Thursday, January 3, 2008

Everything's in Perfect Tense

I can remember reading in Rolling Stone back in 1981 about David Robinson's disappointment when he showed up at the sessions for the Cars' Shake It Up and was told he wouldn't be needed: Rather than live drums, the whole album would be recorded with drum machines. (The story is not on the RS Web site; the original is probably in my parents' attic somewhere.)

But even though he was not playing drums, Robinson - best known as the original drummer for Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers - still contributed to the record. In addition to designing the cheesy cover, he must have been at least somewhat responsible for the polyrhythms, or as close to polyrhythms as the non-funky Cars ever came, on the great single "Since You're Gone." The rudimentary electronic tap shoes of the opening give way to an entire other beat once the song gets going. I bet that was great to hear live.

"Since You're Gone" also contains some of Rick Ocasek's best lyrics. "Since you're gone, the moonlight ain't so great," is pretty great, but "I took the big vacation" is probably my favorite lyric in the entire Cars canon, a line I've found helpful to use on many occasions. Plus, Ocasek's singing for once isn't so ponderous - it's positively loopy. Elliott Easton's simple, contemplative guitar solo - anticipating Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn" - is real nice too.

Of course, within a few years, the Cars broke up, and David Robinson would enlist on the Naval Academy, sprout up to seven foot one, and go on to play with the San Antonio Spurs. So enjoy it while it lasts:

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