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Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Cars, The Beach Boys, The Ramones: America's Bands

Strangely, sharing the mantle with The Beach Boys, but in an unofficial way, The Cars did accomplish being the '80's mirror of fun-in-the-sun teenage culture.  But, The Cars, like The Beach Boys, aren't what people think they are.

The Ramones also are cursed to endure such a fate. And, for all their girl-group style classics, they have some of the best wit in the punk world in their harder tunes.  And, not just their hard tunes up through '79, but also in their adventures into Metal from '84 to '89.  We know that the imagery, guitar bite, and vocals aren't gonna endear most soft audiences to The Ramones brand of fun, but The Cars were able to keep the weirdness of New Wave pop and the force of straight-rock infused into their pop hits without ever looking uncool.  Even The Beach Boys have more variety in their corner than The Ramones, until what I consider the end of the band in '73 with the wonderful album Holland.  So, The Ramones never really were given a chance to represent, but The Cars and The Beach Boys are both revered for their brand of positivity and fun.  The same could be said of many hit-makers in the '80's who wrote retro '50's/'60's style tunes - Huey Lewis & The News, The Go-Go's, Katrina & The Waves, The Stray Cats, The Polecats, etc.  But, something about The Cars' hits contain a special magic in their drive, full-bodied production style (which includes many interesting parts), and inclusion of synths to make for truly modern recordings, not retro-replicas.  And The Cars' hits don't have that tinge of sadness that even The Beach Boys' hits seem to have.  When I was a child, "I Get Around" was one of the heaviest tunes going.  It's just that the lyrics didn't reflect that.  Motown hits had that affect too.  The hit, "Locomotion" was another one for me that sounded like a whole lot more than a dance craze was being explained to me.  Songs like that carry a weight forever tied to the times in which they were made.

But, The Beach Boys are, for perfect reasons, the official band of the USA.  Even if my particular interest in them (after leaving foster care at age 15) only extended to Smiley Smile and beyond, their catalog up to that point had earned them the right to wear the crown.  They certainly had the ingredients to make America smile.  Where they would go from there was probably too depressing to have the name Beach Boys attached, but such is the history now...Surf's Up, So Tough, Holland.  Heavy albums with a few light touches.  Sunflower...serious with many light touches.  Not perfect albums, but great albums all.

One can easily be turned-off to a band by hearing the wrong tunes, or even good ones in the wrong order.  A good disc jockey can remedy this, seemingly, unimportant issue for you.  Allow me to try now.  Below are lists that bring great songs to you, but in an order that tells a story in tempo and mood, moving perfectly from start to finish.  Of course, I'm not perfect, so I have to apologize for songs I feel I couldn't quite place correctly.  For those who know these songs, you'll see where you agree or not.  But, let me show you another side to these bands.  A side that radio rarely exposed.

The Beach Boys : '70 - '73  

1) Feel Flows
2) Trader
3) Steamboat
4) 'Til I Die
5) Surf's Up
6) Lookin' At Tomorrow (A Welfare Song)
7) Long Promised Road
8) You Need A Mess Of Help To Stand Alone
9) Sail On, Sailor
10) Marcella
11) Funky Pretty
12) It's About Time
13) All I Wanna Do
14) California Saga / California

The Beach Boys : '66 - '70

1) Do It Again
2) Sloop John B
3) Bluebirds Over The Mountain
4) I Can Hear Music
5) Break Away
6) Celebrate The News
7) This Whole World
8) Add Some Music To Your Day
9) Our Sweet Love
10) At My Window
11) Cool, Cool Water
12) Aren't You Glad
13) Here Comes The Night
14) Time To Get Alone
15) Let The Wind Blow
16) I Went To Sleep
17) Our Prayer
18) Cabinessence
19) Vegetables
20) Heroes And Villains
21) Wouldn't It Be Nice
22) God Only Knows
23) Good Vibrations
24) Here Today
25) I Know There's An Answer
26) Caroline No

The Ramones : '84 - '96 (The Hard Stuff)

1) Mama's Boy
2) Weasel Face
3) Bop 'Til You Drop
4) I Lost My Mind
5) Endless Vacation
6) Wart Hog
7) I Know Better Now
8) Garden Of Serenity
9) I'm Not Jesus
10) Don't Bust My Chops
11) Learn To Listen
12) Ignorance Is Bliss
13) Punishment Fits The Crime
14) Pet Sematary
15) I Wanna Live
16) I Believe In Miracles
17) Poison Heart
18) Censorshit
19) Strength To Endure
20) It's Gonna Be Alright
21) Tomorrow She Goes Away
22) The Job That Ate My Brain
23) Makin' Monsters For My Friends
24) The Crusher
25) Cretin Family
26) Got Alot To Say
27) Have A Nice Day
28) Take The Pain Away
29) It's Not For Me To Know
30) Scattergun
31) Born To Die In Berlin

The Cars : Mixed Bag (Odd, Sweet, Tough)

1) Night Spots
2) Got A Lot On My Head
3) Double Life
4) Touch And Go
5) Panorama
6) Gimmie Some Slack
7) Getting Through
8) Misfit Kid
9) Down Boys
10) Up And Down
11) Running To You
12) Cruiser
13) Think It Over
14) Maybe Baby
15) Ta Ta Wayo Wayo
16) Leave Or Stay
17) Door To Door

You may remember some of these Cars' songs from radio at the time, but not now!  The only hit in this list is "Touch And Go."  As smooth as it is, it's still too jagged for rotation on 'hit' radio flashbacks.  Why would radio dig it up when they can please millions with "Let's Go," "Shake It Up," or any hit from the first album.  Ordinarily, I wouldn't add "Running To You" on a playlist, but although I'm not wild about the chorus it doesn't take away from a top notch tune otherwise.  I love the interplay of the instruments.  This brings me to the fact that I love all the musical parts on the entire Panorama album!  Back in the day, all their albums seemed to be equally quirky, hard, and soft combined.  Years later, it's easy to see the differences between the more straight-ahead approach of the '70's vs. the wacky early '80's.  And yet, the lines still blur back 'n' forth, because at any given moment they may want to accentuate the '50's guitar style that sounded like surf-punk and western pastiches or jump to experimental synth parts of the time.  So, before the super-smooth sounds of '84's Heartbeat City and '87's Door To Door, you could hear just what the band members were workin' with....Gary Numan, Devo, B-52's, Adam Ant (if Kings Of The Wild Frontier had been released yet)...all bands that are comin' up together and influencing each other directly or indirectly until the movement dissipated.  It's no surprise that Panorama sounds like a Devo record.  It was the year of Devo.  Close your eyes at the start of "Gimmie Some Slack" and you'll think "Whip It" is about to start!  Whether a joke or not, it's great fun.  Also, the Stones "She's So Cold" comes to mind, but this song is none of those.  It's just another Cars classic that'll never be perfect for normal radio.  That's ok though, because rock fans love Panorama.  And, to top it off, it doesn't have a picture of a girl on the cover.  Sure, it's car related, but more in iconic imagery than with an actual car.  The flag gracing the cover is standard in racing circles, but also represents the New Wave ethic in its checkerboard style.  A stark image with bold colors.  This album as a whole, not as individual songs, has to be their greatest triumph.  No other Cars album do I want to play start-to-finish.  But, that's just me.  I like aggressive-quirky.

The purpose of all the lists above is to show you that these bands aren't just the fun-in-the-sun party outfits that their names have come to signify.  So, make your own playlists.  But, hear it all first, so you don't miss anything you'd wished you had added later, but forgot to buy.  Greatest Hits sell big for a reason, but for me, they're introductions to a group before I go whole-hog.  For many they are the be-all and end-all of their interest in a group.  And, hey!  I'm the same if it's a group I like only for a song or two, but have you ever met someone who says they love a group and still haven't heard the entire catalog?  Maybe this type of fan is shrinking with the internet allowing everyone to investigate a catalog thoroughly.  But, some bands have a reputation so set in stone, you'd have to be a miracle worker to get the public to acknowledge a new reality.  I look forward to all of you getting the most out of your record collection.  A collection best used, not just shelved.

2 comments:

  1. The Beach Boys & Ramones were and are the quintessential and definitive American bands. The Beach Boys made consistent great music thru Holland in 72 and Love You in 77. The Ramones were the best from 77 to 87. And (as everyone knows or should know) The Ramones were heavily influenced by the Beach Boys. I would replace the Cars with the Queers. The Queers took the Beach Boys and Ramones inspiration and have kept that sound alive and strong!

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    1. And 2 years later I see this comment, sorry : ) I'll have to check The Queers. I'm sure you're right, but as far as the U.S. public is concerned, I'm sure it's one of the Big 3 that they run to for safety in spite of the fact that they are also edgy ... edgier than most people would want.

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