Review: The Cars Deluxe Edition

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 Agora 1978 (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.

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Photo courtesy of Joe Milliken

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!

2019… What more could there be?

2019… What more could there be?

Two thousand eighteen has been SO good to Cars fans! Can you believe these delights?

The band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ♥ The Cars playing together again live ♥ new interviews and memories shared by all four of the guys ♥ the release of two more expanded editions with their yummy bonus material ♥ vintage audio unearthed from The Grasshoppers, Mixed Emotions, Richard and The Rabbits and Cap’n Swing ♥ the publication of Joe Milliken’s biography of Benjamin Orr ♥ a whole crop of unique photos surfacing from fans and rock photographers…

WOW! It just seems like the whole year has been a big pile of gifts for us to unwrap, one at a time!

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And then for me, on a personal level, there is this whole other layer… a thick flannel blanket of memories I keep wrapping around myself:

Being invited to partner with Joe on the publication of his book ♥ driving into Cleveland for the first time ♥ bawling my eyes out after the induction ceremony ♥ David Robinson’s warm hands holding mine ♥ getting to hug SO many Fanorama friends (without using emojis!) ♥  having Greg Hawkes call my house in preparation for our podcast ♥ the shock of seeing my writing on big-screen display at the Rock Hall’s Foster Theater ♥ connecting with all of the wonderful people I’ve met this year ♥ finally getting to view Turbocharge ♥ being published in Rock Cellar Magazine

You guys, I feel like the list might never end. I’m so unbelievably grateful!

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After all that … is there anything left? Can anything possibly compare to 2018: The Year of The Cars?

To be honest, in some ways I do think these past twelve months were the pinnacle. I believe the curtain has closed with a gentle swoosh on our boys. I mean, I have to face the fact that there will likely be no new material from The Cars, and probably not from Ric as a solo artist, either. And no more live performances as a group. Though I am disappointed, I am not shaking my fist at the sky… I mean, these guys had a great run. A GREAT run! How can I begrudge them riding off into the sunset after all they’ve done?

However, they still leave their legacy for us and the generations to come, and I do believe there is still more to be revealed.

So what hope do we have for excitement in 2019?

Some sure things:

  1. We know we will still have the joy of hearing Elliot play. His current band, The Empty Hearts, is working on a second album, and I am optimistic that it will be released in the coming months. Always a busy man, Elliot seems to show up on a variety of stages, playing charity shows and jamming with friends. He also mentioned that he will be starting up a Youtube channel  in the coming months. How cool is that?
  2. Greg, too, continues to delight us with his musical talents. He has been having a blast touring with Todd Rundgren during the last year, and will continue to play with him through the months of 2019 as Todd embarks on an author event/concert series to promote his new book, The Individualist – Digressions, Dreams & Dissertations. I believe that Greg will record another episode of Night Thoughts, too. Can’t wait!

Fingers crossed for:

  1. Expanded editions of Door to Door  and  Move Like This. The odds are not in my favor on that, I know. The general feeling is that the band has exhausted its store of extras, but I can’t help but hope that when Ric takes a break from his art he’ll go through that vault one more time and turn up some goodies for us.
  2. And when he does sort through his stuff…  perhaps he’ll also turn up some old videos of live performances and interviews, audio recordings of the same, or a photo album he wants to share, or even just memorabilia he’d be willing to display on social media. I always want more of that kind of stuff! Or course, it’s not only on Ric. We are discovering all sorts of things floating around that fans and people ‘in the biz’ are digging up, and I am optimistic that we’ll be treated to more of that along the way.
  3. Joe has been kicking around the idea of doing a companion book to share more of the pictures Ben’s friends and family so generously gave him — and he’s had lots of encouragement!  It’s probably not feasible for that to be a done deal in the next twelve months with Let’s Go! still on its honeymoon, but I would love to at least hear that it’s an ‘official’ project.
  4. On that subject… With Let’s Go!  on bookshelves now, I can’t help but wonder if any of the other guys will be inspired to have their stories penned and published? That would be amazing. And if I may say so… I do have some experience in that field now, you know… so uh… call me? Hahaha! Wouldn’t I just DIE?

On my own agenda?

  1. “It’s my party, have some fun!” Okay, so it’s not technically MY party, but I am so excited for the upcoming book events for Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars! Being involved in the organization and promotion means I have the perfect excuse to attend them. I’ll be leaving for Cleveland in less than two weeks (hooray!), and I’m looking forward to Boston a little later on. Woot woot!
  2. Sunshine and Rainbows galore! NiGHT THOUGHTS: The Cars Podcast is still going strong (45 episodes in the can!) and Dave and I are eagerly looking forward to what 2019 holds for us. We have some exciting special guests coming up, a whole pile of topics, and more goofy shenanigans, guaranteed. Who knows how long we will continue this little hobby, but we’re having a blast!
  3. Typing Frog GIF - Muppet KermitTheFrog Type GIFsWriting, writing, and more writing!  With my book responsibilities winding down I anticipate being able to turn my focus back to my own little scribblings. This blog is definitely in need of attention! Haha!  I have many drafts in various stages of completion (including a Standing Room Only article that I promised Joe back in March – yikes!) and a whole list of research ideas collecting dust. Outside of that, I have been offered some more freelance work from a publisher who hired me for a piece earlier this year, and I am eager to take him up on it.

All in all, I am convinced that the next 365 days will be filled with fun and frolic in the Cars world, and I can hardly wait to share it all with you! What about you? What kinds of happy things are YOU anticipating in 2019? Comment below or find me on Facebook!

Live At The Agora, 1978

Earlier in 2017, Record Store Day induced nearly 5,000 Cars fans to swarm their local vinyl shop in search of one of the limited editions of a new offering from Rhino Records: the officially released recording of The Cars Live At The Agora, 1978. I had the privilege of writing a review of the album for Standing Room Only, a website dedicated to promoting music, art, and specialty foods in the northern New England area. Click below to read my thoughts, and don’t forget to follow SRO’s Facebook page for more great articles!

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Photo courtesy of Joe Milliken

http://standing-room-only.info/column/review/joe-milliken/album-review-cars-live-agora-1978

And “Panorama” makes three!

I announced several weeks ago that I was invited to do some writing for Joe Milliken, biographer for Benjamin Orr, and his diverse website, Standing Room Only. I’ve been working on a short series of reviews about the current reissuing of The Cars’ back-catalog, including the debut album in 1999, and the recent expanded editions of Candy-O and Panorama, released in July of 2017.

The final piece was published this weekend, so I am providing links to all three reviews down below (all photos courtesy of Joe Milliken). Hope you enjoy them, and be sure to like the Standing Room Only Facebook page to keep up with Joe’s excellent articles on arts and entertainment in the greater New England area and across the nation!

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First up: I took a look back at the 1999 The Cars Deluxe Edition:

http://standing-room-only.info/column/review/joe-milliken/cd-review-looking-back-rhino-records-release-cars-deluxe-edition

 

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Then I examined the 2017 ‘expanded edition’ of Candy-O to see how it measured up to the deluxe treatment:

http://standing-room-only.info/column/review/joe-milliken/album-review-rhino-records-expanded-edition-cars-candy-o

 

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And finally, I went through the Panorama expanded edition and shared my thoughts:

http://standing-room-only.info/column/review/joe-milliken/album-review-rhino-records-expanded-edition-cars-panorama

 

 

I’ve got one more assignment coming up (a review of The Cars Live at the Agora 1978) and then we’ll see where we go from there. I’m excited for the possibilities! As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts; comment below or find me on Facebook or Twitter.

Writing in the real world!

The name Joe Milliken is familiar to most of you… he’s the guy who is writing a music biography about our wonderful Benjamin Orr. What you may NOT know is that he is also the publisher of his own website called Standing Room Only, a site 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.

Joe also runs “The Jock of Rock Presents” facebook page, providing a shot of rock and roll in your newsfeed, just when you need it.

Through our common interests of music, The Cars, and writing, I’ve become good friends with Joe over the last several months. And… I am thrilled and honored to announce that I have received an invitation from him to contribute to his site!  I am in the process of writing a series of album/CD reviews revolving around the recent re-issuing of The Cars’ classic back-catalog, which will be published soon. Not sure where we’ll go after that, but I am excited for the possibilities!

Not only that, but as his book gets closer to hitting the market, I will be involved in getting the word out through as many channels as possible. You can imagine the joy it gives me to have another way to promote Benjamin’s life and legacy in the world.

Please be sure to check out his website, and stay tuned for links to my contributions.