Tag Archives: The Cars

The Rock And Roll 500

The windowless white van rumbled eastward on Route 90, soon to take a dogleg right and hook up with its brother highway, The Mass Pike. A six-hour trek that normally would clog at one end or another, but on the two interior days of a four-day holiday, traffic was pretty much non-existent. Most people were already where they wanted to be. I was just going back and forth, as usual.

When I was her age, I moved a few times, and always with the help of friends. Someone always had a truck. Everyone would focus on the beer and pizza at the end of the run, and were it not for my abnormal amount of vinyl albums, we could probably have been in and done in a couple of hours. But I forgot what it’s like to live in a major city where public transportation is the norm, where not only do you not have a car, but no one you know does, either. And besides, isn’t this what Dads do?

The rental van was reasonably priced but came with its limitations. No power locks, so each of the five doors had to be constantly checked. No power windows, either – do they really still make hand cranks? And much to my horror, just a radio. No CD player, not even a cassette, and certainly no input for a digital device to be plugged in. Nope, the front end of the trip would be a hollow metal can bouncing down the road (what, you expected soundproofing?) and me alone with my thoughts, unless I could find something decent on the radio. I had given up trying to do that years ago.

But it’s Memorial Day Weekend, so rock stations across the country are broadcasting their own version of the Rock And Roll 500, a countdown of the five hundred greatest rock songs ever made. And although I constantly have to hit the scanner, as signals fade and ebb between markets or on each side of a mountain pass, sooner or later it’s there. Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, The Rolling Stones, Cream, U2, Bruce Springsteen, The Cars, The Who, The Police, The Ramones…song after song that I know like the back of my hand, whether I like them or not. It’s a bit 60s and 70s heavy, but rightfully so, because that’s when the apex took place.

I remember selling my Lynyrd Skynyrd and Led Zeppelin albums in a used record store, not so much because I needed the money but because radio had played “Free Bird” and “Stairway To Heaven” so often that I couldn’t bear to hear either band again. This egregious life choice was eventually recanted, of course, even though those two particular songs have long worn out their welcome. But the punk ethic of the time was to burn the past, and somehow I got caught up in the moment. I mean, really – I have never disliked the first four Led Zeppelin albums, they are incredible…but there they went across the counter.

It was a mistake I would not repeat; the day my senses came back to me and I repurchased them was also the day I realized that there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure. I like what I like, period. I don’t owe you an apology for that just because you disagree.

I thought of that a lot during the six-hour drive as I beat rhythms on the dashboard and heard my voice echo through the empty metal canister (reverb!), singing along as a large part of my childhood was played out for me one track at  a time. I remembered the boxes of 45s that I meticulously catalogued, the first albums I listened to over headphones, juggling prog and pop and glam and blues in college. Even the glee with which Roger and I would pore through the new punk singles arriving at Record Theatre – usually one scooped up by him and one by me, leaving none to be placed in the racks for sale. There was always an insatiable taste for great songs, and there was always the bedrock of what had come before.

I thought of the music I wasn’t hearing on the trip; were there really no J. Geils Band songs, even on the Boston station? And Tom Petty, who quietly went from ignored to elder statesman just by never stopping – would I hear “American Girl“? I already knew that The Dictators, Billy Bremner, Dwight Twilley, John Hiatt, and other lifelong favorites would probably not be heard from, but how was I not hearing a Kinks song?

Heading westward was a different story; the stations seemed less numerous and the song selections started to get downright odd. Even Eli turned to me at one point with her face scrunched up as a Candlebox song came in at number 168. I was incredulous. “The entire Kinks catalogue is better than that song“, I told her, and as “Everything Little Thing She Does is Magic” followed at #167 I imagined Sting sighing, relieved that when the great books were tabulated, someone gave the nod to his fine effort to move ahead – just ahead – of the mighty Candlebox.

Eli and I talked about many things on the way back, and the conversation turned to Lady Gaga. I don’t really care for him/her in the same way that I was never a Madonna fan – I’m much more centered on the music than the spectacle. Eli grew up listening to her own music but also getting the aural second-hand smoke of mine. My rule was and is that the driver picks the music, not the passengers. “I don’t think it’s great music per se“, she said, “but when I feel like dancing in a club it’s really fun and gets everyone going. It’s great for what it is, and I like it for that.” No guilt, just pleasure. A chip off the old block.

The sun had long set and we still had a couple of hours to go when “Going To Califormia” came on the radio, and I let it wash over me. I wasn’t going anywhere but home, but I must have channeled a dozen road trip memories in my mind. Had Eli turned to her left she would wonder why I had a shit-eating grin on my face after the long day, but someday she’ll do that herself. If there’s a better song to hear when you’re in a pensive mood on a long car trip, I can’t think of one right now.

And to think I once sold that album for a dollar. What fools these mortals be.

Led Zeppelin: “Going To California

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New Album! The Cars!

Just a day or two left to stream the new Cars album, Move Like This.

I must admit, I didn’t think these guys were going to get back together, especially after Ben Orr’s death. But maybe Ric Ocasek felt he had to clear the world’s palette after this happened.

I think if you loved the short, sharp pop that the band issued in their heyday, you’ll eat this up. Sure, they’re older, and yes, Ben Orr is a huge loss, but damned if they don’t sound like they just hit the pause button in 1988. They’ve all been busy, of course – hell, I saw Greg Hawkes playing as a member of The Turtles a couple of years ago! But that signature sound remains – you can definitely pick up snippets of old hits in “Sad Song“, “Blue Tip” and several others. Check it out now!

Click here to go to Soundcloud.

Pick this up cheap at Amazon.

Old Cars are still on the road

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What Decade is This, Anyway?

It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel...dizzy?

Seems like a lot of famous bands from my wonder years want to get one last album out before the world explodes into dust in 2012. Probably time for an arena tour too, although I don’t know why they’d need all that cash. Don’t you only need new Nikes and a roll of quarters to board the spaceship?

I guess what triggered this post today was remembering that The Cars are regrouping and releasing a brand new album (Move Like This). Now a quartet since Ben Orr is no longer with us, the band decided they didn’t want to bring in any outsiders. Well, that’s their take on it with Ric Ocasek in the fold, anyway; they are conveniently not mentioning a failed experiment called The New Cars. But that’s just picking nits.

Videos: The Cars – Blue Tip” (full song), “Sad Song” (clip),  “Free“(clip)

And it doesn’t end there. Steve Miller resurfaced with Bingo last year after a very long hiatus, and now he has another called Let Your Hair Down. Former Babys and Bad English frontman John Waite is releasing Rough and Tumble, pouting puss and all. The New York Dolls continue their rebirth (albeit with another change in band members) with Dancing Backwards In High Heels, and R.E.M. has Collapse Into Time.

Low Country Blues is Gregg Allman’s first solo release in fourteen years. Paul Simon will turn seventy this year (!) but So Beautiful Or So What ends five years of (sounds of) silence for him.

More recent bands are also ending extended vacations. The Strokes have their first in five years as do the Foo Fighters, and Radiohead ends an even lengthier one with The King Of Limbs. Social Distortion has already blazed back on the scene with Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes, and most of Oasis is back under the name Beady Eye.

Video: Beady Eye – The Roller

And even artists I avoid like Duran Duran, Stevie Nicks and Edie Brickell are taking another shot. (Brickell nauseates me so thoroughly that I’m not even providing a link.)

Amazon is even dangling an order for Robin Zander’s Countryside Blvd for the third year in a row. I’m starting to think there’s really no album at all. Look at that album cover – maybe he’s just mocking Toby Keith. Ludicrous suggestion? Anything is possible – remember, this really happened.

Hey kids, rock and roll. Rock on.

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Blast From The Past: The Vandalias

Pulled out this old powerpop chestnut and blasted it.

Unfortunately the band went the way of most of the powerpop bands that stormed the 90’s revival – nowhere. A brief flash, some great songs and a lot of memories for record geeks like me who treasure such things. It didn’t mean they weren’t great – they were – but as usual, without radio airplay or any muscular marketing scheme, it was rain through your fingertips.

Big Deal Records was the shit in those days; a roster to die for and a release every month or two by great artists like Splitsville, Cockeyed Ghost, Michael Shelley and The Wondermints. And the series of great Yellow Pills collections…what a time that was! Unfortunately the label didn’t last, either…and sadly, whomever co-opted the label name is doing something completely different these days.

Buzzbomb. Is there a better word to capture the essence of powerpop? Here’s my original review from TransAction

Man, these cartoon characters can rock! Incredible pop rock that hearkens back to Badfinger, Big Star and every “ooh-aah”band that took the lead from the Beatles and moved on. “Down”, “No OneTold Him” and “the faux live “Funk Monkey Baby” rip it up with Cheap Trick energy and harmonies straight out of…The Mamas & Papas?

You bet! Rock ballads too; “Say I’m Sorry” will melt the crustiest of hard hearts. Eleven great songs in thirty five minutes that will make you wonder why someone so talented shields himself behind the front of the “Vandalia brothers”. I won’t expose him directly, but if you want to pay this pop wizard some props, buy Mach V, the previous CD, and dismantle the packaging.

It’s now a decade later, so I’ll save you the treasure hunt. The Todd Rundgren-esque popster was Dan Sarka.

The Vandalias on MySpace

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Blast From The Past: The New Cars

It’s Memorial Day Weekend here in the United States, but since I have to account for our society’s short-term memory (and McNugget lifestyle), today I’m only dropping back five years!

Let’s turn the Wayback Machine to my 2005 review…

Is nothing sacred? Those were the first three words out of my mouth when I heard that Todd Rundgren and two-thirds of his current band were hooking up with the lesser half of The Cars to exhume the Boston band’s legacy and (ahem) take it for a spin. But with Ben Orr resting in peace and Ric Ocasek – the face of The Cars – unwilling to sign on, how could one possibly take a new version of The Cars seriously?

A famous musician covering others is nothing new. Utopia’s Deface the Music was a brilliant take on The Beatles, but it was an album of originals, not covers. And when Todd has done the cover route, most notably on Faithful, the results have been stellar…but always under his own name. Ringo takes a few…er, ringers on the road every summer, but he doesn’t call it The Beatles. Elliot Easton, on the other hand, had no problem whoring out (*) as a member of Credence Clearwater Revisited.  (And let’s face it, without John Fogerty, what is there to revisit?) Considering the collective history of this quintet of players, they could have called themselves NazzCar or Autopia and at least had a sense of humor about it, but…no.

And the record? Mostly (cough) faithful and energetic live renditions of the Cars catalogue, the faster tunes more acceptably juiced up. Todd channels Ocasek’s vocal mannerisms for “Best Friend’s Girl” and “Shake It Up” but Sulton’s take on “Drive” is a disappointment. One new track, “Not Tonight”, is probably the poppiest thing Rundgren has written in years but is ruined by ridiculous lyrics. Does this longtime pop craftsman really think a Blackberry is good subject matter? As for the other two new tracks, they’re so forgettable that I have thankfully forgotten them already.

The set here, like the live shows, is padded with Todd songs, so the catalogue is obviously thin. Anytime a “band” has more apparel than material, you have to take them for what they are – a money grab, famous guys leaning on a legacy and going for it (read: merchandising) as an over-qualified cover band.

Cars? They just don’t make ‘em like they used to.

(* ironic present day update: Greg Hawkes is a Turtle)

Judge for yourself: listen at Amazon

Five years later…I’ve probably softened on my initial reaction since then, if only for the continuing struggle that so many of my musician acquaintances endure. Can’t afford health care…their work shamelessly stolen and distributed by pirates…an entertainment industry focused solely on spectacle and tweens at the expense of a generation of living, breathing musicians.

Still hate the Blackberry idea though…

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Under The Radar: Cartoon Factory

So many pop bands, so little time…

Ten years ago I came across a Greenville, South Carolina band called The Cartoon Factory on a late night surfing expedition; I was attracted to their energy and knack for a good powerpop hook. I thought their debut album was pretty good, and although it doesn’t appear they they ever issued a follow-up album (a 2002 release featured songs from an earlier configuration of the band under a different name), they’re still around and playing gigs, although Chuck Chapman seems to be the only original member still standing.

Powerpop is a broad term, so what do they sound like? Their website has some free downloads of pop covers like “Ah Leah”, “I’m a Believer” and “(I Want To) Rock and Roll All Night” as well as handful of great originals written in that same vein. Good harmonies, pop crunch; I’d say their self-appended comparison to Fountains of Wayne and Weezer is a decent starting point, as are the references I make below. If those names put a smile on your face, give these guys a listen.

My original review ran in Cosmik Debris in 2000…

Although the name might connote animated characters (or Jim Carrey’s short-lived sitcom debut), this quartet is a high-energy power-pop band that sets its sights on harmony and melody. You can’t be taking things too seriously when you have a track called “Monkey Girl” lead off your record. Factor in a band that has two Bay City Rollers fans paired up with two guys leaning more towards classic rock, and the combinations can get pretty interesting. For example, the melody of “Tongue Tied” sounds like The Cars taking a stab at Joe Jackson‘s “Is She Really Going Out With Him?.”

“Deaf Dumb And Blind” starts out like Eric Carmen‘s “Hey Deanie” before sliding into the infectious chorus. Only the closer “I Live For You” falls flat here, a disappointing arena thud-rock entry. The band is tight – David Swift‘s guitar and Louis Sijon‘s power drumming are solid, and the harmonies are spot on. Bassist Chip Anderson and guitarist/vocalist Chuck Chapman (the aforementioned Rollers fans) are also fans of the arena-sized power pop of Cheap Trick and KISS.

However, the production of the self-titled disc muzzles the bombast and goes for a crisp and clear sound; power chords are there, but glass isn’t shattering. “Hopeless” is a very catchy song that opens with a classic guitar riff that deserves to shake the house. But I’d rather have catchy songs than catchy production any day – I’ll bet that “Without You” and “Whirlwind” rock the house live. Keep an eye on these guys.

The Cartoon Factory website.

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Listen, People (Part 1)

Sixties spectacular

Forward, Into The Past

I don’t live in the past, but I don’t disavow it, either. I’m crammed into small clubs to hear The Gaslight Anthem and The Reigning Sound as often as I am out watching veterans like John Hiatt and Graham Parker still crafting magic. And when a tour like Sixties Spectacular comes rolling through town featuring The Turtles, The Rascals and Herman’s Hermits, well I’m there, too.

The show was opened by a ’60s cover band who played a competent set of radio staples. While hearing a pedestrian version of “Honky Tonk Women” might be acceptable at a wedding or corporate function, I dreaded the fact that my a quarter of my $50 ticket was designated to 30-40 minutes of this. I also feared I might be seeing these same people acting as the band behind the remaining original members of these featured groups. I’ve been to oldies shows before where a group of unknown musicians simply changed shirts between sets to morph from The Grass Roots into The Buckinghams. But as it turned out, I had nothing to fear (although one of these bands could have used the help). And old bladders be damned, the show lasted almost three and a half hours.

Young Rascals

Why can't you and me learn to love one another?

First up was The New Rascals, a legally-retitled band featuring original Young Rascals members Dino Danelli on drums and Gene Cornish (a native of this town) on guitar. A long time acrimonious split with Felix Cavaliere and the absence of Eddie Brigati meant that the primary vocalists of the band were no longer in the fold, their slots filled by current members Bill Pascali on keyboards and lead vocals and bassist/vocalist Charlie Souza. (Although they are advertised as formerly being with Vanilla Fudge and Tom Petty, respectively, neither were ever with the named artists in their heyday. Souza played bass with a late version of Mudcrutch and left before Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers; Pascali sang and played keyboards on one of Carmine Appice’s many reanimations of Vanilla Fudge earlier in the decade.)

Unfortunately, despite a wealth of great material to offer, the New Rascals were disappointing. I’m hoping that the issue was merely being under-rehearsed rather than lacking in ability. I don’t expect Pascali to be as soulful as Cavaliere, one of the era’s greatest singers, but he was often flat and occasionally struggled when playing piano and organ simultaneously. On other occasions, the band seemed to be playing off-rhythm. Ordinarily I’d chalk this up to bad monitors and/or faulty equipment, but having just witnessed the cover band whip through a set unscathed, I can’t lay blame there.

Cornish, who recently has endured some health scares, was as animated as he could be and flashed solid rock chops as the sole guitarist, and Souza did bring great energy and good voice to the mix. Danelli can still play flash, spinning sticks and muting cymbals, and on several songs everything clicked to remind the audience what an incredible catalogue of music this band generated in their career. Highlights included a rousing “People Got To Be Free”, “A Girl Like You” and a stripped-down “Groovin”, featuring a soulful harmonica solo by Cornish. The crowd ate it up warts and all, of course, and gave the band a rousing ovation. I saw enough good moments to warrant seeing them again in the hope that this was just an off-night.

Flo and Eddie

Stll two of the greatest voices in pop music

When the musicians in The Turtles hit the stage one by one, the keyboard player spun in circles before taking his place behind the rack, and I thought I had seen that move before. Sure enough, it turned out to be Greg Hawkes from The Cars, who has been with The Turtles for three years; the remainder of the band (although also not original members) have been in their shells for twenty. But the show is all about Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, the original lead vocalists, who are still singing as well as they did in their prime.

Scheduled for approximately forty minutes like The Rascals, I wondered how many Turtles favorites I wouldn’t hear, since my admiration for them goes way beyond the hit singles. Thankfully I got a good sampling of both, from “Outside Chance” to “”Happy Together”, “You Baby” and “She’s My Girl”. The band was tight, Howard and Mark sounded fabulous, and their infamous stage banter was on display as they ripped into sacred cows as well as each other. I’ve seen them several times over the years, and can honestly say that they are as good now as they have ever been.

It’s amazing to think how long these two have been (happy) together, from sax-honking friends in The Crossfires to huge stardom in the ’60s to the Zappa years, followed by literally hundreds of session appearances and their hilarious syndicated radio show. Yet here they are, almost fifty years later, still viable and still creative. There were a lot of incredible artists vying for chart position and limited radio play in the ’60s, and the under-appreciated Turtles were an integral part of that amazing musical era.

The concert was promoted as an oldies show, and the majority of the attendees looked to be several years older than me and there for the hits. I don’t think many appreciated the segment of the set where the band ripped into several minutes of Frank Zappa material (a medley including a ferocious version of “Peaches en Regalia”) and a couple of tunes from the Flo and Eddie catalogue, but I was thrilled. But even with the mid-set segue, after so much familiar material was performed so well, the band got several well deserved lengthy ovations and a standing O at the end.

Cold Hard Cash

During the break, the lobby was flooded with fans lined up in queues past long banquet tables where their heroes sat with Sharpie pens. It was quite the assembly line – hand over a twenty, receive a CD, get your autograph, thanks and keep moving please. I’m not certain how much the bands got paid to perform, but the money that changed hands at intermission was staggering; an exercise repeated after the show. It dawned on me that with a three thousand seat theatre almost sold out, this annual caravan of yesterday was far more financially viable than most bands or tours that come through town.

And now…Intermission!

I’ll finish this tale of time travel on Saturday. Until then, enjoy some of the great music that The Rascals and The Turtles brought to the world. Listen to samples of The Ultimate Rascals and The Turtles: 20 Greatest Hits and check out some video below.

The Turtles:  “She’d Rather Be With Me

The Rascals: “Good Lovin

The Turtles:  “Elenore” – how great was Johnny Barbata on drums?

The Rascals: “People Got To Be Free

And Happy Birthday, ‘erman! Hard to believe he’s 62 today!

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