Posts Tagged ‘Elliot Easton’

Even though The Empty Hearts band features members of BlondieThe Cars, Chesterfield Kings and The Romantics — as well as being christened by Little Steven Van Zandt from his super-secret list of unused band names — this is no cynically constructed super group. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame drummer Clem Burke, two-time Grammy nominee and MTV Video of the Year Award-winning guitarist Elliot Easton, bassist Andy Babiuk and lead singer/rhythm guitarist Wally Palmar have parlayed a combined lifetime of rock ’n’ roll into their music, a sterling collection of influences that include ‘50s American roots rock ‘n’ roll, ‘60s British Invasion and ‘70s garage-punk that is anything but retro, rather a refreshing return to core musical values.

These are all friends that I felt could get along both socially and musically,” says long time Chesterfield Kings bassist Babiuk, who started the ball rolling by calling old-time pal, Romantics’ singer Palmar and asking if he wanted to start a band. “Remember when you first picked up a guitar because you loved The Beatles, The Stones and The Kinks? Wouldn’t it be great to get in a room, write songs and play them like we did when we were teenagers? And that’s just how it started.” Blondie drummer Burke had previously played with Palmar in The Romantics and with Easton on several Blondie sessions and in an aborted band featuring Doug Fieger. Easton and Palmar knew Babiuk from frequent stops at his former employer, Rochester’s legendary House of Guitars, before Andy started his own guitar store, the ultra-hip Fab Gear.

All four came of age in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s in indie punk/new wave bands that demonstrated a love of classic rock and roll. “We’re the last rock band standing,” laughs Easton. “The whole idea is to have a blast playing with friends. We were just laughing and in high spirits all the time. No drama. It was just a lot of fun, and you can hear that in the grooves.” “Those common influences are what brought us together,” adds Burke. “We’re survivors and lifers of rock ‘n’ roll. We take from everything that’s come before musically. A lot of people have never heard or seen a band like this. There’s a freshness to it, at the same time as it’s a recollection of the past. Being a rock musician today is like being a jazz musician back in the early days of rock.”

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THE EMPTY HEARTS are:
Clem Burke – DRUMS, VOCALS
Elliot Easton – LEAD GUITAR, VOCALS
Wally Palmar – LEAD VOCAL, RHYTHM GUITAR, HARMONICA
 Andy Babiuk – BASS, VOCALS

Released August 28th, 2020

The Cars’ 1978 self-titled debut, issued on the Elektra label, is a genuine rock classic. The band jokingly referred to the album as their “true greatest-hits album,” but it’s no exaggeration — all nine tracks are new wave/rock classics, still playing regulary on rock radio. Whereas most bands of the late ’70s embraced either punk/new wave or hard rock, the Cars were one of the first bands to do the unthinkable — merge the two styles together. Add to it bandleader/songwriter Ric Ocasek’s supreme pop sensibilities, One of the most popular new wave songs ever in america, “Just What I Needed,” is an obvious highlight, as are such familiar hits as “Good Times Roll,” “My Best Friend’s Girl,” and “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight.” But like most consummate rock albums, the lesser-known compositions are just as exhilarating: “Don’t Cha Stop,” “Bye Bye Love,” “All Mixed Up,” and “Moving in Stereo,” the latter featured as an instrumental during a steamy scene in the popular movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High. With flawless performances, songwriting, and production, the Cars’ debut remains one of rock’s all-time classics.

The Cars first album has been about four decades since they committed this effort to disc. It’s not a bad record; there are some songs I really like and Elliot Easton is an outstanding lead guitarist. The songs are basic rock songs disguised by cheeky but often nonsensical lyrics and heavy use of a decorative synthesizer. I say “decorative” because like so many bands in the late 70’s and 80’s, the synthesizer was used to make songs sound more important and cool than they really were. I don’t know who chose the track order, but opening with the weakest song on the album isn’t the best way to make new friends. “Good Times Roll” is hardly an original title, and the music hardly evokes good times. The chord structure is simple enough but the choice to use a declining pattern tends to make the song a downer, especially in contrast to the promise of the title. I suppose the dour chord pattern could be a statement of New Wave ironic chic , but if irony was the goal, one would think there would be some confirmation in the lyrics. But no, they’re just silly:

Let the good times roll
Let them knock you around
Let the good times roll
Let them make you a clown
Let them leave you up in the air
Let them brush your rock and roll hair
Let the good times roll

Ric Ocasek employs his soon-to-be-overused pouty vocal style to the point of irritation, and the harmonies used on the last line of the chorus are a pale imitation of Queen . The intrusion of synth-produced strings causes even more damage. When you have as natural an opening song as “Just What I Needed” in your possession, failing to place it in the lead spot is tantamount to criminal negligence.

While the opening is so Tommy James, “My Best Friend’s Girl” is at least a more coherent composition. We get to hear Elliot Easton’s lead guitar more clearly, and he gives a pretty impressive all-around performance on the fills and in the solo. Ocasek’s lead vocal isn’t much better, and his occasional Bolan-esque grunts lack sincerity and seem out of context. The harmonies here are stronger, and the rhythm section of Benjamin Orr and David Robinson keeps things moving at a nice pace. The song definitely encourages you to sing along, so overall I think “My Best Friend’s Girl” is a plus.

Then there’s “Just What I Needed,” a song on a much higher plane. The opening passage is fantastic, with its strong forward movement dramatized by single then double power chords that vanish in the seamless transition to the bass-and-drum drive of the first verse. Though I definitely would have whacked the synth and replaced it with more Elliot Easton, this sucker rocks so hard even the synth can’t kill it, and when Elliot gets his shot in the spotlight, he nails it with a perfectly-arranged solo that ends on an exciting upward run. Benjamin Orr’s lead vocal is outstanding, expressing the contradictory emotions of self-loathing and desire with just the right amount of tension:

I don’t mind you comin’ here
And wastin’ all my time
‘Cause when you’re standin’, oh so near
I kinda lose my mind
It’s not the perfume that you wear
It’s not the ribbons in your hair
And I don’t mind you comin’ here
And wastin’ all my time

The way to read the lyrics is as follows: the guy is lying in six of the eight lines. The only directly-spoken truth is “‘Cause when you’re standin’ oh so near/I kinda lose my mind.” All the other lines reflect the exact opposite of what he’s feeling. It is the perfume, it is the ribbons, and fuck yeah, he wants her to be there. The spot harmonies on “ribbons in your hair” are inspired and always give me the chills. As an exposition of male paralysis when overwhelmed by desire, there is no better song than “Just What I Needed,” and the fact that it kicks ass.

“I’m in Touch with Your World” is the most quirky song on the album, and I rather like quirky. Interestingly, the guitar duet establishes the beat, while the percussion instruments (drums, cymbals, bells and ratchet) make the whole thing sound like a mechanical fun house. Ric Ocasek’s vocal is shoved into deep background by the heavy reverb, adding to the mystery of the sound. Both the narrator and object of his one-sided conversation are virtual shut-ins who have created alternative realities through either psilocybin, science fiction or both, and so the message “I’m in touch with your world” is an attempt by Party A to encourage Party B to air his weird thoughts in a safe space. The closing lines, “It’s such a lovely way to go” could imply suicide but the music doesn’t communicate darkness—it’s “music for those whose inner compasses are out of calibration” or more conventionally, those whose cranial containers are “a few bricks shy of a load.”

We leave the introverts in their artificial cocoon and return to the equally complex world of sexual interaction with “Don’t Cha Stop.” Given my perpetually horny nature, one might think that I would love a song that opened with these lines:

Right here I’d like to melt inside of you
Right here you kiss is totally new
Right here your hands are soft and creamy
Right here your mouth is wet and dreamy

Wrong! Of all the songs on the album, “Don’t Cha Stop” is by far the most irritating, a song that turns sex into the aural equivalent of a Disney tune. The sickeningly sweet chorus sounds like it was written for pre-teens who have no idea what those funny feelings in the nether regions are all about

“Just What I Needed,” a song that exposes the moments of desperation experienced usually by those held in the thrall of mating season and gives them legitimacy as a natural step in the rite of passage. The narrator of “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” is in a real bad way—so horny he has no problem being used, abused and lied to, and he’ll do it anywhere you like. Ric Ocasek finally finds some discipline and delivers a performance true to the character, and there’s more than enough excellent work from Elliott Easton throughout the song to make you forget the synthesizer had ever been invented. This album would have been a thousand times better had The Cars realized what a great lead guitar player they had and let him loose.

“Bye Bye Love” features another unoriginal title, another round of flanged guitar and really annoying synth fills that detract from a comparatively strong vocal from Ocasek. What I notice most in this piece is the outstanding drum work from David Robinson, but underneath all the college-level lyrics, this is really just another song that blames it all on the woman. It’s followed by the darker tones of “Moving in Stereo,” a song about failing to face reality that goes absolutely nowhere. We end our journey with “All Mixed Up,” an odd combination of medieval English folk and off-day Queen.

In the interest of supporting your right to hear both sides of the story, you can head over to AllMusic and read a glowing review of The Carswhere you will see the album described as “a genuine rock masterpiece” and that “all nine tracks are New Wave/rock classics.” What I hear is the sound of a band addicted to the latest toys to the point that they forgot about the real talent they possessed in their quest for trendiness.

thanks 50THIRDAND3RD interesting view

Following expansions of The Cars’ Candy-O and Panorama, the classic New Wave group (one of this year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees) will expand two more in their classic discography in the spring.

Rhino Records will release 1981’s Shake It Up and 1984’s Heartbeat City with rare and previously unreleased bonus tracks on March 30th. CD and double LP editions will be available, and will utilize the 2016 remasters overseen by co-lead singer Ric Ocasek as well as art direction overseen by drummer David Robinson. (For the box set The Elektra Years, Heartbeat City changed from a burgundy cover to white, in accordance with the group’s original vision; that design choice repeats here.) Ocasek and Robinson have also sat for new interviews for David Fricke’s liner notes for each title.

A total of 15 bonus tracks appear between both packages, from B-sides (“Breakaway,” from the Heartbeat City period), dance mixes (among the band’s only ones: the Top 20 hit “Hello Again”), a cover of The Nightcrawlers’ “The Little Black Egg” (the backing track of which was used for Bebe Buell’s covers EP) and the two exclusive tracks from the band’s seminal 1985 greatest hits set: the Top 10 smash “Tonight She Comes” and a remix of Shake It Up‘s “I’m Not the One.” Gems from the vault include early versions and demos of “Shake It Up,” “Since You’re Gone,” “Drive,” “Heartbeat City” and “Coming Up You,” later released on the group’s 1987 effort Door to Door.

Shake It Up and Heartbeat City continued the Boston quintet’s dominant turn from New Wave masters to pop-rock hitmakers. These albums, respectively produced by Roy Thomas Baker (his fourth consecutive collaboration with the group) and ascendant pop-rock craftsman Robert John “Mutt” Lange, contain The Cars’ biggest hits, including their first Top 10 track, “Shake It Up”; the power-pop gem “Since You’re Gone,” and bestsellers like “You Might Think” (remembered for its cutting-edge-at-the-time MTV video), “Magic” and the simmering ballad “Drive,” sung by the band’s late bassist Benjamin Orr and the band’s biggest hit.

 

The Cars / Heartbeat City and Shake It Up expanded editions

Spring is going to be pretty swell for The Cars, what with the band being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but for Cars fans, it’s going to be all about the SHAKE IT UP: EXPANDED EDITION and HEARTBEAT CITY: EXPANDED EDITION both releases. Due March 30th, each includes remastered versions of the original albums, rare and previously-unreleased bonus tracks, and illustrated booklets featuring new interviews with Ric Ocasek and David Robinson as well as liner notes by noted rock critic David Fricke. We know it’s going to be a long wait for March 30th to get here, but to help you endure the suffering, we’ve got something for you right now: the demo for the band’s HEARTBEAT CITY hit, “Drive.”