Cinders and ashes at the Metro, 1982

Between the tight instrumentation, powerful vocals, and sizzling energy, this short set is a real barn-burner! Today marks the 39th anniversary of the night The Cars showed up as surprise guests at the Metro in Boston, Massachusetts, on December 7, 1982, so let’s take a closer look.

We’ll start with this one lone video:

Though I am optimistic that the band’s whole set was filmed (it had to have been, right???), this is currently the only available footage for us Cars fans. It remains on my list of concerts I hope will someday surface from someone’s basement VHS collection.

Along with this visual remnant, we have some (only 3!) photos that have circulated from that night. They were taken by Michael Grecco, and they.are.GORGEOUS. Feast your eyes!


NERD NOTES

This performance is generally pinned to a Toys for Tots charity gig, but I was going over my notes as I was getting ready to upload the audio of their full six-song set (link below) and I discovered that that might not be the case. Let me lay out what I’ve got for you.

Apparently there was a charity show scheduled to benefit a punk/new wave music magazine called New York Rocker. The publication was in financial straits and was trying to scratch up an infusion of cash. This clip from The Boston Globe on December 6, 1982, sets the stage:

The next we hear about it shows up here: a Boston Globe mention on December 10, 1982, where it’s revealed that The Cars were a surprise guest at the NY Rocker benefit.

One more blip of that benefit, confirming that the purpose was to financially support NY Rocker, appeared just a couple of days later:

Inkedconfirming benefit concert for the New York Rocker magazine The_Boston_Globe_Sun__Dec_12__1982_ cropped_LI marked
The Boston Globe ~ December 12, 1982

Seems consistent to me. And judging by the publication covers, I could guess that that magazine would be something Ric in particular would be happy to support. In fact, it looks like The Cars themselves might have been included in at least one issue; I’ll have to see if I can track that down at some point.

As for the Toys for Tots benefit, that was a real thing, and The Cars were definitely involved… to a certain extent. They were co-sponsors of the annual Christmas party at the Metro, along with the venue and Warner Elektra Atlantic, where the only price of admission was the donation of a toy for needy children. Boston photographer Derek Szabo saved his 1982 invite and was so kind to share it with me. How cute is this?

 

The festivities included an hour-long open bar and live music, but it does not appear that The Cars were on the roster of performers. Check out this clipping from The Boston Globe, December 17, 1982:

Of course, it is entirely possible that The Cars did play at that party on December 22; I just haven’t been able to find anything to confirm it. If they did, I feel certain that it is different than the “Candy-O” performance footage we see above. 


So let’s get back to that December 7 show. For the most part, the set list has a gritty punk vibe that seems perfectly suited to an audience of New York Rocker readers. Fortunately for us, an audience recording of the full six songs The Cars performed that night has been preserved. It’s not the greatest quality, but it’s a treasure nonetheless.

The band opens with “Out of Control,” a previously unpublished tune that would show up on Ric’s first solo album, Beatitude, apparently released at the end of the month. [A little pet peeve of mine here: another instance of Ric showcasing his solo work during a Cars show, an opportunity apparently not given to Ben or Elliot in later years. Grr!] 

From there they rev things up with a raucous cover of Iggy Pop’s “Funtime,” and it sounds like all the guys are really enjoying themselves. And Elliot’s solo is blazing! EE continues to drive the show as they blast through  “Take What You Want,” a concert staple that never made it to vinyl. Interestingly, I believe this gig is the last time they played it for an audience.

Now we get to “Candy-O” which, of course, sounds a bit muted compared to the more professional video capture. Still, it’s pretty great! If you recall in the footage, at the end of the song the guys are taking off their guitars and preparing to exit the stage after being on for less than 20 minutes. So now brace yourself: a member of the audience, who is apparently unsatisfied with the very short set, begins booing in protest. Booing! Loudly. And complaining that it’s a ripoff. I mean, I can understand the guy’s disappointment, but it still grates on my nerves to hear him booing my band. Ugh.

Anyway, thankfully, The Cars do return and treat the enthusiastic audience to two more energetic gems.

I love love love the dizzying version of “Let’s Go,” and again, Elliot is just on fire. The big finish comes with “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” and please, I am begging you, do NOT miss Elliot’s sassy little guitar riff at 26:46. If an attitude can be summarized in four seconds of music, there it is right there. So freaking great! I swear, there had to be cinders and ashes floating to the ground as those guys took their leave. Holy wow.

Your turn to listen in! Be sure to share your thoughts below.

UPDATE December 11, 2021: A reader pointed out to me the similarity of Elliot’s “sassy little riff” at 26:46 to the “Wake Me Up” demo at 3:08. It blew my mind! Take a listen:

You’re All I’ve Got Tonight

79-2The other day I was standing in a department store when I heard the unmistakable “aaah-ah, aaah-ahhh-ahhh”  of “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” coming over the speaker in the sky. It made me even giddier than I usually get when I hear The Cars out and about because that song is not one that plays often in my neck of the woods. I looked at the people around me like, “Right???” but of course, no one connected. (My sweet kiddo gave me a ‘thumbs up’ though. Haha!)

“You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” is the sixth track on The Cars’ (perfect) debut album, and definitely one of the rockin-est! It was, of course, written by Ric Ocasek and produced by Roy Thomas Baker. Not nearly as arcane as many of his lyrics, Ric described the meaning of the song in this way: “When things get too quiet, and you’re willing to put up with any company, or you’re not willing to accept the prospect of being alone, you might find yourself needing what you’ve got.” (EA News, May, 1978)

Before you read any further in this article I just want you to grab some headphones and listen to this. I know, I know… you’ve heard it a zillion times… but please, I urge you, just take a few minutes and close your eyes and soak this in.

Those drums absolutely make my adrenaline take flight. And then you hear the first fuzzy guitar riffs, paired with Ric’s voice slicing into the music with those wonderfully apathetic lyrics… Everything about this song is huge and dark and pulsing. Well, until Greg joins in with his bright, sparkly strobe of synth notes that take the edge off just in time. And the background vocals are stunning — ah, Roy Thomas Baker! You’re a genius!

From what I understand, the only time this track was officially sent out into the world on a 45 was as the B side to “All Mixed Up” — in the Netherlands! But no matter. Both rock and mainstream radio station deejays and listeners loved it then and still do today; it continues to receive more than its fair share of ‘spinnage.’ (Hmm, surely I didn’t just make that word up?)

Now let’s take a quick step back in time and trace the history of this bad boy. YAIGT was around before The Cars were “The Cars.” According to Toby Goldstein in her book Frozen Fire: The Story of The Cars, Cap’n Swing was playing it in Boston in 1976. Having heard the interesting metamorphoses of other CS-to-The-Cars songs, I sure wish I could hear the Cap’n tackle this tune!

I don’t have an audio from back that far but fortunately for us, an early Cars’ demo was included on Rhino’s 1999 deluxe edition of the debut album. It was laid down during The Cars’ first-ever recording session in April of 1977, at Northern Recording Studio in Maynard, MA. In the liner notes Greg says, “As with ‘Just What I Needed,’ this particular recording also received considerable airplay prior to the first album coming out.” In other words, IT was a hit before THEY were a hit.

You hear the subtle differences right off the bat: you have Dave and Elliot entering with straight sounds, no technological manipulations. Then there’s the heavy bass, the raw (and a little sparse) backing vocals; a different spin on the synth at times. Filling in toward the end you hear the unique vocal mutterings of Ric and those various “woo!” exclamations that clearly testify to the high energy of the band. As always with their early stuff, you just know they *knew* they were killing it. Take a listen:

(It’s funny… my internal stereo always plays the beginning of “Bye Bye Love” after that last “tonight!”)

YAIGT became a concert staple. “We do that [song] all the time. I like that song. It’s just about ending up with somebody you don’t necessarily care to be ending up with, but something’s better than nothing,” Ric explains on the 1979 SuperGroups in Concert series. Indeed, according to setlist.fm (grain of salt, I know), The Cars performed this song 65 times beginning in April of 1977; it is their fifth most-played title. More often than not, it was played as the last one of the regular set or as part of the encore.

As you may recall, the band closed the televised portion of their performance on Rock Goes to College with it, and they nailed it. I love how Ric takes advantage of the live show to get a little naughty with the lyrics… and of course, the added slo-mo effects as the credits roll add the mint to this sweet tea. Check it out:

According to 98.5 WNCX Radio, Elliot enjoyed it, too.  “’You’re All I’ve Got Tonight’ was a favorite of mine, if for no other reason than it was my chance to stretch out live. I usually used the solo at the end as a launching point and would take off until the other guys in the band sort of looked at me like ‘Okay already, enough,’ and then I’d give them their cue that we would go back into the song. But that was a fun one for me to play, because I always got to stretch on it.”

This performance from 2011 is a perfect example of that ‘stretching.’ The whole song is so stunning I can hardly keep from standing up and cheering at the end. Elliot blazes through those guitar parts like a freight train — check him out at about 3:00, where he kicks off just over a minute and a half of pure six-string badassery. And the crowd just eats it up! I watch this again and again and I just can’t help but internally beg the stars to align so that The Cars will tour one more time.

A search on Youtube will turn up a whole variety of folks doing covers of this song, with equally diverse success. I do have a few favorites among those efforts.

The one I like best sounds the most different to my ears, and I confess I didn’t really care for it on the first listen. It’s by an artist named David Raymer. It’s a little softer; the vocals are more melodic and kind of jazzy; he’s got kind of an Edwyn Collins vibe going on. I gave it another chance, liked it, wanted to hear it again… and then I kept coming back to it. There’s just something so unique about it; can’t really put my finger on it. What do you think?

Probably the most notable remake of YAIGT was done by The Smashing Pumpkins. A long-time fan of The Cars, lead singer/songwriter Billy Corgan added his metallic sawblade vocals and alternative-punk distortion,  and then monkeyed with elements of the arrangement enough to add a definite (but not unpleasant) twist to this classic. The Smashing Pumpkins released their version on their 1996 box set called The Aeroplane Flies High. I’m not a big SP fan, but I am a little addicted to this! Take a listen here (you have to do some jimmy-jog with the settings but it works, I promise):

This cover also shows up in a snippet of the film The Saint, a successful 1997 thriller starring Val Kilmer and Elisabeth Shue. It’s just a tiny blip, to be sure (which is probably why it didn’t warrant a spot on the official soundtrack), but there it is. And the movie itself isn’t too bad, either.

I know I’ve mentioned the 2005 tribute compilation Substitution Mass Confusion in other articles… YAIGT was one of the songs included on that CD. It was covered by an alternative pop/rock band out of Chicago called The Millions. I still don’t have  my own copy of it (it’s on the way!), but I did find a partial performance of the track on Youtube. It’s pretty rocking:

Just a couple of months ago I came across this one. Now, I am a big believer in passing music down to the next generation, so it’s very gratifying when I come across young people devoting their time and talents to learning The Cars’ catalog.  This talented girl (can’t tell how old she is but she looks like a teenager) does a stellar job with EE’s solo:

Then there’s this one — and she is YOUNG. Watching this little gal gave me an education on what all Benjamin does in this song. For me, a lot of the bass is masked by the heavy guitars and I have a hard time picking it out. So many nuances I had never caught before! And I’m curious… how long did this girl practice this thing??? (She does a video of the lead guitar, too.)

I’ll tell you, for a song that never showed up on the Billboard charts, this heavy number sure has made its mark…. so much so that it’s still being played, forty years later, in a department store in a little town in the woods of Podunk, Idaho. And THAT, my friends, is why The Cars are being inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 😉

Lyrics: You’re All I’ve Got Tonight

You’re All I’ve Got Tonight by The Cars (written by Ric Ocasek, ©1979)

I don’t care if you hurt me some more
I don’t care if you even the score
You can knock me and I don’t care
Well, you can mock me, I don’t care
You can rock me just about anywhere
It’s alright

‘Cause you’re all I’ve got tonight
You’re all I’ve got tonight
You’re all I’ve got tonight
I need you tonight
I need you tonight

I don’t care if you use me again
I don’t care if you abuse me again
You can make me I don’t care
And you can fake me I don’t care
And you can love me just about anywhere
It’s alright

‘Cause you’re all I’ve got tonight
You’re all I’ve got tonight
You’re all I’ve got tonight
I need you tonight
I said, I need you tonight

I don’t want to feel sorry for you
You don’t have to make believe it’s you
You can pump me I don’t care
You can bump me I don’t care
You can love me just about anywhere
It’s alright

Well you’re all I’ve got tonight
You’re all I’ve got tonight
You’re all I’ve got tonight
I need you tonight
I said, I need you tonight

‘Cause you’re all I’ve got tonight
You’re all I’ve got tonight
You’re all I’ve got tonight
I need you tonight
I need you tonight
I, I need you tonight