While this shambles its way across the country, embarrassing itself in half-empty sheds nationwide (as Molly Shannon’s Marcy Darcy would say, “Don’t even get me started!”), what better time to devote a week to the real Cars, the New Wave darlings who didn’t necessarily want to be New Wave. This week, we’ll focus on the band’s lost gems, alongside some lost solo projects along the way.
Why not begin with my favorite Cars album, Panorama? The Cars’ third album was their most challenging, mostly jettisoning the band’s trademark happy skip/shuffle Crickets bounce and peppy melodies for a darker, more aggressive tone. Gone were the handclaps and shiny background singalongs, replaced by David Robinson’s increasingly synth-aided drums (by Heartbeat City he’d be drummer in name only) and Greg Hawkes’ menacing keyboards while Elliot Easton’s always-innovative guitar solos and Ric Ocasek’s Iggy Pop meets Buddy Holly vocal theatrics stayed pretty much the same, with a few minor tweaks.
Ocasek’s lyrics for the Cars can mostly be pared down to a one sentence logline – Ric wants something he can’t have, whether it’s affection, a girl, acceptance, etc. I mean, just look at some of the opening lines on most of the songs on Panorama:
I’m gonna get what’s comin’ to me
All I need is what you got
I wanna shake like Liguardia
It’s my party, you can come(well, consider the song’s title, “Don’t Tell Me No”)
Do you have to be so hard to get?
Ric definitely stuck to a theme with the Cars – that would change after this album. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves…
Panorama’s first single, “Touch & Go” was a perfect summation of this theme, but its start/stop faux reggae beat prevented it from reaching any higher on the charts than a puny #37. Two follow-up singles, “Don’t Tell Me No” and “Gimmie Some Slack” failed to chart. But the album’s true teasures are its bookends, the fantastic opening title track and the album’s closer, “Up And Down”.
“Up And Down” is one of those shoulda-been tracks that had the potential to be an AOR monster, alongside “Moving In Stereo” and “Bye Bye Love”. But alas, it was not meant to be, as Panorama eventually faltered, leaving the Cars shaken up (har), wondering what the next move would be.
But first, Ocasek had a few things to get off his chest. We’ll deal with that tomorrow.
“Panorama” and “Up And Down” were not released as singles.
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