Quoting Benjamin

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

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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!

 

Lyrics: Dangerous Type

Dangerous Type by The Cars (written by Ric Ocasek, ©1979)

Can I touch you, are you out of touch

I guess I never noticed that much

Geranium lover, I’m live on your wire

Oo come and take me whoever you are

 

She’s a lot like you, the dangerous type

She’s a lot like you, come on and hold me tight

 

Oh 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

 

She’s a lot like you, the dangerous type

She’s a lot like you, come on and hold me tight

 

Museum directors with high shaking heads

They kick white shadows until they play dead

They want to crack your crossword smile

Oo can I take you out for a while, yeah

 

She’s a lot like you, the dangerous type

She’s a lot like you, come on and hold me tight

 

She’s a lot like you, the dangerous type

She’s a lot like you, come on and hold me tight

 

Tonight

She’s a lot like you, the dangerous type

She’s a lot like you, come on hold me tight

Quoting Benjamin

About Candy-O: “I can’t imagine anyone else doing an album like that and pulling it off the way we did, any more than I can imagine anybody else doing a Beatles album, say. It’s a lot cleaner than the first one and we spent a lot more time working on sound and the clarity of instruments. But it’s still a natural kind of flowing thing; there’s a lot of feeling from every individual involved. Ric and I have been singing pretty well for some time now, but this time out we had the luxury of really getting it down on tape. The blend of our voices is perfect.”  –Candy-O press kit booklet, 1979

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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….”

Candy-O and the Monitor Mix-Up

Candy-O and the Monitor Mix-Up

Released on June 13, 1979, The Cars’ sophomore 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. Candy-O‘s iconic album cover, painted by Alberto Vargas, would be talked about for years. And all this while The Cars’ self-titled debut album, released almost exactly one year prior, was still riding high: Billboard Magazine’s chart for the “Top Pop Albums of 1979” lists The Cars at #4 and Candy-O at #82. Needless to say, this band was on fire.

But this Candy-O story begins at the very beginning, and doesn’t end until more than three decades later…

(Quick disclaimer: I am fairly confident that these next four photos I am including of Cherokee Studios and the mixing equipment are indeed of Cherokee, but are likely NOT how the studio looked when The Cars recorded there in 1979.)

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David Bowie outside Cherokee Studios, 1975

In February of 1979, The Cars packed up their gear and headed to Cherokee Studios in Los Angeles, California, to record their second album. Originally started as the venture of three brothers on a ranch, by 1979 Cherokee Studios had moved to Fairfax Avenue and was a hot spot for many of the world’s top recording artists. By the time The Cars arrived, Cherokee had already turned out albums for Steely Dan, David Bowie, Art Garfunkel, ELO, Jeff Beck, Olivia Newton-John, Rod Stewart, Hall & Oates, Alice Cooper, Bob Seger, Journey, Neil Diamond, The Jacksons… the list goes on and on.

Cherokee was an unusual studio at the time because it operated independently of any record label. Additionally, the years the Robb brothers had spent as struggling musicians prior to opening their studio made them keenly aware of the importance of an ‘artist-friendly atmosphere.’ They also outfitted their Fairfax location with state-of-the-art equipment and acoustics. It’s no wonder that in his autobiography, Beatles producer Sir George Martin dubbed Cherokee Studios the best studio in America.

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Believed to be Studio 1 @ Cherokee

Generally when a band gets ready to record an album the first thing they do is create a monitor mix. I do not know what The Cars’ actual setup was at Cherokee, or which of the three studios the band worked in, but it’s likely that their work day looked something like this: the band goes into the big room and sets up their instruments. A series of microphones are positioned all around the studio to capture the sounds from each individual band member. David’s drums (which might be enclosed in some kind of clear paneling to avoid sound from the other instruments “bleeding” into his mics) would have 6 to 8 mics around his kit at each of the various drum pieces (kick, snare, high hat, etc). Each of the other guys would have a mic for their instrument and a mic for their vocals.

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Trident A-Range-24

At one end of the studio there is another little room (the control room) separated from the band by a big window, and in that little room sit the producer and sound engineer. In front of them is a huge board with all sorts of slider switches and dials and lights — this is called a monitor console, or a mixing table. Each microphone near the band feeds the sounds it captures into a specialized channel where it is recorded in isolation from the other sounds. Those channels are then accessed and arranged by the producer and sound engineer on the monitor console. Nerd fact: at Cherokee Studios they used the legendary Trident A-Range 24-channel monitor (only 13 of the original models were ever manufactured), and they were the first studio in America to do so. BUT Greg Hawkes indicates that this album was recorded on Roy Thomas Baker’s personal 40-track machine, which was an unusual recorder in the industry at the time.

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Believed to be Studio 3c at Cherokee

Once everything is set up and ready to record, the band plays their song and the music is captured as described above. The producer and sound engineer adjust levels on the console to get the desired balance from the mics and to construct the basic foundation of the song, listening to the music through the large monitor speakers in the control room (pictured above, on top of the console). The resulting track is called a ‘monitor mix.’ This recorded mix is then used by the band to perfect the production of the individual parts of the song. Wearing headphones and listening to a customized playback of the monitor mix, each band member can re-record their part, locking into the pieces of the composition they need to hear to bring out the best in their own performance.

For example, in order to really nail his guitar solo, Elliot may need to zero in on the drums and bass parts. The sound engineer can fiddle with the sliders on his console and make it so that what Elliot hears in his headphones is largely the rhythm section, while the synth and vocals are toned way down or not audible. This gives him the reference points he needs to play to. At the same time, maybe Benjamin needs to hear David’s kick drum pumped up a bit to keep his tempo on track, and the rhythm of Greg’s riffs to sing along to. The sound engineer can make that happen.While the band plays on, the guys in the control room continue to finesse and adjust the mix on the console, moving closer to the final product.

So The Cars spent February of 1979 at Cherokee, recording, mixing and preparing the entire Candy-O album; getting it just how they liked it. When it was finally ‘in the can’ they packed up and headed back to Boston with their completed master tapes, leaving the monitor mix tapes stored in the Cherokee tape vault.

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The Candy-O Monitor Mix Tapes

Fast forward to sometime in 2001. A listing shows up on ebay for two reel-to-reel tapes of “The Cars’ Candy-O Demos” for auction. It appears that a former employee of Cherokee Studios, now residing in California, has some authentic vintage recordings to offer. (Interesting side note: the same seller had also listed similar items from Led Zeppelin and Elvis). A longtime Cars  fan — we’ll call him Phil — triumphantly wins the auction and, thrilled to have these alternate recordings of some of his favorite songs, has a local recording studio transfer the tracks to CDs. He shares a few copies with his trusted friends. He sees nothing wrong with this since he owns the sound recordings now.

Fast forward again, this time to 2014. By now these alternate recordings have been out for over ten years. They have been shared and shared again among the Fanorama, and eventually uploaded onto youtube. Toward the end of the year, our very own David Curry (the genius behind @Night_Spots) decides to feature one of the songs on his tumblr page. Low and behold, Les Steinberg (Elliot Easton’s brother), comes across Dave’s post and hears this version of “It’s All I Can Do” that he’s never heard before.

10882267_953263848018021_7631285565900893425_nSince he already had a working relationship with Dave, Les contacts him and asked him where the recording came from. Dave, surprised that Les has no idea about the mix tapes, explains their history. Les enthusiastically encourages Dave to contact his friend from whom he originally received the recordings to see if the tapes are still around. He indicates that he is sure The Cars’ management would be thrilled to buy back the tapes for their own collection. Dave agrees to contact Phil, and in the meantime, Dave mails his personal CD copy of the mixes to Les for the Steinberg family to keep.

It is the end of November, 2014, when Dave contacts Phil. As fate would have it, after holding on to the tapes for 13 years, Phil finally had a need to sell them and had just completed an ebay transaction less than a month prior to Dave’s message, sending them off to the next happy owner. Though he would have very eagerly just GIVEN the tapes to The Cars, they are out of his hands.

Unfortunately, now that the word is out that the original reel-to-reels have surfaced, it becomes important to The Cars’ camp to track them down. It turns out that those mixes had been stolen from Cherokee’s tape vault and sold illegally (unbeknownst to any of the Fanorama). This makes Phil understandably nervous — to be somehow connected to stolen intellectual property (even though he is innocent of any wrongdoing) — and so Dave offers to act as a mediator between Phil and The Cars; a natural role since he is already openly connected to both parties.

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David Curry, 2014

Now the task falls on Dave to facilitate the tracking down of the reels. Luckily the new owner (who is also eager to avoid a legal hassle) agrees to let them be repurchased. A flurry of emails zips back and forth across the country over the early weeks of December as arrangements are made to have them shipped to Dave’s place of work. After he signs for them he is a little stunned, realizing that he is holding a piece of precious Cars history. “When I got the tapes home, I told my wife about their significance and snapped a few photos. I was in Cars heaven! That lasted about 20 minutes… It suddenly occurred to me that I was now responsible for their care. At that point, I wanted them out of my house as soon as possible.”

After a couple of back and forth emails from Cars management, David is told that Jeff Kramer, the owner of OK Management, will be giving him a call on a specified date. The working hours come and go without a call. An email at the end of the day explains that Kramer was “meeting all day with Dylan.” Dave is asked to contact Brian Higgins. On December 18th Brian arranges for FedEx to pick up the reels and expedite them to their rightful owners, where they are received in California on December 19, 2014.

dave3[Dave’s involvement in this was truly motivated by kindness and his love for The Cars, and he expected nothing in return. It is still pretty cool, though, that he received a copy of Move Like This, signed by all of the band members, as a ‘thank you.’]

Wow, what a history! How exciting for the Cars group to get those original recordings back! And wouldn’t it be great if Rhino Records compiled them along with the Candy-O album and made a deluxe version, like they did with the debut? We can only keep our fingers crossed… In the meantime, you can hear the monitor mix tracks for yourself by exploring this playlist on youtube. 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:

Lyrics: Night Spots

Night Spots by The Cars

Could be you’re crossing the fine line
A silly driver, kinda off the wall
You keep it cool when it’s t-t-tight
Eyes wide open when you start to fall

You go d-dancing in the dim lit club
Some pressure cooker crawls up on his knees
Flashing sensations like a one on one
Stomping around in the jitterbug breeze yeah

Oo, how you shake me up and down
When we hit the night spots on the town

Oo, how you shake me up and down
When we hit the night spots on the town

It’s all behind you when you do catch on
You keep your lovers in a penny jar
A real romantic with a sultry stare
You keep on messin’ with your blonde, long hair yeah

Oo, how you shake me up and down
When we hit the night spots on the town

(it’s just an automatic line)
(it’s just an automatic line)
(it’s just an automatic line)
(it’s just an automatic line)