Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Cars -- "Let's Go" (1979)

Criminally passed up by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, it's time to give our due to The Cars, a band who truly never would have been given a second look by today's radio programmers if they were just starting out now, but luckily came around at the right time.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a band who could produce a slew of perfect singles and amazing albums, while veering between the commercial and experimental within the grooves of the same record.

This was a band of true yin and yang.

For example, on the band's virtually perfect debut album, in between such classics as "Good Times Roll," "Bye Bye Love," and "You're All I've Got Tonight" are the very spacey "I'm In Touch With Your World" and the creepy electronic dirge "Moving In Stereo" and nothing seems out of place.

It could be the brilliant sky high singer/songwriter Ric Ocasek, possessed with just an eerie, deep detuned voice, just one step away from hosting the late night B-movie horror flicks on local TV. Or the more conventional yet distinct vocals of the late bassist Benjamin Orr.

The Cars miraculously followed the perfect debut with the nearly as divine Candy-O, as if they never took a break between records. The leadoff cut, "Let's Go," is my favorite Cars song (and I can't even pick the runner-up, because they'd all come off this album) because it's really one of the best get-up-and-go tunes out there. If you want your album flying out of the gate, this would the one to use, a flashy A chord, pumped up by the click-clack percussion, and then the heavily-distorted Prophet 5 sync lines from Greg Hawkes. It's a complete adrenalin starter.

At grad school, the new wave movement was firing on all cylinders, and we'd enter our parties with our favorite records, like this one and the first B-52's, toss off whatever was on the phonograph, and replace them with all the groovy new rock sounds. Surrounded by TV studio geeks at Syracuse, one of them analyzed the then two Cars albums to discover what the secret to their sound was -- "it's the compression!" he concluded, courtesy of perfectionist producer Roy Thomas Baker.

How did the Cars not get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame yet mystifies me. The band was an anomaly of exuding complete hipness with weird excursions intact, yet being wildly commercially successful with their compact 3.5 minute pop songs with densely layered harmonies, precious Eliot Easton guitarwork, and clever drumming from David Robinson. For all his romantic whimsy, Ocasek even netted the girl, model Paulina Porizkova, where they live happily in Manhattan's Gramercy Park area, where you can periodically spot the man himself, strolling down Park Avenue South.

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