Record Review: The Cars – Candy-O US DLX RM [part 3]

candy-O reference slides

The reference photos of actress Candy Moore used to paint the cover

[;continued from last post]

That organ sound was also at the forefront of the driving “Got A Lot On My Head” and this time it was joined by squelchy, squirting DEVO-esque synths that lurched throughout the song. In 1979 could a song like this be said to be Peak New Wave? The thought made sense to me. It came to another cold ending conclusion for maximum impact.

Then the album sauntered across the finish line with the sequel to “Night Spots” called “Dangerous Type.”  This made for a hat trick of Farfisa New Wave tracks with the sound of “96 Tears” cheek by jowl with the glam rock chug of T-Rex’s “Bang A Gong [Get It On].” [as it was known in America to any of the pedantic Brits reading this]. The song was actually finished by the 3:00 point but seeing as it held the ultimate position on the album it was allowed the luxury of a 90 second coda to reach for the necessary gravitas. At a still trim 4:31 it was the longest song here.

The DLX RM then had another six tunes to flesh it out. The monitor mix of “Let’s Go” has some, but not all, of the earmarks of the final arrangement for our examination. The vocal has a casual quality to it, and the engineer has de-emphasized it in this mix. Crucially, Ben Orr [or perhaps the producer Roy Thomas Baker] had not yet arrived at the notion of delivering the vocal hook on the line “she’s so beautiful now, she doesn’t wear her shoes” by rising an octave on the last two words. And now we know why this was just a monitor mix.

Several songs were recorded at Northern Studios in addition to the final material, which was recorded in Cherokee Studios. The Northern Studios version of the title track featured a great vocal by Ben Orr, and a rare instance of the bass being high in the mix [it’s almost nonexistent on the album] but the distinctive sequencer hook running through the song was not there, and Elliot Easton’s solo was obviously in rough draft form here. “Night Spots” was very close to the form it eventually took. The vocoders were not there, but the Northern recording was 30 seconds longer.

Similarly, the great “Lust For Kicks” monitor mix also buried Ocasek’s vocal and emphasized the band playing, and it was also 30 seconds longer owing to a Greg Hawkes solo in the number’s coda. The Northern take on “Dangerous Type” revealed that the song was just fine at 3:30 but it never would have passed muster as the final song had it been that brief. Giving it some room in the album was the right decision. But the guitar boogie dominated the song without the keyboard Farfisa melody lines to offset it. That was an important addition to the song.

Rhino Records | US | 2xCD | 2002 | R2 75700

Finally, two songs not on the original album ended the program. “They Won’t See You” was one of the early songs that showed up in demo form on the DLX RM of “The Cars.” Here it was a more finished recording that was very hooky New Wave that was nonetheless discarded as the notion was to write new material going forward and to jettison the older, unused material [with the exception of “Night Spots” which was just too damn great to lose, in my opinion]. I found it stronger than the one non-LP B-side here, but the somewhat annoying backing vocals were a demerit for sure.

Finally, the non-LP B-side of “Let’s Go” was finishing up this CD. “That’s It” had a loaded title, considering how slight the tune was in comparison to “They Won’t See You.” Ben Orr took lead vocal duties as he had on the A-side but since all of the songs here were Ocasek numbers, maybe Ric was being expansive with the vocal duties in recompense for no Orr-penned songs this time.

I have to say that time has been very kind to this album. We all know the debut forwards and backwards, right? It’s a classic for a reason. And the less loved third album “Panorama,” somehow made a lasting impression on me with very few plays, comparatively. Even so, I was prepared to have a dim view of “Candy-O” that was absolutely not merited by the actual music it had to offer. To use a Prince metaphor, if “The Cars” was “Purple Rain” then “Candy-O” was their “Dirty Mind.” Some might think that “Heartbeat City” was their “Purple Rain” but that’s only true if we regard the sales success. I’m talking about the artistic success.

Quite frankly, I think that many of their best songs were on offer on “Candy-O.” The debut was forward thinking pop rock that flirted with New Wave but this album makes a real commitment to that genre. The synths didn’t dominate heavily but they shared the melodic development of the music 60/40 with the guitars. Elliot Easton let Hawkes do most of the heavy lifting; preferring to be a team player until his concise, vibrant solos were given the spotlight. His tone shifted throughout the album, making the solos eclectic but well worth the 2-4 bars he was given to use.

The album that followed sounded like they had been listening to lots of DEVO and they ran with it. Only to see a precipitous fall off in sales and popularity. Then the triangulated back to a safer form of pop rock that I had little interest in listening to going forward. “Shake It Up,” “Heartbeat City,” and “Door To Door” were albums I’d only ever heard the music videos for. The Cars had not been very central to my listening but after 1980, they were less than that. But “Candy-O” was a much more interesting album than my overall memory had painted it as. Sure, sure. “Shoo Be Doo/Candy-O” was amazing, and made a huge impression, but there were some other very strong deep cuts here to flesh out the album. “Night Spots” and “Double Life” in particular showed the band moving deep in to the New Wave genre. Quite frankly, I can’t think of any track by anyone, be they New Wave or Post-Punk, that competes so strongly with the likes of “Warm Leatherette” for a neck-snapping level of sonic violence as did “Shoo Be Doo.” I doff my Aztec Energy Dome in awestruck reverence.

– 30 –

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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15 Responses to Record Review: The Cars – Candy-O US DLX RM [part 3]

  1. Mr. Ware says:

    A superb review Mr. Monk. I’ve loved this album from day one. Very perceptive observations that 40 years of hindsight confirm, particularly your Roxy Music insights. Cranked this one loud today as my driving music…


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Mr. Ware – This morning I am listening to them in order. “The Cars” is a fine album but “Candy-O” is the one that advances much further down the line. Better songs. Better production. Better arrangements. The debut leans too heavily on Elliot Easton. I find his work better with the editing they applied to his useage on “Candy-O” where he has a focused intensity on those solos which are more prominent for their brevity. The band had the confidence to assume more control and downplay the slick elements and stacked harmonies of the first album and RTB [to his credit] gave them the slack to do it.


  2. Echorich says:

    That was a fun ride Monk. I have always loved when bands manage to break the sophomore curse and release a classic as a follow up to a cracking debut. Candy-O is that sort of album. They kept it going for me with Panorama, an album made for those wanting to see their early journey through. Panorama’s sales disappointment would lead the label to set out the treats leading the band back to Pop Rock land, but by the time Panorama came out I was much to distracted by other bands to give time to continuing following The Cars.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – Yeah, the limits of time and attention were something of a first world problem for discerning music fans back then! That’s why in the 1990 I decided to opt out of the unenjoyable present and start researching all of the things I missed in ’78-’85 while my attention was strained among the core collection bands. That is the quick origin story of the Post-Punk Monk in one fell swoop!


  3. SimonH says:

    Enjoyed reading this, am working my way through some RIc Ocasek solo stuff and enjoying that as well.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      SimonH – I need to revisit the Ric Ocasek solo material. I had gotten an issue of Trouser Press with a “Jimmy Jimmy” flexidisc from his first solo album “Beatitude” and I was always interested in hearing that material. But now it’s OOP. Hmmm. At least Ric had a big hit on his own from his second album with “Emotion In Motion.” Ben Orr and Greg Hawkes also had solo careers. The Hawkes album calls to me strongly.


  4. Andy B says:

    The Cars pretty much passed me by. Drive became a big hit in the UK in the summer of ’85 on the back of Live Aid. I’m afraid I’ve heard nothing else they’ve done. I was surprised to discover that they managed a few hits over here in the late 70’s. It’s about time I checked them out.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Andy B – “Drive” was a ballad I liked because it owed so much to 10ccs “I’m Not In Love” in terms of the sound design and vibe. What 10cc did with Moogs in 1975 was now easier with samplers. And Ben Orr sang it beautifully. The first three albums are the goods. Later work was more conventional Pop Rock.


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