Friday, April 03, 2020

Contractual Obligation

Hey hey! Today’s chapter was conceived by my clever, considerate, conservative, Christian, community-conscious creative, word-counting writing cohort… Chess Champ… and he has charged me with this topic:

The Cars.

But first! A confession. This article is a catastrophe! Not nearly concise enough! I allowed my dear comrade to dictate not just the topic but what he wanted me to do with it, and while his conditions were clever, it wasn’t quite right with regards to my experience with this particular group. I am advising you move on to D-Day! Unless you are a big Cars fan in which case… you might relate.

A good high-school buddy who lived down the road was a year older and the first of our gang to drive his own car; a compact Toyota Tercel which he zipped around town in as constantly as possible. Half the time he blasted the Doors’ Break On Through from the stereo and the rest of the time it was Let’s Go by the Cars. He was clearly making a public statement about his particular brand of coolness. A couple years later I got my own car and it was coincidentally the very same Toyota model but I was way too mature for such bombastic public broadcasting. And by that I mean my speakers were too small.

The exhilarating Let’s Go “double-edged anthem” (as described by critic Brett Milano), one of dear Ric Ocasek’s finest offerings, is the kind of epic that could rev an arena crowd into a frenzy. Personally it always brings me back to the summers of late adolescence where we were always revved up to fucking do something but with few places to actually go, and with those endeavors which could barely satisfy us being covertly plotted beneath the radar of our seemingly-clueless pain-the-butt parents.

But we survived. Our dear parents survived us, and with more than a little sadness, Ocasek has not. Though I suppose that 75 years is a pretty good run by rock star standards.

He wrote Let’s Go during the late seventies but in music-years it’s a solid eighties phenomenon and magnificently one of at least five Ocasek pop-rock or new wave masterpieces any of which, if attributed to any similar songwriter in pop history, might qualify as their best song ever written.

… In my humble opinion.

Bye Bye Love is another. Similarly anthemic, it was one of those giant songs I had to wait years to acquire while it spent some of that time at the very top of that list: that magical roster of songs which I don’t think that net-entwined youths of today have: songs you dearly wish to possess but which elude you and which prompt you to swiftly murder any loved-ones who dare open their mouth and distract you when it has suddenly, magically leapt from the radio and made your whole day.

The third of the giants is My Best Friends Girl, less frenzied but with an addictive goofy rockabilly twist. This was the piece which endeared me to the very cool but slightly nerdy and vulnerable Ocasek and the I’m gonna do whatever I want here, goofy-or-not and if you love it, fine! attitude which I perceive.

Cue 1984 and an impossible barrage of masterpiece pop and hard rock music albums including the Cars’ Heartbeat City, my apex of eighties new wave and one of my fave discs ever. It was produced by the the legendary Robert “Mutt” Lange who ran straight from its completion right into the production of Def Leppard’s epic album Hysteria!  

Here’s my Heartbeat City experience (are you still reading? I warned you not to!):

1. Hello Again: A simpler song perhaps, middle of the road by Cars standards, but the pounding energy, the rising call-and-answer, is a wake-up call. You’re in for an experience here! All my memories of this song revolve around the album itself and anticipating another full listen, perhaps with drumsticks in hand for air-drumming, likely the lights out and maybe even an illicit can of beer from my cleverly hidden cache: the bottom drawers of the basement fridge which, I found out years later, my folks knew about the whole time.

2. Looking For Love: Lyrically it’s the thematic epitome of this album’s tracks, though it might be the only perspective not in the first person (I can’t believe I noticed that. Are you finding this a torture yet?) Not one of the album’s highlights by any normal measure but a great tender, melodic tune according to my ears and a mighty big step up from the opener.

3. Magic: …And then, bang! Another huge step up, right to the top. This is, upon most recollections, my favourite Cars song ever. The chorus utterly soars and I dig the transition back to verse with the resounding straight-up guitar riffs. I am reminded of summer holidays (all these songs take me back to high school) with sunshine galore, no summer jobs yet, and no fucking school. For years I assumed this was the most popular Cars song ever and was shocked to find out years later that while it charted and proved an MTV darling, it didn’t even crack the top two of this album!

4. Drive: The Cars melodic masterpiece. A ballad. I assume this track charted highest. Deep and patient and every single word, note and moment delicious. Very oddly, it always takes me back to earlier summer vacations which happened well before this song was released. Weird, I know. I once sang this at Karaoke with a 20-year-old pal who glared at me when I sang “Nothin’s wrong differently in it’s last incantation, exactly right, the way Ben Orr (not Ocasek!) sang it. Later I left his body in the dumpster behind the pub. Wait! No I remember now. I let him live. I didn’t even mention it afterwards.

5. Stranger Eyes: Filler. But filler doesn’t get much better.

6. You Might Think: If I had to pick Ocasek’s epic six, instead of five, this would probably make it. It’s got all the hallmarks of the Cars best, charted second best after Drive, as far as I know and won MTV’s (first ever I believe) Video of the Year. So there.

7. It’s Not the Night: Hard rock filler like Stranger Eyes. And yet it hit 31 on the rock charts. Oh well. Beats me.

8. Why Can’t I Have You: Not as great or quite as slow as Drive but it’s a keeper. Melodic, tender, sincere, with the same harmonic diversity in the vocals and the electronics as the faster songs. The album’s fifth single but I don’t think it charted.

9. I Refuse: The rapid, jumping, simple track that pretty much every rock album reserves a spot for. But consistent with its peers in almost every way (Only Drive was a departure).

10. Heartbeat City: I know of very few albums besides this one, where this engaging whimsical title track couldn’t crack the top three. Musically this is the mystical magical track. It’s wondrous, wonderful and lyrically the deepest. All my memories of this track revolve around the act of deliberately absorbing the album, and its deeply satisfying conclusion.

Ee-gads. Am I done? Yep. I’m done. If you read the whole damn thing you win a prize. Something priceless like a pack of toilet paper.

1 comment:

bookworm said...

Well, I didn't read the whole thing but that is because I was so inspired to hop on You Tube and listen to, not just Bye Bye Love, but it combined with Moving in Stereo ahd All Mixed Up, which, in my humble opinion, is always how it should be listened to. All three songs. But moving on to Heartbeat City...yes. What a magical album that was. Alana