The Cars

#784: Black Leather

GETTING MORE TALE #784:  Black Leather

In my earliest memories, watching television with my mom and dad, I remember thinking greasers in black leather jackets looked so cool.  And I think that single impression had a cascading impact through my life.

It probably started with the Fonz.  Arthur Fonzarelli.  Happy Days was one of the most popular TV shows of the 1970s and it was on in our house all time.  At least until Chachi showed up.  My dad did not like Chachi.  But we all liked the Fonz and his pals, Ralph Malph and Richie Cunningham.

I remember discovering rock and roll thanks to TV.  Shows like Happy Days and The Hilarious House of Frightenstein.  Similar to Fonzie was Bowser from Sha Na Na.  It had to be the black leather and black hair.  That and the low voice.  I was obsessed.  I’d go nuts every time Bowser was on.  Along came John Travolta in Welcome Back Kotter.  I loved Vinnie Barbarino.  The black hair and black leather jackets are the only common thread.

The next black hair, black jacket dude to come into my life was Ric Ocasek.  The Cars were “Just What I Needed”, but the song that hooked me (like everyone else) was “You Might Think”.  There was a music video TV show that was on WUTV Buffalo 29 in the early 80s:  The Great Record Album Collection.  It was on right after my after-school cartoons.

I would have seen my first Van Halen and Quiet Riot videos on The Great Record Album Collection, but I absolutely fell for The Cars thanks to that show.  Everybody loved “You Might Think”, but for me it was also the singer.  He had that look that I thought was the absolute pinnacle of cool.  Black hair, jacket, glasses, the works.  Plus he was in a band!  It couldn’t get any cooler.  If you used the most advanced lasers to freeze every atom in your body to the point of absolute zero, you still couldn’t come close to Ric Ocasek’s state of cool.  He was a dominant force in the music video, the visage towering over the beautiful object of his affection.  I didn’t think about how it was creepy that he was watching her from the windows and mirrors, no.  Didn’t occur to me at all.  Put on a black leather jacket and I guess you could get away with anything.

The death of Ric Ocasek has hit me pretty hard.  I’m trying to figure out just why his passing has impacted me more than the usual.  I think it has to do with the very young age I first encountered him, thinking absolutely nothing could be as cool as that guy in the video.  But look at him — he’s not handsome in the classical sense.  He was awkward looking, skinny and gangly.  Kind of like I was.  If that guy could become so cool by singing a song…could I too?

At least this depression has led me to a rediscovery of The Cars, who I haven’t played in a long time.  Hearing their brilliance, song by song by every damn song, reassures me that Ric was anything but just an empty jacket.

And you know what?  I’d still like to be as cool as Ric Ocasek.  I’d rather be him then, say, David Lee Roth.  Ocasek’s cool was effortless.  It was natural.  And that’s what made him the coolest of all.

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REVIEW: The Cars – Anthology: Just What I Needed (1995)

THE CARS – Anthology: Just What I Needed (1995 Rhino)

Ric Ocasek was cool.  Whether it was the sunglasses, or the black hair and leather jacket combo, he was just cool.  The Cars were birth attendants to MTV.  “You Might Think” was arguably the greatest music video on this side of Michael Jackson.  And The Cars were far, far more than just a one hit band.  This Cars Anthology proves just how much gas they had in the tank.  With 40 songs including a number of rarities, this anthology is just what YOU needed.

The first four songs in a row, all from the Cars’ self-title debut, are radio staples.  “Just What I Needed”, “My Best Friend’s Girl”, “Let the Good Times Roll” and “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” still rock the airwaves, proving their timelessness.  The Cars could write a song, and whether it was Ric Ocasek or Benjamin Orr on vocals, the hits kept rolling in.  It’s a combination of choppy guitar hooks, keyboard candy, and plain ol’ songwriting ability.

The Cars were also consistent.  There is no dry spell for hits, not until we get to 1987’s Door to Door.  When you listen to a cross section of material in chronological order like this, it’s quite noticeable when Robert John “Mutt” Lange takes over production duties.  Heartbeat City and its synthetic drums are the prototype for Def Leppard’s Hysteria album.  The backing vocals, the bass tones, and impeccable production all foreshadow the sound of things to come in Mutt-ville.  Roy Thomas Baker didn’t put so much of his own fingerprints on the Cars (although you can definitely hear a Cars influence via Baker on Alice Cooper’s Flush the Fashion).  Mutt sounds like Mutt, for better or for worse.  The album sold four million copies.  Whatever Ric learned from Mutt and Baker, he put to good use as a producer himself.

There are some songs that are just special.  Even though their fellow tunes are unique, important and classic, some rise even higher.  One is the legendary ballad “Drive”, written by Ric and sung by Benjamin.  Soft and gentle, “Drive” has been our companion for decades now, through lonely nights and happy days alike.  Another immortal song is the aforementioned “Just What I Needed”, for all it’s pop-punk perfection, before that was even a term.  I believe they just used to call it “New Wave”.  Finally “You Might Think” must be remembered as not only an important video, but also an ageless pop song that still grabs you today.

Rarities in this set include single B-sides, demos and previously unreleased songs.  Some have since found homes on the Cars’ deluxe reissue CDs, but some seem to still be exclusive to Just What I Needed.  One interesting outtake is a bang-on cover of Iggy Pop’s “Funtime”.  The liner notes are also exemplary, as Rhino usually do.  You could consider this to be a miniature box set for all the care put into it.  While buying The Cars by the album will not lead you astray, there is much to be said for a really good anthology.  You’re looking at one right now.

5/5 stars

Rest in peace Ric, rest in peace Benjamin.

 

R.I.P. Ric Ocasek (1944-2019)

Sad news this morning, as we wake to find Ric Ocasek of the Cars has passed away at age 75.  Hard to believe the tall, jet-haired singer was in his 70s at all.  He always looked like a punk misfit.

The Cars formed in 1976 and had a steady stream of hits through the late 70s and early 80s.  When the cars folded he moved on as a producer and solo artist.  Ocasek produced such diverse albums as Bad Brains Rock for Light, and two of the most popular Weezer albums, Blue and Green.  Through these productions, his impact on modern rock cannot be overstated.

I always liked the Cars best, and so we’ll remember Ric today with one of his catchiest songs ever:  the summer anthem “Magic”.

Rest in peace Ric Ocasek.

GUEST REVIEW: Sixx:A.M. – Modern Vintage (2014)

Review by TOMMY MORAIS

A lot of “modern” and not a whole lot of “vintage”

MODERN VINTAGESIXX:A.M. – Modern Vintage (2014)

I was a fan of Sixx:A.M. when they first came out with The Heroin Diaries in 2007. At the time the music was fresh and just what I needed. I was in high school and going through difficult times and things teenagers go through. I was already in love with Motley Crue for a few years at that point. Then when Nikki Sixx came out strong with Sixx:A.M., I respected him even more as he was now in two bands that l loved.

I thought Sixx:A.M. had everything going for them; a great single, excellent songwriting and I could identify with the music and some of the lyrical content. The accompanying book also made for a wonderful experience. I enjoyed the band’s second album and bought it on release day in 2011. I liked a lot of that album and its accompanying book even though l felt it wasn’t as impressive as the first. I stayed a fan and continued following the band anticipation their next release. 2014 rolls along (which shows this review is a bit overdue) and hence we have Sixx:A.M.’s third studio album, Modern Vintage.

The album begins with “Stars”, a very good indication of the album’s overall sound, style and feel. To me it’s average at best; it’s not unlistenable but it doesn’t grab you in the way it intends to. It has “made for radio” all over it. “Gotta Get it Right” is the first single and didn’t do anything to encourage me to pick up the album. I can get the over almost Christmas-like feel it has but I think where they fail lies in the chorus.

“Relief” is straight ahead rock and with its lyrical theme sounds more like the Sixx:A.M. of the past. “Gotta Get You Some” is a twist and a nice change of pace with its acoustic guitars before kicking it into high gear for the chorus. It too has a very commercial ready for radio feel, only slightly darker. I’m not in love with this song but James Michael does a very good singing performance.

“Let’s Go” and “Give Me A Love” are probably the closest to heavy rock tracks on here (and to the sound of previous Sixx:A.M.). “Let’s Go” is especially a true fist-pumper and a highlight. “Drive” is a an awful cover of the same song by The Cars. It sounds dull and the electronic euro pop in the background makes it unlistenable. The guitar work is the only good thing about it. “Hyperventilate” is nice and short, one of the better songs on Modern Vintage. “High On The Music” sounds like a terrible young pop band and not like Sixx:A.M. or a rock band, going for that radio hit feel-good type song. “Miracle” has cool groove and a vintage feel to it, on the other hand it also honestly sounds like a Maroon 5 tune. “Before it’s Over” has a jazzy/lounge feel to it, which I give them credit for trying to branch out.

I’m not sure what I was expecting out of Modern Vintage or if I was expecting anything at all to be honest. I loved the first album, liked the second and bought the third out of loyalty and because I thought there’d be at least a few songs l liked. I wasn’t terribly into the first single but I didn’t let that discourage me. Well I’m sad to say that after multiple listens it’s a bit underwhelming. The songs don’t “rock” as hard and sound more mainstream and bland; that is both musically and lyrically. The songs are more ‘happy’ this time around. In theory this should work but it doesn’t. There’s no anger, no frustration, desperation, none of what made Sixx:A.M.’s core on the first two albums. I’m actually surprised to see so many high ratings and reviews praising the album everywhere. Maybe we didn’t listen to the same Sixx:A.M. band previously, I don’t know. All l know is what I hear and this album just doesn’t do anything for me and I don’t enjoy the direction they went in. A lot has been said about the drum sound which feels artificial and I agree, it just doesn’t work all that well this time around.

Modern Vintage ends up sounding like a lot of modern and no vintage. Alas I am not a hater. It pains me because I’m a Crue fan, a Sixx:A.M. fan and a Nikki Sixx fan and l really wanted to enjoy it. It just feels less inspired than the first two and even though it has a different sound it doesn’t break any new ground. It tries to hard to go for the commercial radio songs and it’s like they forgot who they where. Hopefully they’ll get it back and deliver another good album. In the meantime this is terrible.

1.5/5 stars

[LeBrain’s note: I’ve listened to the album, and I agree with Tommy 100%.  In fact, my review can be found below.]

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