On July 28th, Rhino Records will be putting out expanded editions of the Cars’ second and third albums for the very first time. That’s right, neither Candy-O (1979) nor Panorama (1980) have ever been reissued with additional tracks.
In the event you’re a Cars newbie: Candy-O is essentially a continuation of the type of new wave pop/rock they perfected on their 1978 debut; for Panorama, they colored outside of the lines, resulting in what would prove to be their most experimental work. The Candy-O reissue includes five alternate mixes, a B-side, as well as a previously unreleased track, while the updated Panorama contains another B-side, plus three tracks from the vaults. The albums have been remastered by Cars front-man, Ric Ocasek, and the newly expanded editions will be offered on CD, 2LP, and digital formats, plus they will be accessible via streaming platforms. The double vinyl looks like the way to go, as both sets will be housed in gatefold sleeves, with tunes on the first three sides and an etching on the fourth.
The Cars were never what I would call a “sexy” band.
I’m not talking about the way that they ever physically appeared, mind you—though Ben Orr was a bit of a pretty boy, the scale is certainly tipped by the alien spectre of Ric Ocasek, the uberdorkiness of Greg Hawkes and the mod-mullet ‘80s normyness of Elliot Easton and David Robinson. But, no, I’m not talking about “sexy” in the physical, visual sense of the word. What I mean to say is that The Cars didn’t make music that I’d call traditionally “sexy.” As much as I love Candy-O , one of my favorite quirk-rock albums of the new wave era, it’s not what I’d call a “leg-spreader” to put on in the bachelor den.
Still, like a generation of other “certain-aged” dudes, one particular Cars song, “Moving in Stereo,” is forever-stamped on my brain as absolutely “sexy” even though its mechanical groove sounds like it was played by melancholy robots. There’s one reason and one reason alone for that: it plays over one certain iconic swimming pool scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High that every dude of “that certain age” experienced as a crystalizing moment of their sexual awakening. In other words, Phoebe Cates gave a lot of dudes boners and The Cars are forever linked to that particular boner.
The classic pool sequence in Fast Times at Ridgemont High was where I really fell in love with The Cars. “Moving In Stereo” was inexplicably not included on that film’s soundtrack, so I, like a lot of other dudes was forced to go out and buy The Cars’ first self-titled album to get it. Of course that record was chock full of other amazing hits too like “Good Times Roll,” “My Best Friend’s Girl,” “Just What I Needed,” and “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight.” The latter three songs, as well as “Moving In Stereo” appear on the new “hits” compilation Moving In Stereo: The Best of the Cars which comes out this week.
This collection replaces the old 1990, out-of-print, Greatest Hits CD. Being of that “certain age” demographic, I have a HD audio system now, so I can take full advantage of the nice new mastering job they’ve done on all the songs (hand-selected by members of the band) by Ted Jensen at Sterling Sound. This new “best of” package also contains remastered versions of “Tonight She Comes” and “I’m Not The One (single mix)” which are not on the just-released, Elektra Years 1978 - 1987 six CD box set, as well as a live version of “Everything You Say,” and a new mix by producer Philippe Zdar of “Sad Song” (which is a track from the band’s last album, 2011’s Move Like This.
The Cars were a great singles band, and every song on this new set is a time-tested classic. And at least one of those songs will still always remind me of being a dumb prepubescent dude falling in love with a pair of perky boobs on cable TV. Thank you forever, top-ten-all-time-crush Phoebe Cates… and thank you, The Cars.
Below, The Cars in concert in Texas during their ‘Heartbeat City Tour,’ recorded live at The Summit in Houston on September 12, 1984.
I’ve been fairly unrestrained in expressing my abiding fandom of the commercially underachieving ‘90s rock band Failure, both in real life and on Dangerous Minds. They had everything I loved—dense and creamy distorted guitar tones, gripping tension-and-release dynamics, emotive, anxious melodic and lyrical content that FAR surpassed the one-dimensional angst typical of the period’s radio rock. The poor sales of their masterpiece Fantastic Planet contributed to the band’s end, though time has rehabilitated the album and it’s now considered an influential classic, which set the stage for Failure’s reunion last year. The announcement of that tour made me as giddy as a kid on Christmas morning, and I drove three hours to once again catch a band I utterly adored but hadn’t seen in concert since 1992.
As it happens, there was more than just a tour in the offing—Failure have fully reactivated, and their first album in 19 years, The Heart Is A Monster, will arrive next week. I’m confident that fans of Fantastic Planet will be more than satisfied—I typically take a dim view of reunions, and if Monster was in any way unsatisfactory, I’d be properly bitching up a storm about it. But no. It’s goddamn glorious. The band conceived Monster as a continuation of Planet, and even picked up the numbering of its interstitial segues from where the prior album left off. I’ll not subject you to lengthy gushing, it’s streaming in its entirety on Entertainment Weekly’s web site if you want to judge for yourself. I recommend listening from beginning to end in a sitting if you can swing the time. (I should add that they’re on tour now, and later in the summer they’re doing dates with another neglected ‘90s favorite of mine, Hum, about which I’m kinda headsploding.)
One of Failure’s most illuminating, and just flat out most fun albums wasn’t even a Failure album, but a 1995 time-killer project. Waiting for Fantastic Planet to be released and unable to tour, Failure prime movers Ken Andrews and Greg Edwards teamed up with ex-Tool bassist Paul D’Amour and keyboardist Chris Pitman (Tool, Blinker the Star, and I shit you not Guns N’ Roses) to record a superb album of transformative ‘70s and ‘80s cover songs under the name Replicants, a winking Blade Runner reference. What could have just been a goof turned out as an extremely strong work in its own right, and their eponymous album is not just my favorite covers album, it’s been one of my favorite albums period for 20 years.
A contemporary article in the UCLA Daily Bruin of all places provided a look at the band’s formation and intent:
Ken Andrews, lead singer of the Replicants, has been stuck in a “Warehousy loft-type space” for about a year. Tired of the white-walled complex and its “big air conditioning ducts,” he wants to be out and on the road. But the tortured musician must continue mixing and producing in his “utilitarian” studio.
“I’m really sick of it. I really want to play live now,” complains Andrews. However, the current band member of Failure and frontman for his side project the Replicants manages to remain laid back and positive. And with good reason. The Replicants have just released a self-titled album of covers of tunes ranging from the Beatles to the Cars. Snatching countless enthusiastic reviews, the project includes the talents of one Tool member (Paul D’Amour), one Eye In Triangle musician (Chris Pitman), and one other Failure member (Greg Edwards). And, once Andrews’ soon-to-be-released Failure album hits stores, he will be able to return to his beloved stage.
Strangely, a four-track demo tape of the haphazard group landed on a desk at Zoo Entertainment. Before they knew it, the Replicants were an official band with an offer to record an entire album of cover songs. “At that point, we had no idea what to do,” explains a baffled Andrews. “Everyone would just bring up songs and either we would all agree or we wouldn’t and I think everyone sort of got their one song that maybe other people didn’t want.” However, they could all agree on one thing: The Replicants would have their own musical freedom.
“We like doing the Replicants because we could do different versions of these songs in ways that Failure or Tool wouldn’t,” Andrews says. For instance, neither spawning ground for the creative forces of the Replicants would think to record Missing Persons’ “Destination Unknown” with an industrial/techno spin. Each song was dealt with individually, following no preconceived notion of the album’s overall sound. This system provided a good musical balance for Andrews and his associates.
Some of the transformations are huge (John Lennon’s “How Do You Sleep?”), some are closer to mere production-values updates (obligatory cover-band “Cinnamon Girl”), but pretty much every revamped tune on the CD has some kind of a tonal shift to the darker. One simple and actually sorta brilliant minor-key modulation imparts a wholly unexpected sense of dread to Replicants’ version of the Cars’ bouncy “Just What I Needed.” See if you ever unhear it.
The Cars perform before an audience of students at the University Of Sussex in Brighton, England - November, 1978. This was broadcast of part of the BBC’s Rock Goes To College series.
Just What I Needed
Good Times Roll
My Best Friend’s Girl
All Mixed Up
Bye Bye Love
Don’t Cha Stop
You’re All I’ve Got Tonight
A workmanlike set. As much as I loved the band, The Cars were never a particularly exciting live act, sacrificing heat for crafty perfectionism, but they never sounded less than really really good. Pure pop with a little bit of a punk bite.
Andy Warhol co-directed this seldom-seen video for The Cars’ single, “Hello Again,” with Don Munroe in 1984. It featured Manhattan “It Girl” fashion designer Dianne Brill (above), a young Gina Gershon, Benjamin Liu (as Ming Vauze), Warhol himself as the bartender and my late friend John Sex, the guy with the boa constrictor.
From an entry dated Thursday, March 29, 1984, pages 560-561 in The Andy Warhol Diaries:
It was raining and snowing out and this was the day we had to film all day doing the Cars video for their song “Hello Again” at the Be-Bop Cafe on 8th Street. Benjamin [Liu] came in drag to pick me up for shooting. He was going to be in it, too.
I had to be a bartender and wear a tux. The crowd of extras looked like the old Factory days—Benjamin in drag, and a bald-headed mine in a Pierrot outfit, and John Sex with this snake. And then there was Dianne Brill with her big tits and hourglass figure. The Cars were cute.
They finally got to my part at 8:00 and I had to sing a song but I couldn’t remember the words. And I had to mix a drink while I was doing it, and with my contacts on I couldn’t see the Coke button on the soda dispenser.
And that meant being face to face with the Cars for a while, and it was hard to talk to them. I didn’t know what to say. I finished at 9:15. One of the kids gave me a ride home.