Smiths Complete - Available at Rhino.coma-ha "Hunting High & Low" and "Scoundrel Days" Deluxe Editions Rhino Handmade raids the vault!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Lost Cars Month - Elliot Easton Change No Change

So, we've established that between writing every single Cars song (with rare exceptions of collaborations with keyboardist Greg Hawkes) and releasing a solo album that Ric Ocasek was very much the creative force behind the band. So who exactly was clamoring for solo projects from the other members?

Whether the public wanted them or not, every non-Ric Cars member with the exception of drummer David Robinson put out a solo disc in the 80s. And why not? The band had built up plenty of exposure and goodwill by 1985, with Heartbeat City putting them firmly at the top of the charts and on radio with five Top 40 singles from that album alone (hats off to them for getting a song as moody and dark as "Why Can't I Have You" in the Top 40 - talk about momentum). And they had to feel creatively stifled with Ocasek calling all the shots. So if opportunity presents itself, grab it, I suppose.

And if you get the chance to work with a songwriter like Jules Shear, dear God, you better grab it, especially if your only previous claim to fame was squiggly, brilliant guitar solos like Elliot Easton's. Easton teamed with Shear to write 1985's, Change No Change, and it was a mixed bag of barely there song sketches and momentary power pop brilliance. Por ejemplo...

First single "(Wearing Down) Like A Wheel" starts off promisingly enough, but then someone forgot to put a chorus in there. Whoopsie. Not the best foot to put forward to get people interested in your album.

Especially when you have much superior songs like "Shayla" hanging around. Here Jules' songwriting contribution really shines through, while Elliot puts on his best Elvis Costello mask. Why this wasn't the first single is one of those questions we'll have to ponder. But it wasn't, so Change No Change had its brief moment in the sun, then faded from view. Easton and Shear worked together later that decade in the power pop combo Reckless Sleepers, who put out an unjustly ignored album in 1988.

And of course, there was always that day job with The Cars to fall back on...or pervert the memory of...

"(Wearing Down) Like A Wheel" peaked at #36 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks Chart in 1985.
"Shayla" did not chart.

Change No Change is recently back in print - you can pick it up at Amazon or on
Elliot Easton

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posted by John, 7:52 PM | link |

Monday, May 18, 2009

Lost Cars Week - Ric Ocasek Beatitude

After relative public indifference towards Panorama's experimentation (while the album peaked at a respectable #5, it failed to chart a single any higher than #37), The Cars regrouped and retreated back to fizzy New Wave pop with 1981's Shake It Up, arguably the most calculated and least essential Cars album (yes, I'm counting Heartbeat City and Door To Door in making those pronouncements). For every crowning achievement like "Since You're Gone" or "Cruiser", there were kiss-ass concessions to Top 40 radio (title track, anyone?) and just plain filler ("Maybe Baby"). Be honest - when was the last time you put this CD on? Do you even own it on CD? However, with the success of the title track, The Cars were back on the hit racetrack.

Which made the brave, experimental nature of Ric Ocasek's first solo album, 1982's Beatitude all the more surprising. Since he wrote all The Cars' songs, it would have been quite easy for Ocasek to keep in that creative vein, crank out a few more radio-friendly hits and bank all the proceeds for himself. Thankfully, this was not the path trodden.

Wellllll, except for that lead-off single. Alright, you got me. "Something to Grab For" is basically Cars-by-numbers (yes, Ric wants again wants something he can't have!), save for the stop/start beat of the chorus, vaguely reminiscent of Panorama's "Touch & Go". Unfortunately, it fared just about as well on the charts as that ill-fated single, despite a moody video played to death by MTV.

Two more singles were released to try to shore up the project - "Jimmy Jimmy" was a departure, since it focused on someone other than the narrator (!), in this case the boredom of disaffected Reagan-era teens, with the line "Nobody's gettin' off" summing it all up. The electro-pulse of the track is quite different than the Cars sound, emphasizing the dancier aspects of the song.

The third single, "Prove" sank without a trace, save for some dance chart action, but don't feel too badly. Ric ramped up The Cars yet again and produced one of the most successful rock albums of the 80s, Heartbeat City. But the solo thing appealed to other band members, we'll see tomorrow.

"Something To Grab For" peaked at #47 on the Billboard Pop Singles Chart in 1983.
"Jimmy Jimmy" peaked at #25 on the Mainstream Rock Chart and at #60 on the Club Play Chart in the same year.

Beatitude is out of print, but you can find used copies on Amazon and other Ric Ocasek tunes on
Ric Ocasek

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posted by John, 8:25 PM | link |

Monday, May 11, 2009

Lost Cars Month - Panorama

While this shambles its way across the country, embarrassing itself in half-empty sheds nationwide (as Molly Shannon's Marcy Darcy would say, "Don't even get me started!"), what better time to devote a week to the real Cars, the New Wave darlings who didn't necessarily want to be New Wave. This week, we'll focus on the band's lost gems, alongside some lost solo projects along the way.

Why not begin with my favorite Cars album, Panorama? The Cars' third album was their most challenging, mostly jettisoning the band's trademark happy skip/shuffle Crickets bounce and peppy melodies for a darker, more aggressive tone. Gone were the handclaps and shiny background singalongs, replaced by David Robinson's increasingly synth-aided drums (by Heartbeat City he'd be drummer in name only) and Greg Hawkes' menacing keyboards while Elliot Easton's always-innovative guitar solos and Ric Ocasek's Iggy Pop meets Buddy Holly vocal theatrics stayed pretty much the same, with a few minor tweaks.

Ocasek's lyrics for the Cars can mostly be pared down to a one sentence logline - Ric wants something he can't have, whether it's affection, a girl, acceptance, etc. I mean, just look at some of the opening lines on most of the songs on Panorama:

I'm gonna get what's comin' to me
All I need is what you got
I wanna shake like Liguardia
It's my party, you can come
(well, consider the song's title, "Don't Tell Me No")
Do you have to be so hard to get?

Ric definitely stuck to a theme with the Cars - that would change after this album. But we're getting ahead of ourselves...

Panorama's first single, "Touch & Go" was a perfect summation of this theme, but its start/stop faux reggae beat prevented it from reaching any higher on the charts than a puny #37. Two follow-up singles, "Don't Tell Me No" and "Gimmie Some Slack" failed to chart. But the album's true teasures are its bookends, the fantastic opening title track and the album's closer, "Up And Down".

"Up And Down" is one of those shoulda-been tracks that had the potential to be an AOR monster, alongside "Moving In Stereo" and "Bye Bye Love". But alas, it was not meant to be, as Panorama eventually faltered, leaving the Cars shaken up (har), wondering what the next move would be.

But first, Ocasek had a few things to get off his chest. We'll deal with that next Monday.

"Panorama" and "Up And Down" were not released as singles.

Get Cars music at Amazon or on
The Cars

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posted by John, 5:53 PM | link |

Monday, May 04, 2009

"llvin' on free food tickets / water in the milk from a hole in the roof where the rain came thru"

Did someone mention Paul Young?

Oh yeah, I did.

Paul Young was one of the new crop of British blue-eyed soul acts that sprouted up like crabgrass in the early-to-mid 80s, like Simply Red's Mick Hucknall, Alison Moyet (post-Yaz), and yes, Climie/Fisher. While Young had a fairly high profile at the beginning of his career in the UK, thanks to his association with his second band, The Q-Tips, he had a tougher road making waves in the States. His first US single, the Marvin Gaye remake "Wherever I Lay My Hat (That's My Home)", sputtered upon release, just breaking into the lower depths of the Hot 100 (it fared considerably better in the UK, hitting #1).

Ah, but the follow-up, "Come Back and Stay" fared considerably better, breaking into the Top 40 and establishing a Young foothold in the US. The song is a classic, but it's really about two things - the fretless bassline and the weird, Tourette's-ish backing vocals of Young's back-up singers, The Fabulously Wealthy Tarts. Paul's nearly a footnote in his own song.

A similar issue cropped up on No Parlez's third Stateside single, "Love Of The Common People", a song made famous here by a few country artists, including Lynn Anderson and Waylon Jennings. You've got the Tarts yelping "Ah ay yiiii yiii!", sleigh bells, vibes and oh yeah, Paul singing. Best part - in the second verse when Paul sings:

It's a good thing you don't have bus fare
it could fall thru a hole in your pocket
and you lose it in the snow on the ground

...the Tarts robotically intone "a good thinnnng...OUCH" in the background. Wha, huh, wha? The 12" mix is even crazier. (And since this is now officially the season for giving, here's the rare 12" mix of "Come Back And Stay" that was on the B-side.) No Parlez also featured a blue-eyed soul version of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" which isn't nearly as vomit-worthy as it sounds like it would be.

"Common People" fizzled out in the low 50s of the charts, and No Parlez soon followed. But a short year later, Young would find major success the second time around, thanks to an obscure Hall & Oates album track and yes, by dumping the Tarts.

But I still liked 'em. OUUUUCH.

"Wherever I Lay My Hat (That's My Home)" peaked at #70 on the Billboard Pop Singles Chart in 1983.
"Come Back And Stay" peaked at #22 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1984.
"Love Of The Common People" peaked at #45 on the same chart that year.

Get Paul Young music at Amazon or on
Paul Young


posted by John, 10:01 PM | link |