Ruminations on TV Shows, Comics, And Music
If I had to give The Cars their own genre, it would be 8-bit New Wave. They didn't always have squelchy arcade sounds in their music, but when they did, it made sense.
When I was an elementary school student going to my first ever sleepaway camp, we had a lip synch night that was about as close to an elementary school drag show as you could get in the 80s without a Christian Right parent calling the authorities. And while my cabin ended up performing Corey Hart's "Sunglasses At Night", our counselor first made us go through pretty much every song on The Cars' debut album.
The Cars' actual debut album, The Cars, is great as it is. It's thirty-five minutes of songs that, with only one exception, have been played on classic rock stations for decades. The joke is that they could have called their first album Greatest Hits, as neither of their next two albums came close to that level of quality.
I, of course, want the album to be longer, so I've rearranged the order, and added songs from those two albums that I mentioned not being nearly as good. But, for this album, I gave it a proper A-side and B-side, not by quality of song, but providing a break at about the halfway point.
This is only going to be a two disc discography, so I might post the follow-up later on today.
You know I love a slow build of music, so Cars aficionados shouldn't be surprised that Moving In Stereo kicks off the album, with the band singing about the effects as they use them in the song. This is also one of the few routines that I remember from the camp lip sync show because it's the only one where we all had a turn at pretending to be lead singer, each of us strumming our dining hall brooms, except for one kid who was playing a table like drums, and another who was playing keyboards on a pillow, I think. This is a shitty song for a lip sync competition, though, as its strength is its instrumental section, and there are minimal vocals. Maybe our counselor just thought we were bad at lip syncing, and this was to save face.
The song naturally fades into All Mixed Up. This track has its feet planted firmly in the land of progressive rock. It's barely an octave blow Rush's range, and it's got a nearly Queen section of background vocals at points ... not "Bohemian Rhapsody" Queen, something from the first album. There's also a sax outro, which was unusual for the band, and seems to come out of absolutely nowhere.
We go back to the 8-bit keyboards as the lead instrument as The Cars go for the love and shoes classic, Lust For Kicks. In addition to the Mario-jumps-over-barrels guitar effects, I like how the song always seems about a half tone from going completely flat, which is a nice way to balance the fact that Ric Ocasek was one of the best terrible singers in rock. Seriously, this song is so 8-bit that I always assume it's going to end with the Q-Bert swearing sound.
The first time I heard The Smashing Pumpkins' cover of You're All I've Got Tonight, my memory misattributed the song to Devo. It's got that spare quality with the trilling guitars. This song factors into Let Lie The Dogs Of Rock And Roll, so I've been listening to it quite a bit lately, and I'm sad that I'm posting it here as part of a tribute to Ocasek, rather than just part of the fictional rock world I'm working on.
The first super hit from the original album to make this reimagining is Just What I Needed, one of my favorite ever New Wave love songs. The balance between synth and guitar is perfect, and Orr on lead vocals, sounding a bit like Ocasek, is a neat touch.
Touch And Go is more spare and less rocky than the songs that precede it. It's the first track I'm using from Panorama, which is a fine rock record but seems mostly boring compared to the successful risks of The Cars and the mostly unsuccessful risks of Candy-O. This track is a standout, in that it's one of the more boring songs on this album, but it's an upbeat and steady rock song that could easily be a template for any band trying to satirize New Wave music. And yet, it's still a great song.
I'm In Touch With Your World has a countrified sound, much like some of REM's early work. It's almost difficult not to imagine it being covered by an 80s country musician. Without the keyboard eeps and echoes, of course.
Another unusual song for the album is You Wear Those Eyes which has a cricket chirping percussion with a thunder drum effect. It almost sounds like it comes from a 70s stage musical. And when the guitar moves to the front, it's electric AND twangy. It's such a weird little ditty, and it fades out as the final track from Side A.
Kicking off Side B is another one of the megahits from the first album, My Best Friend's Girl. The bass intro. The hand clap percussion. The lyrics about watching his best friend's girlfriend dance, his best friend's girlfriend who used to be (his) is written and sung without pangs of jealousy or entitled sense of possession (used to be mine is used as shorthand for used to be my girlfriend, which is possessive, but in a way that's ingrained in our language, not meant to imply actual ownership). It's more of a Wow, She Is Still Wonderful Even Though We're Not Together Anymore, which you don't expect from a late 70s pop song.
Up And Down has heavier guitars than most of the tracks on Side A. It sounds more like a mid 80s video console game than a late 70s arcade game. It could totally have been the background for a level of Contra, especially if they changed the lyrics to Up Up Down Down / Left Right Left Right / B A Start. Which would fit.
The effects spin right into the title track, Let The Good Times Roll. Our routine for this song was to look incredibly sad (while wearing sunglasses). Each of us standing at different parts of the dining hall, doing a minimal amount of dancing, shoulder rolling and such, while shaking our heads.
Since I Held You is a typical Please Don't Go song. Sort of. While repeatedly lamenting that it's been a while since he's had physical affection, there's no Fuck You, and no begging that she comes back, Instead the singer notes Something in the night, just don't sit right. So something feels wrong, but it's probably not her or him, it's just the overall situation. What a healthy perspective.
Let's Go is the first of two songs on this album that is almost a Tom Petty song. Strip away the synth line, and this is absolutely something off Damn The Torpedos. I am sad that neither of these artists is still alive (the lead vocalist on this track, Benjamin Orr died in 2000) to trade vocals. Orr could totally have done "Here Comes My Girl" or "Don't Do Me Like That" with the Heartbreakers, while Petty rerecorded this song with The Cars. What a lost opportunity.
I love the echo delay on Double Life. I didn't intentionally keep all but one of the songs I used from Candy-O all together, but I guess they do flow really well.
Don't Tell Me No is the second Petty And The Heartbreakers soundalike. This one would sound more at home on You're Gonna Get It.
The synth and guitar trading rhythms on Getting Through before the Galaga sound effects eep through are a really cool balance. And then Ocasek sort of screams near the end!
Wrapping up the album is It's All I Can Do. It's no more ballady than the rest of their songs, but it has a good fade out to close out the album. I also enjoy that it's a pop love song, but it points out that the reason he is in love with this person is not that they're great, but that he is crazy. Her qualities are never mentioned.