Vive la France!

On November 27, 1978, The Cars performed at the Theatre de l’Empire in Paris, France. At the time of this performance, their debut album had only been ‘out there’ for about 6 months. They were (relatively) young and hungry to make their mark, but polished and professional; they had been working the stage for years to get where they were. The show they played for a difficult audience in the UK was less than a week behind them, and one might expect that the band would be defensive, cautious, or exuding tension, but the very opposite attitudes were evident. The Cars were confident in their sound, their style, and in one another. They played with class and expertise and that incredible synergy that would continue to be their trademark through the years.

franceAs to the actual preservation of this event, my research so far has turned up only sketchy details. I believe the concert was aired on a French program called Chorus on December 3, 1978. This television series was hosted by Antoine de Caunes, and was evidently France’s version of rock music television, giving venue to many of the up-and-coming new wave and post-punk bands of the day.

The Cars played a total of seven songs: Good Times Roll, Bye Bye Love, My Best Friend’s Girl, Moving In Stereo, All Mixed Up, You’re All I’ve Got Tonight, and Just What I Needed.

Apparently in 2010 a 3-DVD boxed set of the show Chorus was released including footage of bands from 1978-1981, but according to the track listings, The Cars are not included in the set. Rumor has it that when the socialist government took over in 1981 de Caunes arrived in his office one day only to realize his whole collection of complete, unedited gigs on Beta tapes that had been in his office had been thrown out. If that’s true, there may not be an official recording of The Cars’ entire show left.

A scouring of the ina.fr website (France’s official audiovisual archives) yields little additional information but a smidge of hope… There is a short ‘teaser’ segment video, about 1 minute long, that allows us to see the beginning of the concert (a portion of “Good Times Roll”). The website also offers a video available for download for about $2, but from the description it seems that it is only the first three songs of the concert, and appears to be about 12 minutes long. I’m having a time trying to translate the French and navigate the website to purchase this but I’m not sure if they sell to the United States. I have sent a message to their staff; hopefully I can get my hands on it.

There are also four ‘audio only’ fan videos from the show on youtube: “Moving In Stereo”, “All Mixed Up”, “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” and “Just What I Needed.” A quick search of ‘the cars france audio’ will pull them up for you. The sound quality is a little muffled but worth hearing, and the videos are hugely appealing, visually.

In the meantime, there is currently ONE youtube video segment** of them on the stage in France: the footage of them playing “Bye Bye Love.” And oh, what yummy footage it is!

The stage is wide and spacious, the atmosphere is reserved, and the lfrance4ighting is soft and clear. The boys are all dressed up in classy rock-and-roll attire. The audio starts out a little muted but you can tell the band is perfectly tuned in to each other and ready to rock. After the initial camera work barely catches the epic bass riff at the beginning, the second cameraman is generous with his profile shot of Benjamin singing through the first verse and bridge before retreating to take in the whole front lineup of the band during the chorus.

The real visual triumph here starts during the second verse, when the production team has the presence of mind (and the space!) to scootch around the left side of the stage and around to the back, where we are given the rare treat of getting to see David in action with his drums. I love this! I always wish we had more footage of him doing his thing. (Side note: this clip inspired my 10yo’s nickname for David: he calls him ‘Baby Clothes.’ Hahaha!)

Not only do we get to enjoy David’s talents, but almost immediately afterward we’re able to watch Greg banging out his synth solo in its entirety, with a nice slow pan of the camera and great lighting. I get such a kick out of watching him work those keys; he’s such an incredible musician!

The camera work kind of falls apart a bit after that… There’s some nice close-up attention on Benjamin again but when it comes time for Elliot’s solo, which we can clearly see he is ready to absolutely burn the place down with, the cameraman is instead focusing on Ric, who manages a smile before he seems to realize he’s not the one who should be in the spotlight at the moment. Benjamin brings the show back around, though, when he zeroes in on Elliot for their traditional “Bye Bye Love” connection. Incredible way to end the song!

Some mini-delights of the video that you may or may not have noticed on your own…

  1. I’d bet a case of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups that Greg is wearing Benjamin’s tie from the Rock Goes to College concert. I am *so* adding that to my ‘twinsies’ article.
  2. Looks like you can see the guys’ set lists on stage: one on the floor by Benjamin’s effect pedals, one on the amp stack behind Elliot, one on Ric’s side of the drum riser, and one taped to the top left of Greg’s keyboards. Kind of cool.
  3. I love that Benjamin is wearing a little black Cars pin on the left side of his vest (the same vest from RGTC, by the way (thanks for noticing, Jen!)). I wish I could see clearly the pin on his right. I noticed that Elliot is wearing two very similar pins to Benjamin’s on his shirt… another ‘twinsies’ moment? If only I knew.

WARNING: It’s all about the Benj from here on out! LOL

I know that the lyrics “electric angel rock and roller” might very well refer to Maxanne Sartori (the Boston DJ who helped launch The Cars), but to me those words will always call up the image of Benjamin in this performance. Dressed in black from head to toe (with the exception of that sexy burgundy choker); his blonde hair perfectly styled and shining; that gorgeous red Vox hanging off his manly frame, and that face that I can never resist, he is the epitome of the beautiful rock star. Sheer perfection.

I will let you find your own delicious moments to squeal over in this video — there are plenty! —  but I can’t resist pointing out a few of my favorites. As always, the energy between Benjamin and Elliot sparks from the beginning and includes that adorable smile exchange at 2:02 and their intense (but slightly out of focus) ending. When he’s not rocking it up with EE, Benjamin is making me crazy with his sensual facial expressions. Catch him at 2:41, the unmistakable appeal of 2:56, and the ‘hard to get’ attitude at 3:05. And that mouth at 3:12! Okay, okay, I’ll stop now.

Watch it for yourself and tell me your thoughts.

 

**UPDATE 7/13/16: Buntastic uploaded the 3-song set from ina.fr to youtube!!! Wahoo!

 

 

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Thank God it’s free! (Rock Goes to College)

rgtc-1If you’ve found this blog on your own it’s probably because you did a search. And if you did a search it’s probably because you are crazy about The Cars, and if you are crazy about The Cars you have, in all likelihood, seen their iconic performance on Rock Goes to College. If somehow you missed it, get ready for the best rock-and-roll half hour of your life!

“Rock Goes to College (RGTC) was a BBC series that ran between 1978 and 1981 on British television. A variety of up-coming rock oriented bands were showcased live from small venues and broadcast simultaneously on television and radio during a 40-50 minute live performance. The venues were small university, polytechnic or college halls holding a few thousand people; often tickets were given to the Students’ Union to distribute for free. The bands chosen were also, in some cases, bands which did not have a mainstream following at that time although many went on to be very successful. A BBC DJ would also be present to introduce the band for the television audience.” (Wikipedia)

On November 22, 1978, in the throes of promoting their self-titled debut album, The Cars played at the University of Sussex in Brighton, England. The episode was aired on RGTC on January 13, 1979.

The Cars did not have a good experience in the UK. Apparently there was some controversy about the promotion of The Cars’ picture disc for “My Best Friend’s Girl” which took a hit on the band’s potential popularity. Music critics slammed them, and Ric had a shoulder bag (including a lyrics/poetry book) stolen during their visit. Ironically, the single MyBFG  peaked at number 3 on the UK charts, so at least they had that to soothe them. The Cars did not play in England again, though they did do record signings and promotional appearances from time to time, and later recorded their album, Heartbeat City, in London.*

In spite of being ‘officially’ less than two years old, the seasoned professionalism of this band is evident all throughout the video. Though the reception from the English audience was lukewarm at best, and some of their behavior was downright rude, The Cars rocked on and did what they were created to do: deliver a blistering show purely for the love of it.

Let me detail some of the garbage they had to put up with:

During the first verse of “Bye Bye Love,” some putz in the audience throws what appears to be a drink onto the stage. Benjamin’s face turns to stone, and the increased intensity of his vocals gives away the instant anger he feels. You are left with no doubt of his emotions when he mouths the words, “I’m going to get you” after the first verse. And through all that drama, our darling Benjamin doesn’t miss a note; in fact if anything his performance gets even hotter as he channels all that justified frustration into the song. You can see his demeanor change during the bridge to the third chorus and he flashes a smug little smile… Personally, I like to speculate that the jackass was removed from the audience at that point as you can see (what I interpret to be) triumph in Benjamin’s beautiful eyes as he follows him out.

Unfortunately all the jerks in the audience aren’t gone, because just before the beginning of “Don’t Cha Stop” you can hear an idiot in the crowd shout out, “Thank God it’s free!” (a sentiment I agree with, but for different reasons!). And still, the band is not deterred. Elliot lays into his smoking intro like nobody’s business, and he and Benjamin spend most of the song playing off each other’s rock and roll energy. It’s fabulous.

Elliot’s shirt is clearly wet in more than the ‘sweaty’ way – more drinks being thrown? Speculation, of course. The crowd is slow to respond between songs, wide camera sweeps show general inattention and milling around, and the chattering during the emcee’s intro reflects obvious disinterest. There are a few audio and camera issues that might leave you shaking your head, too. And yet, in spite of all this, The Cars play such a tight and exciting set; it leaves my heart pounding with the thrill. They rise above it all and it’s ALL about THEM. Glorious.

I am so grateful to be able to have access to this piece of Cars history — so yes, “thank God it’s free!” I’ve watched it a zillion times. I have SO much gushing to do about Benjamin; his charisma and appeal in this concert are off.the.chain. For the sake of time, however, I’m going to save all of those observations for later posts… So yeah, you’ve got that to look forward to. Hahaha! (You’re welcome!)

Okay, enough details, right? Are you ready to indulge? First off here is the official set list:

  1.  Just What I Needed
  2. Good Times Roll
  3. I’m in Touch with Your World
  4. My Best Friend’s Girl
  5. Moving In Stereo
  6. All Mixed Up
  7. Night Spots
  8. Bye Bye Love
  9. Don’t Cha Stop
  10. You’re All I’ve Got Tonight

And here we go; here’s the link to the video:

 

In addition to the set list above, there is footage of two more songs The Cars played during the show as an encore that didn’t air on the broadcast: “Candy-O” and “Hotel Queenie.” I’m adding links to those, too. Enjoy!

 

*Sources: the final interview included on The Cars Live — Musikladen 1979 DVD, released 10/2000; the article “The Cars Spin Home,” The Globe, December 1978; and Wikipedia

Moving In Stereo

I’ve said it before (and I’m sure I’ll say it again!), that Benjamin is the perfect person to sing Ric’s lyrics. That man could belt out any string of nonsense and you’d be convinced that it was your life’s motto. I’m not exactly sure what I’m supposed to be connecting with when I sing, “Life’s the same, I’m moving in stereo; life’s the same, except for my shoes…” but if Benjamin believes it then so do I, and I warble along with intensity. (Yeah, I’m not a very good singer.)

Showing up as the 8th track on the 1978 debut album The Cars, ‘Moving In Stereo’ is right up there on my list of the most forceful and effective rock numbers the band ever recorded, and listening to it can be a surreal experience. I highly encourage headphones, and if you can manage it, find a dark place away from distractions. Better yet, head out for a late night or early morning run (before the sun comes up) with this playing in your ears (but be safe about it); it is a powerful experience.

The song starts out with that futuristic synth lead-in, carrying  you off toward the heavens, and then the rhythm guitar snags your ankle and anchors you in the sky. You become cloaked in Benjamin’s beautiful voice, flowing from ear to ear, as Greg continues to beguile you with his gentle notes.

All of a sudden the drums, bass, and lead guitar jump in with a hard, pulsating beat that you cannot resist. All six elements are working together to encapsulate you… You are surrounded, invaded, immersed in this swirling twirl of dense, hypnotic sounds that seem to carry you higher and higher, and you feel like you could actually lose yourself forever in this musical continuum… until Benjamin’s incredible bass run hauls you back into the atmosphere and his seductive vocals attempt to soften your return to the ground.

Somehow it still comes as a shock, though, when the song ends and you find that, well, life’s the same… you were just moving in stereo.

As an aside, I have a feeling that the producer, Roy Thomas Baker, knew what a hard landing it could be at the end of this song, and that’s probably why he chose to have it blend perfectly into the beginning of track 9, ‘All Mixed Up’… a stunning ballad that warrants its own write-up at a later date.

Another noteworthy tidbit is that this song is one of only four for which Greg Hawkes received a writing credit (the others being “This Could Be Love,” “It’s Not the Night,” and “Go Away.”); all other songs written solely by Ric, of course.

And now, for your viewing pleasure… a 1978 performance of ‘Moving In Stereo’ that was included on the 2006 Unlocked DVD.

As you know, I can never get enough of Benjamin and he is over-the-top-hot in this video (the blonde hair and the black leather; the way he works that bass at 3:38 makes me crazy), but when Elliot takes center stage about half way through I get a little ga-ga. That teasing smile as he plays with Ric at 2:35 — delicious! Of course, the poor guy gets caught up in his cord there for a minute afterward, but it was worth it to see him up front. As they always do when playing live, the band locks into each other and delivers a terrific performance.

My Best Friend’s Girl

In general, I am not a big fan of Ric Ocasek’s voice, and so a bunch of the songs he sings are on my “I could skip this one” list. “My Best Friend’s Girl” was in that group for awhile… until I started tuning in to what Benjamin was doing during the song (which then made it irresistible to me). His melodic bass line during the verses is very addictive, and my ears tend to park there for the duration. And when they get to the bridge I can’t help but sing along with the guys, “Here she comes again.” I had to notice, of course, the progression of the number of times they sang that line… twice in the first bridge, three times in the second bridge, and four times for the final bridge. Yes, I am a nerd.

For our viewing pleasure, there are many great choices for MyBFG. One video, which I believe was shot at Elektra’s release party for the Cars’ debut album, features Elliot getting kisses (from his sisters, I am told) on the way to the stage, Ric chewing gum, Greg with his mustache, and Benjamin primping adorably. The footage from Musikladen includes, among other delights, a delicious shoulder shimmy from Ben, as well as an awkward twirl and an, “I’m thanking you all” at the end. Love it!

I kind of have a tie for my top choice, so I’m going to post both of them (in chronological order – ha!).

High up on the list for my favorite clip is the one from Rock Goes to College, filmed in England in 1978. You can really hear Benjamin’s bass, and I love it. His charisma is over the top, rocking that Vox in his red pants, and that face he makes at 1:25 just melts me. And did Benjamin actually pull his pick out from inside of his mouth??? I think I could make a convincing case that he did. From about 3:00 on it’s kind of a Benj fest, with plenty of opportunity to gaze at his beautiful face and watch his hands create that hunky sound. [It’s also during this last minute of the performance where one could be fooled into thinking that Ric is, in fact, blind.]

The second contender is also a live performance, this one from 1979, that is so fun to watch because every single member is on his game. Benjamin’s playing my favorite bass (the StingRay), he gives a heart-stopping smile at 1:39, and turns on the duck face/blink combo at 1:45. Gorgeous! Elliot rips a great solo from 1:54; Ric is chewing gum like nobody’s business, and he actually bites his own lip at 1:14 to emphasize the lyric line. (I love it, too, because Ric’s treatment of the final verse is more sing-songy than in the studio version, which makes my ears happy.) There’s a cool reflection in Greg’s glasses, and we almost see David’s face — such a tease! Tight performance, as always!

 

I’m in Touch With Your World

I always skipped over this song as a little too odd… until Musikladen. The entire band is on its game, but Greg absolutely blows me away with his crazy-mad instrument skills. Probably one of the most interesting visual music displays, and I wish they would have kept the camera on him the entire time. Of course, I wouldn’t want to miss Elliot lovingly coaxing those wicked sounds out of his guitar, or David working his way around his kit to bring that flavor.

Ric’s lyrics are perfectly quirky and so irresistible to sing (though I’m disappointed he doesn’t actually say “big fat macaroni” – LOL). Ben himself can’t seem to resist joining in on them at 2:01, and when he does get to the mic, his harmonies are delicious. For some weird reason, I also love that Benjamin is not using a pick. Which leads me to my favorite ‘heartthrob’ moments: Elliot’s smile at 0:05, and Ben’s moves at 0:37 and 2:26. Such a scrumptious performance!

Photo bomb…

According to one of my sources, this is a recording of a rehearsal for a late 1978 performance at the Roxy in LA. The guys are being interviewed by Bob Harris from the British television music show, The Old Grey Whistle Test, where they appeared shortly after this was filmed.

There is SO much I love about this video.

  1. Benjamin’s ‘photo bomb’ passes behind the interviewer
  2. Benjamin’s cool t-shirt – and that Greg is wearing one, too
  3. Benjamin’s badass bass move at 4:18 (am I allowed to say ‘badass’? hahaha)
  4. Benjamin’s every move
  5. Ric and David look great in the interview, and Elliot rocks his solo
  6. Did I mention Benjamin?

What was wrong with her???

How in the world could Martha Quinn control herself from grabbing his beautiful face and planting a big ol’ kiss on that gorgeous mouth??? Especially because he’s obviously a little tipsy, I’m sure she would have gotten away with it! I would have been in his lap by :56 (as soon as Mark Goodman stopped flapping his stupid gums… geez, enough with the ‘Led Zeppelin’ already).

Sweet, sweet, funny Ben! I’m so crazy about you!