Review: Heartbeat City Expanded Edition

The last of Rhino catalog revamp, this is part five of six: my review of the Heartbeat City Expanded Edition. I had started writing this in 2018 shortly after the album was released, but got (happily) distracted with my duties for Joe Milliken’s book, Let’s Go! My article ended up being published for Standing Room Only in March, 2019, in time for the one-year anniversary of the release.


March 30, 2018, saw the continuation of Rhino Records’ revamp of The Cars’ classic catalog with the release of the expanded edition of Heartbeat City (in tandem with Shake It Up, previously reviewed on SRO). This wildly unique fifth album from the band proved The Cars to be at the forefront of technological experimentation, cutting edge visual representation (aka music videos), and eclectic synth pop sorcery – all addictive elements prevalent in the 1984 music scene.

After working with Roy Thomas Baker on their first four albums, The Cars chose to team up with famed producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange for HBC, a decision that would ultimately be the best in terms of commercial success, but possibly the worst for the band’s cohesive future. They lived in London for over six months, undergoing a grueling recording and production process that left them worn thin. In the liner notes for this expanded edition, written by David Fricke with Ric Ocasek, Ric states, “All those months in London, things got out of sync between us. People thought – maybe myself included – that in three or four years we’d come back and do this some more. We just never did.”

Heedless of the personal cost, the album itself was a smash. It rose to number 3 on the Billboard 200 chart and spawned five hit singles, including the upbeat and danceable trio “You Might Think,” “Magic,” and “Hello Again.” The most memorable is the ballad “Drive,” sung by Benjamin Orr, which became the haunting soundtrack to the video montage of Ethiopian famine images during the historic Live Aid concert in 1985. Every song is a grabber: rich, satisfying, and saturated with style.

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Let’s take a look at how Rhino treated this iconic album with their expanded edition. As with Shake It Up, they chose to forego the unique album etching on the fourth side, but did offer a limited edition colored vinyl, featuring HBC in a nice marshmallow-y white. The other notable difference with this offering is that the original cover art was revamped. Drummer and designer David Robinson explains in the notes that his original concept featured unique plans for the graphics and color scheme, but they were scrapped by the art department. He said, “I’ve been lucky to finally create the cover as conceived 33 years ago. Thanks Rhino… Best ‘do over’ ever!”

Inside the gatefold we find an infusion of graphic imagery and photos that seem representative of the band’s departure from their solid rock days as they embraced the new wave pop style. By itself it might not satisfy the desire for new pictures, but when you pull out the album sleeves there are more than enough beautiful shots of the band in concert to cover any initial disappointment. On the back of that sleeve are some very candid and compelling liner notes in which Ric Ocasek explores the pros and cons of the making of this album. The second sleeve showcases the lyrics with a clean and simple design.

As you may know, the bonus tracks generally make or break the expanded editions for me. This release came with seven additional songs, the most notable being the early demo version of “Drive.”  The repetitive samba beat seems a bit silly when compared to the elegant ballad that hit number 3 on the Billboard charts, but the demo is redeemed by the silky, evocative vocals of bass player Benjamin Orr, who clearly communicates the beauty of Ric’s lyrics in spite of the misplaced rhythm.

Three of the bonus songs are not new. There is the remix version of “Hello Again” (released as a 12” single in 1984) that takes the song to the pinnacle of 80s synth glory with a plethora of musical stutters, crazy car noises, and even quirkier sound effects.  “Breakaway”, which was the B-side to “Why Can’t I Have You” in 1985, is perhaps a lesser-known track but its pulsing beat fits perfectly in this mix. The poppy “Tonight She Comes” is from the band’s 1985 Greatest Hits album and is indeed one of the band’s highest charting singles.

My favorite tracks are from the early versions that they dug out. Subtle differences between “Jacki” and its final form, “Heartbeat City”, add a bit of new texture to the title track. I also appreciate the evolution of the darker “One More Time” to the ethereal and achy “Why Can’t I Have You”. The compelling shift in the direction of the synthesizer part and the softer drum presence take this song from creepy stalker mode to a ballad of legitimate longing.

Now here’s the tastiest treat of them all: “Baby I Refuse.” Similarly titled to the final cut on the album (“I Refuse”), this early incarnation of one of my favorite tunes takes the song in a whole different direction and I am completely addicted. The melodic, gentle guitar stylings of Elliot Easton have me hooked in the sway and make this track worthy of every daily playlist.

These new expanded editions from Rhino Records are available digitally and on CD, as well as the vinyl product reviewed here. Should fans shell out the money for Heartbeat City? For me, Elliot’s signature solo on “Baby I Refuse” alone was worth the price of the whole album set. Add to that the glorious photos, the in-depth liner notes, and the fact that this album just exemplifies all that is bright and beautiful in 80s music, and you’ve got yourself a winner!

Review: Shake It Up Expanded Edition

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In other words:

eerrhof.jpg“Benjamin. He would have loved this night, right here, in his hometown of Cleveland, this city that was so proud of him. His beautiful voice, solid bass playing and good humor was such a huge part of the band’s success. Not a bad-looking guy either!” — Elliot Easton, in his acceptance speech during The Cars’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, April 14, 2018

Episode 31: An Interview with Greg Hawkes

“We’re actually five different personalities, and all five come out on the record… Hawkes, our keyboard man, is a living cartoon.” — Benjamin Orr, The Plain Dealer, June 9, 1978

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Dave and Donna were thrilled to spend an afternoon chatting with The Cars’ multi-talented synth wizard, Mr. Greg Hawkes. Dave was as cool as a cucumber, but as you can imagine, Donna was pretty nervous at first. Greg’s relaxed, open demeanor soon put her at ease. The conversation took on a natural sway of its own, with Greg sharing generously from his cache of memories from his days before, during and after The Cars. His wonderful sense of humor shone through as he fielded questions about David Robinson’s warm hands, clothes shopping with Benjamin, and his favorite cuss word.

Beyond that, he was sweetly candid about a variety of subjects, including:

  1. Benjamin being honored at the Rock Hall
  2. Giving us a peek at Richard and The Rabbits
  3. The Danny Louis timeline
  4. Ric and Paulina
  5. Thoughts about The New Cars
  6. The Fierce Tibetan Gods project
  7. … and lots more!

The time flew by before they knew it, and there was still so much to explore from his 40+ years in the business. Greg was gracious enough to commit to a ‘part 2’ in the near future — what a treat! Stay tuned for that.

It only took a minute for Dave and Donna to collect themselves and jump into the Midnight Scroll which featured an interesting discussion about The Cars in court. Be sure to join our NiGHT THOUGHTS page on Facebook or follow us on Twitter (links below) to see the newspaper article detailing the lawsuits. Thanks to our good friend Brett (aka BB) and Christopher for the letters. A quick recap of the June 6th celebration of the debut album’s 40th anniversary closed out the show.

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And now… the secret sauce… Greg Hawkes!

In other words:

ric induction“I just want to start off with a little known fact about The Cars. When we started the band Ben was supposed to be the lead singer and I was supposed to be the good-looking guy in the band. But after the first gig that changed. I got demoted to just the songwriter.

It’s hard not to notice that Benjamin Orr is not here. He would have been elated to be on this stage, receiving this award, in his hometown. It feels quite strange to be up here without him, and we miss and love him dearly.” — Ric Ocasek, in his acceptance speech during The Cars’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, April 14, 2018