A 15 second gem in the middle of “Double Life” from the Candy-O album. I love it!
Back on December 14, 2016, the official Cars website sent out an email encouraging fans to watch for ‘big things’ coming from The Cars in 2017. [Thanks for the screen cap, Cheryl!] Of course, my heart leapt at the thought, but I was also a bit skeptical; unless the band was getting back together for another album I couldn’t imagine that they would release much in the realm of ‘new’ — I figured maybe yet another ‘greatest hits’ compilation with a few little gems thrown in there to entice us. My brain filed it away with a note stamped on it: “We’ll see.”
THEN!!! Last night (January 2, 2017) Elliot Easton jumped on twitter and said he had a few minutes to answer questions. In the slew of tweets that followed, one brilliant fan had the presence of mind to initiate this wonderful exchange:
So exciting to hear this from…
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“I didn’t expect to like the ‘cool new band’ Kevin was going to play for me while we smoked a joint in his room at his party that night. I changed my mind midway through the first song, and by the time the second song was over I was a lifelong fan of Elliot Easton. Elliot was the soul of the Cars, and that first record of theirs won me over. In my opinion, the Cars were one of the few impactful groups that came along when New Wave took over the airwaves.” – Slash, from the book Slash, written by Slash with Anthony Bozza, 2007, p. 42
On playing with The New Cars: “That music is my recorded legacy and I wanted to play it, and the joy in people’s faces when you’d play that solo in “Best Friend’s Girl” and they’d elbow each other: ‘look, he’s doing it, he’s playing the solo!’ and some of them would almost have tears in their eyes and stuff and it just meant the world to me, and it was just so satisfying and fun to do…” — Rock Solid interview, July 31, 2014
It only took Elliot a day and a half to record all of the guitar parts for The Cars’ debut album. Of the solo for “Don’t Cha Stop” he says, “That’s the only ‘one take’… that was the only ‘first take’ of solo on the first album. It’s the only one that I just kind of just ripped right off the top of my head. All the rest were composed and thought about.” (Rock Solid interview, July 31, 2014) (Graphic by @Night_Spots)
Quite a few people (translation: Cars fans) are pretty upset about The Cars not getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (RRHOF) this year. I’ve been asked my thoughts about it a couple of times, and personally, I swing back and forth between frustration and apathy. Since I am SO crazy about this band, it is hard for me to be objective about what they ‘deserve’ with relation to achieving induction; I am completely driven by my love for those five guys and their incredible music. Even so, I am able to form an opinion based on concrete evidence. But before stating my honest (and hopefully, rational) thoughts on the subject, let me try to give a basic factual framework to build on.
First I had to understand just how the Rock Hall worked. I am very grateful to the posts on the Iconic Rock Talk Show blog for giving me the rundown in concise, humorous, educational articles.
In a nutshell, the artists that make the official ballot are chosen by a nominating committee made up of 28 members from the music industry (musicians, executives, managers, journalists, etc.). Once the nominees are chosen the ballot goes out for votes in two ways: first, 800+ ballots are mailed out to more music industry professionals, including the living members already inducted into the Rock Hall. They get to vote for their top five artists to get in.
Secondly, a fan poll is set up where any Tom, Dick and Harry can vote for their faves to be inducted. The top five vote-getters in the fan poll get ONE additional ballot vote, to be counted with the other 800+ ballots from the industry. Does that make sense? It’s important that it does, because as fans we need to understand that placing in the top five of the fan poll does NOT mean our band will earn automatic induction into the Hall of Fame.
Historically (since the fan poll was instituted in 2012) the band that finishes FIRST in the fan poll has been inducted, but finishing first is NOT a guarantee, nor is it inherently stated in the induction criteria.
The next question I had to tackle was: do The Cars deserve to be in? Now, things might get muddy here emotionally but I’m going to try to stay on track. For the record, here is what the Rock Hall website puts forth as the criteria for eligibility for the Hall of Fame:
“Artists—a group encompassing performers, composers and/or musicians—become eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first record. Besides demonstrating unquestionable musical excellence and talent, inductees will have had a significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock & roll.”
Okay, the first one is easy: “25 years after the release of their first record.” Since The Cars released their debut album in 1978, they were eligible for induction in 2003. Whew.
Next up: “…demonstrating unquestionable musical excellence and talent…” I understand that this is a matter of opinion for each person casting a ballot. Of course, there is NO question in my book.
- Ric was an amazing lyricist and visionary, and his vocal styling was unique and well-suited to the songs he sang.
- Benjamin’s vocals were unfailingly beautiful and varying in range and delivery, and his bass playing was both melodic and powerful.
- Elliot’s lead guitar contributions were non-egocentric, masterful and relevant to each song.
- Greg was an incredible multi-instrumentalist, and his synthesizer sounds were bursting with creativity and style.
- The edgy and intelligent rhythms that David maintained, in addition to his artistic and architectural contributions to the band, formed the scaffolding that all of the other elements relied on.
- These five men consistently interlocked in live performances, recreating their studio sound with near perfection, often coming across better live than on vinyl.
Musical excellence and talent? Yeah, they’ve got that.
Third criteria: “…had a significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock & roll…” I do think this can be a tricky one to measure, especially for the layman (namely ME) who doesn’t have a bunch of statistics to lean on (shocking, I know). But with all that I’ve read, I DO know that The Cars qualify in these ways:
EVOLUTION: The Cars are widely credited with a) infusing new sound into a stagnant roster of late seventies music — a fancy way of saying that no one sounded like they did; b) bridging the gap between traditional rock-and-roll and pop music; and c) paving the road for a whole new genre of music: New Wave. [Side note here: One afternoon my 17 year-old son, who is heavily into dubstep, was turning his nose up at my Cars music, and I sternly told him that he should send Greg Hawkes a thank you card for all that he did in pioneering the use of synthesizers and electronics in the music world! Of course, my son didn’t appreciate that very much. Haha!] They were also on the cutting edge of music video production and promotion.
DEVELOPMENT: Additionally, ALL of the members of the band have worked on numerous projects outside of The Cars, supporting and growing other artists in a wide variety of genres and through many methods (production, promotion, writing, background vocals, session instrumentation, etc.), not to mention their own solo work.
PRESERVATION: Further, music by The Cars shows up just about everywhere: in movies, children’s programs, commercials, and in 2016 as a constant presence in a new CBS television series called BrainDead. Their sound is as addictive, influential, and necessary to today’s culture as it ever was.
I know I painted with some broad strokes there — just trying to keep it simple when I could go on and on and ON… but that’s my case for eligibility and I’m standing firm on it.
So how have The Cars done so far? They were nominated for the first time in 2015 (for induction in 2016), finished third in the fan poll (less than a tenth of a percentage point behind second place) and failed to get inducted. There was some amount of controversy surrounding the voting process. Under poor management by the Rock Hall, the poll appeared to have been hacked allowing computer ‘bots’ to submit millions of votes unchecked. Though no one was accused outright, a shadow was cast on the five bands that benefited from the suspected activity (including The Cars) and the reputation of the RRHOF Fan Poll took a major blow.
The Cars made the nomination ballot again in 2016 (for induction in 2017), and again, questionable management and murky communication by the RRHOF threw the whole fan poll into chaos. This time the Rock Hall apparently held back a slew of votes while they were verifying the integrity of those votes, and then dumped them all into the poll in one day. This made the overall totals for a bunch of the nominees go crazy and changed the order of the leaders. While no band was knocked out of the top five, The Cars were the only ones negatively affected, dropping from #3 to #5 in the rankings. They were not chosen for induction. Which brings us to where we are today…
The question I can’t help but ask now is: how much do The Cars themselves really want it? The fan poll voting was open from October 18 through December 15, 2016. The official Cars’ Twitter and Facebook pages were largely silent, doing almost nothing to encourage the fans to vote. Even “The Cars Nomination for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum” Facebook page (which is run by Les Steinberg, Elliot Easton’s brother, but not officially endorsed by The Cars) stopped promoting daily activity in the fan poll ten days before the voting closed. Is this indicative of the band members’ desire to get into the Rock Hall?
In 2011 Ric Ocasek was asked by Stephen Colbert, “Why aren’t you guys in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?” and Ric answered, “You know I really don’t know. I don’t know if I want to be in it.” (The Colbert Report) When the 2015 ballot was announced David Robinson said, “It is what it is, but actually I don’t pay any attention to that whatsoever. It isn’t anything we’ve strived for, let’s put it that way.” (The Boston Globe); and Elliot indicates in this 2014 RockSolid interview excerpt below that he’s not losing any sleep over whether The Cars are in the Rock Hall.
And all of those votes for The Cars in the fan poll this year? With little encouragement coming from the band’s official pages, the “Fanorama” stepped up and led a grassroots campaign that held The Cars solidly in the top 5 (in spite of the RRHOF’s voting mess). Twitter pages like @Night_Spots, @Tracey2063, and @JWINZombieGirl, along with Facebook fan groups like “The Cars” and “Benjamin Orr Remembered,” all contributed DAILY reminders and links to vote, which were shared and retweeted time and again, reminding people to make their voice heard. I am so proud of our dedicated fan base — how we love our boys!
So if it’s no big deal to them, why should I care one way or the other? Here are MY reasons I want The Cars inducted (in no particular order):
- They are deserving of it (see paragraphs above) and I want their contribution to rock and roll history to be acknowledged and recognized by their peers.
- I want Benjamin’s memory brought into the spotlight and honored all over the world.
- I love them! Their music moves me in every mood and brings me joy daily.
- I want an excuse to see the four remaining members together on stage again.
- I want to be able to say “BOOYAH!” to those naysayers that look down on my love for The Cars.
My final thoughts? I’m disappointed but not devastated. They have proven their relevance over the years, influenced countless bands that came after them, and wrote a soundtrack for my life that will never change. Whether they ever get into the RRHOF or not, The Cars will always be number one with me!
[All Cars graphics courtesy of @Night_Spots; image of the RRHOF ballot from Twitter]
That is why I am just so mystified when I read any negative reviews from those fortunate enough to have seen the Cars in concert. The band has been compared to mannequins, “friggin’ statues,” corpses, and battery-operated robots. People complain that the guys don’t really move around, don’t interact with the audience, don’t vary the music enough. There is not any flash, no pyrotechnics, no circus. Several fans have commented around the web that the Cars were the worst show they had ever seen. One commenter said the Cars were the worst live show of the 80s. Wow! [Seriously, did no one see a wasted David Lee Roth prancing around and mumbling incoherently in ass chaps?] And this is not just Joe Shmoe off the street; many rock critics and entertainment writers seemed to scratch their heads over this ‘weird’ phenomena.
I’ve been to many concerts and have seen a lot of variety. Steve Miller, Robert Plant, The Scorpions, Kiss, Rod Stewart… Hall and Oates, The Monkees, Neil Diamond, and oodles in between. Right off the bat I’d have to say that yes, there is a difference in the way the Cars perform; they’re pretty unique. I get it. They don’t run up to the audience and shout in the fans’ faces; they don’t strut around like peacocks, moving frenetically from one end of the stage to the other; and they certainly don’t swing from the rafters or come up through the stage on hydraulics. This writer describes their show pretty well (while trying to put a positive spin on it):
“The Cars epitomize the so-called ‘minimal’ school of rock. Onstage there are no between-song raps, no stretched-out solos. Tunes are cranked out like eerie replicas of their studio versions. There is no interpersonal kibitzing among band members or with crowds – and no introductions of song titles or musicians. Clearly, though, the Cars prove there is a market for such frigid and impersonal restraint.” – Jim Farber, People magazine, August 13, 1979.
In the early years they certainly kept things very low-key. They had a prescribed color combination, a big logo behind them, a few spotlights… and not much else. Around the Shake It Up tour they started fluffing up the stage dressings and lighting effects, but for the most part they stuck to their formula: stand there and perform your heart out. I love it, and here’s why:
- I can hear the songs I love, just the way I love them. And I can sing along and get the words right. Sometimes Benjamin or Ric would vary a lyric line or ad lib a bit (I’m thinking of Candy-O in particular), or change their vocal inflection and that is enough for me.
- The vocals stay strong throughout the entire show because the guys are not getting winded from running hither, thither and yon trying to get the crowd hyped up. Those voices are what I want to hear!
- When the guys are standing still I can feast my eyes on them and get a fix on their handsome faces and watch them work their instruments. I’m so glad the cameras don’t have to chase them around!
- I can’t stand long, drawn-out solos. From any instrument or throat. Period. I’m so glad they don’t do any of that irritating showboat crap.
- They don’t need to be “entertainers.” The Cars are a group of guys that created amazing music, and that music has the capacity to stand on its own. There is no need to try to enhance the presentation of it with a bunch of smoke and lights. It is solid, captivating, addictive all by itself. And each member is a talented, interesting person who understands that the performance is about drawing attention to the music, not to the individual. It is this combination, the men and the music, that provide all the energy and pizzazz this band needs to give an amazing live performance.
I’ve read and listened to many interviews where the guys have all expressed their satisfaction with the way they perform, but I’ll end with this quote from the same article I used above:
“Observes drummer David Robinson, accurately: ‘It would be easier for the audience to understand it if people jumped around with their guitars on fire. We find we can get people excited without doing anything.’” – Jim Farber interview, People magazine, August 13, 1979.