Here is the 6th piece I wrote for Joe Milliken and Standing Room Only, and it wraps up the series. Though I am adding this to my blog last, it was actually written and published in October of 2017, in between the release of the expanded editions. This is also the review that was quoted on the big screen at a presentation at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018 (photo below).
I’m not going to make you wait until the end of this review to give you my opinion: this album is off the chain!
Now remember, I am not an expert on discerning levels of sound quality, or at picking out nuances in the way music is mixed, but I do know how to enjoy a great show, and there is not a single track on this two-album set that disappoints.
While some critics (and concert goers) have been known to whine and fuss about The Cars not being a ‘dynamic’ live act, no one can deny that when it came to the music, this band could recreate their remarkable studio sound flawlessly from the stage. Because of this, many fans have lamented that The Cars never released a live album during their active years together. Sure, there are a handful of bootleg recordings that make their way around the Fanorama, but not a complete live show remastered and released by the band, itself… until this year, that is!
On April 22, 2017, Rhino Records put out a limited run of 5,000 copies of one of The Cars’ early live performances as part of the worldwide vinyl movement, Record Store Day. The Cars Live At The Agora, 1978 documents the energy and the fresh sound of the band at the beginning of their rise to success.
Just to give you some context, The Cars consists of songwriter Ric Ocasek on rhythm guitar, and he trades lead vocals with long-time friend and bandmate Benjamin Orr, the bass player. Elliot Easton handles the lead guitar, while Greg Hawkes works his keyboards and David Robinson keeps everybody locked in with his drums. This five-man lineup started playing together in early 1977, and within 18 months they had a record contract in their pockets and their first album on music store shelves.
With their debut single, “Just What I Needed,” gaining popularity on the airwaves, the band took off on their first major tour, spanning the United States, and including stops in Canada and parts of Europe. The Agora show here, recorded at the Agora Ballroom in Cleveland on July 18, 1978, for WMMS radio (about a month into their tour), is a shining example of the band’s ability to interlock their individual roles to create a tight, rollicking performance that keeps the listener bouncing from song to song. No, not a bunch of jumping around and physical gyrations, no long monologues or extended soloing by band members, no pyrotechnics; just an ensemble of creative and classy musicians doing what they do best: rocking the house.
The set list for the night is an interesting blend, giving the enthusiastic audience a taste of where these boys have been and where they are going. Not only are there near-flawless performances of all nine incredible songs from their debut album, but The Cars also burn through some raging rockers from their regular club set (the hard-edged “Take What You Want” and the powerful punk of “Hotel Queenie”) and treat the crowd to “Night Spots,” which will show up on The Cars’ future album, Candy-O. They end the concert with a gritty cover of Eddie Cochran’s “Something Else,” letting Elliot take over the lead vocal on their last song of the night.
Other audio delights pour from the speakers. Listen for Greg’s crazy-cool assortment of eclectic sounds on “I’m In Touch With Your World,” and then catch him later as he pushes the show in a whole new direction with his melodic saxophone (“All Mixed Up” and “Something Else”). Also, I love how you can really hear the power of David’s drums on “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight,” and how Elliot kills it on that classic guitar solo in “Just What I Needed.” My favorite tracks feature Benjamin pouring his all into the vocals, like on “Bye Bye Love” and “All Mixed Up;” you can just feel his racing pulse as he belts it out. And woven throughout the entire show are great harmonies, some highlighted backing vocals, and brief audience interactions that draw a smile.
The cherry on top? Rhino Records really nails it with the packaging of this release. The signature red-and-black color scheme of the early Cars’ years, combined with the terrific photos of each band member and the reproduced hand-written show notes displayed on the backside of the album cover – it’s definitely a stare-worthy addition to the vinyl stack. Inside the cover are tucked two records; three of the sides contain the music, and the fourth displays what would prove to be the first in a series of custom etchings to grace the 2017 releases of Cars albums. Awesome!
The vinyl is hard to get ahold of now, though there are still a few copies available floating around online (mostly from Europe). At this time there are no plans for the show to be released on CD; fortunately Rhino has now made it available digitally through several music channels. Click below to download the album. If you don’t have it already, get a copy – it’s a must-have for every Cars fan!
The more I learn about the Boston rock-and-roll scene of the 1970s, the more I am struck with how entrenched and artistically incestuous the players were… and still are! They were in and out of each other’s bands, jammed in the clubs together, shared crash pads and drugs and women. They were all grabbing for that brass ring combo of self-expression and fan-following that meant success. In competition with each other but also in cahoots, many made it, many didn’t. And out of the chaos and the grime and the striving, a welding happened; the unbreakable bond of a brotherhood was forged by survival and experience, and they all felt loyalty to it.
With producer and multi-instrumentalist Barry Marshall, I stumbled across a loose thread of a memory and followed it down and around his unique path in Boston music history, where the friendships cemented in those raucous days would yo-yo throughout his career for the next 50 years.
It kind of started with this: Back in 1980 all five members of The Cars were in the studio to promote the Panorama album with Mark Parenteau on WBCN. Let’s zoom in on one part of the interview for a minute. At about the 16:35 mark, a guy calls in and identifies himself as Edgar (or, more accurately, “Ed-gah”). He makes his comments and asks his question, but during the call he is ‘outed’ by staff member Eddie Gorodetsky, who reveals that the caller is actually named Barry Marshall. David immediately jumps on board with the joke. I snipped that audio out and posted it by itself, if you want to take a listen.
Now fast-forward to a couple of months ago when our good friend Becky B was scouring the internet for photos of Ben. She came across these pictures from a record release party in 1979 for a Boston band called The Marshalls. See Ben and David? And guess who they were posted by? Yup, a guy named Barry Marshall – that name! She immediately recognized the possibility of the connection to the WBCN recording and confirmed that yes indeedy, this Barry is the very same one that called in on that interview forty years ago. Barry was floored when, prompted by Becky, he took a listen to the recording. “I honestly hadn’t thought about that since I did it,” he laughed.
Benjamin Orr at The Marshalls’ record release party, 1979. Courtesy of Barry Marshall, shared with permission.
David Robinson at The Marshalls’ record release party, 1979. Courtesy of Barry Marshall, shared with permission.
Thanks to Becky’s sleuthing, I was able to get in touch with Barry and chat with him about his relationship with The Cars. As it turns out, the bond of friendship between these Boston musicians started early and has remained relevant over all these years.
At the beginning of the 1970s, clubs in Boston were fairly boiling with talented and wild-eyed musicians who were ready to blow the lid off of the music scene. The roster of groundbreaking names is long and stunning (and heavily intertwined!), so for our purposes, I’ll just mention a few. Jonathan Richman and his Modern Lovers were on the scene, with David Robinson on drums. Simultaneously, there was a band called The Sidewinders that was fronted by singer Andy Paley. Andy Paley was friendly with The Modern Lovers, and also good buddies with our drummer and songwriter Barry Marshall, so through Andy, Barry met and became friends with David Robinson in about 1975-76ish. Whew! Did you follow that?
At the time, Barry lived in Scituate, a South Shore community located about an hour southeast of Boston proper. Many Boston bands made their way to the stage of a local club called The Bell Buoy. Barry remembers seeing Cap’n Swing play there a couple of times and he really liked them, taking note of their unique look and sound. “Ben didn’t play bass and was the main singer. I remember him in high boots, like a pirate! Elliot wore a beret a lot. And they had longer hair.”
That would have been about 1976. Not long after that, a new band called The Cars showed up for a gig. Barry recognized Ben and Ric from Cap’n Swing, and low-and-behold, there was David Robinson on drums. Barry was surprised by the visual contrast between the two bands.
“[Cap’n Swing] were still kind of ‘hippy,’ and The Cars completely went in a different look,” he explained, acknowledging how obvious it was that David designed the unique style of The Cars. “I’m one of those people that actually truly believe that David … I mean, all of them were crucial to the success of the band, but David was actually especially crucial because I really saw the difference right away. I really liked the other band a lot, I thought they were really good, but I was completely knocked out as soon as I saw The Cars.”
Barry came to know the other members of The Cars through his early connections. “We were kind of friendly with them from the get-go because of David,” he confirmed. Andy Paley knew Elliot, too, and everyone’s paths crossed and criss-crossed all over the place.
The Cars played at The Bell Buoy probably once a month for about a year, performing four sets a night, three nights in a row. They did some original stuff, but they also sprinkled in covers like, “Love is the Drug” by Roxy Music and “Gimme Little Sign” by Brenton Wood. In fact, Barry vividly remembers Elliot singing, “Something Else” by Eddie Cochran, and that is where Barry’s WBCN comment came from.
Barry genuinely thought Elliot had a great voice and enjoyed it when he sang, but it was pretty obvious that The Cars were settled on just Ric and Ben on vocals. Still, Barry would bring it up just to tease Ric. “I used to joke even when I was playing with them, just before they really took off. I used to needle Ric and say, ‘Oh, you should let Elliot sing more. He’s great!’ and he would actually get almost mad about it. He wasn’t amused!” Barry recalled, laughing. “Although I got along really well with him; I got along with all of them. They were really great.”
But where did “Ed-gah” come from?
Around 1975, Barry and his siblings were striving to get their own band, The Marshalls, off the ground. In order to help make ends meet (and partake of some cool free perks), Barry took up writing in local papers: he wrote opinion pieces and film reviews for publications like The Real Paper and The Boston Globe. When he started writing about the music scene, he recognized that as a musician himself there was a bit of a conflict of interest, and, not wanting to tarnish his credibility, he began writing under the pen name of Edgar Willow. Eventually he gave up the writing gigs as his own music career got more serious and successful, but the alias came in handy for things like calling up his buddies on the radio and busting their balls during their interviews. Haha!
The Marshalls, consisting mainly of the three brothers, Kenny, Kevin, and Barry, and later their sister, Ellie, started playing seriously in 1975. All of them wrote songs, contributing to the fun, happy vibe of the group; they were ambitious and eager. The Marshalls opened for The Cars several times when The Cars were on their way up. Not everyone had heard of them yet, but they were famous around town. “[The Cars] were already known in Boston as being the hot-shit new band in Boston,” as Barry put it.
Because The Marshalls had the connection with The Cars early on, they got the gigs with them; Barry guesses they played about ten openers for them altogether. “And then when they really got going, it was a little bit more difficult to get opening for them, because all of the bands that were a little bit bigger than us in Boston tended to get it then.” And rightfully so, Barry concedes. “It was understandable, why it went that way. But we were still friends with them; everybody was friendly, there was no issue about that. If anything, they were so friendly that they’d have so many people backstage that it was a problem!” he joked.
As The Cars’ popularity grew, and they were getting closer and closer to landing a deal, Barry and David would help each other out when it came to booking shows. Barry explained, “It was like, ‘Hey, I could put together a show at this place in Marshfield called the Rexicana, and if you guys were to open, I would put it together just to play with you all.’ And David might say, ‘Yeah, we need a gig for so and so to come see that weekend.’ That happened with a couple of gigs at The Club in Cambridge, where I put together three nights at the joint with a band called The Criers from NYC, and David mentioned, ‘Oh, we need to play for someone that weekend, would you want to put us on the bill?’ And they played two of the nights, which, of course, were packed! I wasn’t really booking as a job, but I was promoting shows just to get The Marshalls good gigs!”
One night in late 1977, Barry pulled together a gig for The Cars and The Marshalls. They played a weekend at The Rexicana: two nights, sold out, for about 800-1000 people each performance. Unexpectedly, Barry saw a bit of Cars’ history being made.
You know how David plays the Syndrums on “Good Times Roll” and “My Best Friend’s Girl” on the first album? Well, those Syndrums were a pretty new technology at the time, and it’s no surprise that David wanted them. Using the advance money the band received from Elektra, David worked with Syndrum rep Andy Bergsten to purchase a set, and the two spent some time fiddling around with them in the studio, figuring out the most effective way to incorporate them into The Cars’ songs.
So on one of those specific nights at The Rexicana, Andy came in and David played the Syndrums for the first time in a live set. Barry was floored when he heard the results. It was SO revolutionary. “Nobody had seen something like that. People in the audience were stunned,” Barry recalled, still impressed with the genius of the sound. “It was amazing.”
Those were exhilarating times. “Opening for The Cars was really fun, first of all, but second of all, it was educational,” Barry emphasized. “We learned a lot about showmanship and about performance and stuff.”
Of course, Ben made a lasting impression. “Ben Orr had a huge influence on every band in Boston. Half the guys in Boston imitated the things that Ben did, if you know what I’m saying,” Barry shared, laughing. “Those looks he would give, and the way he would bend down with the bass, and that ‘pursed lips’ thing! I even did that a couple of times! That little pout that he did, to me he invented that. I mean, I don’t know if he really invented that, but to me he did!”
Barry continued, “I gotta say, I honestly don’t think The Cars might have made it quite like they did – they wouldn’t have been as big if it wasn’t for him, because he sold it in the beginning, he totally sold it.”
But The Cars’ influence went deeper than exuding rockstar sex appeal. Barry had example after example of how his bond with the members of The Cars continued to intersect with the trajectory of his own career.
After The Cars got signed, David bought two brand new sets of Slingerland drums, and he gave Barry a deal on his old ones. In around January, 1978, Barry and his brother went to pick them up from Ric’s house where they were stored. While they were there, Ric started asking them questions about what was happening with their band. At the time, The Marshalls were talking with a manager and there was some interest from a record label and talk of publishing, and it was a bit over Barry’s head; he didn’t quite understand the process. He explained all this to Ric, and Ric said, “Oh, okay… you guys got a little time? Come on in the house and let’s talk and I’ll explain some of this to you.”
Still grateful, Barry explained, “We spent like two or three hours with him, and to this day, that’s the most I ever learned about the music business in the shortest amount of time.” He continued, “For years, later, I taught a lot of that music business stuff and every once in a while I’ll say, ‘well the person who taught me most about this was Ric Ocasek.’”
Remember when I mentioned Andy Paley earlier? Well, in the late 70s Andy was the caretaker of this incredible mansion at the bottom of Beacon Hill that was owned by the Museum of Fine Arts. While he was in residence, he used to throw these amazing, elaborate parties there. In 1979, when The Marshalls released their first album, Andy hosted their record release party, and Ben and David attended (see those two photos above). By this time, The Cars were riding the charts with their debut album and getting Candy-O under their belt, too, so their presence created quite a buzz. “As an element of the party, that was a big deal that they came. A lot of people talked about the party because, ‘oh! The Cars were there!’” Barry laughed.
In some ways, it wasn’t a surprise: the support, the endorsement, the returning of a favor for a Boston brother. “The one thing about The Cars… they were super-supportive of local bands. They were really nice.”
The Marshalls had some local success – and a lot of fun – with their original music, and Barry found his true calling, though not as a drummer. That first album served to showcase Barry’s production skills, and it wasn’t long before other artists were asking him to produce their stuff. Gradually it took on a life of its own, and ultimately Barry ended up carving out a long and varied career as a producer of music and movie soundtracks, while continuing as a performer and session musician.
[You can take a listen to The Marshalls’ original tunes by clicking on this playlist I created. Great stuff!]
In fact, Barry was into producing records when The Cars bought their own recording studio, Syncro Sound, in 1981. He did several projects there, like these charity Christmas albums he produced for WBCN. The Cars let Barry work on them at Syncro Sound basically for cost. Though it was pretty much ‘nose to the grindstone’ when he was focused on a job, Barry could definitely feel the club-like atmosphere. There was always something going on at the studio. The Cars recorded there (of course), and Ric, Elliot, and David were all involved in producing various acts. David lived right around the corner off of Newbury Street and he came in a lot. There was always a steady stream of different people going in and out. “It was definitely a hang.”
Barry owned a video store on the same street. “Very typically people would rent all the video tapes for that place [Syncro Sound] at my store, and so I would see Ric about every other day doing that. He’d come in and get about ten movies just to amuse people to keep them out of his hair when he was working, you know what I mean? So it was enough of a clubhouse that he did that to keep them out of his hair, literally.”
Eventually the studio was sold and Barry didn’t run into the guys much anymore. The years marched on, and the Boston brotherhood stayed intact. Barry worked closely with Andy Paley on the soundtrack for the 1988 film Shag, The Movie, producing two songs with the iconic rhythm and blues singer Lavern Baker. That experience led him into one of the most fulfilling stretches of his career as Ms. Baker’s producer and musical director from 1989 until her death in 1997. It was the best of all worlds for him: he was touring and playing on stage with her in front of thousands of people, jamming with people he grew up idolizing, and running things from the producer’s chair. Even more importantly, Ms. Baker influenced Barry’s growth as a man and a musician.
“If she hadn’t died in 1997 I might still be doing that, because it was that much fun. We had a good relationship; more like a mother-son almost, because at the time I started working with her I was about 37 or 38, and she was about 59-60, so she was an older woman, of course. I loved hanging out with her; I had such a great time. Every day I did with her I learned something about music, and every day I did with her I learned something about life. It was that kind of a thing. It was tremendous.”
Take a minute to enjoy this footage of Barry (on the right with the red guitar) performing with the legendary Lavern Baker in 1991. Man, that woman can SING.
After Ms. Baker passed, Barry turned his attention back to producing music for Boston artists. During these years Barry would run into Elliot from time to time through work with Andy Paley and other common friends in LA. They crossed paths again in 2013 when Barry was producing an album for a fellow Scituate-tonian (I might have just invented that word), Kevin McCarty and his group, Twice the Size of Jupiter. Barry invited Elliot to play on the album, and Elliot was terrific. Barry remembers, “I realized this is a guy that is not only a great guitar player, but he really knows how to play sessions; he really knows how to get what you need and fairly quickly.”
Having established a good working relationship, and being highly impressed with Elliot’s professionalism and versatility as a session musician, Barry recently collaborated with Elliot on a much more current album… but the story of that project overlaps with the path of another rocker, a next-generation Boston musician who has Cars threads of his own to weave. Should we be surprised?
Stay tuned: Boston Boys, Part 2 will include the rest of Barry’s story, insight into Elliot in the studio, an encounter with Ben in the 90s, and the journey of a kick-ass new album you’re definitely going to want to hear!
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!
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.
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 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!
In the summer of 2017, music journalist Joe Milliken invited me to do some writing for his website, Standing Room Only (SRO). I jumped at the chance! The gig grew into an opinion series of six Rhino products backing up to the The Cars Deluxe Edition from 1999, then to the 2017 expanded editions of Candy-O and Panorama, plus Live at The Agora1978 (also released in 2017), and, finally, the expanded editions of Shake It Up and Heartbeat City (released in 2018).
Standing Room Only is dedicated to promoting music, arts, and specialty foods in the northern New England area. Music reviews, concert recaps, and exclusive interviews with badass rockers are the norm, along with lots of attention given to local businesses and arts events, making this a website with something for everyone. Unfortunately, the site is currently undergoing maintenance, but be sure to like Joe’s Facebook page to stay in the loop and be notified when SRO is back online.
With Joe’s permission, I’ve added my SRO writings here on my blog just for kicks. Here’s the first review I turned in: The Cars Deluxe Edition. Enjoy!
The year 2017 is proving to be an exciting one for fans of the 80s new wave rock band, The Cars. After releasing their last studio album, Move Like This, in 2011, the group has been pretty silent in the marketplace (aside from its remaster/reissue project in 2016). It came as a wonderful surprise to learn that Rhino Records organized the release of The Cars’ early Cleveland performance, Live at the Agora 1978, in time for Record Store Day on April 22, 2017. This new offering would have been enough to keep followers at bay for the year, but Rhino rocked The Cars’ world again on May 11th, announcing that they would also be releasing Candy-O and Panorama (The Cars’ second and third albums, respectively) as expanded editions on July 28, 2017… and Cars’ fans began the countdown.
It’s worth pointing out that Rhino gave the band’s debut album some special treatment back in April of 1999, when they released The Cars Deluxe Edition as a two-CD set. In preparing to review these two new 2017 releases, I wanted to take a look at how they compare to that earlier product. Let’s take a quick step back in time and see what Rhino did with that iconic first album.
This two-CD set is packaged in a cool, unconventional tri-fold case, backed by a classic 1978 Ebet Roberts photograph. The first CD contains a remastered production of the original debut album. Fans and critics alike joke that it could pass for a “greatest hits” record, since all nine of the songs received considerable FM airplay and popularity, though “Just What I Needed,” “Best Friend’s Girl,” and “Good Times Roll” may be the best remembered. Nearly 40 years later, every song still holds up to repeated listening.
The second CD in the set is full of rarities and unreleased songs, a veritable auditory feast for serious Cars fans. The first nine tracks are early demos of each of the debut album songs in order (with the exception of “Good Times Roll,” for which a demo could not be found so an early live performance was substituted). Notable gems include the original version of “Just What I Needed” (also known as the ‘demo that got the deal’), a recording of “Moving In Stereo” done in guitarist Ric Ocasek’s basement with only Ric and keyboard player Greg Hawkes present, and the demo for “All Mixed Up” with Ric on the lead vocal, rather than Benjamin Orr.
I got such a kick out of hearing these alternate versions, taking pleasure in the raw quality of the sound, the lyric and instrumental variations, and the evidence of how polished and energetic the band was, even before they were signed to a major record label.
The final five tracks on disc two are previously unreleased demos of songs that were staples at The Cars’ early live shows. You’ll find three solid rockers, a quirky dance tune, and an aching ballad, all of which were crowd favorites for years but never showed up on vinyl.
Binding all of this terrific music together is a 24-page booklet, chock full of photos (including the original album art), lyrics, and liner notes. Maxanne Sartori, the Boston disc jockey largely credited with launching the band, pens her thoughts, and excerpts from Brett Milano’s essay in The Cars Anthology liner notes make an appearance as well. The icing on the cake? Greg Hawkes provides little personal stories and factoids about each entry on the second disc to flesh out the history of the songs… fascinating tidbits for die-hard followers of The Cars, like me!
All in all, this was a superb repackaging of an incredible album, and a must-have for Cars fans. So how will the 2017 expanded editions compare to the deluxe treatment? We’ll take a look in my next review!