In the rare instances where a band explodes onto the rock scene with a perfect debut album, music critics don’t often hold their breath that the follow-up offering will be able to measure up. In fact, they even have a name for it: the ‘sophomore slump.’ The Cars were one of the exceptions.
Released on June 13, 1979, The Cars’ second effort, Candy-O, would be certified platinum in less than two months, and would soar as high as #3 on the Billboard 200 chart and #4 on RPM Canada. Its first single, “Let’s Go,” would jump to #14 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and the follow-up release, “It’s All I Can Do,” would peak at #41. Billboard Magazine’s chart for the “Top Pop Albums of 1979” lists The Cars debut at #4 and Candy-O at #82. Needless to say, the success of The Cars was not ‘just a quirk.’
There is a common creative thread running between the debut album and Candy-O, meshing the sound of the two projects in such a way that you just knew it was The Cars, and that sound… that punchy, fresh, addictive sound… was their identifying signature. It’s really no surprise that they should be linked: several of the songs on Candy-O were already written and floating around at the time of the debut album. The plaintive “Since I Held You” and the hard-rocking “Candy-O,” along with the sardonic “Night Spots” and “You Can’t Hold On Too Long,” were popular numbers played in clubs and concerts before Candy-O was in the record stores.
Though I could go on for paragraphs about the power and appeal of the songs on Candy-O, my purpose here is to examine the newest issuing of this terrific album. Owners of the previously released (and reviewed) The Cars Deluxe Edition had reason to be pretty excited about the prospect of Rhino Record’s newly “expanded” editions of both Candy-O and Panorama (The Cars’ second and third albums, respectively) that came out in July of 2017; surely we would get another delivery of rarities from the Cars’ cache of unreleased audio goodies.
The double album vinyl packaging of the reissue is beautiful. Of course, the 1979 original artwork is there. Opening the gatefold reveals some previously unreleased photographs, including a candid shot of the band, and a series of very cool reference photos of the model Candy Moore, taken for use by Alberto Vargas for painting that iconic album cover. Tucked inside the sleeves are the original lyrics/photo sheet and a set of liner notes from lead guitarist Elliot Easton, written with David Wild. Then the vinyl itself: the remastered audio on two sides, bonus tracks on the third, and a cool custom etching on the fourth side.
The seven bonus tracks are an interesting mix. Rather than recreate the entire original album in demos, as we found with the debut deluxe CD, only five of the eleven songs are represented with alternate versions. “Let’s Go” and “Lust for Kicks,” are included from the previously discovered monitor mix tapes (made public around 2001). Also included is “That’s It,” originally appearing as the B side to the single, “Let’s Go.”
Another little gem is the Northern Studios version of the hilarious and fun-to-sing “They Won’t See You,” a track that was played in the clubs but didn’t make it to vinyl. It’s a delightful peek into Ric Ocasek’s peculiar sense of humor; indeed, the lyrics here inspired my twelve-year-old to declare, “Those guys are weird!” … then he asked me to play it again. Unfortunately, this appears to be the same version released as a bonus track on the 1999 The Cars Deluxe Edition.
The real treat is the previously unreleased music. My favorite, “Candy-O,” appears from a series of recordings done at Northern Studios. Benjamin Orr’s vocal work has such a metallic, powerful sound to it, reflecting an appealing arrogance in his mood not present in the studio version. “Night Spots” and “Dangerous Type” were also done at Northern Studios, and portray that same kind of pleasing vocal strut. You get the impression that the band was feeling confident and riding high on the thrill of their success.
One of the magnetic elements of demo recordings is getting a glimpse of the evolution of a hit. For example, in “Dangerous Type” you can tell there was still some polishing of the lyrics yet to come. The absence of Greg Hawkes’s synthesizer is quite telling as well, clearly emphasizing how vital his bright, melodic contributions are in defining the sound of The Cars.
I confess, I do wish that there had been more in the way of bonus material, especially from those Northern Studios sessions. Really, since the monitor mixes have been out so long, only three of the additional tracks were previously unheard by the public. It’s a bit of a letdown after the generous banquet served on the deluxe edition, but beggars can’t be choosers, and I am truly grateful for another peek into the ‘vault’ of Cars’ material.
These new expanded editions from Rhino Records are available digitally and on CD, as well as the vinyl product reviewed here. If you don’t already have Candy-O in your music library, grab the expanded edition; you won’t be disappointed. We’ll take a look at Panorama in my next review and see what other delights Rhino Records has in store. Stay tuned!
When asked to name his favorite Cars album: “The first one is great for me. Panorama I like a whole lot, maybe just because we got a lot of crap for making it. So those two, and Heartbeat City. Candy-O wasn’t bad either.” — from “Benjamin Orr: The Cars’ Mr. Casual Steps Out” by Rob Tannenbaum, Musician Magazine, March 1987
Exciting news! Well, at least for me. You know how I always have this nerdy little list of Ben mysteries that I am trying to solve, kind of like cold case files in the detective world? Well, thanks to the sleuthing skills of one of my good friends, “The Case of the Candy-O Lollipop” has been cracked!
We are all familiar with the now-iconic photo of Ben loving on a lollipop on the backside of the Candy-O album cover (if you’re not, just look to your right). Early in my obsession I had read somewhere that the lucky candy treat was actually not candy at all, but a type of writing pen that was popular in the sixties and seventies, with a little skinny handle and a large round lid over a ballpoint tip. As I recall, the story was that a secretary or an assistant on location at the photoshoot offered it to Ben as a prop. Of course, I haven’t been able to find that source since, and it has long been one of those things that I just wanted to be able to verify once and for all. Does it affect the government shutdown? Of course not. But there are those of us that just have to know every little thing…
So here you go: definitive proof! Zooming in on this outtake from the Candy-O photoshoot clearly shows that it IS a pen. Ah… another thing crossed off my list!
Time to pull the cover back on Candy-O, The Cars’ second record, and take a closer look at what’s under the hood (cheesy Cars pun — groan!).
After blasting onto the music scene with their iconic debut album, many critics were prepared for the follow-up offering to fall into the dreaded ‘sophomore slump’ but instead, they were treated to a splendid sequel that proved The Cars’ success was no accident.
Dave and Donna start their study with some background information on this unforgettable album, and then move to the ‘physical examination’ (non-biological), commenting on everything from the band’s style to the cover art (complete with Vargas impersonations). From there they dive into the music, taking each side song by song and sharing their observations, while also exploring questions like:
What did Ben’s mom say about putting things in his mouth?
Are the lyrics to “Let’s Go” lecherous? (Please excuse Donna’s Paul Stanley impression!)
Did RTB choose the wrong song to end the album?
They also discuss such nuances as:
Elliot’s mastery of the outro
The progression and variety of moods from beginning to end
The sometimes puzzling semantics of Ric’s lyrics
The Midnight Scroll this week includes some wonderful insight from Cars fan and fledgling bass player, Katrina. She shares the musical experience she’s gained playing with her band, The Debutantes. Then our good friend, Judi, writes in to clarify the meaning of the phrase ‘Benjamin Orr Trifecta,’ and also inspires Dave to examine himself to determine if he is a ‘fandango.’ Thank you, ladies!
To close out the show, Dave drops a hint about the exciting topic they’re tackling in Episode 35… but not enough of a hint for the impatient Donna. Haha! Be sure to listen through the end and see if you have an idea of what’s coming.
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On remastering the Cars’ catalog: “The technology of recording… and the way people approach bass these days… is so different than it was in the 80s… didn’t have the finite things that some of the new technology has, so I was practically shocked by how much more clarity and bass… On all these albums I was like, ‘I can’t believe how good Ben’s playing the bass.’ It’s like, you can hear every bass thing going on. And that was… to me like… a whole new force, so remastering was a really good idea.” — Ric Ocasek, August 17, 2017
I announced several weeks ago that I was invited to do some writing for Joe Milliken, biographer for Benjamin Orr, and his diverse website, Standing Room Only. I’ve been working on a short series of reviews about the current reissuing of The Cars’ back-catalog, including the debut album in 1999, and the recent expanded editions of Candy-O and Panorama, released in July of 2017.
The final piece was published this weekend, so I am providing links to all three reviews down below (all photos courtesy of Joe Milliken). Hope you enjoy them, and be sure to like the Standing Room Only Facebook page to keep up with Joe’s excellent articles on arts and entertainment in the greater New England area and across the nation!
First up: I took a look back at the 1999 The Cars Deluxe Edition:
I’ve got one more assignment coming up (a review of The Cars Live at the Agora 1978) and then we’ll see where we go from there. I’m excited for the possibilities! As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts; comment below or find me on Facebook or Twitter.
This week on the podcast Dave and Donna do a live unboxing of the Candy-O and Panorama Expanded Editions on vinyl, then give their thoughts on the cover designs, new music and what the hell happened to the space-time continuum.
UPDATE (March 14, 2018): All episodes are now available on Youtube! Listen, subscribe, and share. Check us out at bit.do/nightthoughts
On the possibility of producing a band: “I want to produce somebody I can really get behind, something really meaty. I know what I want, but it’s really hard to describe. But when it comes along, I’m going to grasp it up and make a knockout record of it.” — Candy-O press kit, 1979