You’re All I’ve Got Tonight

79-2The 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. 😉

Just What I Needed, Under ‘Cover’

As one of the most recognizable and popular songs by The Cars, there are oodles of write-ups out there about “Just What I Needed.” Rather than add my little opinions to the fray, I’m going to focus on cool, fun and noteworthy versions of the song floating around. There are tons!

jwin1976.jpgRic Ocasek penned this tune in 1976, and of course, as you probably know, this was the song that launched the band… Radio DJ Maxanne Sartori heard it, loved it, and began playing it on her show in Boston. It quickly became a local favorite. On May 29, 1978, just before The Cars released their debut album, the band sent this single out into the world. Though it didn’t place high on the charts in the US (only reaching #27 on the Billboard Hot 100), critics and consumers loved it, and it obviously played a huge role in keeping The Cars on the Billboard 200 chart for 139 weeks. Many of us fondly point to this song as the one that started our Cars addiction.

In choosing various covers to include here, I started with the ones I enjoyed the most, and then narrowed it down based on the criteria that something unique stood out about the performance. There are so many interpretations out there; this certainly isn’t a definitive list.

I’ve got to start out with this terrific audio consisting only of Benjamin’s vocals, his bass, and the guitar solo. Off. the. CHAIN. I love this one in the headphones.

This next version is actually performed by just Ric on acoustic guitar. He participated in one of a series of artist ’roundtable’ shows at The Bottom Line in New York City on May 21, 1992. Organized by Allan Pepper and Vin Scelsa, the idea was to bring together a small group of songwriters and get them talking and playing, and let the music take over. Take a listen here:

Greg’s been known to jam to this song outside of The Cars as well. I loved seeing this video of him with the Aquabats on May 8, 2014, at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston. I’m always delighted with Greg’s participation in children’s programs, and of course, it’s so terrific to expose the next generation to this great music:

And speaking of the next generation, listen to this little cutie pie banging out a drum cover. She nails it!

Then we’ve got a band of teens confidently rocking it out at a 2016 talent show. You’ve got the groovy chick on bass, the firecracker on the drums, and check out the dude doubling up on keys and lead guitar!  I’m loving this:

This next one is more acceptable to MY teenagers, who love the dubstep genre. This modern remix, created by well-known Swiss DJ and producer, Antoine Konrad (aka DJ Antoine) will definitely get a party going. Give it a listen:

If you need something a little more mellow, get a load of this bossa nova version. I still laugh when I hear it… it always reminds me of Flint Lockwood taking a break in Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs… Haha!

Lots of bands have put their own spin on this iconic song. This one is probably my favorite… the vibe is so happy and the variety of stringed instruments makes it extra fun. That banjo, though!

Looking for even more fun than that? This ‘vintage 60s cover’ really takes it to another level, and the video has a host of visual delights: aside from the stunning Sara Niemietz, the background players draw the eye with their goofy antics.

Need to cut about a minute off of your listening time? Ghoti Hook, a 1990’s Christian punk band from Virginia, really ramps up the tempo in their cover… feels a little frantic to me but surprisingly appealing somehow… go figure! Just give it a try:

More recently, American country music singer Eric Church performed “Just What I Needed” during his May, 2017, show. I love how accessible this song is across genres, and the reaction of the crowd is terrific.

“Just What I Needed” has also been used in commercials, movies and in TV shows. Here are just a few samples, starting with this quick spot from Circuit City, 2005.

Many folks may remember the controversial-but-iconic teen film Over The Edge that came out in 1979. Not only was it Matt Dillon’s acting debut, but it featured “Just What I Needed” as the backdrop for a pivotal party scene:

And you can’t overlook this terrific scene from the Emmy award-winning television cartoon, Bob’s Burgers.

Even in recent films, “Just What I Needed” fits the bill: here is a trailer for the new Reese Witherspoon movie, coming out in September of 2017. I love how this song (and much of The Cars’ catalog) is timeless.

Okay, this final audio is so interesting to me. Since I sometimes have a hard time discerning the different instruments in full studio versions of songs, I am always fascinated by recordings that isolate various elements. The segment plays twice and it is well worth the second listen… it’s utterly delicious. Ooooh, that bass!

Do you have a favorite version that I didn’t highlight here? Comment below or find me on Facebook and tell me about it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She’s A Lot Like You…

My husband’s brother, D, has always been my rock-and-roll buddy. We’ve talked music from as far back as I can remember, and he is one of only two members of my large extended family that will talk seriously with me about The Cars without looking at his watch. His all-time favorite song of theirs is “Dangerous Type,” the last track on the 1979 Candy-O album.

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Photo by Ebet Roberts

One might not consider the lyrics of The Cars to be ‘seductive’ in the traditional sense, but when my brother-in-law sings, “Inside angel, always upset. Keeps on forgetting that we ever met. Can I bring you out in the light? My curiosity’s got me tonight,” my sister-in-law blushes and giggles like a schoolgirl.

Such is the provocative power of The Cars!

(Of course, her response may have more to do with the fact that after all these years they are still madly in love, and just about anything he does makes her blush and giggle! haha)

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From Ric Ocasek’s book, Lyrics and Prose

Rock critics agree that “Dangerous Type” is one of the true highlights from Candy-O. Written by Ric Ocasek and produced by Roy Thomas Baker, it was never released as a single but it received a lot of radio play and easily became a fan favorite. This is also one of those songs where, if you really tried to pull a specific message out of Ric’s lyrics, you would likely be left scratching your head. That doesn’t stop any of us from singing along, though, does it? I’m sure each of us has some sort of connection we make with it, which is exactly what Ric wants.

There’s no denying that this song has panache. With every individual element, the guys get in there, throw their punches and then get out. You feel it from the first beats of David’s kick drum, and all through those excellent fills. Greg’s skillfully crafted synth sounds couldn’t be more perfect; I would love to lie across his keyboards and have him play those notes along my spine.  Ric’s vocal treatment is flawless, and adds just the right attitude to his cryptic lyrics. Benjamin’s got that pulsing bass line moving things along, and Elliot’s guitar work is no-nonsense and effective…. on out the door, the band entirely locked into that addictive outro.

Take a minute — well, 17 seconds, actually — to appreciate that guitar solo. It emerges from the chorus so subtly: edgy, powerful, and perfectly symbiotic with the keyboards in the background. When he’s made his voice heard Elliot drops us into to the next verse with little fanfare. That transition — from the end of the guitar solo to Greg’s kick-ass synth while Ric sings, “Museum directors with high shaking heads, they kick white shadows until they play dead…” — that is my absolute favorite part. I eagerly anticipate it every time I crank this song.

For our listening pleasure, there is an alternate studio version out there. It surfaced when the Candy-O monitor mix tapes were recovered. It’s pretty similar to the final track, with the most obvious exceptions being the missing guitar solo and a few minor lyric changes. I’m really looking forward to the Northern Studios recording that is slated to come out as a bonus track on the newly expanded Candy-O release, dropping on July 28, 2017 (just around the corner — yippee!). I’m always thrilled to hear something new.

This song has been covered numerous times. The most notable is this terrific version by Letters to Cleo, which was featured in the 1996 movie, The Craft, and included Greg Hawkes sitting in on the synthesizer. Greg also joins the band in their music video! I love love love this rendition! Take a peek here:

It was also covered by Johnny Monaco on the 2005 Substitution Mass Confusion tribute compilation. I haven’t heard that version yet; still trying to pick up that CD on the cheap. I’ve read that it’s well done. Another tribute album, Just What We Needed, came out in 2010 and includes a version by Graveyard School, but I can’t find that CD — cheap or otherwise — anywhere.

And now are you ready for a totally different take on this song? Check out this lush cover by Susan Hyatt, including some gorgeous trumpet playing by Zack Leffew… it’s a little startling, but I like it. From her 2016 album, Pin-ups and Trumpets.

A youtube friend let me know that “Dangerous Type” was also part of a movie soundtrack (though it does not show up on the official soundtrack album). The song plays for over 3 minutes during this transitional scene in the 1980 film, Times Square. Now I confess, I didn’t watch this movie; I generally like films about teenage angst but this one just didn’t appeal to me at all, though I understand that it is somewhat of a cult classic.

A bonus tidbit: on MTV’s first day of broadcasting (August 1, 1981), the 124th video they aired was “Dangerous Type.” I’m pretty sure it was this performance from The Midnight Special (I chose a higher quality of the footage rather than the one with the VH1 logo):

There are several live performances out there to listen to, but we’ll play out the article with this gem: the audio from The Cars’ set at the 1982 US Festival. Their energy is off the charts, Ric adds great flourishes to the lyrics, and Elliot shakes things up with his gritty guitar playing. Enjoy!

 

Shooting for You

Two amazing things happened for me last week:

The first is that I got to meet one of my dear “Cars world” friends in real life, the beautiful Lori J., and it was wonderful! Even sweeter in person than over the internet, there wasn’t nearly enough time for me to get my fill of her. I am forever grateful for her kickstarting my family vacation up into Canada, and I am looking forward to planning future get-togethers with her.

And the second? While I was in Canada, Rhino Records released the audio file for “Shooting for You.”

Just so you know, I don’t have any big insights on this release; I’ll summarize what information is already out there, but this article is mainly just going to be me, processing my feelings about the ‘new’ song.

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Painted by Mr. SPJ

While this track is being included as one of the bonus features on the upcoming Panorama expanded reissue (to be out July 28, 2017), evidence shows that it was actually originally recorded as a possible piece of Heartbeat City. Elliot Easton has affirmed that the track is an unfinished outtake, not a complete product. It was, of course, written by Ric Ocasek, and copyrighted in 1983.

Like I said, I was in Canada when this hit the ‘net, and only checking in here and there since I was on a family vacation. I was touched at how many of my dear Cars friends made sure I got the link when the track was released to the public. I confess, I didn’t listen to it right away. I just couldn’t. Knowing that Benjamin was on vocals – that I was going to be hearing something from him I had never heard before – I knew I needed to be in the right atmosphere and right frame of mind to experience it for the first time. That may sound a little dramatic… but there it is.

The Monday after we returned home I had a meeting an hour away, and I decided that being alone in my car was the perfect place to indulge. I’ll admit, I got a little emotional the first time through. It made me miss him so much; sort of brought to the surface those strong feelings of loss that I keep tucked away most of the time. I switched off the stereo and took a little quiet break after that first listen, just to let it sink in.

Once I got myself settled, I played to it repeatedly as the miles slipped away. Several things stood out to me.

  1. Of course, I love his entire vocal, but the way Benjamin says, “I’ll be shooting for you, I’ll be shooting for you tonight” is just addictive. I think it’s especially the ‘tonight…’ his inflection… it makes me crazy.
  2. Also, Benjamin’s voice called to mind The Cars’ cover of “Funtime,” mainly because of the line “you don’t need no self-control.” I like that.
  3. You know how there are two versions of “Night Spots?” The earlier demo of that song is kind of like this one; with some of the parts missing (compared to the album version) and how it has sort of an edgy, raw feeling to it. I like that, too.
  4. Greg sounds like he’s experimenting with lots of different synth possibilities. It’s kind of fun. He does that one little riff that reminds me of Saturday morning cartoons when there would be some storyline having to do with the orient — that just seems SO Greg! Haha!
  5. No guitar solo from Elliot. A little article was posted about it on the web, and when asked about it Elliot explained, “Honestly, I just think it’s an unfinished song, and we never got around to putting a solo on there. I don’t recall any particularly nefarious reason other than that!” So there you go.

Before I continue, if you haven’t heard the song yet, here is the link to it. Lyrics are here. Take your time.

This song was later given to Alan Vega, and he released it on his 1985 solo album, Just a Million Dreams (produced by Ric Ocasek). It gives a good idea of what Ric’s vision for the song might have been, though I’m still so curious as to how our five guys would have worked out a final version to make it entirely their own, had they finished it together.

After saturating myself in The Cars’ track, I switched over to the Alan Vega recording and listened to it a couple of times. His version is obviously fleshed out and polished, highlighting the rough state of the original. It includes different lyrics, a guitar solo, prominent background vocals, and more focused synthesizer work. I liked it, which surprised me, since I only associate Alan Vega with his work with Suicide (which I don’t care for). Here’s the link for his:

Of course, I prefer The Cars. I have had Benjamin’s voice in my head all week, telling me to ‘simmer down,’ and reminding me that I ‘don’t need no self-control.’ My man.

I am looking forward to hearing the other two previously unissued tracks coming out at the end of July: “The Edge” and “Be My Baby.” I’ve got both the CD and the vinyl Panorama products ordered; we’ll see how long it takes me to actually be stable enough to experience them. Haha!

I’d love to hear your opinion of the new release. Comment below, or find me on twitter (@sweetpurplejune) or on my Facebook page and let me know your thoughts.

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:

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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….”

Tonight She Comes

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.

greatesthitsfrontOn 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.

You Wear Those Eyes

1980eyesWhile 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:

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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!

Come Back Down

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Graphic by @Night_Spots

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.)

 

Touch and Go (oh oh oh!)

There are a few songs in The Cars’ collection that, when I first heard them, I gave them a decided ‘thumbs down.’ During my early explorations of the Panorama album, I can clearly remember sitting in the kitchen and saying to my husband, “This song is just so hokey, with its ‘doong da da doong da da doong’ cowboy rhythm. Sounds like a weird western thing going on.”

Can you imagine?

No surprise that now I listen to it constantly and consider it one of the high points among (ten) high points on Panorama (which is now my favorite record!). Not sure exactly what changed my mind but I think it was Elliot and that hot solo. More about that in a minute… Let’s start with some basic facts. Released as a single on August 25, 1980, “Touch and Go” is the second track on that album, the first of three sent out, and the only song to chart from Panorama, reaching #37 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It was written by Ric Ocasek and produced by Roy Thomas Baker. “Down Boys” was on the flip side.

One of the things you immediately notice in the song is the complexity of the tempo during the verses, and then the change up when they move to the bridge and chorus. In my highly technical mind (ha!) I think to myself, “Wow, that sounds so tricky and awesome!” But people who understand the REAL way music works call it polymeter: using two different time signatures simultaneously. I learned about it from this educational blurb:

“‘Touch And Go’, a hit single by The Cars, has polymetric verses, with the drums and bass playing in 5/4, while the guitar, synthesizer, and vocals are in 4/4 (the choruses are entirely in 4/4).” — Guitar Alliance

touchandgogregcountMy mind, while sincerely nerdy and fact-based, is not super flexible, and concepts like this are somewhat slippery for me to get a grip on. The best way for me to grasp it was by watching Greg count the beat on his fingers during this performance on Fridays (aired September 19, 1980). Luckily no one’s going to test me on it, so I just took enough knowledge to increase my appreciation for the song (and my admiration of the band) and tucked it away; I encourage you to do the same.

The other notable thing about this song — and really, it’s the ultimate, BADASS, off.the.chain, “WTF did I just hear?” portion of this song — is Elliot’s guitar solo. This was decidedly the game changer for me, the element of this song that pulled me in initially and still won’t let me go.

As we know, Elliot has always been the master of crafting the perfect punch for the typical 15 to 30 seconds he might have to make his mark in a song, and his work here in “Touch and Go” just might be his best overall. I am blown away every time I hear it! For a full forty seconds he builds and layers, and takes me higher every step of the way, ending at the perfect peak before dropping me back into the soft lap of Ric’s vocals and Benjamin’s swaying bass. But did you know that this beautiful creation almost didn’t make it into the final recording?  Elliot tells the story himself in this audio clip from my all-time favorite EE interview:

[Pat at RockSolid has given me permission to make and publish that audio clip, but I highly encourage you to take the time to listen to the full 2-hour interview with Elliot; it is funny, poignant, and extremely insightful. You can download it and take it with you on your morning commute, during a long run, or while you’re doing chores around the house. You won’t regret it!]

As to the lyrics for “Touch and Go,” Ric is quoted as giving a rare interpretation of his own writing on page 60 of the book Frozen Fire, by Toby Goldstein: “This is one of those songs about people having a difficult relationship and not understanding why they’re having problems, but they put up with the uncertainty anyway.” Makes sense to me; more so than my 11 year-old son’s take on it: “Touch and go. That’s the same as hit-and-run, right?” Hm, I actually think I could buy into that explanation, too…

The icing on this musical cake is, of course, Benjamin. I cannot resist that wonderful bass sound, alternately rollicking and gentle, pulling me through the song. I love the live footage where I get to study Benjamin’s hands making it happen.

Though “Touch and Go” was released almost a year before MTV successfully launched video music television in the United States, The Cars were, as always, thebouncerwhalomparkin with the pioneers of technology and new music frontiers. They teamed up with Gerald (Jerry) Casale of Devo to produce a ‘short band film’ (sometimes called a ‘pop clip’) to go with the song — not a common practice among artists at the time but growing in popularity. The second verse of the song was omitted, shortening it up a bit.  The official video was filmed at historic Whalom Park in Lunenburg, Massachusetts, on July 7, 1980. The park closed its doors on September 4, 2000, but you can still see two of its popular rides in the video: the Whalom Park Carousel and The Bouncer (pictured).

I love the opening shot of the hands putting the picture disc on the turntable… I don’t know why, but that just is SO cool to me. I also love the parts where Ric is singing in the near-dark and the boys emerge one by one, slowly gliding through our field of vision. And Elliot spinning on The Bouncer with his guitar — could he be any more badass? Even without the special effects and high tech equipment that are available for today’s music video productions, this cutting-edge gem delivers some great visual tidbits.

Here are a few more things about this song that maybe you hadn’t heard yet:

  1. On December 8, 1980, John Lennon mentioned “Touch and Go” specifically in the last interview of his life. Check it out  here. If you don’t have time to listen to the whole thing, feel free to skip ahead; the relevant discussion starts at 1:41:00 and lasts about one minute.
  2. The song did better globally: it peaked at #2 on the French Singles Chart and #16 in Canada.
  3. “Touch and Go” has been compared musically to “Spirits in the Material World” by The Police, and “You Got Lucky” by Tom Petty, both released after Panorama, and both possibly influenced by The Cars.
  4. Whalom Park’s ride, The Bouncer, had a strong reputation for making people vomit… Wonder if any of the guys were queasy after shooting the video?
  5. The filming of “Touch and Go” was  possibly the second music video The Cars made. The first might have been the fun and funny spy video they filmed for the song “Panorama,” which was also directed by Gerald Casale, along with co-director Chuck Statler (known as the ‘godfather of the music video’). I can’t find a production date for “Panorama” so I can’t say with certainty which came first, but it is listed first on Gerald Casale’s videography, which I’m assuming is chronological.

Here’s the link to the official music video. I also posted the lyrics here if you want to sing along (skipping that second verse, of course). Enjoy!

It’s just an automatic line…

The other day in the car I found myself answering this question from my 11-year-old: “What the heck is he saying???”

We were at the end of rocking out to Night Spots, and it was where Greg is repeating, “It’s just an automatic line…” I told my son what the words were, and then explained my take on the lyric choice: In a lot of songs the singer repeats a line over and over at the end, and I think it was The Cars’ quirky sense of humor that led them to use those lyrics in kind of a teasing way; maybe poking fun at that habit of singers/songwriters (including themselves). Of course, as I’m telling him this, my own speculation makes me love the song and the band more than ever.

eenightspotssoloWhether my explanation is accurate or not, there is no denying that Night Spots is a damn fine song, with a heavy, pulsing bass line, a fantastic Elliot guitar solo, and bad-ass lyrics. And of course, Greg’s masterful synthesizer work! The song was written by Ric Ocasek (of course!) for The Cars’ first album, but ended up being used as the seventh track on Candy-O instead. It became a staple of their live sets in 1978 and was played in concerts all the way through 1987.

There are two studio versions published and both seem to exude power, though in different ways. The first one released, of course, is the track on Candy-O. It starts out with a little introduction of the synthesizer melody that hooks you for the entire song, and then the other boys are all in, churning away on that rocking beat. Every instrument is so present in this recording. Put on some headphones and get away by yourself for a few minutes — SO many audio delights here! Ric sings the lyrics perfectly; in fact this is one in a handful of songs where I would say I LOVE his vocals. His unconventional style is exactly what this song demands. Another favorite little tidbit about this tune is that in the live recordings Ric sometimes changes up the description of the woman’s hair: long blonde, blonde long, kinky, curly…

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From Ric’s book, Lyrics and Prose

The demo version was recorded in 1978 while the band was in London working on their debut album. Produced by Roy Thomas Baker, this unfinished take was apparently set aside at that time, and it wasn’t released to the world until it came out as part of 1995’s Just What I Needed: The Cars’ Anthology. Again, grab your headphones. This time we start out with an addictive beat, and then the layering begins: guitar, bass, guitar; building until the vocal jumps in, but with an almost entirely different set of lyrics. And here again, Ric’s singing is spot-on. In this version he comes across as rather amused and mocking of the woman in the song; as opposed to the bit of desperation, the awe for her that he portrays in the Candy-O cut. The biggest difference between the two tracks? There is no keyboard part in this early demo, and no blazing EE solo. Where the vinyl is poppish and danceable, this version is very bass-driven and very slinky… sexy. Quite a contrast.

It should be no surprise that I love both recordings. Each one conveys its own mood and message; I easily think of them as two individual songs, rather than one being an early version of the other. I’m going to post links to both of them here. I’ve decided not to use fan vids, mostly because I want to encourage you to close your eyes and focus on this incredible music. Enjoy!

CANDY-O VERSION

 

DEMO VERSION:

That rock and roll kick!

Normally I don’t care for songs with long, drawn out solos (as you may know) and in fact, I had heard “Take What You Want” once or twice and thought, “blah!”… but then I saw this footage of The Cars playing it for Musikladen on the big screen and the thrill of watching them boosted this powerful tune onto the list of my all-time favorites. Their performance is off.the.chain.

Before I dive into my looooong recap of what I love about this video segment, I’ll lay out my research. I believe Ric wrote the song in 1977, and it was played in concerts with some consistency through the latter half of that year and on into 1979. The last live performance of it may have been at a charity concert on December 12, 1982, at the Metro in Boston. A quick search for “the cars take what you want” will bring up a few fan videos with various live audio tracks — their performance at the El Mocambo in Toronto is pretty great. For whatever reason, this song didn’t make it to vinyl, but thankfully it showed up on Elektra’s 1999 CD release: “The Cars: Deluxe Edition.”

This song is pretty hard rocking for The Cars. It has such a terrific garage-band-jam-session sound to it. Taking Greg off the keys and hanging a guitar around his neck has a lot to do with that, I’m sure, since he usually plays the bright, pop-ish synth riffs that put one Cars foot on the ‘new wave’ side of the rock-and-roll fence. I think the other reason it comes across so gritty and ragged is because Elliot is allowed to spend some time coaxing those bad-ass sounds out of his guitar. In the meantime, Benjamin is playing out his driving bass and deep background vocals, and David keeps our blood moving with that steady beat. Overlay the primal music with Ric’s edgy lyrics (posted separately) and you’ve got one heck of a wicked song.

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As for the video itself, right off the bat you know things are going to be different because out pops Greg from behind his keys, donning a guitar. I love his silliness with Elliot, and how Greg and Benjamin share a mic — or don’t, at 2:32. [Keep an ear out for what sounds like the keyboards at around 4:44 (yes, really!)… I wonder if Ric is playing? Greg is still clearly in the guitar group at that point so it’s not him. I’d love to get some insight on that.]

And then things get a little crazy. Benjamin gets his attitude on starting at 1:30, when he approaches the mic with that cocky swagger. His vocals rise and there’s a little shoulder shimmy before he sets the world on fire with that rock and roll kick. Luckily Elliot was positioned well enough to NOT get his head taken off, and instead he responds with some smokin’ attitude of his own. You just know he’s winding it up…

It’s a tiny gesture, but there’s also that little chin lift that Benjamin does at 1:50. He’s still in rock star mode all the way; and here he comes with it: the ten best Benj seconds of the whole video. Throwing out his pick, strumming that chord before aggressively grabbing another pick off the mic stand, and then retreating into his sexy jamming stance, adjusting his bass, as he gets ready to watch Elliot burn the place down (2:37-2:47). I always need a healthy swig of ice water after that little sequence.

Unfortunately the camera is not catching the beginning of Elliot’s pyromaniacal activities, so I  amuse myself by focusing on the way Benjamin’s hair moves on his collar. Makes me crazy; that’s how much of an obsessed freak I am.

Now look out, Elliot steals the show from about 3:10 on out. It is rare that we get to see him unleash like this, and it is mesmerizing! It’s like he goes into his own little bubble, just him and his baby, and the intensity on his face pays tribute to how far gone he is. Do NOT miss him twist his guitar to make it moan at 4:10 — incredible! (I’m convinced I see a little smile from Benjamin in the corner there.) Elliot seduces us like this for almost a full minute more before we are reined in by a return to Ric’s invasive, forceful vocals.

Elliot is still feeling the grind and we can see it in his growly face at 5:29, and on into his jam with Benjamin from 5:33-5:39. Excuse me if I can hardly focus on anything but Ben’s mouth at that point.

The song comes to its abrupt end and I have to tell you, I’m exhilarated and dying to watch it again. It’s so addictive! Take a turn with it yourself and tell me what you think.

 

Don’t Go To Pieces

What IS it with this song?

No matter what mood I’m in, this track meets me there. Giddy? It’s perfect for dancing. Lethargic? It makes me hyper. Sad? It cheers me up. Pissed off? It shakes its fist with me. I am so nuts about this tune and I feel like I can never get it deep enough into my system.

A few fast facts about today’s little gem. As expected, it was written by Ric Ocasek and produced by Roy Thomas Baker, and it is worthy of noting that Greg is credited on the copyright record for the music.  It first showed up when the single “Don’t Tell Me No” was released on November 10, 1980, from the Panorama album — “Don’t Go To Pieces” was the B-side. It made a second appearance as the B-side to “Gimme Some Slack,” released only a few months later, on January 5, 1981.

Having never shown up on an album (though I think it would have fit perfectly on Panorama) it was destined to fade into obscurity, but this terrific tune would not be forgotten; it found a place on Rhino Records’ 1995 compilation called, “Just What I Needed: The Cars Anthology.” Hooray! This is how I got my hot little hands on it.

According to Wikipedia, one thing that makes this song unique is it includes rare backing vocals from Elliot and Greg. They jump in singing, “You can make the switch, you can have your wish,” followed by the band joining and singing the chorus “don’t go to pieces, b-b-b-baby.” (I confess I always assumed Elliot and Greg sang backing vocals so I didn’t realize it was a big deal. Learning something new every day!)

As for the song, itself…

Within the first seconds after pressing ‘play’ my feet are tapping. The music is so addictive: that driving bass line, that punky guitar. My shoulders are grooving and I’m grinning like I’m plotting evil. The lyrics are on the edge of meaningless and yet somehow so relatable… signature writing from Ric and it works, largely because Benjamin’s treatment of them knocks it out of the park. Can’t help but furrow my brow and curl my lip as I sing along. (You can find the lyrics in a separate post, if you need them. They are so snide!)

And that voice! Oooo, Benjamin’s voice is so full of sensuality and attitude; so sexily edgy and scornful. But when he cuts into that chorus there’s that little catch — almost a plead — that sends me flying high. How does he DO that? “It’s all so mystical.” And in spite of him telling me not to, I do, in fact, go to pieces nearly every.single.time. B-b-b-baby!

How I wish there was live footage of them performing this song! If you come across any, let me know. In the meantime, I found this wonderful fan video that is chock full of great Benjamin pics and is absolutely scrumptious. Enjoy!