That rock and roll kick!

Normally I don’t care for songs with long, drawn out solos (as you may know) and in fact, I had heard “Take What You Want” once or twice and thought, “blah!”… but then I saw this footage of The Cars playing it for Musikladen on the big screen and the thrill of watching them boosted this powerful tune onto the list of my all-time favorites. Their performance is off.the.chain.

Before I dive into my looooong recap of what I love about this video segment, I’ll lay out my research. I believe Ric wrote the song in 1977, and it was played in concerts with some consistency through the latter half of that year and on into 1979. The last live performance of it may have been at a charity concert on December 12, 1982, at the Metro in Boston. A quick search for “the cars take what you want” will bring up a few fan videos with various live audio tracks — their performance at the El Mocambo in Toronto is pretty great. For whatever reason, this song didn’t make it to vinyl, but thankfully it showed up on Elektra’s 1999 CD release: “The Cars: Deluxe Edition.”

This song is pretty hard rocking for The Cars. It has such a terrific garage-band-jam-session sound to it. Taking Greg off the keys and hanging a guitar around his neck has a lot to do with that, I’m sure, since he usually plays the bright, pop-ish synth riffs that put one Cars foot on the ‘new wave’ side of the rock-and-roll fence. I think the other reason it comes across so gritty and ragged is because Elliot is allowed to spend some time coaxing those bad-ass sounds out of his guitar. In the meantime, Benjamin is playing out his driving bass and deep background vocals, and David keeps our blood moving with that steady beat. Overlay the primal music with Ric’s edgy lyrics (posted separately) and you’ve got one heck of a wicked song.

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As for the video itself, right off the bat you know things are going to be different because out pops Greg from behind his keys, donning a guitar. I love his silliness with Elliot, and how Greg and Benjamin share a mic — or don’t, at 2:32. [Keep an ear out for what sounds like the keyboards at around 4:44 (yes, really!)… I wonder if Ric is playing? Greg is still clearly in the guitar group at that point so it’s not him. I’d love to get some insight on that.]

And then things get a little crazy. Benjamin gets his attitude on starting at 1:30, when he approaches the mic with that cocky swagger. His vocals rise and there’s a little shoulder shimmy before he sets the world on fire with that rock and roll kick. Luckily Elliot was positioned well enough to NOT get his head taken off, and instead he responds with some smokin’ attitude of his own. You just know he’s winding it up…

It’s a tiny gesture, but there’s also that little chin lift that Benjamin does at 1:50. He’s still in rock star mode all the way; and here he comes with it: the ten best Benj seconds of the whole video. Throwing out his pick, strumming that chord before aggressively grabbing another pick off the mic stand, and then retreating into his sexy jamming stance, adjusting his bass, as he gets ready to watch Elliot burn the place down (2:37-2:47). I always need a healthy swig of ice water after that little sequence.

Unfortunately the camera is not catching the beginning of Elliot’s pyromaniacal activities, so I  amuse myself by focusing on the way Benjamin’s hair moves on his collar. Makes me crazy; that’s how much of an obsessed freak I am.

Now look out, Elliot steals the show from about 3:10 on out. It is rare that we get to see him unleash like this, and it is mesmerizing! It’s like he goes into his own little bubble, just him and his baby, and the intensity on his face pays tribute to how far gone he is. Do NOT miss him twist his guitar to make it moan at 4:10 — incredible! (I’m convinced I see a little smile from Benjamin in the corner there.) Elliot seduces us like this for almost a full minute more before we are reined in by a return to Ric’s invasive, forceful vocals.

Elliot is still feeling the grind and we can see it in his growly face at 5:29, and on into his jam with Benjamin from 5:33-5:39. Excuse me if I can hardly focus on anything but Ben’s mouth at that point.

The song comes to its abrupt end and I have to tell you, I’m exhilarated and dying to watch it again. It’s so addictive! Take a turn with it yourself and tell me what you think.

 

A Bit of German Hospitality (Musikladen)

On November 29, 1978, The Cars continued promoting their debut album in Europe by scooting on over to Bremen, Germany, where they performed for the German television program, Musikladen. The concert was aired on June 7, 1979, and later released on DVD by Rhino Records on October 24, 2000 (just three weeks after Benjamin’s death).

[Included on that DVD is the final interview with all five band members, which offers some great insights into this performance as the guys reminisce about their first crazy year of fame. I will pull information from that source in this write up of the Musikladen concert, but I will post separately about the actual interview itself at a later date.]

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Musikladen was sort of the ‘Midnight Special’ of Germany, running from December of 1972 to November of 1984. Around 90 episodes were aired, plus 59 billed as Musikladen extra (including this performance by The Cars) with most being made in the period between 1974 and 1979. All episodes were produced by Radio Bremen and directed by Michael Leckebusch.

The Cars take the German stage exactly one week after their Rock Goes to College performance, and only two days after playing in France. Interestingly, this show has a whole different feel to it than either of those two. Where the guys were facing antagonism in the UK, and the Paris concert was so elegant and rather formal, here in Germany the whole atmosphere seems more relaxed, and truly conducive to an intimate jam session. The venue appears quite cozy, with colorful but muted lighting. The platform is fairly low, and is small and uncluttered, snugging the band together. The audience is perched on their seats right up to the edge of the stage, and they are open and receptive throughout the show.

There are a few drawbacks here. Unfortunately, the tight space doesn’t allow for much variation in camera angles. I can live with this because I still feel like I get a good view of all that is going on during the show, and every member is well represented. It is especially wonderful to get to see more of David, since he is usually hidden toward the back; here he is included clearly in much of the footage.

As far as the technical stuff goes, there is a raster pattern (had to look that one up) that blemishes the screen from time to time, but it is so quickly tuned out of my brain that I never notice it anymore. The lighting definitely adds a warmth to the atmosphere, but combined with the limited camera range it sometimes creates shadows that take some getting used to. Again, easy to overcome. I am not picky about the nuances of sound quality so you’ll have to be your own judge in that area; I love it and think it sounds great.

There is SO much to this show that I can’t possibly review it all in one piece. I’m sure I’ll eventually do separate little posts to get out what I can’t keep inside, but here’s what I will tell you now: the thing I find unique about this live show is that every man seems to have his own story. Somehow, it’s not *all* about Benjamin this time (believe me, I’m as shocked as you are! LOL). Again, I think the cozy ambiance of the setting brings everyone in close and invites a connection with each member.

Ironically, the guys report being hungover and not feeling well the day they recorded this concert; a bit too much German hospitality in the form of trays of apple Schnapps. I would not have guessed that from watching this footage. They put on a fabulous show, playing almost flawlessly and really coming across like they were having a blast. I imagine that if I could have sat in Ric’s basement during a rehearsal session it would have been a lot like this performance.

Off the top, I kind of think that Greg is the star among stars imusikladen5n this show. He emits his usual adorable, talented nerdiness, but then goes far beyond that. Watching the footage of him working his insane instrument skills during “I’m In Touch With Your World” left my mouth hanging open the first time I saw it, and it continues to thrill. A little later he comes out from behind his synth lab and joins the guys on guitar for “Take What You Want” — it’s awesome! It’s particularly endearing because he doesn’t adopt any kind of guitar player mannerisms, instead his robotic-style movements and wide-eyed looks remind us that he’s still the same old Greg.

I feel like Elliot finally gets the opportunity to really shine here. The camera absolutely adores him as it zeroes in on his blistering solos, and he plays it up one side and down the other. You can see in every close-up that he is having the time of his life; that he is, without a doubt, doing what he lives for and loves with a crazy passion.  His interactions with Benjamin are classic, and he has fun with Greg, too, when Greg shows up on Elliot’s side of the stage.

As I mentioned before, I love that David doesn’t escape the camera. There are great shots of him doing his thing and driving the songs forward. In the interview footage, he recalls being passed out before the show, and having to be helped in and out of the venue. He played the show ‘in a complete daze’ and has no recollection of the actual gig itself. And yet when you watch him work his drums his arms move with power and energy and he never misses a beat. Truth be told, his performance here just steals my heart, knowing that he feels like trash but he continues to bang it out like a rock star. Of course, there are times when he looks like he’s ready to lean over and barf off to the side, but I didn’t really notice that until after I listened to the interview.

As for Ric… Well, I always have such a hard time connecting with Ric. He still sort of paces around like usual, appearing to monitor the guys like a nervous middle manager, but in these close quarters it comes across more social than menacing. He does seem more unclenched and loose in this concert, chewing gum and mouthing the words to Benjamin’s lead in “Bye Bye Love.” Oddly, the thing that my 13yo daughter found enchanting was that he pulled out a pink guitar for MyBFG. I guess that will do it.

germanyOf course I have to save Benjamin for last. My man is oozing with rock star attitude throughout this entire show. He’s got the shoulder shimmies and the rock-and-roll kick; the bad-ass pick grab and the aggressive bass moves. Don’t even get me started on what he is wearing. He melts the audience with his smooth voice as he introduces songs and thanks them for their attention, and then he ignites them with his edgy vocals and pouty lips. (Well, the audience appears to be mostly men so maybe they don’t spontaneously combust like I do? LOL) All the while, he, too, seems more relaxed than in the other two concerts, like he’s really enjoying himself, being silly with his formal bows and his “I’m thanking you all” comments. We definitely get a strong glimpse into his personality in this show.

[Miscellaneous tidbit: at about 13:00 minutes in the camera shows a bit of  the audience and there is a female photographer that looks entirely stunned by what she’s seeing. Me: “Yep, that’s Benjamin, baby. You’ll never get over it.”]

Okay, your turn to watch it. As always, I’ll give you the set list first. The longest of the three recorded European shows, the band played the following songs:

  1. Good Times Roll
  2. Bye Bye Love
  3. Nightspots
  4. I’m In Touch With Your World
  5. My Best Friend’s Girl
  6. Candy-O
  7. You’re All I’ve Got Tonight
  8. Take What You Want
  9. Since I Held You
  10. Don’t Cha Stop
  11. Just What I Needed

Such a terrific line up! Here’s a newly found link to the show in its entirety. Enjoy!

My Best Friend’s Girl

In general, I am not a big fan of Ric Ocasek’s voice, and so a bunch of the songs he sings are on my “I could skip this one” list. “My Best Friend’s Girl” was in that group for awhile… until I started tuning in to what Benjamin was doing during the song (which then made it irresistible to me). His melodic bass line during the verses is very addictive, and my ears tend to park there for the duration. And when they get to the bridge I can’t help but sing along with the guys, “Here she comes again.” I had to notice, of course, the progression of the number of times they sang that line… twice in the first bridge, three times in the second bridge, and four times for the final bridge. Yes, I am a nerd.

For our viewing pleasure, there are many great choices for MyBFG. One video, which I believe was shot at Elektra’s release party for the Cars’ debut album, features Elliot getting kisses (from his sisters, I am told) on the way to the stage, Ric chewing gum, Greg with his mustache, and Benjamin primping adorably. The footage from Musikladen includes, among other delights, a delicious shoulder shimmy from Ben, as well as an awkward twirl and an, “I’m thanking you all” at the end. Love it!

I kind of have a tie for my top choice, so I’m going to post both of them (in chronological order – ha!).

High up on the list for my favorite clip is the one from Rock Goes to College, filmed in England in 1978. You can really hear Benjamin’s bass, and I love it. His charisma is over the top, rocking that Vox in his red pants, and that face he makes at 1:25 just melts me. And did Benjamin actually pull his pick out from inside of his mouth??? I think I could make a convincing case that he did. From about 3:00 on it’s kind of a Benj fest, with plenty of opportunity to gaze at his beautiful face and watch his hands create that hunky sound. [It’s also during this last minute of the performance where one could be fooled into thinking that Ric is, in fact, blind.]

The second contender is also a live performance, this one from 1979, that is so fun to watch because every single member is on his game. Benjamin’s playing my favorite bass (the StingRay), he gives a heart-stopping smile at 1:39, and turns on the duck face/blink combo at 1:45. Gorgeous! Elliot rips a great solo from 1:54; Ric is chewing gum like nobody’s business, and he actually bites his own lip at 1:14 to emphasize the lyric line. (I love it, too, because Ric’s treatment of the final verse is more sing-songy than in the studio version, which makes my ears happy.) There’s a cool reflection in Greg’s glasses, and we almost see David’s face — such a tease! Tight performance, as always!

 

I’m in Touch With Your World

I always skipped over this song as a little too odd… until Musikladen. The entire band is on its game, but Greg absolutely blows me away with his crazy-mad instrument skills. Probably one of the most interesting visual music displays, and I wish they would have kept the camera on him the entire time. Of course, I wouldn’t want to miss Elliot lovingly coaxing those wicked sounds out of his guitar, or David working his way around his kit to bring that flavor.

Ric’s lyrics are perfectly quirky and so irresistible to sing (though I’m disappointed he doesn’t actually say “big fat macaroni” – LOL). Ben himself can’t seem to resist joining in on them at 2:01, and when he does get to the mic, his harmonies are delicious. For some weird reason, I also love that Benjamin is not using a pick. Which leads me to my favorite ‘heartthrob’ moments: Elliot’s smile at 0:05, and Ben’s moves at 0:37 and 2:26. Such a scrumptious performance!

Candy-O, I need you so!

Candy-O has all the elements of the perfect rock song: driving lyrics delivered with force and sex appeal, hard-hitting lead guitar riffs that make you instinctively clench your jaw and leave you begging for more, banging drums and bass line that compel you to move, and The Cars’ signature quirky synth sound that is just enough to transform the song up out of the grind of every other thing on the radio.

I have several favorite videos of Candy-O, but this performance just rocks. It was filmed in Germany on November 29, 1978, for Radio Bremen’s Musikladen television program. It aired on June 7, 1979, and was released on DVD on October 24, 2000, just three weeks after Benjamin died.

It goes without saying that Benjamin is dee-lish through the whole thing (blonde+leather+choker? heaven help me!), and I love the way he looks on as Elliot absolutely rips it up (around 1:14). They are all so magnetic and play so tight… Perfection.