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.
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!
About half way through their Heartbeat City tour, The Cars stopped in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and played at the CNE Grandstand (formally known as the Canadian National Exhibit Stadium). Though the band wasn’t in town for long, a couple of cool things took place at that August 8, 1984, show.
Before I get to those unique happenings, let me get a little bit of business out of the way. I don’t have a ton of background on the concert itself, simply because I just haven’t had time to do in-depth research, but I do believe that this was the second time the band performed at the CNE, having stopped there during the Panorama tour. They weren’t strangers to Toronto, though; the also played at the El Mocambo for the debut album, and at the Maple Leaf Gardens in support of Candy-O. And I know that the Canadian press wasn’t super impressed with this particular show, but then, they never really seemed to be in The Cars’ corner over the years (with the exception of writer Peter Goddard).
Wang Chung was the opening band, and then our band took the stage. I’m not positive that this is the actual set list played that night, but here is what The Cars worked through on August 6 and August 10 (both the same), so it’s gotta be close.
It’s Not the Night
Touch and Go
Looking for Love
Gimme Some Slack
Jimmy Jimmy (Ric Ocasek song)
Just What I Needed
A Dream Away
You Might Think
My Best Friend’s Girl
Encore: Heartbeat City
Encore: You’re All I’ve Got Tonight
And while though those two paragraphs above are a bit light on details, I DO have an excellent eyewitness account of the concert to share. Fellow Cars fan Doug Parsons was just 16 years old when he stumbled into the chance to see The Cars live. Rather than try to retell his experience in my own words, I’ll let you read his take on how The Cars rocked his world:
I was born and raised in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. The Cars never played in Atlantic Canada when they toured, which was very frustrating to me, as they were my favourite band. It was only through a rather strange sequence of events that I got to see them in Toronto in the summer of 1984.
Earlier that year, I made a new friend and I spent a lot of time with him that spring. We really were an “odd couple” … we basically had nothing in common except that our older brothers knew each other. He lived with his father in Dartmouth, but his mother lived in Toronto. Sometime in June, he mentioned to me that he was going to visit his mother in the summer for three weeks and asked if I would like to go along. Having never been to Toronto, I was obviously excited to go. I didn’t expect that my parents would let me go, but they did, so I ended up going with him.
He had a girlfriend there, and I REALLY liked his girlfriend’s best friend (sounds almost like a Cars song, doesn’t it?). So one night we were over at his girlfriend’s house, and while I was unsuccessfully trying to chat up her friend, I heard over the radio that was on in the room that The Cars were going to be playing at the CNE Grandstand … and it was WHILE we were in Toronto! Needless to say, I immediately starting bugging my friend to go to the concert with me, which he unenthusiastically agreed to do.
So fast forward to the night of the concert. We got on the bus to the CNE, and after about 20 minutes my friend says, “I think we are going the wrong way.” So he asked the bus driver, and indeed we were going the wrong way. Fortunately, we made it to the CNE while Wang Chung were still on stage. I heard them play “Dance Hall Days” and they sounded great, but I was really only interested in seeing The Cars perform.
So, after what seemed like a LONG intermission … the lights went down, and the crowd started to roar … and then I heard “Hello…hello again!” And I was up on my feet and I didn’t sit down until the lights went back up. I had seen a few concerts in Dartmouth, but nothing of this magnitude. The stage layout was so futuristic with all of the TV screens playing exotic-looking videos. And song after song that I had played on my record player so many times … “Let’s Go” … “Cruiser” … “Just What I Needed” … and on and on. But the two songs that REALLY blew me away were “Good Times Roll” and “It’s Not the Night.” I was not expecting “Good Times Roll” to have such a cranked-up guitar sound, and as much as I liked the album version, I LOVED the live rendition. “It’s Not the Night” was just plain amazing, with all of the layered synthesizers and Ben’s incredible vocals. It really gave me chills.
This was my first outdoor concert, and the beautiful weather and the excellent acoustics of the CNE made it a truly sublime experience. To this day, it remains my all-time favourite concert.
And my friend? TOTALLY indifferent. Sat for the entire concert and said afterward that he found it boring. Like I said, we really were an odd couple. After we got home, we basically stopped talking to each other, which was probably for the best, as he started to associate with some rather unsavoury characters.
And my best friend’s girlfriend’s friend? Turned out that she liked my best friend’s little brother. Just like in a Cars song.
Oh man, I can just feel his heart start to race when he heard those opening lyrics, can’t you? I love that he shared his memories with us! And from his account we can determine that the set list that night did vary a bit. Good to know!
Okay… so the first cool thing. According to one review (from The Toronto Star, August 9, 1984, pictured below), there were only about 8,000 people in attendance. Interestingly, one of those people was none other than the actor, Rob Lowe!
Now, you all know who Rob Lowe is, right? Having made his acting debut at the age of fifteen in a short-lived sitcom in 1979, Rob burst into the 80s movie scene in the coming-of-age classic, The Outsiders. From there it was silver-screen sailing, as he starred in one Brat Pack classic after another, establishing himself as a teen idol and relentless heartthrob. A sex tape scandal in 1988 knocked his reputation for a loop for a bit, but he continued to work steadily, and in the 2000s, he reclaimed his status as an acting force to be reckoned with (and still just as handsome as ever!) on the set of The West Wing and beyond.
Well, rumor has it that Rob was a big fan of The Cars during his high school days. He’s alluded to it himself on Twitter, and actress Melissa Gilbert (among others) has reminisced about driving around and listening to The Cars with Rob. Coincidentally, The Cars used a little snippet of Rob’s appearance on Andy Warhol’s TV in their mini-documentary about the making of the video for “Hello Again.” Check it here at 1:50. Anyway, in 1984 Rob was in Toronto filming Youngblood with co-stars Patrick Swayze and Cynthia Gibb. On the night of the Cars’s show at the CNE Grandstand, photographers spotted him in the crowd enjoying himself. Awesome! I wonder if he got to visit backstage and meet the band?
From The Toronto Star, 1984
From The Toronto Star, 1984
Oh, and if you needed to see that photo of Ben from the article a little clearer… here it is. It’s very similar to the one by Philip Kamin in the Peter Goddard book; the one that Kurt Gaber uses for the memorial shirts. What a stunner!
Now the second cool thing.
While The Cars were in the Toronto area, they were presented with an award for selling over 200,000 units of Heartbeat City — also known as ‘going double platinum’. A little blurb about it was printed in RPM Weekly on September 22, 1984, with a bit of a grainy photo. Luckily Louise Potts posted a clearer version of the picture on Facebook.
Isn’t that great? I love when these little puzzle pieces fit together, and what a treat to get a glimpse of the other commitments that filled the band’s time while they were on the road. The obsession continues!
(Oh, and here’s an extra little factoid: Greg’s double platinum award sold at auction in March of 2019 for $400. Wowza!)
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
On March 30, 2018, Rhino Records released expanded editions of the fourth and fifth albums in The Cars catalog: Shake It Up and Heartbeat City. I wrote a review about SIU for Standing Room Only not long after the album set came out, and I started an article on HBC, but then I had the honor of jumping into the Let’s Go! book project with Joe Milliken and almost all other writing projects were (eagerly, I confess) pushed off to the side for a time.
Now that things have slowed down a little I’ve been dusting off my piles and I finally got around to completing my thoughts on HBC, just in time for the one year anniversary of its release. As Joe says, better late than never. I’m thankful for his philosophy, particularly since it is HIS website I wrote these for! Haha!
So here are the links to these two most recent scribblings (photos courtesy of spj).
Time to return to our in-depth analysis of The Cars’ discography, and here we are at their fifth album, Heartbeat City!
First stop, though: a bit of a follow-up to the activities of the Orrbots (the topic of Episode 37), some possible explanations for photos of Benjamin wearing an eye patch, and Dave finally wins the ‘suck’ or ‘slug’ controversy about the true lyrics to “Cruiser” with an audio clip debunking Donna’s assertion once and for all (…or does he?).
Now, on with the topic at hand. New information about Roy Thomas Baker’s activities in the early 80s leads into some speculation (real… or not real?) about the possible reasons he wasn’t available to continue working with The Cars when they were ready to jump into the studio for HBC. And jump in, they did!
Donna lays out some of the technical details of this record, which might be the best performing album The Cars ever released, and the two discuss how the band’s sound evolved in the hands of producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange. Everything with Heartbeat City was BIGGER… but does bigger always mean better? Dave and Donna examine that question based on background vocals, the method of recording the drums, illuminating the synthesizers versus guitar, contemplating Benjamin’s contribution, and the effect the videos had on the band’s internal and external success.
Sprinkled throughout are other ponderings: How did the recording process for this album affect the band’s relationships? Is “I Refuse” forgettable? Will Elliot Easton ever be on our podcast? In the video for “Drive,” are those wax figures or the real guys? And while we’re at it, who was actually on the stage during the SNL performance of “Drive”? And possibly the most pressing question… Is Kenny Loggins the slut of movie scores???
Dave does remarkably well engaging in the conversation considering he is dealing with a migraine and the meds that accompany it, which may account for why he is unimpressed with Donna’s use of the phrase, “It’s all I can poo.” The show closes with the Midnight Scroll and an explanation of Fair Use copyright law as told by our old pal Rico.
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It’s time for Dave and Donna to pull apart The Cars’ fourth album, Shake it Up. Loved by many and a big success for the band (the title track became their first Top 10 single), this album also represents a departure from the heavier ‘rock’ emphasis of their earlier music — at least, as far as Donna is concerned. The two take a close look at the shifts and nuances that moved The Cars into a new realm of creativity.
There is SO much packed into this episode! Things you never knew about Alberto Vargas’ early career, insights into the odd recording style at Syncro Sound, and Dave’s attempt to answer the “slug” lyric challenge (which is always on the table, by the way). They also wind their way around the ins and outs of the background vocals and the little ‘sneak peek’ threads of Heartbeat City woven through this album.
And then the questions…
Do the underwater sounds of “Since You’re Gone” make for a good album opener?
Would Ben have handled “A Dream Away” better than Ric?
Should “A Dream Away” have meshed with “It Could Be Love”?
What was Benjamin’s true comfort zone during their Friday’s performance of “Think It Over”?
Does anyone have a ‘shaker pin’ available for a reasonable price???
And that’s not even all of it! Tune in to find out how in the world they get to talking about Ben in a leather rabbit suit, recommendations for Dante Tomaselli’s doorbell, line dancing to “Victim of Love,” and Donna pressuring Dave to get a full sleeve of tattoos. Lots of fun and frolic to be found in this episode!
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Grab your headphones and dive into Episode 38 — don’t let nothing get in your way!
March 30th: The day has arrived — and so has the UPS man! Rhino’s official release of Shake It Up and Heartbeat City is upon us, and Dave and Donna have the CDs in their hot little hands (thank you, Amazon). Join them as they give their impressions of the packaging, bonus tracks, and liner notes included with each album. Not only that, but Donna picked up the records from her faithful vinyl guy, Bob from 4000 Holes, so we get a chance to discover the similarities and differences between the two products.
They also address such tasty tidbits as what Donna will say when she runs into Roy Thomas Baker in Cleveland, the ‘fabulous Greg-ness’ of “Take It On The Run,” what the little black egg really looks like, and how Robert John Mutt Lange got Benjamin to sing ‘pork pie’ on the studio version of “Drive.”
The news was chock-full of delights as well… here are the links you’re going to want to follow up on.
Customizable t-shirts and products from The Awesome Company! Supporting and celebrating people on the autism spectrum, this company is co-founded by Ric and Paulina’s daughter-in-law. Check out their website for some AWESOME gear!
Joe Milliken has signed a publishing contract for his biography of Benjamin Orr! Stay in tune with updates, events, media activities, and discount promotions by liking his Facebook page or following the book on Twitter. If you’re not already on the mailing list, shoot Joe a message at email@example.com and request to be added.
Chris Morris has revealed his artwork of The Cars as members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2018. Fast shipping and great customer service. Order his cool merchandise here!
Get on The Midnight Scroll… write to us! Submit your questions, comments, and complaints to firstname.lastname@example.org. We want to hear from you!
In Episode 4 of the NiGHT THOUGHTS podcast Dave and Donna tackle the slew of Cars videos linked to the Heartbeat City album. Not enough time to adequately cover everything… and a few more growing pains in the technology department… but overall, a fun discussion. Come join us!
The first is that I got to meet one of my dear “Cars world” friends in real life, the beautiful Lori J., and it was wonderful! Even sweeter in person than over the internet, there wasn’t nearly enough time for me to get my fill of her. I am forever grateful for her kickstarting my family vacation up into Canada, and I am looking forward to planning future get-togethers with her.
And the second? While I was in Canada, Rhino Records released the audio file for “Shooting for You.”
Just so you know, I don’t have any big insights on this release; I’ll summarize what information is already out there, but this article is mainly just going to be me, processing my feelings about the ‘new’ song.
While this track is being included as one of the bonus features on the upcoming Panorama expanded reissue (to be out July 28, 2017), evidence shows that it was actually originally recorded as a possible piece of Heartbeat City. Elliot Easton has affirmed that the track is an unfinished outtake, not a complete product. It was, of course, written by Ric Ocasek, and copyrighted in 1983.
Like I said, I was in Canada when this hit the ‘net, and only checking in here and there since I was on a family vacation. I was touched at how many of my dear Cars friends made sure I got the link when the track was released to the public. I confess, I didn’t listen to it right away. I just couldn’t. Knowing that Benjamin was on vocals – that I was going to be hearing something from him I had never heard before – I knew I needed to be in the right atmosphere and right frame of mind to experience it for the first time. That may sound a little dramatic… but there it is.
The Monday after we returned home I had a meeting an hour away, and I decided that being alone in my car was the perfect place to indulge. I’ll admit, I got a little emotional the first time through. It made me miss him so much; sort of brought to the surface those strong feelings of loss that I keep tucked away most of the time. I switched off the stereo and took a little quiet break after that first listen, just to let it sink in.
Once I got myself settled, I played to it repeatedly as the miles slipped away. Several things stood out to me.
Of course, I love his entire vocal, but the way Benjamin says, “I’ll be shooting for you, I’ll be shooting for you tonight” is just addictive. I think it’s especially the ‘tonight…’ his inflection… it makes me crazy.
Also, Benjamin’s voice called to mind The Cars’ cover of “Funtime,” mainly because of the line “you don’t need no self-control.” I like that.
You know how there are two versions of “Night Spots?” The earlier demo of that song is kind of like this one; with some of the parts missing (compared to the album version) and how it has sort of an edgy, raw feeling to it. I like that, too.
Greg sounds like he’s experimenting with lots of different synth possibilities. It’s kind of fun. He does that one little riff that reminds me of Saturday morning cartoons when there would be some storyline having to do with the orient — that just seems SO Greg! Haha!
No guitar solo from Elliot. A little article was posted about it on the web, and when asked about it Elliot explained, “Honestly, I just think it’s an unfinished song, and we never got around to putting a solo on there. I don’t recall any particularly nefarious reason other than that!” So there you go.
Before I continue, if you haven’t heard the song yet, here is the link to it. Lyrics are here. Take your time.
This song was later given to Alan Vega, and he released it on his 1985 solo album, Just a Million Dreams (produced by Ric Ocasek). It gives a good idea of what Ric’s vision for the song might have been, though I’m still so curious as to how our five guys would have worked out a final version to make it entirely their own, had they finished it together.
After saturating myself in The Cars’ track, I switched over to the Alan Vega recording and listened to it a couple of times. His version is obviously fleshed out and polished, highlighting the rough state of the original. It includes different lyrics, a guitar solo, prominent background vocals, and more focused synthesizer work. I liked it, which surprised me, since I only associate Alan Vega with his work with Suicide (which I don’t care for). Here’s the link for his:
Of course, I prefer The Cars. I have had Benjamin’s voice in my head all week, telling me to ‘simmer down,’ and reminding me that I ‘don’t need no self-control.’ My man.
I am looking forward to hearing the other two previously unissued tracks coming out at the end of July: “The Edge” and “Be My Baby.” I’ve got both the CD and the vinyl Panorama products ordered; we’ll see how long it takes me to actually be stable enough to experience them. Haha!