly this perky, light-hearted sound gratified the mainstream listeners of the day.

SIU1

Though it has grown on me over time, it took a bit for me to warm up to SIU. Never doubting Greg Hawkes’ limitless keyboarding wizardry, this album is a little less rock and a little more new wave, and I miss the edge of the once-prominent Elliot Easton guitar riffs and the deep drumming of David Robinson that have been largely replaced by a focus on the synthesizer and drum machines (I get it – it was the 80s, after all!). Still, I love all things Cars, and this album has many terrific gems to keep the toes tapping.

Of course, the purpose of this review isn’t to scrutinize the original offering, but to examine the features of this new expanded edition.

Staying consistent with Rhino’s earlier reissues, the Shake It Up vinyl is packaged in a beautiful gatefold album. The original 1981 elements are all there: the front and back cover art, as well as the record sleeve with the lyrics and ‘spraying shaker’ image. The visuals are then bumped up a notch with the addition of a hunky photo of the band, ultra-cool individual shots of each member, a risqué circular graphic, and revealing liner notes written by David Fricke and David Robinson. Scrumptious!

Rhino did detour a little when it came to the vinyl itself. No badass etching on the fourth side as seen on their 2017 releases (Panorama, Candy-O and Live at The Agora); they went with a limited edition colored vinyl instead. SIU came out in a nice bright red.

As with the previous releases, Rhino (and presumably, singer/songwriter Ric Ocasek) dove deep for the eight bonus tracks. The result is a very fun, eclectic auditory smorgasbord that includes a demo, a remix, several early versions of SIU tunes, and a previously unreleased song featuring bassist Benjamin Orr on vocals. The variety of sensations that the listener may experience here could be worth the price of adding this to your vinyl stack.

Three tasty tracks stand out to me.  First is the rough cut of Benjamin Orr and Ric Ocasek goofing their way through the early demo of “Shake It Up.” I literally laughed out loud the first time I listened to it. I have never heard anything from The Cars that sounds so much like an after-hours party as this recording! Then there is “Take It On The Run,” featuring some fabulous Greg-ness putting a kooky jungle spin on the mystical “A Dream Away.” Finally, we are treated to a lusty vocal performance from Ben on the edgy “Midnight Dancer,” a song that clearly didn’t fit in with the rest of SIU but definitely needed to be released to the world. It is a memorable way to close out the album.

This new expanded edition from Rhino Records is available digitally and on CD, as well as the vinyl product reviewed here. Though the bonus tracks have been released online, I highly recommend putting out the money for this package – you won’t regret it. I’ll cover the new version of Heartbeat City in my next review and we’ll see what other delights Rhino has served up. Stay tuned!

In other words:

“Ben and I really got along great, and while most rock stars have big egos, Ben had no ego whatsoever and was really just a regular guy. He was even a bit isolated and pretty much kept to himself.

“Musically, Ben was very serious and all business in the studio and, as everyone knows, simply had an amazing voice and vocal inflection. My music experience with Ben was very enjoyable, and he really made you feel like he was your peer, and not some opinionated ‘rock star’ looking down at you.” — Adrian Medeiros, Boston musician and writer of “Send Me,” Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars, by Joe Milliken

ben from renee devine with adrian medeiros crop
Ben Orr, Renee Devine, and Adrian Medeiros in the studio, mid 1990s. Photo by John Kalishes

Review: Panorama Expanded Edition

This review of the Panorama Expanded Edition is part three in a series of six articles I wrote for Standing Room Only in 2017.


With two incredible albums under their belt, the 80s new wave rock band, The Cars, put out their third album in three years, and once again shook up the music world with their cutting-edge originality. Panorama continued the streak of platinum albums for The Cars, and broke the top five on Billboard’s album chart. Released on August 15, 1980, with Roy Thomas Baker back in the producer’s chair, Panorama caused quite a stir.

Panorama5
Photo courtesy of Joe Milliken

Picture an uppercase ‘Y’ as the path of creativity. If The Cars began at the base with their debut album, and moved upward with Candy-O, Panorama represents a veering off to the left on their musical journey. Almost across the board, critics declared this third album to be dark, moody, and cold. On October 30, 1980, Rolling Stone called it “rigid, electronic rock & roll that favors machine-like exactness over heartfelt expression, and avant-garde minimalism over pop-based tunefulness,” – and that was a friendly review!

But where those on high grumbled about the starkness of the music, I am crazy for it. Panorama is far and away my favorite Cars album. What may be considered rigid and distant, I hear as aggressive and full of swagger. Songs like, “Don’t Tell Me No,” “Getting Through,” and “Down Boys” present an in-your-face attitude that we can all relate to, while “Touch and Go” and “Mistfit Kid” expose a little of the human underbelly in Ric Ocasek’s writing, while still maintaining that above-it-all, bemused exterior.

Because it is my favorite album, I have to work harder than ever to not go on and on about every original track, and will instead focus on examining the “expanded” features of this new offering from Rhino Records.

As with the Candy-O expanded edition, opening the gatefold of the vinyl Panorama reissue provides a wonderful visual thrill. There is a collage of rare photos of the band, looking as cool and collected as ever. Inside the sleeves, the delights continue with the reproduced lyrics sheet, and another set of pictures backed by liner notes written by keyboard player Greg Hawkes and writer David Wild. There are two records: sides one and two feature the remastered Panorama album in its entirety, side three contains bonus tracks, and a custom laser etching graces the fourth side; this time with drummer David Robinson’s classy checkered flag.

Now here’s where things get a little sticky for me. Obviously the big draw of a re-release like this is the bonus material. Panorama has only four extra tracks. One of those is the punky and irresistible “Don’t Go To Pieces,” which was released back in the early 80s on vinyl as the B sides to both “Don’t Tell Me No” and “Give Me Some Slack,” and again on the Just What I Needed: The Cars Anthology in 1995. Also included is a song called “Be My Baby,” which seems to me to be an almost identical version of the song, “Maybe Baby” from The Cars’ fourth album, Shake It Up.  Not a fave of mine, but still a solid, throbbing rocker.

Then we get to the new stuff… the golden ticket. This is the kind of thing longtime Cars fans can’t ever get enough of: previously unreleased tracks. Rhino included two of them; both incomplete demos, and both sung by bassist Benjamin Orr.

First we have “Shooting For You,” a great meshing of rocking guitars and quirky synthesizer riffs, with a minimal infusion of lyrics. What Benjamin does sing, he sings with that unshakable confidence and wry delivery characteristic of many of the songs where he takes the lead vocal. The other treasure is “The Edge.” From my first listen I was electrified by Benjamin’s palpable energy, and completely taken in by Ric Ocasek’s lyrics, which alternate between taunting and nonsensical. The marriage of the two is intoxicating. Both “Shooting For You” and “The Edge” have become an exciting part of my regular playlist.

Now, I have to admit I was a little disappointed that Rhino included so few bonus tracks on this reissue. It would have been so great to hear some of the original Panorama songs in demo form or as previously unreleased live recordings. Perhaps no alternate versions exist? The two songs they did give us are terrific, but one of those (“Shooting For You”) was made available in its entirety via the internet almost two months before the expanded editions were on the market, so basically when I was forking over my money at the counter, I was effectively shelling out for only one new song and a bunch of terrific photos. Worth it? For me, yes! There is no question. I am absolutely crazy about all things ‘The Cars.’ You’ll have to decide for yourself, though, if the new elements are enough to compel you to replace what you’ve currently got in your library.

These new expanded editions from Rhino Records are available digitally and on CD, as well as the vinyl product reviewed here. And here’s an exciting side note: Greg Hawkes recently commented on Facebook that there might be forthcoming reissues of Shake It Up and Heartbeat City (the next two albums in The Cars’ catalog) before the end of 2017. Of course, I will eagerly open my wallet again! It’s getting awfully close to December 31st with no official announcement, but I am optimistic that 2018 will bring us those reissues if I don’t find them hiding under my Christmas tree. Fingers crossed!

Lyrics: Let’s Go

“Let’s Go” by The Cars

She’s driving away with her dim lights on

When she’s making her play she can’t go wrong…. she never waits too long

She’s winding them down on her clock machine

And she won’t give up ’cause she’s seventeen

 

She’s a frozen fire

She’s my one desire

I don’t want to hold her down, don’t want to break her crown when she says

Let’s go

 

“I like the night life, baby,” she says

“I like the night life, baby,” she says

Let’s go

 

She’s laughing inside ’cause they can’t refuse

She’s so beautiful now she doesn’t wear her shoes… she never likes to choose

She got wonderful eyes and a risqué mouth

When I asked her before she says she’s holding out

 

She’s a frozen fire

She’s my one desire

I don’t want to hold her down, don’t want to break her crown when she says

Let’s go

 

“I like the night life, baby,” she says

“I like the night life, baby,” she says

Let’s go

 

Oooo, “I like the night life, baby,” she says

“I like the night life, baby,” she says

Let’s go

 

BONUS: Same video but with the live vocal. Scrumptious!

 

Review: Candy-O Expanded Edition

This is the second article in a series of six that I wrote for Joe Milliken and Standing Room Only: a review of the expanded edition of Candy-O.


In the rare instances where a band explodes onto the rock scene with a perfect debut album, music critics don’t often hold their breath that the follow-up offering will be able to measure up. In fact, they even have a name for it: the ‘sophomore slump.’  The Cars were one of the exceptions.

Released on June 13, 1979, The Cars’ second 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. Billboard Magazine’s chart for the “Top Pop Albums of 1979” lists The Cars debut at #4 and Candy-O at #82. Needless to say, the success of The Cars was not ‘just a quirk.’

There is a common creative thread running between the debut album and Candy-O, meshing the sound of the two projects in such a way that you just knew it was The Cars, and that sound… that punchy, fresh, addictive sound…  was their identifying signature. It’s really no surprise that they should be linked: several of the songs on Candy-O were already written and floating around at the time of the debut album. The plaintive “Since I Held You” and the hard-rocking “Candy-O,” along with the sardonic “Night Spots” and “You Can’t Hold On Too Long,” were popular numbers played in clubs and concerts before Candy-O was in the record stores.

Though I could go on for paragraphs about the power and appeal of the songs on Candy-O, my purpose here is to examine the newest issuing of this terrific album. Owners of the previously released (and reviewed) The Cars Deluxe Edition had reason to be pretty excited about the prospect of Rhino Record’s newly “expanded” editions of both Candy-O and Panorama (The Cars’ second and third albums, respectively) that came out in July of 2017; surely we would get another delivery of rarities from the Cars’ cache of unreleased audio goodies.

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Photo courtesy of Joe Milliken

The double album vinyl packaging of the reissue is beautiful. Of course, the 1979 original artwork is there. Opening the gatefold reveals some previously unreleased photographs, including a candid shot of the band, and a series of very cool reference photos of the model Candy Moore, taken for use by Alberto Vargas for painting that iconic album cover.  Tucked inside the sleeves are the original lyrics/photo sheet and a set of liner notes from lead guitarist Elliot Easton, written with David Wild. Then the vinyl itself: the remastered audio on two sides, bonus tracks on the third, and a cool custom etching on the fourth side.

The seven bonus tracks are an interesting mix. Rather than recreate the entire original album in demos, as we found with the debut deluxe CD, only five of the eleven songs are represented with alternate versions. “Let’s Go” and “Lust for Kicks,” are included from the previously discovered monitor mix tapes (made public around 2001). Also included is “That’s It,” originally appearing as the B side to the single, “Let’s Go.”

Another little gem is the Northern Studios version of the hilarious and fun-to-sing “They Won’t See You,” a track that was played in the clubs but didn’t make it to vinyl. It’s a delightful peek into Ric Ocasek’s peculiar sense of humor; indeed, the lyrics here inspired my twelve-year-old to declare, “Those guys are weird!” … then he asked me to play it again. Unfortunately, this appears to be the same version released as a bonus track on the 1999 The Cars Deluxe Edition.

The real treat is the previously unreleased music. My favorite, “Candy-O,” appears from a series of recordings done at Northern Studios. Benjamin Orr’s vocal work has such a metallic, powerful sound to it, reflecting an appealing arrogance in his mood not present in the studio version. “Night Spots” and “Dangerous Type” were also done at Northern Studios, and portray that same kind of pleasing vocal strut. You get the impression that the band was feeling confident and riding high on the thrill of their success.

One of the magnetic elements of demo recordings is getting a glimpse of the evolution of a hit. For example, in “Dangerous Type” you can tell there was still some polishing of the lyrics yet to come. The absence of Greg Hawkes’s synthesizer is quite telling as well, clearly emphasizing how vital his bright, melodic contributions are in defining the sound of The Cars.

I confess, I do wish that there had been more in the way of bonus material, especially from those Northern Studios sessions. Really, since the monitor mixes have been out so long, only three of the additional tracks were previously unheard by the public. It’s a bit of a letdown after the generous banquet served on the deluxe edition, but beggars can’t be choosers, and I am truly grateful for another peek into the ‘vault’ of Cars’ material.

These new expanded editions from Rhino Records are available digitally and on CD, as well as the vinyl product reviewed here. If you don’t already have Candy-O in your music library, grab the expanded edition; you won’t be disappointed. We’ll take a look at Panorama in my next review and see what other delights Rhino Records has in store. Stay tuned!

Review: The Cars Deluxe Edition

In the summer of 2017, music journalist Joe Milliken invited me to do some writing for his website, Standing Room Only (SRO). I jumped at the chance! The gig grew into an opinion series of six Rhino products backing up to the The Cars Deluxe Edition from 1999, then to the 2017 expanded editions of Candy-O and Panorama, plus Live at The Agora 1978 (also released in 2017), and, finally, the expanded editions of Shake It Up and Heartbeat City (released in 2018).

Standing Room Only is dedicated to promoting music, arts, and specialty foods in the northern New England area. Music reviews, concert recaps, and exclusive interviews with badass rockers are the norm, along with lots of attention given to local businesses and arts events, making this a website with something for everyone. Unfortunately, the site is currently undergoing maintenance, but be sure to like Joe’s Facebook page to stay in the loop and be notified when SRO is back online.

With Joe’s permission, I’ve added my SRO writings here on my blog just for kicks. Here’s the first review I turned in: The Cars Deluxe Edition. Enjoy!


The year 2017 is proving to be an exciting one for fans of the 80s new wave rock band, The Cars. After releasing their last studio album, Move Like This, in 2011, the group has been pretty silent in the marketplace (aside from its remaster/reissue project in 2016). It came as a wonderful surprise to learn that Rhino Records organized the release of The Cars’ early Cleveland performance, Live at the Agora 1978, in time for Record Store Day on April 22, 2017. This new offering would have been enough to keep followers at bay for the year, but Rhino rocked The Cars’ world again on May 11th, announcing that they would also be releasing Candy-O and Panorama (The Cars’ second and third albums, respectively) as expanded editions on July 28, 2017… and Cars’ fans began the countdown.

carsdeluxe1
Photo courtesy of Joe Milliken

It’s worth pointing out that Rhino gave the band’s debut album some special treatment back in April of 1999, when they released The Cars Deluxe Edition as a two-CD set. In preparing to review these two new 2017 releases, I wanted to take a look at how they compare to that earlier product. Let’s take a quick step back in time and see what Rhino did with that iconic first album.

This two-CD set is packaged in a cool, unconventional tri-fold case, backed by a classic 1978 Ebet Roberts photograph. The first CD contains a remastered production of the original debut album. Fans and critics alike joke that it could pass for a “greatest hits” record, since all nine of the songs received considerable FM airplay and popularity, though “Just What I Needed,” “Best Friend’s Girl,” and “Good Times Roll” may be the best remembered.  Nearly 40 years later, every song still holds up to repeated listening.

The second CD in the set is full of rarities and unreleased songs, a veritable auditory feast for serious Cars fans. The first nine tracks are early demos of each of the debut album songs in order (with the exception of “Good Times Roll,” for which a demo could not be found so an early live performance was substituted). Notable gems include the original version of “Just What I Needed” (also known as the ‘demo that got the deal’), a recording of “Moving In Stereo” done in guitarist Ric Ocasek’s basement with only Ric and keyboard player Greg Hawkes present, and the demo for “All Mixed Up” with Ric on the lead vocal, rather than Benjamin Orr.

I got such a kick out of hearing these alternate versions, taking pleasure in the raw quality of the sound, the lyric and instrumental variations, and the evidence of how polished and energetic the band was, even before they were signed to a major record label.

The final five tracks on disc two are previously unreleased demos of songs that were staples at The Cars’ early live shows. You’ll find three solid rockers, a quirky dance tune, and an aching ballad, all of which were crowd favorites for years but never showed up on vinyl.

Binding all of this terrific music together is a 24-page booklet, chock full of photos (including the original album art), lyrics, and liner notes. Maxanne Sartori, the Boston disc jockey largely credited with launching the band, pens her thoughts, and excerpts from Brett Milano’s essay in The Cars Anthology liner notes make an appearance as well. The icing on the cake? Greg Hawkes provides little personal stories and factoids about each entry on the second disc to flesh out the history of the songs… fascinating tidbits for die-hard followers of The Cars, like me!

All in all, this was a superb repackaging of an incredible album, and a must-have for Cars fans. So how will the 2017 expanded editions compare to the deluxe treatment? We’ll take a look in my next review!