Cinders and ashes at the Metro, 1982

Between the tight instrumentation, powerful vocals, and sizzling energy, this short set is a real barn-burner! Today marks the 39th anniversary of the night The Cars showed up as surprise guests at the Metro in Boston, Massachusetts, on December 7, 1982, so let’s take a closer look.

We’ll start with this one lone video:

Though I am optimistic that the band’s whole set was filmed (it had to have been, right???), this is currently the only available footage for us Cars fans. It remains on my list of concerts I hope will someday surface from someone’s basement VHS collection.

Along with this visual remnant, we have some (only 3!) photos that have circulated from that night. They were taken by Michael Grecco, and they.are.GORGEOUS. Feast your eyes!


NERD NOTES

This performance is generally pinned to a Toys for Tots charity gig, but I was going over my notes as I was getting ready to upload the audio of their full six-song set (link below) and I discovered that that might not be the case. Let me lay out what I’ve got for you.

Apparently there was a charity show scheduled to benefit a punk/new wave music magazine called New York Rocker. The publication was in financial straits and was trying to scratch up an infusion of cash. This clip from The Boston Globe on December 6, 1982, sets the stage:

The next we hear about it shows up here: a Boston Globe mention on December 10, 1982, where it’s revealed that The Cars were a surprise guest at the NY Rocker benefit.

One more blip of that benefit, confirming that the purpose was to financially support NY Rocker, appeared just a couple of days later:

Inkedconfirming benefit concert for the New York Rocker magazine The_Boston_Globe_Sun__Dec_12__1982_ cropped_LI marked
The Boston Globe ~ December 12, 1982

Seems consistent to me. And judging by the publication covers, I could guess that that magazine would be something Ric in particular would be happy to support. In fact, it looks like The Cars themselves might have been included in at least one issue; I’ll have to see if I can track that down at some point.

As for the Toys for Tots benefit, that was a real thing, and The Cars were definitely involved… to a certain extent. They were co-sponsors of the annual Christmas party at the Metro, along with the venue and Warner Elektra Atlantic, where the only price of admission was the donation of a toy for needy children. Boston photographer Derek Szabo saved his 1982 invite and was so kind to share it with me. How cute is this?

 

The festivities included an hour-long open bar and live music, but it does not appear that The Cars were on the roster of performers. Check out this clipping from The Boston Globe, December 17, 1982:

Of course, it is entirely possible that The Cars did play at that party on December 22; I just haven’t been able to find anything to confirm it. If they did, I feel certain that it is different than the “Candy-O” performance footage we see above. 


So let’s get back to that December 7 show. For the most part, the set list has a gritty punk vibe that seems perfectly suited to an audience of New York Rocker readers. Fortunately for us, an audience recording of the full six songs The Cars performed that night has been preserved. It’s not the greatest quality, but it’s a treasure nonetheless.

The band opens with “Out of Control,” a previously unpublished tune that would show up on Ric’s first solo album, Beatitude, apparently released at the end of the month. [A little pet peeve of mine here: another instance of Ric showcasing his solo work during a Cars show, an opportunity apparently not given to Ben or Elliot in later years. Grr!] 

From there they rev things up with a raucous cover of Iggy Pop’s “Funtime,” and it sounds like all the guys are really enjoying themselves. And Elliot’s solo is blazing! EE continues to drive the show as they blast through  “Take What You Want,” a concert staple that never made it to vinyl. Interestingly, I believe this gig is the last time they played it for an audience.

Now we get to “Candy-O” which, of course, sounds a bit muted compared to the more professional video capture. Still, it’s pretty great! If you recall in the footage, at the end of the song the guys are taking off their guitars and preparing to exit the stage after being on for less than 20 minutes. So now brace yourself: a member of the audience, who is apparently unsatisfied with the very short set, begins booing in protest. Booing! Loudly. And complaining that it’s a ripoff. I mean, I can understand the guy’s disappointment, but it still grates on my nerves to hear him booing my band. Ugh.

Anyway, thankfully, The Cars do return and treat the enthusiastic audience to two more energetic gems.

I love love love the dizzying version of “Let’s Go,” and again, Elliot is just on fire. The big finish comes with “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” and please, I am begging you, do NOT miss Elliot’s sassy little guitar riff at 26:46. If an attitude can be summarized in four seconds of music, there it is right there. So freaking great! I swear, there had to be cinders and ashes floating to the ground as those guys took their leave. Holy wow.

Your turn to listen in! Be sure to share your thoughts below.

UPDATE December 11, 2021: A reader pointed out to me the similarity of Elliot’s “sassy little riff” at 26:46 to the “Wake Me Up” demo at 3:08. It blew my mind! Take a listen:

For the record: A Detour with Dr. Gonzo

Here’s a little misconception that popped up during the Christmas season. 

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Image retrieved from Discogs.

Fans were (understandably) lamenting the fact that The Cars never recorded a Christmas song, though one track did come up in conversation. Our good friend and SuperFan Jon M. posted on Facebook about a single called “Dough Ray Me” attributed to ‘Dr. Gonzo,’ and shared the audio of the song. There was some confusion as to if it was actually a Cars recording or not. It sounds suspiciously like The Cars. The vocal could certainly pass for Ben being a complete goofball, and while the lyrics are too straightforward to have been written by Ric, the storyline seems like something that might appeal to the band.

Unfortunately, it’s not our boys, but the post sparked my curiosity.

Jon had also mentioned that Dr. Gonzo did a Christmas spoof of “Just What I Needed,” too. I got to wondering how these funny songs came to be, and if The Cars had any involvement in their creation. I figured I’d take the detour, if nothing else than to store away some more random Cars trivia (!). Through the magic of social media I was able to have a little chat with the talent behind the mic, Mr. John Means, aka Dr. Gonzo.

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Image retrieved from Facebook.

In the early 1980s, when stand-up comedy was thriving, Illinois native John Means landed in San Francisco and found his niche as Dr. Gonzo, “The Doc of Comedy Rock.” He would take the stage with a guitar slung over his shoulder, and he would pepper his joke routine with short bursts of cheeky parodies of the popular songs of the day. “That got me to open for a lot of bands,” John explained, “because I was sort of musical, and that kind of made me the ‘cartoon before the movie’ for a lot of rock bands.”

Enter Roger Clark of Little Roger and The Goosebumps. who had some notoriety (and a bag of legal trouble) in 1978 after his genius mash-up of the theme from “Gilligan’s Island” with Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” triggered a cease and desist order from Led Zeppelin management. Roger was compelled to destroy all of the unsold 45s. Of course, he couldn’t take back the radio exposure, and the song, titled “Gilligan’s Island (Stairway),” (later reissued under the name “Stairway to Gilligan’s Island”) became a cult classic. Incidentally, Robert Plant would say in 2004 that it was his favorite cover of the song.

Anyway, John teamed up with Roger in 1982 to write and record “Dough Ray Me,” a twist on Roger and Hammerstein’s “Do Re Mi” from The Sound of Music. The gist of the lyrics is that Dr. Gonzo got high and decided to steal Ray’s car, then he crashed it, and now he owes Ray some dough. Very recognizable musical bits from “Just What I Needed” are sprinkled throughout. The 45 was released locally, billed as Dr. Gonzo & the Rent-A-Cars (the Rent-A-Cars were, of course, Little Roger and his Goosebumps), and even got a little radio airplay. “I think Dr. Demento played it, and local bay area stations humored me by putting it on the air a few times,” John chuckled.

With some help from his friends, John also shot a video for the song, featuring the late Monty Hoffman as the angry Ray. MTV was exploding in popularity at the time, so John decided to see if he could get a piece of the action. “We went to LA and went to The Cars’ record company and tried to pitch this thing and see if we could get it on MTV,” he recalled. “We wanted a blessing, we didn’t want to just do it and get in trouble. The MTV people liked it but the record company didn’t want them to release it, so they kind of put a stop to it getting on the air.”

Still, the video survived (and luckily, we can watch it on YouTube!). And there’s that Christmas parody that Jon M. mentioned, too. On an episode of the 80s show Night Flight, Dr. Gonzo takes to a junkyard with his guitar and rocks out an ode to Santa, also using “Just What I Needed.” The clip of that is preserved on Tracey L.’s YouTube channel (including some cute footage of an interview with Elliot!). See both videos below:

“The Cars were just a good vehicle, very recognizable. I could play a couple of chords on the guitar and people would realize I was going to do The Cars. I even did a Ric Ocasek… I’d pull my ears out and look like the fly in that one video and go, ‘Hey, look! I’ve got a rock star in my soup!’ Stupid stuff like that,” John laughed.

“Anybody I ever made fun of is because I was a fan of theirs. Their sound was just so good!” he said.

He always thought maybe he’d meet someone from The Cars but no luck, even when playing in the band’s backyard. “People just loved it when I did [the song] in Boston. It went over well and it was just a lot of fun.”

Throughout the 80s, John opened for some great bands, like Blue Oyster Cult, Night Ranger, Starship, Joe Walsh, and Devo. He also toured extensively with Huey Lewis and The News in 1983-84, and ended up in two of Huey’s music videos — how cool is that? “I got into it to be a stand up comic, not a rock star, but I got to live out my rock-and-roll fantasies, too.”

You can see him here as the ball handler at the Clown Toss booth (from about 1:55 to 2:35):

He also shows up a couple times in this one. You can hear Huey call “Gonzo!” at the 12 second mark, and then John has two little exchanges with Huey, one at 0:25 and another starting at 1:38 as Gonzo models a Back to the Future jacket.

Well now, we found all sorts of fun 80s trivia to tuck away, didn’t we?! And now we’ll return to our regularly scheduled writing. Haha! 

Lyrics: Candy-O

“Candy-O” by The Cars

Candy-o, I need you

Sunday dress, ruby ring

Candy-o, I need you so, could you help me in?

Purple hum, assorted cards

Razor lights you bring

All to prove you’re on the move and vanishing

Candy-o, I need you so

Candy-o, I need you so

Edge of night, distract yourself

Obstacles don’t work

Homogenize, decentralize, it’s just a quirk

Different ways to see you through

All the same in the end

Peculiar star, that’s who you are, do you have to win?

Candy-o, I need you so

Candy-o, I need you so

Candy-o, I need you so

Candy-o, I need you so

Quoting Benjamin

“I like the road a lot. It’s nice to go out once every couple years and shake off the dust, as it were. It’s nice. Performing on a stage makes the day worthwhile, actually, ‘cause you have an outlet. At least it is for me. A lot of young guys want to go out on the road and see what it’s like so we got a chance in great detail the first few years.” — Moving In Stereo: A History of Cars, The Source radio program, April 1982

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Quoting Benjamin

“The Cars just sort of happened without anybody really realizing it… I didn’t really realize it. You know, being through a number of bands like I was it seemed like the next best shot. So you know you try and it just happened, real fast… didn’t really have time to think about it. I didn’t really have time to think about it.” — Moving In Stereo: A History of Cars, The Source radio program, April 1982

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Quoting Benjamin

“For me it’s power. Myself and David supply the power. We are the ‘en-gine.’ That’s what it is to me… It’s also melodic, a bass instrument is melodic to me. I don’t go into playing straight ‘boom boom four’, you know. I like to experiment a bit, and sweeten it up, put a little melody behind the bass part. I think it helps. We’ll let the audience be the judge.”– The Cars: Riding the New Wave radio interview, 1982

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Quoting Benjamin

“I think I was born a musician, actually. I didn’t really have that much choice, you know. Had no interest in anything else; I didn’t really like school that much, but you know like I grew up on the early radio stuff  with Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper and Carl Perkins and Elvis, and Johnny Cash’s thrown in there… a whole lot of rockabilly. I started out playing actually rockabilly.” — Moving In Stereo: A History of The Cars, The Source radio show, April 1982

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Quoting Benjamin

“Whether you want to or not you have to know about the business, as much as you can. Otherwise you’re going to walk in the studio blind or you’re going to sign a piece of paper and then… God knows what’s going to happen to you then. There’s so many bands out there that are just wandering around, doing whatever they do and not making any money at it because they didn’t know in the first place that they can ask for certain things and really get it.” — The Cars: Riding the New Wave, radio interview, 1982

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Quoting Benjamin

“I mean, if you’re playing in a band with someone you have to respect them for what they do and you can’t fight them at every corner. We get along pretty well I would imagine because we need to respect each other’s own background and their abilities, and you know if there’s a problem you have to file it under the right perspective, you know. You can’t let it blow out of shape. Okay, a problem, let’s take care of it but let’s do it so the band stays together because why not? Why shouldn’t the band stay together? And it’s working well for us so why cut your own throat? An ego is an ego, you know, and you can fortify your ego within a group if you really want to.” — Moving In Stereo: A History of The Cars, The Source radio show, April 1982

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It reminds me of him.

“…suddenly everything was pure sound. I felt the music like a physical thing; it didn’t just sit in my ears, it flowed through me, around me, made my senses vibrate. It made my skin prickle and my palms dampen…  And it made my imagination do unexpected things; as I sat there, I found myself thinking of things I hadn’t thought of for years, old emotions washing over me, new thoughts and ideas being pulled from me as if my perception itself were being stretched out of shape. It was almost too much, but I didn’t want it to stop. I wanted to sit there forever.”

Jojo Moyes, Me Before You

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Photo by Paul McAlpine